Illustration Methods; Curator Comments from Detecting an Anxious Gaze

Guest post by Sam Fisch, one of the curators of “Detecting an Anxious Gaze; The Victorian World in Flux”

History of the Processes of Manufacture by N. Orr, 1864

Q: What are the books you have chosen to display for this exhibit?

A: I have chosen Victorian Illustration by Paul Goldman for the many pictures of wood engravings featured in the book, English Book Illustrations 1800-1900 by Phillip James for the variety of print methods he explores and his historical narrative on the invention of these methods, and How to Identify Prints by Bamber Gascoigne for the shocking amount of detail Gascoigne includes on the various printing methods.

Q: Are there any notable artists included in your exhibit?

A: Yes, I have selected wood engravings by George du Maurier because he was a well-known cartoonist and illustrator. He provided illustrations for Punch, Once a Week and Cornhill magazines. He also worked with notable authors Thomas
Hardy, Wilkie Collins and M.E. Braddon. Fun fact: Du Maurier may have inspired Peter Pan as he was the grandfather of the five children J.M. Barrie based his play on.

Q: What is the difference between wood engravings, intaglio etchings and planographic lithography?

Wood engravings are a relief method, meaning that ink is transferred from a raised surface to a sheet of paper. The wood is carved so that the negative spaces are cut out. Unlike wood engravings, intaglio methods (such as etchings and mezzotints) transfer the ink from the valleys of a printing surface onto the page. The printing block is usually made out of copper plates for intaglio methods. Lithography employs a flat printing surface and uses a chemical reaction to create varying shades of black, white and grey. Lithographic ink adheres to greasy surfaces and repels water, so water can be used to keep the ink off the paper where necessary.

Q: How can you identify these various printing methods?

A: Wood engravings characteristically have a stark contrast between black and white ink. Intaglio methods and lithographs feature varying shades of ink. You can tell lithographs apart from etchings and mezzotints by inspective the paper for bumps; lithographs are always perfectly flat. You can also tell these two apart with a magnifying glass, as the ink used for lithographs makes a pattern of tiny dots that you can see.

All are welcome to explore the Exhibition “Detecting And Anxious Gaze; The Victorian World in Flux” on the 4th floor of the McLennan Library Building during opening hours during December.

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