PRINTMAKING - A SHORT INTRODUCTION

THERE ARE MANY PRINTMAKING TECHNIQUES AND IN THIS SECTION I WILL GIVE A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THEM AND DISCUSS THE MAIN ONES I USE IN MY PRACTICE

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I am often asked about the techniques I use and also what a hand pulled print is compared to a painting or drawing.  This is a very good question and before I did a Master’s degree in it I had little idea either.   Real hand pulled printmaking, is in fact just another way to make an original picture; however because it usually involves making a plate to create the picture, the plate can be used (re-inked) to make multiple copies on paper creating an edition of similar or almost identical prints. 

 

Historically this is partly how printmaking started; to enable artists to be more commercially viable by creating editions so that each picture could be made available and sold to a wider audience, perhaps more cheaply, than a single painting or single drawing.   

 

However it wasn’t long before printmaking became a medium recognized as an art form in itself.  Artists soon discovered the potential of using the very varied processes  to achieve wonderful visual effects, often quite different to those of painting or drawing alone.  They also discovered the fascinating alchemy involved in many of  the techniques.  

The starting point is almost always by preparing a plate or substrate of some description; the image is then created and then inked up and pressed onto dampened or dry paper by hand burnishing or, more usually, hand-pulled through a press. 

 

Drawing, painting and carving are still the fundamental processes the artist uses to make the original plates. 

There are four main categories in printmaking: Intaglio, Relief, Planographic and Stencil.  All of which have subsets: 

 

INTAGLIO PRINTMAKING

 

Intaglio is the family of printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink.   Techniques within this category are etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint and mezzotint.  Also collagraphs can be inked in the intaglio as well as by relief printmaking (see below).

RELIEF PRINTMAKING

 

Relief by contrast is the family of techniques in which the image comes from the ink applied to the surface of the plate but not the recessed areas which will remain white if printed on white paper.  Techniques within this category include woodcut, wood engraving, linocut and collagraphs (which can also be inked using the intaglio method.)

 

PLANOGRAPHIC PRINTMAKING 

 

Planographic printmaking is the family of techniques where the plate appears flat.  Techniques within this category are stone lithography, waterless lithography and monotyping.  In stone lithography the process relies on the property that water will not mix with oil.  A greasy substance is used to draw or paint the image on the stone which is then prepared so that the paper used to print from it is made only receptive to the drawn areas once inked.   Monotyping as the name suggests involves making just one unique print by using a flat smooth surface like plastic, glass or wood.  The plate is not incised in any way so the print will only be able to be printed once (or exceptionally twice if a ghost print is taken).

STENCIL PRINTMAKING

Screen printing in fine art is a technique whereby stencils for the image are created onto a fine mesh (originally silk was used) and then the ink is pressed through the mesh with a squeegee onto the paper.    Screen printing is very versatile and  is used widely in industry too.  There are many applications and techniques involved In these processes however a discussion of them is beyond the scope and not really apposite for this introduction.

PRINTMAKING TECHNIQUES I USE

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COLLOGRAPHY

 

Literally from the greek koll or kolla (meaning glue) and graph (to draw).  The rigid plates can be made of paperboard or wood and can be carved or have materials glued to them to create the image which is then sealed and inked up and printed.  Many different materials can be used such as carborundum sand (to give tonal areas), cloth, string, dried organic plant matter, tissue paper.  In fact almost anything can be used as long as it is thin enough to be glued to the substrate and go through a press.  Also layers of the wood or paper can be removed which also creates different tonality.  The resulting collage of materials is then sealed with button polish and once dry can be inked either in the intaglio or rolled over the surface (relief) or both and printed onto dampened paper.  

 
ETCHING
This is an intaglio process in which lines and areas of the plate are incised using acid.   The plates can be made of iron, copper or zinc.  The lines can be drawn into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ grounds depending on the type of line desired.  These are waxy substance melted onto the plate and rolled out flat and cooled.  They effectively prevent areas which are not drawn into them being etched by the acid. The plates can be repeatedly placed in the acid to build the image after ‘stopping out’ further with varnish to protect completed areas from further biting in the acid.  Aquatint is a powdered form of rosin (a resin) which can also be applied as a fine dust to the plate and again melted on using a blow torch below the plate.   This creates areas of tone.  The longer the plate is in the acid the darker the tones, so this process can also be repeated and areas stopped out to create variations in tone from light to dark with each immersion in the acid. 
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LINOCUTTING
Is literally that.  Pieces of linoleum can be warmed and then tools of varying thickness and shape can be used to cut out the image from the rubbery side of the plate.  Japanese lino is a vinyl version which does not need to be warmed up before cutting and can be carved on either side. The plate is then inked up on the surface and the cut out areas will print white (or whatever colour the paper is) and the non-cut areas will show as the colour of the ink.  
WATERLESS LITHOGRAPHY
 
Waterless Lithography is a similar technique to stone lithography however instead of stone, aluminium plates coated with silicon are used.  The silicon seals a water-based ink drawing or painting which is then washed out to receive special rubber based inks which adhere to the washed out image and can then be printed.  This technique only allows small editions as the delicate substrate disintegrates fairly quickly through repetitive inking. With both stone and waterless lithography the image produced appears predominantly how it is drawn or painted apart from being a mirror image.
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MONOTYPING
 
As the name suggests, monotypes are unique 'one off' prints as no permanent change to the plate substrate is created in their making.  They are made simply by drawing or painting on a smooth surface such as glass, wood, stone or (what I use) thick plastic sheets.  The drawing and painting can be added to or treated reductively (i.e. by removing ink with rags or brushes), white spirit can be sprayed or dripped on to create washy effects and plate oil can be used to create areas of white as it repels the ink.  This medium can be very painterly and is in fact probably the closest printmaking technique to traditional painting.  Large rollers can be used to layer colours on top of each other (viscosity printing).  The plates are usually printed onto dampened paper which facilities the absorption of ink to paper.  The paper can be trapped in the press to allow multiple inking whilst keeping the registration perfect.   Stencils made of thick paper or plastic can also be used additively or reductively within the image.