A Couple More Texts on Copperplate Photogravure

Inking SetupFinding comprehensive texts on photogravure is a challenge in itself, if you are of the mind to try this extraordinary process.

I briefly reviewed Copper Plate Photogravure: Demystifying the Process a few weeks back. It is still in print, and available on Amazon.com at the time of this writing. A second very useful text is available on the used market, Gary Kolb’s Photogravure: A Process Handbook.

Kolb’s Chapter 1 crisply, tautly summarizes the photogravure process. He makes the point that while you can think of photogravure as a close analog to silver processes in its ability to reproduce continuous tone, he states “The essential qualities of the etching process are important to an understanding of the aesthetic of gravure.” A simple statement that Jon Goodman touched on during the workshop I took with my son. Kolb also notes “The process is involved and unforgiving.” You have been warned.

I think you can safely ignore silver plating copper plates in Chapter 3, which avoids the use of potassium cyanide. You’re going to use a dichromate in the process – why tempt fate further?

Each chapter describes a step in detail, for example Chapter 4 covering the preparation and sensitization of the resist. This is a pretty common step in texts, though I want to note one minor issue with the Morrish text. On page 25 the authors state to avoid Lexan as the drying surface for the sensitized resist. Goodman uses Lexan in his studio. Again, minor.

At the end of each chapter is a summary that should prove useful to remind the practitioner of the basic steps (Jon made a one page cheat sheet for me to jog my memory as I solo’ed in the workshop). Kolb goes into detail on rosin dusting of the plate (material left for the appendix in Morrish’s text). In for a penny, in for a pound at this point. I do not see why you would not classically aquatint the plate in this process.

Kolb discusses the McGraw Colorgraph Co.’s single bath etching method, but recommends a modified approach with a single bath augmented with one or more different dilutions of Ferric Chloride.

Kolb’s text is solid, and a useful addition to get another perspective on the process. Another text I tracked down on the used market is Deli Sacilotto’s Photographic Printmaking Techniques. Jonathan Clark of Artichoke Press mentioned this text to me during my visit to his studio. While the book touches on other photographic printing processes it focuses on photo-etching and photogravure, clearly the author’s passion.

Sacilotto begins with an introductory History of Photographic Printmaking. Today, Chapter Two can be usefully pulled into the history chapter as it describes using traditional film materials for making the positive. Jon Goodman’s dry response to my query before the workshop on whether we would be using traditional film of “Brian, this is the 21st century we print on film with an Epson printer.” Best 21st century retort I’ve gotten. What makes this text useful on top of the other two books is the description of the dry laydown method similar to that of Goodman’s for adhering the exposed gelatin resist to the copper plate.

Of course, Herbert Denison’s A Treatise on Photogravure is the classic historical text. Reprinted by the Visual Studies Workshop in 1974, it is hard to find a copy of the reprint, never mind an original text (with a photogravure example at the start of the book. Goodman says at least two versions of the original exist with different images tipped in). Luckily the text is out of copyright and a good scan is hosted in a variety of formats on Archive.org. This is almost a compelling reason to buy that Kindle DX with its simple support for PDFs.

I wanted to remind readers that some Crown Point Press Magical Secret books include a DVD on inking and printing the plate (along with an appendix describing the process in text). The DVD is invaluable to grasping the basics of inking and wiping an etched plate.

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