“Intaglio” describes many subtly different processes. In each, an image is produced by incisions in the plate's surface. Also, each process is almost punishingly labor intensive!

Working with zinc plates, I begin by filing down the sharp, squared-off edge to a smooth angle. If a plate's edges are not adequately filed, it will bite into and permanently damage the press. I polish the hazy surface of the plate until I can clearly see my reflection. If a plate is not sufficiently polished, it will retain unwanted ink during printing, so that plate tone will dull the bright whites of an image.

At this point, depending upon what sort line or tonal qualities I'd like in my print, I'll choose which intaglio processes to use. Before describing the processes used in my prints, I'll skip ahead to printing. It's difficult to discuss the intaglio processes without referring to the printing.

Etching ink is spread thickly on a plate. Some of the ink is wiped off with a wad of tarlatan, a starched mesh cloth similar to very stiff cheesecloth. I use my fingers and the heel of my hand to wipe off the rest of the excess ink. Some plates wipe very easily and uniformly, while others are difficult and prints pulled from them rarely look identical.

Once the plate is ready for printing, I place it on the press bed, lay a sheet of damp paper over it, and cover it with the press blankets. An etching press is an old-fashioned machine, completely people-powered. Its pressure is adjusted by tightening screws suspending the pressure-applying drum above the press bed; a plate is run through the press by manually cranking the handle. The blankets serve to move the bed and plate through the press and make certain that the drum's pressure is evenly applied to transfer the ink from the plate to the paper. Once the plate passes under the drum, I pull a finished print off the plate!

The images of feathers and trees in this section are drypoint engravings. I simply scratch the surface of the plate. To some degree, the channel left by the carbide-tipped needle holds ink, but it's the jagged metal displaced by the needle, called the burr, that holds most of the ink. It gives the line character!

A light scratch in the plate's surface provides no burr, and scarcely shows in a print. A moderate scratch provides slight burr, generally showing as a strong, clean line. Scratching as hard as possible, really clenching the needle and bearing down, creates a great burr that ink tends to clump around, showing as a heavy black line with attractive variations in width.

The more illustrative images of children, drawn freehand from photographs from the 1930s and 1940s, are a combination of line etching and aquatint. The plate is coated in hard ground, a dark and slightly waxy material. With a very sophisticated tool (typically a nail taped to the end of a paint brush), I scratch into the ground to expose bare plate. The plate sits in diluted nitric acid (approximately a 10% solution) for several minutes, the acid eating into the plate wherever the metal was exposed. Nitric acid loves eyes, but eyes don't love it, so a printmaker must be extremely careful with this step!

Once the plate is washed and dried, and the ground removed with mineral spirits, it is ready for an aquatint. A fine powder of pine sap, called rosin, is sifted and then melted onto the plate's surface at approximately 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Rosin, highly carcinogenic if inhaled, is another alarming tool of printmakers.

The melted rosin, like the hard ground, is an acid resist. Unlike the hard ground, the properly applied rosin doesn't cover the plate completely, but rather in an incredibly fine dot matrix. Now begins a sort of reductive process, somewhat like that described in the woodblock section. Using fingernail polish, I paint over all the areas I want to keep bright white. The plate is placed in a weaker acid solution (around 5%) and etches for perhaps 15-30 seconds. I quickly remove and wash it, then paint over the areas I want to keep very slightly darkened.

The plate etches for another 15-30 seconds, the areas of medium darkness are painted over, and I continue in this way until, hopefully, I've attained a good tonal range. It is easy to ruin a plate completely during this process, as it must all be done at once, with no prints pulled from the plate to see if things are progressing correctly. Printmaking is often a sort of high-stakes gamble!


Traditional stone lithography is a complex and rather mysterious process. The most, perhaps only, suitable stone is a limestone mined in the Bavarian region of Germany. A typical limestone slab used for lithography is two to four inches thick and, naturally, extremely heavy.

Small stones, eight to twelves inches a side, are worth hundreds of dollars. Large stones, twenty to thirty inches a side, or even larger, are worth thousands of dollars. As long as a stone isn't broken, it can be re-used for decades. The previous drawing is sanded off, unrecoverable, and a new drawing is made.

Each of my images were drawn directly on the stone surface. I generally draw only in lithographic crayon, a sort of grease crayon. Some detail is added in tusche, a grease-based ink which is essentially a lithographic crayon dissolved into water.

Once I've drawn the image, I must etch it to prepare for printing. With bare hands, I rub into the stone's surface a mixture of gum Arabic and nitric acid. This mixture establishes the critical water-attracting and water-repelling properties needed to print a lithographic stone. The blank areas of the stone must be made to attract water and repel grease, and the drawing on the stone must be made to repel water and attract grease. This way, when I roll ink onto the properly etched, wet stone, ink will adhere to my original drawing but not to the blank stone.

Paper is placed on the stone's surface, and the stone is pushed through the press. The press's pressure bar puts extraordinary pressure on the stone, transferring ink to paper. Occasionally, stones break when going through the press! You don't need presses to break stones, of course. In front of my entire class, I dropped one onto the cement floor and broke it almost perfectly diagonally. Had it cracked in the other direction, at least two smaller stones could have been salvaged from it. I burst into tears and ran from the room. That was just the beginning of my lithography career!


Screenprinting requires a great deal of planning. I create a detailed sketch of my planned image, deciding at this early stage how many, and which, colors I will use. The lightest colors, for instance the pale yellow in my large self-portrait, are printed first and underly every other, darker, color. Increasingly dark colors are printed one over another.

Alternatively, in my cloud screenprints, the darkest color is printed first and layers of white are printed one over another. Each color, each shade of each color, must be printed individually. The cloud prints are each composed of 5-8 separate prints, layered. The large self-portrait is composed of 37 separate prints! The screenprinting process is difficult to describe even in person, with all the materials at hand for demonstration... I won't go into any more details right now; I don't even know where to begin!


I love the reductive block printing method. First, using Japanese gouges, I cut away the surface of the woodblock wherever I do not want ink to print, where I want the white of the paper to show. I also must keep in mind that a woodblock prints in reverse, critical when including text in an image! I print this first layer, typically the lightest in color. I proceed to cut away a bit more of the woodblock's surface, wherever I want that first printed layer to show.

I print a second layer. I cut more, print another layer, and so on, each time carefully registering the page so that the layers line up and I don't lose important details like the reflective light in an eye or the shadow of a branch. The reductive method is a great example of the meticulousness required of a printmaker!