What constitutes an original print?
The following processes are methods of achieving an original print using either paper or an alternative medium. It is worth pointing out that the word ‘original’ does not necessarily equate to a piece of work being unique. Although each technique described possesses attributable qualities, these can be reproduced and therefore more than one impression is a likely outcome.
Key to the originality of the completed work will lie in the intention of the individual artist. The result of a piece first being planned in watercolour and then being repeated in woodcut can never be described as original. It is merely a reproduction. Each impression printed of an image is called an edition and may will carry an identification number expressed as a fraction. For instance, a number written as 5/25 would mean that the print itself is number 5 out of an edition of 25. Original prints are unlikely to be documented by number (or hand signed) if they are intended to be used in written text and are also likely to be contained in very large editions.
Lithography involves drawing a design directly onto either a metal plate which has been previously prepared with a greasy crayon or drawing it onto a flat stone. This is then dampened with water and ink applied. Ink will not adhere to dampened areas, and when paper is pressed against the plate (or stone) the design is formed from the ink which has attached to the crayon marks.
Etching is the process of using acid to cut into a metal plate to create a design. The metal plate is first covered in a substance called the ground, a material which is acid resistant. The artist completes his design using a sharp needle which removes the ground. The etching is produced when the plate is immersed into acid. The exposed parts will be eaten away to form a sunken line. During the printing process ink settles into these areas, after which the plate is wiped. The plate is then put through a printing process with a damp paper to soften it.
The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines and forms a print. Areas which the artist wishes to appear untouched are left white, whereas black or coloured areas are those where etching has been applied. The depth of the etch results in the depth of tone required.
Aquatinting is a technique generally used in conjunction with line etching, as it consists of coating a copper plate with a porous substance called ground which is partially resistant to acid. White areas of the design are painted with a completely acid resistant varnish. These areas will not be printed in the finished result. The plate is then subjected to acid baths at differing depths to acquire an image on a fine pebbled background and is used for medium contrast.
Linocutting is a technique of scoring the broad side of a piece of linoleum with a knife, cutting away areas which are not designed to be printed. Such areas of cut out sections will be evident in the finished article, but the ink will adhere to the raised parts of the print to form the design.
A process similar to that of the linocutting whereby the artist cuts away sections of a wooden plank which are not designed to be printed. Again, the cut out sections are evident in the finished design, but the printed form is achieved from areas where ink adheres to raised parts.
Wood engraving is carried out on exceptionally hard wood as this surface lends itself well to engraving, as opposed to cutting, a finer line than is achievable with softer woods.
Collography is a print making process whereby the print surface is built up on either a plate or block. The print may be incised onto this and the finished item is known as a collograph.
The design is cut into the plate by driving furrows with a burin, then the plate is printed as above.
The sunken lines are produced directly by diamond-hard tools pulled across the plate. The depth of line is controlled by the artist’s muscle and experience. The method of cutting produces a ridge along the incisions, called burr. This gives the drypoint line the characteristically soft, velvety appearance absent in the clean edged lines of an engraving or etching.
Aquaforte is a technique similar to aquatinting, again used in line etching and featuring coating a copper plate with a ground which is semi resistant to acid. The process follows that of aquatinting with the plate being immersed in acid after white areas, those not to be printed, are painted in a acid resistant varnish. Aquaforte – derived from forte meaning strength – is determined by the depth of image and is used for strong contrast as opposed to the medium contrast achieved in the aquatint process.
Stencilling is a print method whereby a pattern is created by carefully designed gaps, holes or cut out shapes in an object or paper and then applying pigment to the overall surface. The pigment then seeps into the cut out areas resulting in the desired design.