Knowing the Art World:
There are many different types of print and the processes used to create them vary; they also change and evolve with time.
A print is any work of art made in multiple iterations, created through a transfer process. The four best-known techniques are etching, lithography, screen-printing and woodcut.
Etching: A skilled technique in which an artist will use an etching needle to scratch an image onto a metal plate covered with wax.The plate is then submerged in an acid that eats into the metal exposed by the scratched lines. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the deeper and darker the lines will be. The metal plate is then cleaned, inked and cleaned again, leaving only the etched lines filled with ink.
The plate is then covered with damp paper and a protective cloth before being squeezed through an etching press. This process forces the paper into the etched lines to pick up the detail in ink. The image is then printed in reverse and an indentation (known as the ‘plate mark’), is left by the plate’s edges. From the Old Master period through to present day, etching has been used to create black and white images with very delicate and intricate detail.
Lithography: an artist or printer will draw on a lithographic limestone using a greasebased medium such as special lithographic crayons, or a greasy ink known as ‘tusche’. The stone is then treated with a chemical solution to ensure first - that the image will attract printing ink and second - that blank areas repel the ink and attract water.
Next, a fixing solvent stabilises the image and the surface is dampened with water. Oil-based ink is applied to the stone with a roller, adhering only to the image. The stone is then placed on a lithographic press, covered with damp paper and a board, before a pressure bar then applies force evenly across the image to transfer it over to a printed page. A more modern technique involves the use of a smooth metal plate and polymer coatings, but the process is the same. The image is printed in reverse and to create complex images or print in multiple colours, separate stones (or plates) would be used.
Screen-printing: An artist or printer will cut an image into a sheet of paper or plastic film to create a ‘stencil’. This is then placed in a frame that has a layer of fine mesh stretched across it to form a ‘screen’. A sheet of paper is placed beneath the screen and a straight rubber blade or ‘squeegee’ (a lovely word!!) is used to push the ink through the stencil. Only the cut-out portions of the stencil will print to the paper.
In more recent times, photographic images have been reproduced on the screen by using light-sensitive gelatins.
Woodcut: This process involves an artist sketching an image onto a block of wood before the surface is carved -along the grain - with gouging tools. Boxwoods, pear, cherry and wood from nut trees all used to be popular choices. The carving or gouging leaves raised portions of the block that can be coated with ink using a roller. A sheet of paper is placed on top and pressure applied, so as to leave an impression of the block’s raised areas in reverse.
Woodcut is the oldest printing process and it continues to be very popular today.
Printmaking involves reproducing an image, but a print is far more than just a copy of an original. Fine Art prints are something else entirely and rely on a close collaboration between the artist and highly-skilled print technicians at a print studio.
Prints are not usually made in large production runs. A very limited number (known as an ‘edition’) is produced, with a very specific idea of exactly to whom they will appeal. This focus and exclusivity means that they are true works of art; as important to the artist as they are to the clients that acquire them.