Original prints should not be confused with reproductions.
An original hand-made print is a genuine work of art which ranks with painting, sculpture and drawing as one of the foremost means of artistic expression. Original prints were made in the past by all the masters, ranging from Durer, Rembrandt, and Renoir, through to Picasso and Warhol, and today artists carry on the tradition which involves slow, painstaking, skilled work.
Museums around the world today seek out the best contemporary prints to add to their collections of old masters' works.
An original print is pulled from a plate or block that has been hand-made, and hand inked by the artist who chooses a particular medium to create an effect which could not be achieved in any other way. Some artists have an assistant cut the block and pull the prints but the design is owned by the artist.
The artist creates a surface so that more than one image can be printed from it. A series of prints from the same prepared surface is called an edition. The artist will generally limit the number of prints in an edition - and with some processes the fragility of the plate itself means that only a limited number of prints can be pulled before the plate degrades.
After the edition is completed the plates are marked or destroyed so they cannot be used again.
Each print in an edition requires the same skilled work of inking, registering and printing. Usually a separate plate must be prepared, inked, and printed for each colour appearing in the final print.
After the plate or block is completed, and before the edition is printed the artist will usually experiment with colour combinations and different inking techniques, sometimes making and rejecting a number of trial proofs. Once the final design has been decided the artist may make a number of "artist's proofs" which will be held for the artist's use or sale.
The next step is the edition itself. Each print in the edition is numbered, titled, and signed by the artist. The notation "AP" refers to an artist's proof, "1/20" denotes the first print in an edition of 20, while "52/75" means the 52nd print of an edition of 75.
There are a variety of methods used in printmaking, and knowledge of these adds to the appreciation of the prints.
METHODS OF MAKING ORIGINAL PRINTS
An etching is printed from a metal plate. The areas of the plate to be etched are left exposed while the rest of the plate is protected with an acid-resistant ground (such as wax). The metal plate is immersed in a tray of acid, which 'bites' into the metal creating an image. Once the ground is removed from the plate it is ready for printing. The surface of the plate is covered with ink, then wiped clean so the ink remains only in the etched areas. The inked-up plate is then printed onto dampened paper under the weight of the rolling press.
This is an etching process that creates values ranging from light to dark. The plate is first dusted with varying densities of an acid-resisting powder called rosin, heated to a glue consistency, and then put into the acid bath which etches around each particle. The final effect is an image on a fine pebbled background. Aquatint is usually used in combination with line etching.
Mezzotints have soft tonalities ranging from grey to black. The quality is achieved by a serrated tool called a rocker that is systematically worked back and forth across the surface of a metal plate pitting it with thousands of tiny indentations creating a burr (rough raised surface). This is then polished back to a very smooth surface with a burnisher.
MONOPRINT The image is painted onto a flat plate and put through the press. The artist can never exactly make the same marks again, hence the term "mono" print.
With this method the artist draws each colour or shape onto a flat stone or metal plate, usually with an oily crayon. The stone or plate is dampened with water and a sheet of paper put on it and passed through a litho press. The ink is put onto the litho press roller and will only print where the crayon has touched the stone. More than any other print medium lithography produces results exactly faithful to the marks made by the artist. For example it is often hard to tell the difference between a lithograph and a crayon drawing. Before the invention of modern colour printing, lithography was used to produce book illustrations and posters. The most famous of these were drawn by French artist Henri Toulouse Lautrec in the 1890s.
SCREENPRINTING (Also known as a Serigraphy)
Screenprinting is a stencil process. A fine mesh material is stretched over a frame (originally the material was silk). Areas of the screen are blocked with a varnish-like substance, and then a squeegee is used to push ink through the open areas onto paper. The image is then created by building up layers of colours using a different screen for each. Unlike other printmaking methods, screenprinting is worked in the positive rather than the reverse of the image.
During the 60s serigraphy was adopted by Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana because of its ability to deal with bright areas of colour.
WOODCUT & LINOCUT
A woodcut is made by cutting into the broad face of a plank of wood, usually with a knife. A linocut is made by the same method, but using linoleum instead of wood. In working the wood the artist cuts away the areas not to be printed, and the ink adheres to the raised surface during printing making it a relief rather than intaglio print.
The printing surface is built up on the plate or block by sticking on various materials which may also be incised. The collograph plate indents the paper creating an embossed effect.
SOME PRINTING TERMS
Most prints fall in to the categories of relief, intaglio, lithographic, explained above, and stencil.
With relief prints the raised part of the plate surface is printed. Relief printing includes woodcuts and linocuts, embossing and wood engraving.
With Intaglio prints the image is cut below the surface of the plate. Intaglio methods include etching, mezzotint, engraving, drypoint, and aquatint.
Silk screens are a form of stencil with open areas of the stencil being printed.