I designed this GCSE art drypoint etching project with the intention of having students understand the different applications of mark-making drawing techniques, and getting an insight into a simple but effective printing process. The drypoint etching technique is one of my favourites as it is so versatile and can be done without any specialist printing equipment!
I taught this to a class as part of a bigger GCSE art project called ‘Inside Out’, so this could be taught as a mini project, or easily developed and extended to suit your own students. Students covered the four GCSE exam assessment objectives (we’re with AQA) by researching artists and processes, responding with their own experiments, recording and presenting their artwork and then finally generating their own personal responses and finishing off the project. My art students found portrait pictures of people they were inspired by and photographs of objects that could relate to the GCSE theme ‘Inside Out’. Most chose pictures of skulls etc, but some chose flowers and animals.
Which materials will you need for this drypoint etching project?
- Printing ink – we use Essdee Premium Quality Block Printing Ink.
- Perspex (I used offcuts from the DT dept in school, but old CD cases work) or sheet perspex is cheap and can be cut down.
- Etching tools (anything with a fine point works!) we used metal clay tools.
- Printing press – we use a tabletop press, but you could easily use a wooden spoon instead!
- Heavy paper – if your paper is going through the printing press it will need to soak, so good quality paper is best.
We started the project with artist research – looking at anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Students analysed the drawings themselves as well as the overall feel of the pages, including the use of annotations and colours. Students were going to be responding to this research on their design sheets and trying to achieve the same authentic style.
Students started to experiment in class with different materials such as tea, coffee, indian ink and watercolour paints to distress their design sheets, ready to display their artwork onto. There are slides in the presentation for these lessons which explain this process for students and include the Assessment Objectives.
Next up it was time for some cross-curricular learning! I love teaching art when it relates to other subjects, so we headed over to the science department to scavenger hunt as many skulls, bones and (fake!) pieces of the human anatomy as possible – great fun.
Drawing skulls is quite a challenge, so I introduced these drawing lessons with some fun observational drawing activities such as continuous line and blind drawing.
I have shared full continuous line drawing lessons here – enjoy!
After some ‘warm-up’ style drawing sessions, students then got settled into doing their sustained drawings from direct observation. The presentation includes step-by-step skull drawing worksheets that you can use to differentiate your teaching, and it also includes student drawing examples to show your classes. As well as those lessons, I included drawing extension tasks for any students who had finished or were ahead.
As students had worked so hard on their observational anatomical drawings in these lessons, I gave them some time to present their work on their design sheets. I used this opportunity to stress the importance of Assessment Objective 3 – recording ideas / observations in a creative way which links to their research.
I also had students develop their mark-making skills in pen (they would be doing more of this later in the project). Once students had completed their first design sheets with their observational drawings etc. presented, we started to move on to designing their drypoint printing blocks.
I have shared other full lessons dedicated to mark-making here – enjoy!
To design their drypoint etching on plexiglass / perspex, students needed to draw out their designs on paper first. I did this so students would be more confident in their ability, rather than drawing straight onto the plexiglass. I made it slightly more challenging (for my students) by having them work in pen – they were generally not well versed in pen work!
I had given students a homework to print out pictures of inspirational people (also included in the presentation), so they traced over half of their inspirational person’s face, then made up the other half with their chosen objects: skulls, flowers, animals etc. I let students trace these parts to save time as they had already completed their observational drawings. On the lesson slides, I also included outcomes linked to GCSE grades.
I love how their drawings came out! I was so happy with them and the my students were too. Can you recognise any of the celebrities…?!
They had really taken on board the use of mark-making to show tone and textures. It was important to work in pen at this stage so students could get an idea of how their work would look on the plexiglass. The more types of marks they can make on their drawings the better, for example cross hatching, dots, scratches…
Drypoint Etching – What is it?
Once their ‘Inside Out’ drawings were completed in pen, I introduced the process and definition of drypoint etching. These lessons were more hands on and required a little more planning and prep; getting the drypoint materials and equipment out, creating my own examples, having students practice etc. But – they were so much fun! And once students were confident and knew the drypoint etching process, they could be really independent.
The next part of the drypoint etching technique is for students to work directly onto the plexiglass, scratching their ‘Inside Out’ portraits into the plastic. They laid their pen drawings on the table, with their perspex block over the top, then scratched in as much detail as possible. We used sharp clay tools to do the scratching, but any sharp or pointed object (like nails) will do.
I emphasised to students that they could make changes to their etching images if they weren’t quite happy with the pen drawings they had done. I also reminded them about the use of mark-making to show a tonal range in their work.
An example of drypoint etching onto plexiglass, ready to start printing with.
The next part of the project was the most fun – starting to print!
Students had come up with different drypoint etching ideas, they had drawn out their designs based on their research and they understood how to use the various tools. I demonstrated how to ink up their perspex block and had each student complete a test print, which they evaluated.
I had my art students do a couple of test prints onto plain paper, and whilst they were drying I asked them to come up with some creative backgrounds to do more prints onto. I have included a slide which explains the final outcomes for the project:
Experiment with different backgrounds and coloured inks. Problem-solve inking up and printing correctly to achieve a clear, visually exciting series of prints.
After this step I basically just let the students get on with it – we covered a lot and they had understood the drypoint etching process enough to create their first test prints and evaluate them, ready to work on their final series of prints.
I really loved their final pieces and I really enjoyed teaching this drypoint etching project. As they were working, students could see that making ‘mistakes’, or their prints coming out differently to what they expected was a good thing. They also enjoyed the different practical aspects and although it is a very difficult skill, they all produced successful pieces. Students were able to go back to their block and etch more details if they wish, then print again.
Here are some of their drypoint etching images:
Have you tried the drypoint etching process yourself or with your art students? How did yours come out? What do you think of the artwork my students managed to create? Do you know any artists who specialise in drypoint etching? Let me know in the comments!