Belinda Del Pesco has some fascinating posts about making drypoint prints using sheets of acrylic — commonly known under brand names like Plexiglas or Lexan — as the plates, instead of traditional metal plates.
Drypoint has long been an alternative or addition to traditional etching techniques. It is advantageous in that scratching the lines directly into the plate, rather than scraping away an acid resistant coating to allow an acid bath to etch the lines, is a simpler and less demanding process. It also produces a different character of line, with slightly raised edges above the cut lines giving the final inked and printed lines a softer, more informal character.
I wasn’t aware of using the process on non-metal plates, however, and was fascinated by the idea when I came across Del Pesco’s mention of it, and her tutorial-like demonstrations of the process on her blog:
“Drypoint Engraving: Bubble Bath”
“Dry Point on Plexi with Watercolor: Asleep in Rome”
“Drypoint on Plexi (Artist’s Proof): Book Escape” and
“Dry Point on Plexiglass with Watercolor: Just Feel the Sun“.
Del Pesco frequently combines her printmaking techniques with final applications of watercolor. The use of the softer plastic plates, which have more limited print runs than metal ones, seems to work fairly well into the idea of more limited runs of the hand-painted prints.
I wrote to Del Pesco and she was kind enough to respond with some additional information on the process (and limitations) of drypoint on acrylic sheets:
“I think the first time I ever used plexi was in the early 80’s in a printmaking class at Santa Barbara City College. It’s an excellent way to make intaglio prints if you don’t have access to acids, or you’re into conducting your art-making in a “green” studio. (No acid, water based inks, no solvents, etc.) If you’re searching for images and ideas online, keep in mind that plexiglass is just one of the trademarked names for the stuff, and it’s also called lucite, perspex, optix (what my local hardware store carries), acrylic, petg (a bit softer) and lexan (a bit harder than plexi), etc., depending on where you are on the globe.
“If you give it a go, whatever you’re using to engrave the surface (make sure it’s good and sharp) will kick up a burr, and that little flap of plastic – which helps hold your ink and print a somewhat feathery line, is flexible and somewhat fragile. The process of inking, wiping and then a trip through the press will – over a short time – flatten the burrs, and squash out details, making it necessary to go back into the plate to re-touch, and as a result, each print has variations in lights and darks. If you like editions that vary, that’s okay, but some folks wants consistency, and for those artists, it might be best to stick with metal plates.”