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Drypoint Prints by Anders Zorn

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 over 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 surface of the artwork.

Mona & Karin 17 7/8 x 11 13/16 Watercolor by Anders Zorn
of his mother and half sister done in 1885

Drypoint and Etching Mastery

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). The show included watercolors, oils, etchings and drypoint prints.

I’ve poured over photos of Zorn’s printmaking in books and magazines for years, and I wondered how much of his process would be visible in the originals. I wasn’t disappointed.

When I finally stood before a wall of Zorn’s etchings and drypoints, I almost cried. That might sound strange, but the beauty was heart-swellingly amazing. Zorn’s prints were astonishing in mastery and subject, both technical and observational.

The Waltz  13 1/4 x 8 15/16 Etching by Anders Zorn

Zorn’s Drypoint and Etching Process

In addition to large oils, and full sheet watercolors, the exhibit included a display of Anders Zorn’s 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. Zorn’s sketches were profuse with mastery of likeness and atmosphere.

His finished copper plates were bigger than I imagined – most of them were approximately 12 x 9 inches.

You can appreciate brush strokes, accurate color mixes and scale when you see Anders Zorn’s paintings in person

Drypoint Image Transfer

Visible in Zorn’s preparatory sketches were deeply incised lines, almost scored through the sketch paper. He laid the finished pencil drawing on top of his copper plates to transfer simple outlines of the figures with a sharp tool. Then he went back into the plate with a scribe to begin engraving details and shadow.

The gift of seeing Zorn’s plates next to the resulting prints was a lesson in the furtive art of plate-wiping.

His drypoints were especially telling, with variations of deliberately sparse ink removal, and more intensely polished and cleared areas. I could see strategic plate tone dabbed off here and there for bright areas in the composition.

Anders Zorn self portrait – cropped from a portrait etching with his wife.

More on Anders Zorn

His self portraits relay that Zorn was a broad-chested 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.)

There is also plenty of information and imagery about Zorn to peruse on this Wikipedia page.

Drypoint engravings printed from plexiglass, drying in the studio

Inspired to Make More Drypoints

I returned home from the exhibit adventure 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 the drypoint 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 Zorn 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. I imagine that he was meticulous in his conviction to work at his art every single day. You can’t be a skilled artist by painting and drawing occasionally, right?

Act Fast When You’re Inspired

I’m so moved and grateful to have seen the passion in his paintings and printmaking, up close, face to face.   What a shot of encouragement to stay committed to this practice. It’s so important to work at it every single day.

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.


P.S. Read about the best ink mixture for drypoint according to the master printmakers at Crown Point Press.

P.P.S. You can subscribe to get each new post via email by signing up here.

Book Escape, drypoint with watercolor (available here)

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
a drypoint engraving on plexiglass of a girl reading a book
Tearing paper to match the plate size in preparation for printing the drypoint
a printmaker in her studio wiping ink from a drypoint plate
Inking the drypoint plate and wiping with rolled tarlatan cloth
a printmaker in her studio wiping ink from a drypoint plate
Removing plate tone in areas I want to print bright and clear of ink
a printmaker in her studio pulling a drypoint print after pushing it through her etching press
Pulling the print after a trip under the cylinder of my etching press
a close up of a drypoint etching being pilled from a plexiglass plate
Pulling a drypoint etching from a plexiglass plate in my studio

Drypoint on Plexiglass or Recycled Plastic Printmaking Supplies

Here is a list of supplies to help you prepare to make a drypoint print from plexiglass, drafting film (mylar), or recycled plastic.

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2 thoughts on “Drypoint printmaking from Plexiglass – after seeing an exhibit of Anders Zorn paintings, drypoints and etchings”

  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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