The art and craft of hand engraving

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The art of hand engraving and the craft of hand engraving are two distinct areas that each require their own particular expertise and skill. Here we discuss the differences and methods used for engraving any object, from a wine glass to crystal bowls.

For the artist, he or she will want to produce and create individual and original designs, and an artistic background and experience in other art forms will usually be needed, along with a natural talent for drawing and design. The craftsman, on the other hand, needs no design or drawing skills as they will rely solely on supplied patterns and designs, of which there are many available in the public domain. The craftsman needs only to possess the ability to control and use a graver. Nevertheless, this is a precise and technical skill.

Design concept and artistic impression

The hand engraver, whether artist or craftsman, will be looking to achieve results that are as beautiful and detailed as a drawing or sketch. The intricate lines and cuts that are required can result in extraordinarily precise engravings, especially by very experienced engravers. The engraver must also think carefully when designing or choosing an existing pattern as many factors have to be taken into consideration. For instance, the shape, size, material and value of the piece to be engraved, and if commissioned by a customer, what boundaries have been set, such as price, style and context. An engraved glass tankard may require a different approach to a vase, for example. A skilled engraver should be able to visualize the position, depth and richness of each cut and determine which tools will be needed for each technique.

Preparation is the key word

Accurate outlining is the first process and this is achieved by several methods. The smoke print method uses the carbon smoke ‘inking’ from a candle or paraffin lamp, or printer’s ink can be used. When the vase, tankard or other object’s surface is black from either method, clear tape is placed over the blackened area, when it is removed, the shape is revealed on the tape and an outline can be traced from this. Frosted tape can be used and the outline traced with a pencil but the results are not as good. Accuracy when preparing an object such as glasses to be engraved will determine the final outcome and quality of the piece.

Before the first cut

Once a pattern or design has been chosen and refined, taking into consideration every aspect of the client’s expectations or artist’s vision, then the design is ready to be transferred onto the object. The quality of the final drawing will certainly affect the quality of the reproduction when it is reduced in size for the final transfer. Simple and frequently used designs can be drawn directly onto the object, if the engraver is familiar with all the cuts needed, but complex and intricate designs should always be transferred before the engraving process. This can be done by several methods for example, taking an ink or smoke transfer from a design scratched onto a plastic sheet like ‘mylar’, drawing on ‘mylar’ with a soft lead pencil then pulling up the lead with tape and transferring the pattern, and using a photographic, inkjet or laser printer transfer.

These are the steps required for all hand engraving to ensure a long and lasting quality finish.

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