How illustrator Ugo Gattoni created his first drypoint etching

The artist takes us through the creative process involving needles, varnish, acid and a blowtorch.


Ugo Gattoni is best known for his in beautifully shaded graphite artworks, but he’s just turned his hand to drypoint etching – and you can see how he got on in the six-minute, voiceless film above, and our story below, over the next few pages.

Sybille’s Bath is an abstract composition that draws on the geometry and perspective of MC Escher (though without the optical illusions) and the surrealism of Dali – as well as anatomy of Ugo’s girlfriend Sybille.

Drypoint etching involves using a needle to etch an artwork into a copper surface covered in varnish, which is then used as a plate to print artworks. It’s thought to be easier to learn than traditional engraving, as drawing with a needle is easier if you’re used to a pencil or pen.

Read on to discover the drypoint etching process that Ugo used.

Ugo (seen here) created the artwork at the Urlda printmaking facility in Villeurbanne, France under the tutelage of copperplate printer Vincent Brunet.

Ugo began by sketching his artwork on paper, concentrating on the outlines of the elements. He brought this to URDLA, where Vincent had prepared the copper plate by covering it with acid-resistant engraving varnish. He used a blowtorch to darken the varnish, so the copper showed through more easily when etching.

Ugo placed his sketch over the plate and used a needle to trace over the sketch, exposing the copper below.


When this initially traced etching was complete, the linework was revealed.

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Ugo returned to his studio in Paris to continue work on the etching, adding texture and lighting.


When Ugo returned to URDLA, Vincent helped his touch-up the plate with varnish to ‘erase’ any areas Ugo had etched by accident.


The plate was soaked in an acid – a ferric chloride solution – to make Ugo’s line’s deeper and wider. The longer it was immersed in the solution, the more the lines would be enhanced – so accurate timing was essential.

Vincent (seen here) checked the etching in detail under a microscope. When he was happy with the results, he removed the varnish with a solvent and the plate was ready to be used for printing.

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The ink was applied to the plate by hand to force it into all of the grooves, then Vincent used a tarlatan cloth to wipe off all of the excess ink – leaving only what was in the grooves.


Before each print, Vincent gave the paper a bath in water – which made the ink absorb into it better.


The plate and paper were aligned, and it was time for the press to do its work.

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A close-up of the press applying the ink to the paper.


30 prints were created to produce a limited edition. Each was dried vertically for several days.


As a final touch, Ugo then signed each print.

The 30 prints are available through Sold Art.

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