Is Engraving Important to Design Education?

October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 16 at 2:00 pm
Session IV, Panel 3

The American Printing History Association 35th Annual Conference
Corcoran College of Art + Design
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC

(This presentation was first given in Dublin at the 2010 ATypeI Conference.)

Although rarely studied in today’s classroom, commercial engraving for print is a vital element in the teaching of graphic design and media studies at the college and university level. This notion, which will be explored in the proposed presentation, is based on more than a decade of independent study of steel die and copper plate engraving, the recent installation of a working engraving proofing press within the Loyola University of New Orleans graphic design department and the establishment of a new and growing engraving community in New Orleans. This is the first new and only robust commercial print engraving community in North America.

The legacy through which we have studied, and viewed, graphic design, typography and the book arts primarily has been through the lens of the letterpress form. For over 500 years, almost all of our print communication was fashioned within this framework and according to a specific, or implied grid (grid being the series of units aligning both vertically and horizontally in an intentional, recognizable pattern). In the western world, almost every description of commercial visual communication is presented in this format; books, newspapers, periodicals, even the orientation and navigation of websites depend on a grid for their structure.

Engraving, on the other hand, is a fluid, free-hand expression restricted only by the perimeter of the surface upon which an engraving is worked. The exquisite beauty and gracefulness of arcs and shading inherent in the engraved line is unparalleled and had become, until very recently, an unfortunately moribund craft.

This twenty minute presentation addresses ways in which the organic nature of steel die and copper plate engraved imagery and text complement and enhance visual experience, why and how engraving is a central part of any modern graphic design curriculum, and dynamic ways that it can be introduced in the classroom. By providing examples of elegant and unique engraved imagery, we can inspire the next generation of visual thinkers to keep this important art form alive.

© 2010 Nancy Sharon Collins


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