Belinda Del Pesco

Drypoint printmaking from Plexiglass – Book Escape & reaction to seeing Anders Zorn paintings and etchings in person

Book Escape, drypoint with watercolor (available here)

Traveling to a Museum Show

A few weeks ago, I saw the Anders Zorn (1860-1920) exhibit in San Francisco. Zorn is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve harvested books and vintage magazine articles about him for a decade, but I’d never seen his work in person. The exhibit was overwhelmingly good, and my artist friends and I were reprimanded more than once to keep our fawning faces the required 16 inches away from the work.

Mona & Karin 17 7/8 x 11 13/16 Watercolor by Anders Zorn
of his mother and half sister done in 1885
I knew I might never see so many of Zorn’s works in one place in my lifetime (unless I traveled to Sweden where many of the pieces reside), and I was intrigued that the show included etchings and drypoint prints. I’ve poured over photos of his printmaking in books and magazines for years, and I wondered how much of his process would be visible in the originals. When I finally stood before a wall of them, I almost cried. (I know, that seems weird, but the beauty was heart-swellingly amazing.) They were astonishing in mastery & skills, both technical and observational.
The Waltz  13 1/4 x 8 15/16 Etching by Anders Zorn
In addition to large oils, and full sheet watercolors, the exhibit included a display of his printmaking preparations. His reference photography (if he was working with the nude figure, he always hired models) was displayed next to his pencil sketches from the photos (which were profuse with mastery of likeness & atmosphere) and his finished copper plates. They were bigger than I imagined – most of the plates were approximately 12 x 9 inches. Visible in the preparatory sketches were deeply incised lines, almost scored through the paper, where he laid the finished pencil drawing on his copper plates to transfer simple outlines of the figures with a sharp tool, before going back into the plate with a scribe, and engraving details and shadow. The gift of seeing his plates next to the resulting prints was a lesson in the furtive art of plate-wiping.  His drypoints were especially telling, with variations of heavy & slight ink removal, and plate tone dabbed off here and there for bright areas in the composition.
His self portraits relay that Zorn was a big man, with large hands, and his copper plates are scribed & bitten with the marks of strong, confidently practiced fingers. He was a masterful printmaker, oil painter, watercolorist, portrait artist and sculptor. His output is awe-inspiring. (You can watch an 8 minute video that features his studio & palette here.)
Pulling a drypoint after a spin through the press
The finished drypoint plate, on a stack of paper torn to size, ready for inking & printing
Using a scribe to engrave crosshatching in the surface of the plexiglass – which
will hold a lot of ink and create some nice darks.
A small edition of 10 prints, drying in the studio



You can see a 3.5 minute video of this print being made on my youtube channel here.

You can read about the best ink mixture for drypoint according to the master printmaker at Crown Point Press here.

Getting Back to Work

I returned home with an ardent desire to get to work. The first piece on my list was an unfinished drypoint on plexiglass – shown in this post. Working on it was an opportunity to ponder and reflect on Anders Zorn, the man who came from humble beginnings, and became an accomplished artist. I was surprised to learn that he suffered from anxiety and deep depression. He never had children, but he painted and sketched portraits of his wife Emma that bear witness to his love for her. He must have been meticulous in his conviction to work at his art every day, and I’m so moved & grateful to have seen the passion in his paintings & printmaking, up close, face to face.   Which museum exhibits have you attended that left you moved and inspired to work harder?  

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post.


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Art Quote

Zorn had to overcome a certain amount of xenophobia to break into the French art word. “The press reported stories such as a bas les estrangers,’ ” he wrote in his autobiographical notes. “In one of those long, anonymous articles there was no doubt that I was being targeted. Under these conditions, we foreigners stuck close together.  My countrymen and other Scandinavians, along with Americans, were the closest the most sympathetic. ” As for the Societe des Peintres-Graveurs Francais, foreign artists such as Haden, Alphonse Legros, Joseph Pennell, and James McNeil Whistler  were strictly excluded from membership but were allowed to show their work by special invitation. Camille Pissarro, a Danish citizen by virtue of his birth in St. Thomas, then a possession of Denmark, was so incensed at being branded an “alien” that he vowed to reject any invitation to show with the group. He joined forces with Mary Cassatt, another castoff who had also shown with the Peinters-Graveurs before its official incorporation, in a two person exhibit mounted in adjoining rooms at Durand-Ruel  to coincide with the 1891 show of the “patriots”, as he sarcastically referred to the societaires.
Anders Zorn – Sweden’s Master Painter -from an essay on his printmaking by  James A. Ganz

2 thoughts on “Drypoint printmaking from Plexiglass – Book Escape & reaction to seeing Anders Zorn paintings and etchings in person”

  1. Belinda,

    Just an observation (…perhaps more in the way of a question). You very often work on plexiglas and I noticed in the photo of this latest work that the tip of your needle appears to be somewhat blunted. Now I know that plexiglas in particular is rather abrasive and tends to wear normal steel cutting implements. Do you find that you often have to pause to sharpen your needle? Have you tried using carbide-tipped needles?

    In addition, let me take a moment to thank you for your inspiring blog posts and videos. I very much enjoy seeing not only your fine work but also reading about the thought process behind the creation and seeing some of the steps you took to achieve the final results. 🙂

    – Ignatz

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