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The Print Maker's Art
IN OUR DAILY LIVES we are surrounded by print; by newspapers and magazines, posters, brochures and books. We take them all for granted. Few of us know how they are printed.
Many products are still crafted and cared for because there is pleasure in the making, because they are to be kept, and because they enrich our lives and give lasting pleasure. This can apply as much to print as it does to more obvious artefacts like furniture, paintings and sculpture.
PRINTING is the transference of ink from a prepared printing surface on to paper or other materials. Ink can be carried on the raised parts of the printing surface, in the grooves beneath the surface or on the surface itself. These three processes are termed "relief', "intaglio" and "planographic".
HANDPRINTING is where an artist draws an original image directly onto the surface from which it is to be printed. It is not a reproduction of an existing image.
The various techniques of hand printing, for example etching, lithography and screen printing, should be regarded in much the same way as we regard oil, watercolour, gouache and acrylic, as different media, each with its own characteristics.
ETCHING uses acid in place of the burin in engraving to create recessed ink bearing lines. A metal plate (normally copper) is covered with a thin acid resistant ground. The etcher draws freely into the ground, exposing the metal beneath. When the plate is placed in the acid bath the exposed marks are bitten away, forming the image. Etching allows the artist to draw freely, almost like drawing with a pencil onto paper, resulting in images with greater fluidity of line.
AQUATINT is commonly used in conjunction with etching. Etched lines are used for areas that require outlining or detailing, whilst more open areas benefit from the tonal qualities produced by aquatint. The aquatint ground is achieved by allowing a fine resin dust to settle evenly over the plate surface. Etching around the particles leaves a pitted textured surface in which the ink is held.
LITHOGRAPHY is based on the principle that oil and water have a natural antipathy and refuse to mix. In hand-made lithographs the artist draws directly onto the printing surface with a greasy lithographic pencil. By a succession of simple chemical processes these marks are bonded to the surface and made highly receptive to oil and fully resistant to water.
In modern off-set lithography, images arc drawn on zinc or aluminium plates. Images need not be drawn in reverse because they are transferred firstly onto a rubber roller before meeting the paper surface. This intermediary stage automatically reverses the image.
SCREENPRINTING is extremely straightforward. Ink is pushed through the tiny holes of a stencil, which is normally made of a fine nylon or polyester mesh (real silk screens are rarely used today). Selected areas of the screen are blocked out, either by screen fillers, paper stencils, or photographic stencils, and consequently the ink is prevented from penetrating through the mesh to the paper below. By this simple means, complex images can be achieved. A new screen is made for every change of colour in the design.
CARBORUNDUM printing uses a three dimensional surface built up on a flat plate by the application of acrylic modelling paste. Before the paste dries it remains soft and malleable and the artist can work an image onto the surface by inscribing or impressing, often in an extremely spontaneous and rugged manner.
Once dry the textured relief surface is painted by hand with brushes. Inks of varying viscosities are used. Heavy inks are pushed into the deepest recesses of the plate, and lighter, thinner inks painted over these on the surface.
MONOPRINTING uses a flat unprepared surface painted with printers' inks or paints, in one or several colours, and a single impression is taken (though it is possible to design an image which can be repeated many times by repainting the surface after each impression.)
REPRODUCTIONS are copies of an existing image. A photograph is taken of the image and by means of mechanical reproduction, using only four colours, a print is made of the painting. These colours can be seen under a magnifying glass as millions of tiny red, blue, yellow and black dots, and not as slabs of pure colour.
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