Learn About Prints

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Aquatint
An intaglio technique in which gradations of tone or shadow are produced rather than sharp lines; often this technique is used in conjunction with etching for images that can resemble watercolor washes. In this process the artist applies a granular, acid-resistant ground to the plate before submerging it in an acid bath that “bites” in and around the granules creating large areas of texture. The use of grounds with varying granule sizes produces different degrees of tone. Spitbite aquatint involves painting acid directly onto the aquatint ground of the prepared plate. Traditionally, a clean brush was coated with saliva, dipped into nitric acid and brushed onto the ground, hence the name of this process. Now artists may use ethylene glycol or Kodak Photoflo, in combination with or in place of saliva, to control the strength of the acid applied.

 
Artist’s Proof
A category of proof which relates to a practice dating back to the era when a patron or publisher commissioning prints provided an artist with lodging, living expenses, and a printing studio with workmen, supplies and paper. The artist was given a portion of the edition (to sell) as payment for his work. Though artists today are paid for their editions, the tradition has persisted and a certain number of impressions are put aside for the artist. Artist’s proofs are annotated as such or as A.P., or Épreuve d’Artiste (E.A.).
 
Engraving
An intaglio technique characterized by clean tapered lines made by incising a metal plate (traditionally copper) with a sharp tool called a burin. A range of line widths is possible depending on the size of tools used, making delicate tonalities also possible. The incised lines hold the ink when the image is pressed. Engraving is the technique most commonly seen in Old Master prints.
Etching
With a visual result similar to drawing, etched lines are usually free with blunt terminations as a result of the artist drawing with a sharp tool through a soft, often wax-based, ground coated on the plate. Volume and contour is created using a technique called hatching, where the artist changes the spaces, angles, lengths and qualities of the lines The plate is then placed into an acid bath, where the acid eats away, or “bites,” the exposed metal of the incised lines leaving the areas that are coated with ground untouched. The artist can achieve a broad range of tonality with etching by controlling the time the plate spends in the acid-bath.

Linocut
This technique is a variation of relief printing, which uses a sheet of linoleum mounted on a plank of wood. Because linoleum has a smooth surface rather than the grainy texture of wood, the resulting prints are characterized by even areas of color and ink. As with woodcuts, linocut printing is a relief process where the areas which are carved away do not to receive ink. Separate blocks must be carved for each color in the print, however, artists can, using a reductive technique, use one block to print in multiple colors. In this instance, the artist carves further into the block after each color is editioned to reveal the next layer to be printed. Blocks are usually worked in color from light to dark, and as a result their surface is almost completely carved away, making it impossible to edition the print again.

Lithography
Literally meaning “stone drawing,” this type of print is made by drawing or painting onto the surface of a limestone using a greasy crayon or liquid wash and is best known for its flat painterly surface. Because lithography is planographic, the resultant design lies on the surface of the paper, rather than pressed in or raised up from the page, as in other techniques. Colors appear smooth and uniform in tone. It is possible to use multiple colors in a lithograph, each color, as in the other techniques described here, requiring its own stone and several subsequent runs through the press. A zincograph is a print made by the same process, the only difference being that the artist uses a zinc plate rather than a stone as the surface of the composition.
 
Pochoir
This technique was developed in France in the early twentieth century. Translated “stencil,” this process allows the artist to directly add hand-colored areas to an impression by painting these areas through a stencil. The stencil itself is usually knife-cut from thin coated paper, paperboard, plastic, or metal and the ink or paint is applied with a brush. This technique is sometimes combined with other planographic methods, such as lithography
Screenprint (Serigraph, Silk Screen)
A process based on the stencil principle in which material is attached to a mesh screen to block the flow of ink to the paper in that particular area. A squeegee is used to force the paint or ink through the exposed areas of the mesh screen. A separate screen is required for each color in the artist’s composition and the same piece of paper is printed with each screen in succession. The resultant image is simple, yet bold and often has a graphic quality.

 

Woodcut
Woodcuts are identical to linocuts in process, but have a unique appearance because the inked surface of the block often picks up the texture of the wood grain, which in turn transfers to the printed image. Woodcuts were some of the first kinds of prints made in ninth-century China, and the practice was later adopted by the Europeans. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Japanese artists using woodcut techniques reached an exceptional level of artistic achievement through a style called ukiyo-e. Multiple colors can be achieved by creating a separate block for each color, however around 1915, artists in the Provincetown art colony developed white-line woodcuts – a process which allowed for many colors to be printed on one block. By cutting a groove between each colored surface in the composition, the artists were able to apply ink only to the raised areas while the groove, which does not receive ink, prints as a blank or “white” line which separates each area of color.