I am a printmaker. If that statement leaves you puzzled, you’re not alone; over the years I’ve discovered that even fellow artists have only the vaguest notion of what I do. Nothing makes me happier than getting to talk about this art form I passionately enjoy — so come on in and welcome to my world!
- What is printmaking?
Printmaking arose early in the 7th century, when Chinese artisans carved texts
and images on wooden blocks and used them to print on fabric and paper. Soon thereafter the invention of movable type made Bibles and books accessible to ordinary people for the first time. Print processes were also used to reproduce paintings and drawings, creating multiple — and affordable — copies of artists’ works for collectors. Digital technology largely fills that need today, leaving printmakers free to explore printmaking as an exciting art form in its own right.
- A print is an original work of art!
Have you ever walked into a store like Home Goods or Target and picked up a poster or a framed copy of a famous painting? Although most people would call this wall décor “a print” it’s really a reproduction. Reproductions are mass-produced by commercial printers; in contrast, original prints are created by individual artists, using one or more of the traditional printmaking processes. The print may be a single unique image, or a series of multiple, identical images called an edition; either way, each print bears the mark of the artist’s hand, and is an original work of art.
- There are four basic types of printmaking
…and all have this in common — instead of working directly on canvas or paper, a printmaker works on a matrix of some sort and then transfers the image from the matrix to another surface.
That may sound complicated, but in fact, if you’ve ever taken an art class in school, you’ve probably tried this: you carved a simple image into a piece of gray linoleum — your matrix — rolled ink on it, laid down a piece of paper, and rubbed with a wooden spoon until the image transferred to the paper. You made a print!
This process is called RELIEF printing, and is usually done with a block of wood or linoleum. The artist carves away material from the block, and when ink is rolled on the remaining surface the carved areas don’t print. One color requires one block; multiple colors require a different block for each color — and that same principle holds true for most printmaking methods.
For INTAGLIO printing — including etching and engraving — lines are cut into
a metal plate by engraving with a tool or using acid to etch the metal. Ink is rubbed onto the plate and wiped off, until it remains only in the incised lines. Damp paper is placed on the plate, and under the pressure of a press, the ink in the lines transfers to the paper.
LITHOGRAPHY — from the Greek “lithos” (stone) and “graph” (drawing) — is a form of printmaking that uses a smooth stone as the matrix. The artist draws on the stone with a greasy crayon, then wets the stone with water, and rolls on oil-based ink. The ink is repelled by the water and sticks to the drawing only, and a print can be taken from the stone’s surface.
SILKSCREEN is familiar as a method of printing
designs on T-shirts. It’s also used to make fine art prints called serigraphs (literally, “drawn through silk”.) A tightly stretched piece of fabric is the matrix. A design is superimposed on the fabric, making a kind of stencil, then ink is pushed across it with a squeegee leaving an image on the printing surface below.
- Why make prints?
If you stuck with me through the above, you may have noticed that printmaking is quite labor-intensive. So why choose this way of making art? For me, it’s enjoyment of the process itself. The work engages all the senses — there are gorgeous depths of tone in the overlapping layers of ink, lush weight and texture in the paper, even pleasure in the smell of the ink. And with endless variations and combinations of the basic four processes, there is unlimited territory to explore in this exciting medium.
- Where can you learn more? BCPL has books on printmaking that you can check out. Museums and many local galleries have original prints in their collections. If you’d like some hands-on experience, Tiger Lily Press in Cincinnati offers classes and workshops in printmaking. More information can be found at their website: http://tigerlilypress.blogspot.com//index.htmlFor an interactive demonstration of how printmaking works, visit this page at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website: http://www.moma.org/interactives/projects/2001/whatisaprint/flash.html
Kathleen Piercefield received a BFA in Printmaking from Northern Kentucky University, and makes prints in her home studio in Dry Ridge. She also works part-time at the Walton branch of BCPL.
Her website is www.kpiercefield.com
St.George and the dragon, woodcut, Albrecht Durer
Fox Pause, linoleum block, K. Piercefield
Self Portrait, etching, Rembrandt van Rijn
Night Traveler, lithograph, K. Piercefield
Marilyn, silkscreen, Andy Warhol