While breaching the topic of printmaking, one realizes how vast and incredibly varied the medium is. Each of the processes is intensely detailed and has to be given a lot of patience and time, nevertheless making each work of art produced, incredibly unique.
‘A point not too frequently understood is that the printmaking techniques which exist today as separate forms of art did not gain this status until quite recently.*
There are 67, yes, 67 different printmaking processes!
The medium by itself ranges from simple to complex, with a massive array of materials and techniques that can be used – making it easy to create a unique ‘signature’ of sorts. In this article – we will be covering both materials and techniques used for each process – hopefully not boring you, and being able to cover at least 5 of those 67 processes!
Intaglio processes – Intaglio is one of the four classes of printmaking which is the opposite of relief making. The process basically involves the artist making in incision into the plate for ink to catch onto.
Drypoint – The technique goes back as far as the 1480’s and is used in conjunction with etching and engraving. The metal plate (usually copper) is the base for the drypoint – where a sharp metal needle is used to scratch the metal and create furrows for the ink to catch and create impressions.
Etching – The origins of the technique are not clear but evolved with the work of medieval armorers. The five essential tools needed are – An etching needle, a roulette wheel, a scraper, a burnisher, and a mezzotint rocker. To begin the process – a metal plate (usually copper) is coated with ‘hard ground’ which is acid resistant. The plate is then drawn onto with an etching needle, and put into an acid bath so that it is ready to coat with ink (the acid eats into the impressions made by the needle).
A selection of boring and cutting tools. Etching by Bénard after Lucotte.
Aquatint – This technique was widely used to recreate the soft impression of watercolour paintings, and is slightly more complex than the first two. The metal plate has a slight coating of resin specks, which is then heated to adhere as a light film. The left over exposed area is painted over with varnish and etched in with an acid bath. The first bath (or bite) produces the lightest tones as the acid will not eat very deeply into the metal. The next few baths will be timed and increase the density of the tones – thus creating a wash like effect as opposed to a strong line.
Soft ground etching – This was introduced in the latter half of the eighteenth century – making the reproduction of pencil and crayon textures easy. The ground itself was softer to use than hard ground, enabling the textures of any material to be captured in all its detail. Lace, cloth, wire, and other textured materials can be used to make prints.
The Printmaking Workshop
Mezzotint – This was invented in 1642 by Ludwig von Siegen, and then thoroughly adapted by the English. One of the most complex processes, it involves using a roulette wheel to create dots, and then layering them to create an intense texture for the ink to catch. The effect is incredible soft tones and the effect of a grayscale painting.