From William Blake: Patron Saint of Makers
William Blake’s Illuminated Printing Process
Images from Joseph Viscomi’s Illuminated Printing essay, Blake Archive. See the article for much more detail on Blake’s relief etching and printing process.
Being a lifelong student of Blake’s, I’ve often flirted with the idea of trying to re-create his relief-etching process myself. Doing this article, and re-reading Joe Viscomi’s excellent piece in the Blake Archive, have inspired me to try my hand at it. Hopefully, I will be able to figure out how it’s done and share what I’ve found with you. And I hope that I’ll be able to entice some of you to give it a try as well. If you do, please send us the results (and process photos too, if you’d like) and we’ll post them here.
Bill of Materials
The first step is obviously figuring out everything needed for the project. Going through the Blake Archive essay, here’s what I came up with:
- Copper sheet (probably 16-gauge, .064″ thick is a good size)
- Nitric acid (or safer “Copper Etching Solution.” See Note.)
- Stop-Out Varnish (Asphaltum Varnish)
- Block of Charcoal
- Pumice stone (“Snakestone”)
- Whiting (Calcium Carbonate)
- Engraver’s Ink
- Engraver’s Needles
Notes: I will probably try modern Copper Etching Solution (available from Dick Blick) which is made of iron chlorides and is safer to use than nitric acid.
You can also get prepared copper plates at art supply houses like Dick Blick so that you don’t have to do all of the plate prep before etching.