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What is engraving?

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Engraving is a similar technique to etching but is more complex. The plates used in engraving are usually copper or zinc and are not coated with ground. Instead the artist draws his picture by cutting the metal with a special engraving tool called a burin, which is a small, square bar of tempered steel, one end of which is cut and sharpened to an angle of 45° and the other set in a wooden handle. The artist uses one hand to move the plate slowly against the point of the burin, while using the other to guide the burin in the required direction. He must be very precise in his movements, because the depth and width of incisions made by the burin will determine the nature of the finished engraving. Metal shavings are removed from the grooves with a sera per, and special tools are used to alter and erase lines. The printing process is similar to that used in etching. The engraved plate is heated and inked and, together with dampened paper, is placed beneath felt pads on the press. After the plate has been rolled through the press, the print is removed and slowly dried between white blotters.

Engraving has a much longer history than etching. Designs carved in rock-faces by prehistoric peoples used engraving techniques.

About 50,000 years ago, the first engravings in bone were made. The oldest surviving metal engravings date from the early fifteenth century. One of the most accomplished engravers was the German artist Albrecht Durer. Other leading engravers have been William Hogarth, William Blake and, in the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso. A variation of the engraving process is called dry-point engraving. In this technique, a needle with a diamond or hard steel tip is used instead of a burin. The needle cuts into the plate and leaves a soft ridge of metal called a burr, and it is this burr, rather than the incision, that holds the ink. Because the burr is less firmly defined than a burin formed incision, the lines of dry-point engravings are softer than those of burin engravings.

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