Paper Engraving Technique
Hey there. The following bulky text is my recordings of the development of the paper engraving technique; how I started, what I have discovered so far, but also the struggles and breakthroughs.
Small description of technique
In short, the subtraction of the upper layers of the paper in chosen parts, brings the inner fibers of the paper to the surface. This makes possible for those engraved parts to absorb charcoal, manifesting intense tonal hues through which the landscape is outlined and revealed. Although this technique resembles the classical use of the etching technique, unlike printmaking, the engraved paper constitutes the final work produced. Thus, I refer to the aforementioned technique as paper engraving.
If you read the “About” page then you know that paper engraving is a newly established technique that was discovered only a year ago (June , 2016) through an abstract expressionistic charcoal exercise, during my studies. Bits and pieces were carved out through an instinctual hand movement against and across the surface of the paper, while I was holding a cutting knife. At the time these carved bits and pieces were just that, black bits and pieces on a charcoal drawing. These bits and pieces did not really formulate a coherent way of art-making, not until I turned my attention to nature. Nature proved to be not only suitable technically, but as it turned out it also provided me with a specific visual theme to work from. For this technical reason, and while marching in an uncharted territory, I decided to focus all of my attention in the depiction of landscapes. Deciding to stick to the newly discovered technique of paper engraving, nevertheless, was and still remains the most significant but also fundamental moment that affected the course of my art.
Due to the technique being newly discovered, it undergoes a constant process of experimentation leading to new discoveries, so as to expand on the ways it can be (better) manifested. In fact, the development of the technique has been mainly a learning by doing rule. I experimented a lot with the depiction of different textures such as wood and hair, in my aim to find a basis on top of which to build on and expand. Quite influential was my participation at Romania’s “Cutting Edge” Art Camp, 3rd Ed., 2016, where I created my first few works, focusing at the depiction of haystacks (aka the Romanian Căpițe – see images at the end). It was only after hitting many dead ends, that I decided to depict the view from my window, the small bushes that are characteristic of the Greek landscape. As it turned out, these bushes were not only my breaking point for the formulation of paper engraving as a coherent way of art-making, but also set the ground for the manifestation of my first series of landscapes which would be my winning ticket for my first exhibition and Solo Show in Romania.
The delicacy of the medium and the nature of the engraving technique that makes correcting mistakes unable, stresses the necessity for a patient, attentive, thorough, and focused approach to paper engraving.
- a) Lines, tools & pressure imposed
Some of the factors that need to be acknowledged and taken into consideration with regards to the making of works, include the manifestation of volumes and shapes. Volumes and shapes are conveyed through the use of diverge lines, a variety of tools, and pressure posed on the paper. Line usage includes; the density, distance, width, length, texture, direction and positioning of line/s, as well as the relationship and dynamics created between the lines. Combinational lines and textures are conveyed depending on the tool – and angle of tool when engraving, the type of line used, and pressure applied on the paper. The pressure posed on the paper via the use of different tools creates varied dynamics, textures and volumes, and allows for the paper to be engraved in different depths. The greater the depth of the scratched paper the darker the engraved part will become. In addition to this, working with different applications of pressure can allow for a more layering approach to engraving via the usage of different layers in conveying the form. However, the accumulation of many lines in one particular spot can lead to the inability to engrave on that spot, or even to the blurring or ripping of the paper.
- b) Charcoal, movement & paper thickness
Other issues include charcoal use, movement and thickness of paper. Charcoal has to be pressed directly onto the engraved line for it to be absorbed by the inner fibers of the paper. Since the engraved spots on the paper are not visible without the application of charcoal, charcoal needs to be applied constantly. Applying charcoal, nonetheless, can be tricky as it requires a particular amount of pressure to be posed onto the surface otherwise one runs the risk of blurring the lines, or of wiping away the charcoal preventing it to be absorbed by the paper. This also requires a constant cleaning of the hands in order to wash away the excess charcoal as well as constant use of a charcoal rubber in order to avoid smudging the paper. Movement is another significant factor. Tool stability when engraving can either work in a constructive; giving a clear visual result, or in a destructive way; blurring or causing the paper to rip off, take different shape or form or create bulkier lines than the ones desired. Thick paper of 300 grams is required for this technique in order for the paper not to get ripped as it becomes thinner and thinner with the removal of its layers. However, different qualities of paper can affect the result produced. I have found so far that canson paper is the most suitable. However, the thicker the paper is – as is 300 gr. canson – the harder it becomes to engrave due to the layers of the paper being more resistant, and resilient, requiring greater persistence. This type of paper allows for a much more clearer result than other types of paper surfaces.
All these particularities with regards to the technique, make the transportation of the work challenging. In order to safely transport works I prefer to have them framed. However, as in the case of large scale works, framing can prove to be quite expensive. In this case simply spraying the work with fixative, and rolling it up, does not guarantee that the work is not going to get smudged, especially if there are large white empty areas. With time, I found that using sheets of waxed baking paper attached to one another with double-sided tape prevents charcoal from spreading and smudging the surface of the paper, while at the same time offers a thin layer of protection to the work.
The unknown barriers and obstacles to the manifestation of paper engravings makes the creation of artworks challenging since it requires a process of constant exploration in order to reach a better understanding of this newly discovered technique. Learning by doing, as in this case, can prove to be quite stressful especially in the begging when there are no building blocks established to build on. This resulted to me doubting, filled with uncertainty about the process and making of paper engravings. Affirming the inner creative feeling is another aspect that required resolving the aforementioned issues in order to thereafter be able to follow my creative energy. It also required the taming of impulses to change or alter parts of the artwork, staying uninfluenced and centering myself amidst ideas, opinions, feelings of myself and others, in order to follow my own creative flow, whereas at the same time reflecting on them was necessary. Although, this is a process that to my belief is and should be undergone by all young artists in order to be able to find their own unique way to artistic expression, I feel that I became more aware of this struggles, and perhaps experienced them additionally to the already stressful process of marching in an uncharted art field.
These two paper engravings, are an example of the first few works created through the paper engraving technique. *The following works were created during my stay at Romania’s “Cutting Edge,” Art Camp 3rd Ed, July 2016.
These tiny works are an example of experimentation with color.