Get into the groove
Etching - also known as intaglio was once one of the only ways to reproduce images on a large scale, and was heavily used in the production of books and newspapers. In this day and age, it is mainly used for its artistic merit.
While etchings are prints, and as such reproduce the same image for a finite number of times, each copy is inked, printed and sometimes painted over separately. Thus each etching is a unique and original piece of work.
Among famous engravers we can count Rembrandt, Goya, Giovanni Piranesi and, of course, Gustave Doré - though studies have shown that he was not the author of all the works attributed to him.
The technique, as it is used on the Rue du Trésor, first requires the creation of a printing plate. For starters, the metal plate - usually copper - is covered with an acid-proof ground (usually made out of wax, lacquer and/or asphaltum). The artist then draws the image on the plate, tracing the lines by removing thin stripes of ground.
Once the picture has been reproduced on the ground layer, the plate is immersed in acid. The corrosive substance eats away the metal not protected by the ground, thus etching the image on the metal plate.
Another method, called aquatint, is used to etch surfaces instead of lines. It enables the artist to create textures and add depth to his work. The aquatint is a difficult process, which requires precise timing in order to obtain even surfaces.
Once the plate is ready, the artist can print out "practice" samples, which are known as artist's proofs. This trial run usually represents 1/10th of the total print run. It is used by the artist to find the best possible colors for the main print run.
Individual prints are inked by hand or with a small roller. The ink is pressed into the etched grooves, while the excess ink is carefully wiped off. Once this is done, the plate is placed on a manual press, along with a damp sheet of paper. As the printer activates the press, it pushes the damp paper into the plate's groove, picking up the colored inks.
Out comes an original etching, ready to be numbered and signed by the artist. All etchings sold on the Rue du Trésor are part of a limited run - once the run is complete, the plate is destroyed.
On the Rue du Trésor, fifteen artists use etching as their main mode of production: