The woodcut is the art of engraving on wood by hollowing
out with chisels areas of a plank of usually cherry wood, pear, apple or boxwood,
leaving a design on the surface. The transfer of this design onto paper is achieved
by inking the surface with typographic ink and applying pressure with a press.
The woodcut technique was used for decorating textiles in China as early as the
5th century AD and by the 15th century it was applied to religious images and
playing cards in Europe. The finest exponents of the woodcut in 16th-century Europe
were the Germans, Albrect Dürer, Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach.
the early 19th century woodcuts were largely supplanted in commercial work by
the technique of wood engraving (a more exact process where the design is incised
on the end of a hardwood block) and it wasn't till the latter part of that century
when artists rediscovered woodcuts as a medium of artistic expression. Among these
were Edvard Munch, who used softwoods, and Paul Gauguin who achieved interesting
effects by sanding the wood. The Japanese, traditional masters of the woodcut,
must be acknowleged as important forerunners of much of the work done by westerners
thoroughout the 20th century.
The linocut is a printmaking technique similar to that
of the woodcut, the difference being that the image is engraved on linoleum instead
of wood. Since linoleum offers an easier surface for working, linocuts offer more
precision and a greater variety of effects than woodcuts. Long disparaged by serious
artists as not challenging enough, the linocut came into its own after artists
like Picasso and Matisse began to work in that technique.
color lithograph by Chu Teh Chun
This is the printmaking technique invented by Senefelder in Germany in 1796
which takes advantage of the repulsion between oil and water to transfer an image
from a smooth limestone surface to a sheet of paper. It is considered one of the
most authentic means of artistic reproduction as it prints directly the touch
of the artist's hand. On the other hand, sheer production numbers detract somewhat
from its appeal to collectors, as the method permits practically unlimited editions.
The first artists who left their mark on the lithographic tradition were mainly
French and go from the early Delacroix and Géricualt to Daumier, Degas,
Manet, and especially Odilon Redon.
advent of color lithography in the mid-19th century saw significant work by Toulouse-Lautrec,
Gauguin, Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. The American expatriate, James McNeil Whistler
produced some remarkable views of the River Thames in England while his compatriots
of the firm of Currier & Ives were papering the United States with their own
characteristic lithographs. Other 20th-entury practitioners have been Edvard Munch,
the German Expressionists, and the Mexicans José Clemente Orozco, Diego
Rivera and Rufino Tamayo.
Screen or Serigraphy
Silk screen or "serigraphy"
as it prefers to be known in fine-art circles, originated in China and found its
way to the West in the 15th century. It's a stencil process based on the porosity
of silk (nylon or other fabric...) which allows ink to pass through the areas
which are not "stopped" with glue or varnish. One or more layers of
ink are applied with a squegee, each one covering the open areas of succeding
screens until the final composite image is achieved. Photographic transfers, both
in line and halftone, can also be fixed to the screen with a light-sensitive emulsion.
took on the status of art in the late 30's in the United States when a group of
artists working with the Federal Art Project experimented with the technique and
subsequently formed the National Serigraphic Society to promote its use.
An etching by Monir
Etching is a method of making prints from a metal plate,
usually copper or zinc, which has been bitten with acid. The plate is first coated
with an acid-resistant substance (etching ground or varnish) through which the
design is drawn with a sharp tool (burin or other). The acid eats the plate through
the exposed lines; the more time the plate is left in the acid, the coarser the
lines. When the plate is inked and its surface rubbed clean, and it is covered
with paper and passed under a cylindrical press, the ink captured in the lines
is transferred to the paper.
first etching on record was that of the Swiss artist, Urs Graf, who printed from
iron plates. Albrecht Dürer, though a consummate engraver, made only five
etchings, and never really dominated the technique. That was left to later artists
like the Italian Parmigianino and, of course, Rembrandt, perhaps the greatest
etcher of all time... Later adepts of acid etching were Tiepolo and Canaletto
in Italy and, of course, Francisco Goya in Spain. The 20th century saw important
bodies of work by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault.
Drypoint is an engraving method in which the design
is scratched directly onto the (usually copper) plate with a sharp pointed instrument.
Lines in a drypoint print are characterized by a soft fuzziness caused by ink
printed from the burr, or rough metal edge lifted up on each side of the furrow
made by the etching tool. Drypoint is most often used in combination with other
etching techniques, frequently to insert dark areas in an almost-finished print.
Mezzotint or "black manner" is the technique
which, contrary to the other methods in use, works from black to white rather
than white to black. This is achieved by laying down a texture on a plate by means
of a pointed roulette wheel or a sharp rocker. The burrs thus created trap a large
quantity of ink and give a rich black. The mezzotint artist then scrapes away
the burr in areas he wants to be grey or white. The process produces soft, subtle
gradations and is usually combined with etching or engraving which lend clean-lined
definition. Historically the technique has been associated with England, and is
often referred to as "the English method."
or "vernis mou" became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries as a methd
of drawing or transferring designs and textures directly onto a plate. When used
for drawing, a paper is placed on top of a soft sticky ground and then drawn over.
The resulting line is broad and soft, sometimes thought to resemble pencil or
chalk drawings. When used to capture textures directly the subject (lace, leaves,
flowers, etc.) is laid directly on the soft ground and then passed through the
etching press with the resulting image being exposed to acid. Both effects can
One of the four major types of printmaking techniques
(the others being relief printing, stencilling, and planographic printing) whose
distinguishing feature is the fact that the ink forming the design is printed
only from the recessed areas of the plate. Among intaglio techniques are engraving,
etching, drypoint, aquatint, soft-ground etching and crayon-manner etching. Japanese
printmakers added a new twist, printing uninked plates to achieve white-on-white
relief designs, a practice (called in Spanish, "golpe en blanco") which
quickly found favor in the West.
A solarplate print by Maureen Booth
Solarplate prints are based on a photosensitive polymer-covered plate, usually steel. Images can be transferred to them in a variety of ways: painting directly on the plate with an opaque medium, putting the image on a transparent acetate that is then pressed onto the plate by means of a glass "sandwich" and then exposed to direct sunlight or a UV lamp, After exposure the plate is washed in plain water and the images appears in intaglio or relief, depending on whether the image exposed was positive or negative. Faster than etching, with the additional advantage que text is rendered correctly. No writing backwards required.
A liquid-metal print by Maureen Booth
Liquid metal printmaking is a collagraph technique developed in Spain. Used or new zinc, copper or steel plates may be employed. An epoxy plumbers' filler is spread over the plate and after a brief period which leaves the substance semi dry, it can be worked with a stylus or by pressing in textures as in a soft ground. After leaving to harden, it yields magical results in the printing.
aquatint print by Hernández Pizjuán
This technique is so called because its finished prints
often resemble watercolors or wash drawings. It is a favorite method of printmakers
to achieve a wide range of tonal values. The technique consists of exposing the
plate to acid through a layer (or sometimes succesive layers) of resin or sugar.
The acid bites the plate only in the spaces between the resin particles, achieving
a finely and evenly pitted surface that yields broad areas of tone when the grains
are washed off and the plate is inked and printed. A great many tones can be achieved
on a single plate by exposing different areas to different acid concentrations
or different exposure times. Aquatint techniques are generally used in combination
with etching or engraving to achieve linear definition. Aquatint was little favored
by etchers until Francisco Goya used it to such great effect in his celebrated
edition of 80 etchings entitled "Los Caprichos." After Goya the technique
was used extensively by Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro.
sugar aquatint, also called "sugar lift," the artist uses a sugar-ink
mixture to draw with pen or pencil on a surface treated with resin. When dry the
drawing is covered with a layer of varnish and when dry introduced into a hot-water
bath which exposes the drawing in the resin. The plate is then bitten in the acid
bath and the resulting print has a soft, painterly look.
Carborundum print by Wendy M. Smith
Carborundum is really the reverse of etching, wherin diverse materials (carbon
powder, iron filings, etc.) are used in a glue medium to build a convex texture
on the plate, which is then inked and put through the press. When used with other
etching techniques this procedure produces varied and interesting effects of line,
texture and relief.
Monotype by Jim
Monotype is a one-off technique in which a flat surface
on copper, zinc or glass is painted with oil colors or ink and then passed through
the etching press. The process permits only one copy; thus "monotype."
Modern monotypes take advantage of a wide variety of materials including perspex,
cardboard, etc., with artists creating veritable collages on the surface, then
printing them for surprising results.