Maker’s Medium: Art student explores precision and permanence through engraving


Mastery of materials is fundamental to the artistic process and the career objective of any artist in the chosen medium. Each method requires a different set of skills and can elicit different reactions from viewers. Follow columnist David Egan on “Maker’s Medium” as he shines a light on mediums of fine art by profiling a different art student each week.

(Cat Nordstrom / Daily Bruin)

Chereen Tam takes hours to reap the reward of engraving: replicability.

A fourth-year art student, Tam began printmaking last spring. Although she’s been making sculptures since her sophomore year of high school, she said she wanted to explore printmaking but had to wait for the class to open. Art 140: “Advanced engraving” is only taught by permanent lecturer Jacob Samuel, who has stated that some students appreciate that engraving is a more traditional method. media with little use of digital technology.

“The very process that we are doing – etching and aquatint – is 600 years old,” Samuel said. “There are so many steps in every process that we go through and each step requires very precise attention to detail. “

The first engravers used the way for the same reason that artists use it today: to produce several identical images with a single plate or a single block. Engraving technology first emerged in the 15th century and initially spread due to a demand for playing cards, religious devotional images, and book illustrations. Renaissance artists like Rembrandt and Piranesi popularized the technique of intaglio, a process in which lines cut from a metal plate are filled with ink.

(Courtesy of Chereen Tam)
Tam’s piece “Pas de Deux” seeks to imitate the fluid movement of a dancer’s body. (Courtesy of Chereen Tam)

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While some students have used lithography, screen printing, and woodblock printing, Samuel said UCLA is focusing on this intaglio process, specifically using drypoint and aquatint techniques. , as well as another form of medium called raised printing.. The drypoint etching, which Tam says he uses in his work, is achieved by using a sharp point to draw lines in an acrylic sheet. The ink is squeezed into the lines, and the artist later wipes off the excess from the plate. A water-soaked sheet of paper is then pressed onto the plate, transferring the ink from the engraved lines to create an image. Tam said this drypoint process is almost the opposite of the other technique she uses, raised block printing.

“With a drypoint, you draw the lines you want to show,” Tam said. “But in printing linoleum blocks, you cut the lines you want to show.”

With raised block printing, Tam said an artist applies paint to a linoleum block – although wood or rock can be used – and presses paper onto it. While Tam uses both drypoint and relief block printing, Samuel said limited studio space and the quick shift system mean most students only learn one only technique during the course. Teaching the class on Zoom this year, Samuel said the rolling presses, oil-based inks and metal plates in the print studio have been replaced with non-toxic materials in water-based inks and acrylic sheets that students can use at home.

The labor-intensive engraving process yields the multiple copies of an image that can be produced, Tam said. Additionally, she said a print can create a more cohesive and controlled illustration than an ink drawing, which can expose lines drawn during the image creation process. Tam said she used the human body as well as personal experiences for thematic inspiration, evident in a drypoint engraving titled “Florence, Italy”.

“This one was actually a photo I took when I was in Florence, Italy,” Tam said. “I thought about recreating the experience from when I was there. … I’ve always loved ink drawings, but I wanted to be creative and also always be able to duplicate it whenever I wanted.

(Courtesy of Chereen Tam)
Tam’s play “Florence, Italy” depicts a city scene and has precise lines, said Jacob Samuel, permanent art lecturer. (Courtesy of Chereen Tam)

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For Samuel, the piece presents great precision and sharp details, elements difficult to achieve on an acrylic plate. Contrasting areas of narrow lines and open space creating depth in the impression, he said. While “Florence, Italy” is a drypoint etching, “Pas de Deux”, another print by Tam, is a linoleum block print. Samuel said she used a cut of reducing linoleum for this print, a process Picasso used in the early 1950s to streamline production: a block is carved, inked and printed, then carved again with a repetitive process. that Tam has used six times.

Obvious in the least linear shapes of linoleum cups, Tam said she drew inspiration for “Pas de Deux” from the elegant flow of a dancer’s body. She sought to emulate the beauty of a dance performance through the fluid nature and presentation of the figure. The fluid nature of works like “Pas De Deux” contrasts with Tam’s drypoint prints, said Patty Wickman, professor of painting and drawing.

“The prints are all on the line,” Wickman said. “And the linoleum cuts allow him to… (work) more with color and with the application of ink or paint.”

Recently, Tam said that she uses the embossed block printing method more often. Because the process is repeatable, it also has permanence, Tam said. Making impressions forces him to let go of his sense of perfectionism because once she has applied the ink or paint, she has to move on.

“When it comes to printmaking,… I have to come to terms with what I’ve done and really move on,” Tam said. “There is a beauty in something that is not perfect too.”


Kayleen C. Rice

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