Rops made many pen-and-ink drawings during his career, often sketching figures or vignettes in his personal correspondence. Sailors and ships frequently appear in these drawings; the artist felt a strong connection with the Meuse River, which runs through Namur, and he served as president of a local sailing club, Le Royal Club nautique de Sambre-et-Meuse, from 1862-69.
In many of Rops’s pen-and-ink drawings at the Carlos, the paper bears the artist’s work on both sides, indicating that these designs were originally drawn on sheets in sketchbooks.
Rops utilized the lithographic medium predominantly during the early years of his career. His lithographs, stylistically reminiscent of those by Daumier and Gavarni, communicate political or satirical messages—as seen in La comédie politique, left—and were published in journals such as Uylenspiegel, which Rops founded in 1856.
Lithography exploits the mutually repellant properties of oil and water. The artist uses a greasy crayon to draw the design directly on a lithography stone, a technique that feels similar to drawing with pen on paper. The artist covers the entire surface of the stone with oil-based ink and then washes the stone with water; the ink binds to the tracks left by the greasy crayon, and the design remains after excess ink has washed away. A piece of slightly damp paper is placed on the stone, and both stone and paper are run through a lithography press to create the final print.
In etching, an intaglio technique, the artist coats a copper or zinc plate (Rops used primarily copper plates) with an acid-resistant ground. Using an etching needle, the artist scratches the design onto the surface of the plate, exposing the metal underneath the thin layer of ground. The plate is submerged in an acid bath, and the acid eats away the areas of copper or zinc exposed by the needle, creating grooves in the plate that will hold and transfer ink to a damp sheet of paper when run through an etching press.
For a video that provides an overview of intaglio processes and concentrates on etching in particular, please click here.
Rops was an early experimenter with heliogravure—more commonly referred to as photogravure—an intaglio photomechanical method of reproducing prints made possible by the invention of photography. In photogravure a film positive of the image is transferred to a light-sensitive, gelatin-coated sheet of paper through exposure to ultraviolet light. The artist adheres this gelatin layer to the surface of a copper plate; the gelatin coating acts as a resist to the acid bath that, in the same manner as in the etching process described above, incises lines into the exposed areas of the metal plate. A slightly damp sheet of paper is placed on the plate and run through the press to create the finished photogravure print.
Please click here for detailed, step-by-step instructions.