Original Printmaking: Intaglio, Etching, Collagraph and Monotype
Reproduction or Print: What is the Difference? This article gives an
overview of the main differences between original prints, where the plate is
created by the artist by hand, and reproductions, such as "limited edition fine
art prints" or giclees, where the art originally exists in some other medium and
is photographically reproduced. As a consumer, it is important that you know what you are buying when you collect a "print". Is it an original work of art or a reproduction? Merely being signed by the artist does not tell you which it is - original prints are signed and numbered, but often, so are reproductions.
I work in several forms of original printmaking:
intaglio (etching), collagraph and monotype.
Intaglio Printmaking Technique
Intaglio printmaking refers to any of the printmaking
media that print what is below the surface of the plate. In etching,
I use a zinc plate, protected by a waxy ground, and draw with a needle to
remove the wax and expose the plate. The image is incised into the plate
with nitric acid. I use soft plastic scrapers to push ink into the grooves
etched into the plate and then wipe the surface of the plate clean with rags called
tarletan. Then it is printed onto a
piece of damp printmaking paper on an etching press. The damp paper is pressed into the
incised lines to pull out the ink. A print of linear work may be hand
colored after the print is pulled, which refers to painting color onto
the paper directly. Or, several colors can be applied to the plate and
printed on the press. An example of a line etching with hand coloring is seen in Dahlia.
There is no art until the print is pulled from the plate, hence the print itself
is the original piece of art, even though multiples can be made of the same
image from the plate. This set of images is called an edition. I
print my own editions, and the number in the edition may be as low as 10 or as high
as 100, depending on how I feel about the image and the durability of the plate.
Most of my etchings also have a range of tones.
The process to achieve the tones is called aquatint. I cover the
plate with a fine mist of spray enamel paint, to 40-60% coverage. When
this speckled plate is placed in acid, the plate is etched around the droplets
of paint. Any area intended to remain white is covered with a waxy ground
painted over the aquatint section. A few seconds in the acid gives a very
faint tone. More parts of the plate are painted over with a waxy ground and
bathed for successively longer times in the acid, resulting in a range of increasingly dark
tones. See Morro Rock
or Half Dome from Olmstead Point
for examples of aquatint tones.
White Ground Etching
I especially favor a technique called "white
ground etching" when rendering clouds or moving water. In this case,
the ground is made of zinc white oil paint and Ivory Snow. The ground is
painted onto the plate and can be manipulated with a variety of tools. The
ground is sprayed with an aquatint ground before etching. White ground
dissolves in the acid at varying rates depending on how thick the application of
ground. While the technique is very difficult to control, it produces
wonderful effects. Several examples of white ground etching are Yosemite
Falls, Palm Canyon Falls,
Cascade Creek Falls, Bridalveil
Creek, Clouds at
Kumeyaay and Surging Surf.
Printing the Plate
My etchings are the result of many complex approaches
to applying acid to the plate. In the printing, I apply color to select areas of
the plate and wipe the areas individually. In the majority of my intaglio
prints, all of the colors are applied to one plate before the plate is run
through the press. This technique is known as á la poupèe.
For an example of á la poupèe, see Gulls
in La Jolla or Cerocahui
Here is a short video showing a zinc plate, etched with
lines and aquatint. Also shows a series of black and white proofs made from the plate during it's
development, and several color trial proofs, including the bon a tirer.
Note the falling water, an example of white ground etching.
Another approach to placing multiple colors on the
intaglio plate before printing it involves using rollers to apply ink to the
surface of the plate while the incised areas hold ink in the usual way.
One very interesting technique that relies on the viscosity, or relative
oiliness, of the inks is known as viscosity printing. In
this process, the plate is very deeply etched so that there are visible
differences in height from one part of the plate to another. The plate
wiped in the usual way. Then a hard roller is used to apply a very
oily ink to the highest surfaces of the plate. Finally a very soft roller
is used to apply a dry ink to the deeper broad areas of the plate.
The dry ink skips over the oily inks and sticks to the plate where it was
wiped clean or the ink film is not so oily. The results of this method are striking and unusual. See
Aurora for an example of
A monotype is unique, a one-of-a-kind
print. While there are a variety of ways to approach this technique, I use
a blank piece of Plexiglas, and water-soluble oil-based paints to create the
image on the Plexiglas. When I am satisfied with the image, I print it
onto damp paper on an etching press. Key to this method is that the print
must be made while the paint is still wet. Yes, this means within hours of
beginning the work! Two examples of monotype are Nevada
Fall and Claret
Another printmaking technique that I use is collagraph,
where the plate is a collage. Items may be glued to a piece of
masonite or to a piece of mat board. Lace, sand paper, leaves or feathers,
textured paper or textured cloth are all ways to create a textured surface that
will hold ink and print. Sometimes the plate is built up solely from
acrylic gesso and acrylic mediums. For an example of Collagraph, see El
Capitan or Healing and
Peace in Midnight Abide.
Relief and Intaglio
Collagraph plates and deeply etched plates lend
themselves to a combination of printing techniques. Another process that I
call relief and intaglio involves applying one color with a
soft roller and then removing some of the ink with a harder roller. The
harder roller is then used to apply the next color.
Drypoint refers to scribing the image
directly into the plate with a needle. Drypoint usually results in lines
with a furry-looking edge, since a slight curl or burr of metal is thrown up
along the edge of the line, and this burr holds some ink. A drypoint plate
cannot withstand a large edition since the burr will wear down quickly in the
wiping process. Drypoint can be done on plexiglass as well, but the
plate wears down very quickly resulting in very small editions.
Engraving is also a method of incising
the plate, however the tool used is a burin. The burin actually carves the
line out of the plate, and the edges are scraped if necessary to make the line
smooth and clean.
There are many excellent resources available
on the web to give you a more in-depth understanding of printmaking
processes. For more information about Original Prints, click
Soft pastel is pure dry pigment mixed with a binder to make a stick
that is similar in size and shape to a piece of chalk. (It does not
contain any chalk, however.) The pastel is applied to an abrasive surface
such as textured
paper and may be blended with fingers, sponges, or brushes. For me, pastel
is like a cross between drawing and painting. A light spray of fixative is
used at the end to help keep the chalk dust attached to the paper. Examples
of soft pastel are Yosemite
Valley, May, 2005 and Palm
Here are some notes about Soft Pastel
from the Connecticut Pastel Society.
Oil pastels uses wax
and inert oils as a binder making them non-yellowing and giving them excellent
adhesion characteristics. They are completely acid free, and they never harden,
thus they will never crack. Oil pastels can be applied to any paper, rigid
support or fabric support without technical restraints, allowing the artist
complete freedom of expression while maintaining archival stability. (from
the Oil Pastel Society website.) For examples of oil pastel, see Wildflowers,
Culp Valley or Sacred
Here are some notes on the history of Oil
Pastel from the Oil Pastel Society.