What Is Printmaking?

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What is Printmaking?

Printmaking is the process of creating multiple works of art called prints from a surface called a matrix which is made from different materials known as plates. Prints are produced through a transfer process and an artist is able to control the total number of impressions or prints created by each matrix; this number is referred to as an edition. Over printmaking’s long history, a variety of transfer processes or techniques have been developed. The main categories of techniques are:

Relief

Intaglio

Lithography

Silkscreen, Serigraphy or Screen Print

Relief

The relief process is the oldest form of printmaking, dating back to ninth century China. An image or design is carved or etched into the surface of wood, linoleum, metal or stone to be used as a matrix. Ink or water-based colour is then applied by a roller on to the surface of the matrix; the ink adheres to the raised surface, leaving the etched or carved areas clean. The transfer of this design is achieved after the surface of the plate has been inked and then by applying pressure with a press or by hand with a baren (a Japanese rubbing tool) onto paper. Famous artists who worked in relief include Albrecht Dürer and M.C. Escher. On display in this gallery, Walter J. Phillips Sharp's Dock - Pender Harbour (1952) provides an example of a multi-plate coloured woodcut relief print.

Linocut is a relief technique that was formalised by Picasso and Matisse. In this technique the image is cut onto linoleum. Since linoleum offers an easier surface for working, linocuts offer more precision and a greater variety of effects than woodcuts. Linocut is listed in the media line of labels throughout the exhibition. H.G. (Henry George) Glyde's small print, Untitled (1942) provides an example in this exhibition.

Intaglio

The intaglio (in-ta-lee-o) or etching technique was developed in the early sixteenth century. The matrix, made of copper, zinc, or plastic plates, can either be engraved or etched. Engraving is when the artists cut their design directly into the plate and etching involves an acid-resistant substance known as ground through which the design is drawn. The plate then goes into an acid bath which dissolves the exposed plate. Once the plate is removed from the acid and the ground is cleaned, the etched design is all that remains. The next step in either method of intaglio is to rub ink onto the plate, filling all of the incisions where the design has been cut. The plate's surface is then wiped cleaned, leaving only the ink-filled ridges. To create editions, the plate is covered with dampened paper and passed between the cylinders of an etching press under high pressure. The seventeenth century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is known for his etchings, of which his Old Man with a Divided Fur Cap (1640) can be seen in this gallery.

Other intaglio processes provide variations on this technique:

The aquatint process gets its name from the type of rosin used to create tones on a print. Powdered aquatint rosin is dusted onto an etched or engraved plate and then cured. The artist then applies stop-out varnish to the areas where they would not like the acid to touch. Once in the acid bath, the acid will dissolve the areas not covered in stop-out varnish and the grains of rosin. This creates light to dark tones on the plate which will translate, once inked and wiped, onto a print.

In drypoint, the design is scratched directly onto the plate with a sharp pointed needle as a finishing technique. Drypoint lines are characterised by their softness and rich appearance. Used in detail work, drypoint is most often used in combination with other etching techniques. A combination of drypoint, aquatint, and soft-ground etching (the artist places a piece of paper over the ground and draws) can be seen in Hayter's Tropic of Cancer (1949), exhibited in this gallery.

Mezzotint works in reverse to other methods of intaglio as it functions from dark to light. The plate is evenly roughened using a tool called a rocker and the image is then created by smoothing areas of the plate with a burnisher. When inked, the rough areas will hold more ink (darker) than the smooth areas (lighter). Maurice Pasternak, a Belgian artist included in part two of this exhibition, is a master of the mezzotint technique.

Photogravure (pho-to-gra-vure) is a photo-transfer intaglio technique utilising a copper plate coated with a light-sensitive gelatin. A film positive is attached to the plate and exposed to light. The plate is then etched resulting in a high-quality print that has similar tones to a photograph. Marlene MacCallum's Strange Chambers: Stairway (2001) and David Morrish's The Gallery: Portraits of Animal Aristocrats (1999) provide excellent examples of this method. Other photo techniques in printmaking include photographic emulsion transfer which is a process of using chemicals to transfer a photograph onto another surface.

Lithography

Lithography is a surface-printing technique which traditionally uses limestone, zinc, or aluminium plates to transfer what is drawn on the surface through a process that is based on the resistance between oil and water. This technique became popular in the 19th century. The artist draws on the stone or plate using a greasy medium, such as a wax crayon. The plate is then coated with a mixture of chemicals, causing a reaction that sensitises the surface of the plate: the drawn areas repel water, while the other areas of the plate do not. The surface of the plate is dampened with water and oil based ink is then applied to the plate with a roller. Since oil and water do not mix, the ink is repelled by the wet blank areas and adheres to the oily areas, re-creating the drawn original image. In this gallery Henri Fantin-Latour's La damnation de Faust (1888) and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon's Une Famille Malheureuse (1822) are examples of lithography.


Silkscreen, Serigraphy or Screen Print


Serigraph, silkscreen or screen print are forms of stencilling. Unlike other processes it does not require a mechanical press. It is a technique based on the permeability of silk, nylon, other fabric that allows ink to pass through the areas which are not "stopped" with glue, varnish or paper. In the 1930s serigraph was a term used to distinguish artist's screen prints from commercial production. One of the most well-known screen prints is Andy Warhol's 1962 depiction of Marilyn Monroe. Akira Matsumoto's Line of Fourteen Colors (1978) and Color Scheme (Eight Colors) (1980) are examples of screen prints on display in this room.

Over the long history of printmaking the lines between these categories have been blurred as print artists continually experiment, combine techniques and make use of technological advances. For example, additional techniques you will see in this exhibition are chine-collé, collagraph and digital printing.

Chine-collé (sheen-coal-ay) uses light-weight paper to introduce colour and texture into a print. Papers selected for this technique are cut or torn into desired shapes, dampened, then brushed with a coating of glue, such as wheat or rice paste, on one side. The pieces of paper are placed on top of an inked plate, paste side up and then when put through the press, the chine-collé paper adheres to the print paper along with the ink.

Collagraph is a technique where the matrix or plate is made up of adhered items. A collagraph plate can be inked in both relief and intaglio. Examples of collagraph plates and the resulting prints can be seen in John Ihle's Blue Nebula (1969) and Fringed Landscape (1969).

Digital printing is a form of printmaking that takes a digital image and prints it onto a surface. This method has become extremely efficient, as the digital file acts as the printing plate, a significant saving of time and money, and allows for a new level of experimentation in print.

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