ARTS(E)231 Beginning Etching, Gary Lissa, Summer I 2018 | SACI College of Art & Design Florence

ARTS(E)231 Beginning Etching, Gary Lissa, Summer I 2018

Course Objective

While continuing to master the technical processes of etching, students are encouraged to develop personal content and imagery. Techniques such as monotype and collograph are utilized to begin investigating chosen subject matter before moving on to more time-intensive processes. The reciprocal relationship among vision, content, and technique is emphasized as an essential criterion for the student's creative process. Ongoing demonstrations expose students to further technical possibilities, including multiple-plate color etching and the use of unconventional processes.
Monotype printing will be the initial technique that will acquaint the student with the printing process and shop practice, along with being an expedient method for developing a printmaking sensibility.


The course begins by first using monotype as an efficient way of developing print imagery and ideas. Beginning students will familiarize themselves with the print-shop, equipment, and procedures, along with being briefed in the necessary rules of health and safety.

Graduate Students
​Students in MFA, MA, and Post-Bac programs are expected to complete additional assignments and to produce work at a level appropriate for students in a graduate program. They are graded accordingly and, if they successfully complete all course requirements for graduate students, receive graduate-level credit for the course.

A Reflection on Subject Matter

It is of the utmost importance to give due consideration as to the subject matter you will be working with during the course at SACI.  Otherwise there is the risk of the learning process being strictly technical – but not even that.  The influential artist/teacher Kimon Nicolaides likened the imbalance between technique and content to the problem of learning another language: ”The very difficulties of using a new medium (in this case intaglio printmaking), like the difficulties of using a new language, tend to bring you back to the meaning you desire to convey, because the medium can be used properly only in relation to your grasp of the meaning.”

At the same time students coming to study abroad can not presume to have already formed ideas and opinions about their new experience in Italy.  Often the digestion and comprehension of the experience occurs months after the student has returned home.

The solution to this dilemma is to make the creative process itself a means for investigating your new experiences.  The investigation doesn’t necessarily imply an intellectual approach.  The investigation may be a sensorial (of the senses) one.  This course will use a set of themes as a way of directing the students’ sensibilities. 

A “Special Object” – For the first monotype, drypoint combined with monotype, and drypoint on copper images, choose one or more small objects (small enough to sit on a table).  Make a number of drawings using different media (i.e., pencil and charcoal) and approaches (change of scale, composition, cropping, abstracting, etc.).  All drawing must be done from direct observation.  No photographic or digital imagery is allowed.  Begin the print imagery from the drawings and continued direct observation (but you may need to use a mirror because remember, the printed image will be in reverse!). 

The City Part 1 – the first hardground, softground, and combined techniques plates.
Make on-site studies (or even take the grounded plate on-site) working from direct observation.  The imagery can be made up of composite information, or be turned into abstraction (according to the original meaning of the word – “to take from”).  On the surface it will be an exploration into the rich cultural and artistic history of Florence.  But taken further, students in the past for example have developed interesting parallels between contemporary Italian society and the way it relates to it’s past.  Are the statues and monuments scattered around the city center timeless and enduring, or have they become vestiges of the past no longer having any significance – in fact are they allowed to be slowly consumed by the pollution of passing buses and motorbikes?  The origins of one student’s investigation actually began with a visual, not intellectual, premise.  She was taken by how different the statues seemed when seen from a distance as opposed to when viewed close up.  She made many drawing studies on-site at various distances from the statues, noticing smooth sections next to course, rough, and discolored sections of stone.  Cracks, chipped surfaces, and pigeon poop all desecrating what seemed previously to be a model of perfection.   But she began to notice the surroundings as well.  Tourists, people bustling by, bored guards, kids playing soccer dangerously close to a statue that has already had its hand broken off three times in two centuries, etc.

The City part 2 – parallel to the development of imagery from direct observation, begin to work with a second related theme, this time working from fantasy and imagination utilizing selected passages from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (ISBN: 9780099429838. Retail price $8.12 — note there are many copies of this book on loan in the SACI Worthington Library).

Another example of possible sources to consider when working with both themes is your awareness of the sense of space. Foreigners, especially Americans, don’t know what to make of the crowding, bumping against one-another, and seeming loudness and rudeness of Italians.  This occurred to a student after a hectic, tight ride on a city bus.  It ended up becoming the criteria for how space was handled two-dimensionally in her prints for the rest of the semester.  Again, what began as a visual, physical experience developed into a theme about cultural differences – a completely different sense of “personal space.”

Landscape – (When weather permits) to contrast the City themes the class will make excursions to the Boboli Gardens in Florence.  Sketches, watercolors, (and at this point) photographic, and other sources will be accumulated on-site.  The landscape will be used as the ideal subject for considering texture, mark variation, and ways of combining the techniques acquired up to now.  Examples of landscape as an introduction into invention and abstraction (i.e., Cozens) will be discussed.

Open Theme – for final etching using chosen technique or combination of techniques.  Choose your own theme and subject-matter for final plate.  Photographic and digital imagery can now be used, but only as supplemental source information.


Week 1

Monday, May 21
 used as an introduction to the practical and technical aspects of the medium. It is presented as a method of image development in its own right, as well as a “think tank” for future possibilities in other techniques. Several approaches will be outlined such as series development using the “ghost” image, multiple passage procedures, and traditional image procedure.

Wednesday, May 23
Monotype to Dry point on plexiglass:  presented initially as a drawing problem (mass to line), the project helps the student establish criteria for the integration of formal issues with those of content and technique.  Students are asked to do three versions of the same image: a pure monotype image, a combination of monotype and dry point image, and a pure dry point image.

Friday, May 25
Shop time.

Week 2

Monday, May 28
Drypoint on copper: begin developing copper plate drypoint. Continue monotype to drypoint on plexiglass.

Wednesday, May 30
Hard ground:  stages of biting, The language of line. Spontaneity in relation to deliberation. Direct observation and process.  Use “The City Part 1” as subject-matter.  Part of class time may be used for onsite work.
“Juggle” between the five images.  Contrast and compare each technique.

Friday, June 1
Shop time.

Week 3

Monday, June 4

 A large amount of information has been given in a relatively short time, but with the intention of giving the student a broad gamut of technical knowledge in order to be able to make intelligent choices in relation to idea, image, and technique.  Other than a review of the various techniques covered, the emphasis will now be on the importance of establishing and maintaining an equilibrium between the intentions and concepts of the students, the development and analysis of the evolving image, and its relation to technique.  Begin “The City Part 2.”

Wednesday, June 6
Aquatint:  tone and texture. Addition and subtraction of information on the plate. Re-visit the line etching and soft-ground plates.  Add aquatint if applicable, or develop another plate beginning with aquatint, and then intervening with soft-ground and/or line etching. 

Combination of Techniques:  students are encouraged to consciously weigh technical decisions in relation to their image ideas, choosing the most appropriate technique or process (or combination of techniques) for the images they have in mind. Making and Finding.

Friday, June 8
On-Site work – landscape – Boboli Gardens
Landscape will be used as the ideal subject for considering texture, mark variation, and ways of combining the techniques acquired up to now.  Examples of landscape as an introduction into invention and abstraction (i.e., Cozens) will be discussed.

Week 4

Monday, June 11
Further technical demonstrations:  
techniques not yet presented and variations of techniques already demonstrated will be presented as optional information for the students – spit-biting, sugar lift, spray acquatint, etc.
Group Discussion:  How to avoid making “minestrone” or “atomic pizza” prints.

Wednesday, June 13
Open Theme – for final etching using chosen technique or combination of techniques.  Choose your own theme and subject-matter for final plate.  Photographic and digital imagery can now be used, but only as supplemental source information.

Friday, June 15
Shop time. 

Week 5

Monday, June 18
Shop time c
ontinued. Work with studies accumulated on-site, along with continued development of other images. It is a particularly useful practice to work on more than one plate during class. It is useful for practical reasons (i.e., while the round on one plate is drying you are putting the other one in the acid), but also in the way you are able to compare and evaluate the development of your imagery.
Pull edition of 5 prints.

Wednesday, June 20
Shop time.

Friday, June 22
Final Group and Individual Critique. Students must present a portfolio including the first three monotype images, the dry point/engraving image, the line-etching and the soft-ground with the use of aquatint (or the optional aquatint plate), the combined techniques plate, and the Final plate.  A selection of proofs, which can testify to the development of the images, can be helpful as well. One of the plates should be chosen in order to make a small edition of five. All prints should be well printed with proper margins, and on quality paper.

Etching Supplies

Needles (one large, one small) - Punte per incisione
Zinc plates - Lastre di zinco
Copper plate - Lastra di rame
1 scraper and burnisher – Raschietto e Brunitoio
Etching paper (Magnani smooth, and/or Grafia, White or Natural)
Portfolio case (50x70cm) - optional
Brown adhesive packing tape

Materials may be purchased at Zecchi on via dello Studio. They have a special discount for SACI students.  Another good supplier is Salvini in via degli Alfani.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino: There are copies "on reserve" for the course in the SACI Worthington Library.  


General Safety & Emergency Instructions

Click here for a pdf of SACI's General Safety & Emergency Instructions.

Additional Safety & Studio Rules


The following health and safety guidelines have been prepared for students and instructors using the printmaking area. Please read the rules carefully. Your full cooperation is necessary in order insure your own safety and that of others. Keeping the printmaking area clean and organized prevents unnecessary hazards, and keeps the printmaking equipment in good working order.


  • Put on the air exchange.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Wear the gloves and plastic aprons supplied by SACI when you use solvents, acids, chemicals.
  • Wear enclosed footwear at all times. Sandals, flip-flops or bare feet are not acceptable alternatives.
  • Tie back or cover hair when using printmaking equipment.
  • Never work alone.
  • Always wear appropriate personal protection when required.
  • Never use printmaking equipment until you have had adequate instruction.
  • Never use printmaking equipment under the influence of any drug or alcohol.
  • Never eat, drink or smoke in the printmaking area.
  • Reseal containers after use. Do not muddle them up or put a substance in an incorrectly labelled container.
  • Always clean up after yourself.
  • Do not put any liquids in the sink except for water.
  • Wear a protective mask when you use the acquatint box.
  • Do not block emergency exits
  • Ensure you have enough room to work safely
  • 15 minutes before class ends, all students should begin to put things away and clean up the work area. This includes putting away plates and other equipment.

Spills, Slips, and Falls
You can reduce the risk of slips and falls by

  • Wearing appropriate footwear
  • Cleaning up any spills (report any spills to the instructor or to the Front Desk).
  • Making sure computer cords don't run across aisles

First-Aid Kits in the Printmaking Studio
There are two first-aid kits inside the printmaking studio next to the door that leads to the garden.  The green first-aid kit is for eye injuries.  It contains a solution for application to the eyes, eye patches, a plastic container, and scissors.  The orange first-aid kit is for other injuries.  It contains disinfectant, band aids, sterile pads (2 sets of different sizes), adhesive tape, scissors, cotton, tweezers, sterile gloves, liquid solution for cleaning wounds, a latex tourniquet, and first-aid instructions.

Air-Exchange System
When working in the printmaking studio there is an air-exchange system which can be utilized for maintaining proper ventilation and extraction of undesirable fumes and odors. The control panel is located on the wall opposite of the stairway between the printmaking and painting studios.

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