Introduction to Graphics
Lithography is a method of printmaking based on the chemical repellence of oil and water. It is a process of printing from a smooth plate; the printing and non-printing surfaces are all at the same level, as opposed to intaglio or relief processes in which the design is cut into the printing block. Designs are drawn or painted on a level, porous surface with a greasy material, such as conte crayon, grease pencil or a greasy substance called tusche. The most commonly used surfaces are limestone or plates made of metal or plastic.
After the image is drawn, the stone is dampened and ink is applied with a roller. The greasy image repels the water and holds the oily ink while the rest of the surface does the opposite. The stone is chemically treated after the image is created in order to enhance the effect. The artist then places a sheet of paper on the printing surface and runs the paper and the stone or plate through a printing press under heavy pressure. The pressure transfers the inked design onto the paper. To make additional impressions the artist re-dampens and re-inks the surface. It is interesting to note that because of the equipment used and the knowledge and skill required for the printing process, lithography lends itself to collaboration between artist and printer. Also pulling a large print requires two people.
Today it has come to be seen as a well-respected art form with very unique expressive capabilities. Many artists combine lithography with other printmaking processes, such as silk-screen. Some leading lithographers of the 1900's included Marc Chagall, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg to name only a few.
Etching is a method of making prints from a metal plate, usually copper, into which a design has been incised by acid. The copperplate is first coated with an acid-resistant substance, called the etching ground, through which the design is drawn with a sharp tool. The plate is then exposed to nitric acid, which eats away those areas of the plate unprotected by the ground, forming a pattern of recessed lines. These lines hold the ink, and, when the plate is applied to moist paper, the design transfers to the paper, making a finished print.
In the variety of etching known as aquatint, a copperplate is exposed to acid through a layer of melted granulated resin, leaving an evenly pitted surface that yields broad areas of tone when the grains are removed and the plate is printed. Etching and aquatint are often combined in a print by means of successive workings of its plate.
The practice of making prints from etched metal plates grew out of the custom of etching designs on armour and was adopted by printmakers as an easy way of engraving, a process of making prints from metal plates incised with a tool called a burin.
The first and perhaps greatest master of pure etching was Rembrandt (1606–69). He abandoned all links with engraving and produced over 300 etchings. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, soft-ground etching, or vernis mou, became current. This technique involves drawing with a pencil on a sheet of paper placed on a copperplate coated with an extremely soft, sticky ground. The ground adheres to the paper wherever the pencil passes, leaving the metal exposed in broad, soft lines. The plate is exposed to acid and, when printed, yields results similar to pencil or chalk drawings.
Etching continued to be used by most artists throughout the 19th century, and in the 20th century, the technique was adopted with new enthusiasm by several prominent artists. Primary among them is Pablo Picasso, who first made etching a vehicle for his Cubist ideas and subsequently exploited the technique’s purity of line in his “classical” period. Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault, Joan Miró, Stanley Hayter, and David Hockney also did much important work in this medium.
Woodcuts are the oldest method of printmaking. They were first developed in China in the 9th Century. European examples date from the 14th Century. It is called a relief process because the lines and surfaces to which the ink adheres are higher than the parts that are not printed.
To create a woodcut, the artist draws a design on a piece of wood sawed across the grain. Pine is the wood most commonly used, although fruitwoods such as pear or cherry may also be used. After smoothing the surface, the wood may be hardened by treating it with shellac (a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand). This makes it more durable under the pressure of a press and also makes it easier to carve strong bold images. The artist then paints or draws an image on the surface. The wood between the drawn lines is cut away, leaving only the drawn image standing on the surface. To make the cuts chisels, gouges or knives may be used. A roller holding a film of oil-based ink is rolled completely over the block. A sheet of paper, ideally an absorbent paper like rice paper, is placed over the block and the artist may then print the image by hand rubbing the surface with the bowl of a spoon or with another burnishing instrument. Under the pressure of the press the image is transferred to paper. The impression is pulled by carefully lifting a corner of the paper and peeling it off the block. Separate blocks are used for colour woodcuts, one block is used for each colour.
Linoleum cut is a relief print carved into linoleum rather than wood. Linoleum is composed of burlap coated with linoxyn; polymerized oil mixed with ground cork and pigments. The best grade, battleship linoleum, is usually brown or gray. Linoleum is more easily cut than wood and lighter weight tools are now made and sold for this process.
Generally speaking, linocuts are less esteemed by artists than woodcuts. Linoleum will not take very delicate or subtle cuts. The end result may appear block or poster like. However it is a good medium for artists who enjoy producing less exacting, more casual work.
Serigraphy (silk-screen printing or screen printing) is a 20th Century printmaking technique that was developed in America. It was introduced as a fine art technique with an exhibition of serigraphs at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Seri comes from the Latin work for silk and graphein, from the Greek, means to write or draw.
The origin of screen-printing may have been in Japan, where artist made large, delicate paper cuttings in which the elements were joined and held together by human hair. The hairs served as stencil ties without interfering with the printmaking process.
In its simplest form, screen-printing involves forcing ink through a stencil that is embedded or securely attached to a silk or synthetic mesh screen. The screen is tightly stretched on a wooden or metal frame. Viscous ink is squeegee through the screen depositing the ink on the paper under the frame. A separate screen is used for each color and selected parts of the stencil can be blocked out, if desired, during the reprinting. Wet prints are usually hung to dry.
Artists such as Warhol, Albers, Motherwell, Stella, and Rauschenberg have all worked in Serigraphy.