William Blake

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Special Collections of Oberlin College has many works showcasing the poetry and artistry of William Blake (1757-1827). There are thirty-five different primary works solely by Blake, or works including his illustrations in Special Collections. Four of these volumes, minor works, contain original etchings by Blake, while the remaining volumes contain high-quality facsimiles that stand up to close scrutiny under magnification. There are also numerous secondary volumes about William Blake that add significantly to our holdings. A list of William Blake publications in Special Collections is available.

Although we remember Blake as an artist, or mystic, he worked as a commercial engraver and etcher for his livelihood. However, copying the drawings of others could never possibly quench the very inquisitive, creative, and rebellious nature of Blake. He used, and became proficient at many arts, including pen and ink drawing, watercolor painting, the [then] new craft of lithography, as well as various methods of etching. The most interesting and mysterious of Blake's visual techniques, is that of Relief Etching, a creation of his own that he began to use in 1788. The idea, he claimed, came to him in a dream about his dead brother. The exact process of relief etching is still debated, and has never been completely solved. Most concur, however, that Blake used acid resistant ink on copper plate. There is disagreement about whether he wrote and drew with the acid resistant ink directly on the copper plate, or if he used a transfer process that began with the ink on paper. In any event, this technique allowed him a seamless combination of his own calligraphic text and images. Blake used relief etching in four of his own books: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, Jerusalem, The Book of Thel, and the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Edith Eustace & Ed Vermue

Last updated:
June 13, 2016