Vol. 17: William Blake: Patron Saint of Makers

The mad Englishman was on a mission that makers can relate to.

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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.


Click on the thumbnail images to see larger versions.
FigureA.jpg FigureB.jpg FigureC.jpg FigureD.jpg FigureE.jpg FigureF.jpg FigureG.jpg
[From left to right:] Figure A - Preparing the copper plate, Figure B - Loading the quill, Figure C - Writing with stop-out varnish ink, Figure D - Building a wax vessel and adding etching acid, Figure E - Inking the plate, Figure F - Adding color, Figure G - Making a print.


Relief-Etching Experiments

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.)
  • Wax
  • Stop-Out Varnish (Asphaltum Varnish)
  • Block of Charcoal
  • Pumice stone ("Snakestone")
  • Whiting (Calcium Carbonate)
  • Engraver's Ink


  • Brushes
  • Quills
  • Feathers
  • Engraver's Needles
  • Hammer
  • Chisels


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.


Article about a less-involved process of creating a literal hands-on experience with Blake that Professor Viscomi uses in his classes.

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