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
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 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 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 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).
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
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.