A Brief Introduction to the Language and Techniques of Printmaking
Fine art printmaking attracts artists of myriad styles and sensibilities, all of whom are drawn to the technical complexities and expressive sophistication of the medium. In realizing their ideas through this highly skilled and complex form of production, artists create limited edition impressions - each unique, signed, numbered and dated - often with the guidance of a Master Printmaker.
From its origins in early 15th century European studios, printmaking has evolved and expanded to include a tremendously diverse variety of techniques, applications and effects. Today, the medium has achieved global status and the affordability of prints ensures that they are widely prized by contemporary collectors.
All types of printmaking are based on the application of ink to a designed surface. In relief techniques (woodcut, wood engraving and linocut), the oldest form of the medium, ink is applied to a raised surface that stands out in relief from an image that has been cut away, and is transferred to a medium (most often paper) through the application of pressure.
In the case of intaglio techniques (engraving, etching, mezzotint, chine-colle and drypoint), a metal plate is cut and textured by way of specialized tools and inked all over. Excess ink is wiped from the surface, leaving only the deposits in the incised lines. Through the power of a high-pressure press, the ink is forced into the paper to create an image. Each intaglio technique leaves its own distinctive signature, from the extraordinary details of etching, to the rich tonalities of mezzotint, and the subtle surface variations of aquatint.
Lithography, an invention of the late 18th century, manipulates the chemical reaction between oil and water to render images on a smooth surface. From the earliest efforts, which used limestone blocks, to contemporary processes that are photographically based, lithography allows artists an extraordinary freedom of gesture and color variation for the most part unavailable by way of earlier techniques.