If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Printmaking - Processes, Materials, & Techniques

Printmaking is a technique developed around the same time as the printing press, allowing books to have illustrations. Pictures were drawn on a wooden block or metal plate, covered with ink, and then pressed onto sheets of paper. One plate could make hundreds of copies. In order for a plate to fit into a printing press, without sliding around, its sides must be beveled, meaning filed down at an angle to a sharp point. Printing ink is typically oil based and similar to oil paint, only stickier, thicker, and more concentrated with pigment.

After a plate is inked, it's ready to go into the printing press. A piece of paper called a registration sheet marks exactly where the plate should sit, and the paper on top. This is crucial for multi-plate printing. Each plate can have only one colour, so a full colour print requires several plates, for red, yellow, blue, or whatever colours the artist desires. After the plate and paper are placed on the printing table, blankets are placed on top of them, and the print is run through a heavy roller which pushes all the ink into the paper.

Print making paper is thick and soft, and is wetted to help soften it further. It's then blotted with a towel to remove excess water, so it will accept the ink. After printing, the paper is placed between dry towels and boards, and pressed to dry flat.

Printers often rework their plates over and over, repeating the process of drawing and printing until they get the desired result. Until the print is finished, it's referred to as a state - 1st state, 2nd state, 3rd, etc, The final state is called a proof, and then an edition is printed, identical to the proof. An edition can have anywhere from 20 to 200 copies. Some printmakers don't like to make editions, instead creating monotypes - each proof is unique.


Engraving techniques involve scoring with a burin and drypoint needle. In both cases the plate is cut with a stylus. A drypoint needle is thinner, creating lines that are lighter and more feathery. Engraving can by done on many different surfaces. Jewellery is often engraved, as are swords and knives.


Etching is a process similar to engraving, but instead of cutting the plate directly with a stylus, acid is used to eat away at the metal. The plates are usually made of copper or zinc (copper plates last longer, as it's harder). Copper plates are etched with ferric chloride, and zinc with  copper sulphate. The plate is covered with a thin layer of resistant bees' wax or varnish. Then, the artist scratches away at this material with a thin stylus, exposing the metal. The plate is then put in the acid, and wherever lines are exposed, the acid eats away, forming grooves. The longer a plate sits in the acid, the bigger the grooves, and the darker the lines will become. An alternate approach is to paint on a thinner layer of varnish, and where it's thinnest, the acid will eat away, leaving brush strokes similar to a painting.


This is a special etching technique where the plate is covered in a fine layer of pine resin dust, which is then heated. The result is etched, creating a fine, even tone that can range from light gray to black, depending on how long it's etched.

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