Stipple engraving is pointillism on glass. Countless tint dots are engraved on glass with diamond points or tungsten steel pencils. These dots build up, like a fine painting or drawing, into a picture in which the stippling is seen as highlights and the plain glass as shadows. This beautiful form of engraving is marked by its light transparent quality, totally in keeping with the lucent delicacy of fine glass.
History of Stipple Engraving
Stipple engraving with the diamond point is almost exclusively Dutch. It was at its zenith in the middle of the eighteenth century and was mainly practised by talented amateurs with considerable artistic ability. Their work reached a high standard of perfection and can be seen in national museums and important private collections today. Stippling with a diamond on glass is recorded in 1621 when the method was used occasionally by Anna Roemers Visscher (1583-1651) – the first recorded woman artist on glass. It became a popular style of diamond point work in the middle of the eighteenth century, when Frans Greenwood (1680-1761) gave impetus to the art. His early work had been linear engraving but in 1720 he adopted the technique of stippling and produced all his work with this delicate method of engraving. Stippling was soon popular with other Dutch artists such as David Wolff (1732-1798), G.H. Hoolaart, Van der Blijk, Aert Schouman and finally L. Adams who stippled neo-classical subjects in the early nineteenth century. When wheel engraving came in. Dutch artists endeavoured to imitate the light and shade produced by the wheel by harsh strokes of the diamond. Style began to degenerate and the transparency and delicacy of stipple engraving was lost.
Stipple engraving demands a combination of artist and craftsman that is rare. These qualities however are found in John Coughlan (Seán O’Cocláin), master artist and craftsman of Penrose Crystal. He was trained in design and brilliant cutting with the Waterford Glass Company and moved on to intaglio engraving on glass. Intaglio work on glass is done by small rotating stone wheels, a method that is a compromise between brilliant cutting and wheel engraving. Designs and patterns are more intricate than in brilliant cutting and less delicate than in wheel engraving. In 1970 John Coughlan became interested in diamond point stipple engraving. By 1972 he had mastered the technique and began stipple engraving in earnest. Over the past 25 years he has specialised in stipple engraving which he considers the highest form of art on glass and has been commissioned to engrave pieces for people such as the British Royal Family, Joe Davis (World Snooker Champion), Company Directors, Military Officers, etc. Pieces of his work can now be seen at the Penrose factory, but only by special appointment made well in advance.
A critic, on first seeing his work wrote:
“Showing an inherant love and observance of nature, his classical subjects are decorated with leaves and grasses that are botanically accurate, a butterfly is poised delicately on a blade of grass, a leaf is veined. The draughtsmanship would be perfect in pen and ink, with a diamond or steel point on glass it is fantastic.”