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.
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 Mission.
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 viscosity printing.
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 Cup Cactus.
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 here.
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 Canyon 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 Dancing Cascades.
Here are some notes on the history of Oil
Pastel from the Oil Pastel Society.
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