A brief explanation of printmaking techniques
by Caren Catterall
Etching is a printmaking process of using acid to bite grooves into a plate, which will then hold ink. Working on either zinc or copper, you first coat the plate with an acid resistant ground. Then you draw or break through the ground, exposing the metal to the action of the acid. Different strengths of lines are made through increased time in the acid. To print the plate, ink is applied to the whole image, and then wiped off the upper surfaces, leaving just the ink in the lines. A high pressure press is used to transfer the ink onto dampened rag paper. You repeat the inking and wiping steps for each print to make an edition. This process is known as 'intaglio", which is printing from the lower levels.
There are many approaches to creating a plate. The acid resistant ground, made out of tar, can be either Hard Ground or Soft Ground. Hard ground will give you a clear sharp line. Soft Ground is a waxier and can be used to create softer pencil-like lines, transfer textures, or as a more random lift ground. Aquatint, a fine rosin dust, can be used to create tones. The use of scraping and burnishing to remove or lighten areas is also an interesting effect that can be well used.
Drypoint does not use the acid process. The lines are scratched in the plate directly with a sharp stylus. Each line throws up a burr which is what catches the ink. However the burr is fragile, and does not last long without steel facing the plate. The noticeable quality of a drypoint is the fuzzy line and rich darks that are created by scratching, then scraping away, and scratching some more to build up lines.
Woodcut and linoleum are both relief printing techniques, and the ink is rolled on the upper surface. The effect of carving away the white is usually a very strong graphic design. Although much simpler conceptually than etching, there is still the challenge of a bold design, negative/positive space and working in reverse. On the plus side, it can be printed without a press.
Collagraph is a method of making a plate out of glued layers of textured material, thinner paper such as Bristol, and built upon a base of matt board. You can also use modeling paste to create your own textures. The finished plate, or matrix, is finally coated in Acrylic gel medium to seal it for printing and clean up. Collagraphs can be printed from the lower level ink, or the upper surfaces can be rolled with color, or a combination of both.
Monotype is working directly with ink on a piece of Plexiglas. There is no repeatable image on the plate, and so they are unique impressions. Working reductively, you can roll the whole plate in one solid color, and remove with rags and sticks, or work by applying the ink with rollers, inking textured materials or using solvents to make the ink flow. You can add to and reprint the "ghost", or the remnants of the first impression. There are numerous ways of approaching monotype and most artists use a combination of techniques.
Serigraph is the name for fine art silk screen printing, which is essentially a stencil process. You create openings in the screen where the ink is to go through, either through physical barriers such as cut paper, or with photo sensitive emulsions. A squeegee is used to apply a thin, even coat of ink, pressing it through the screen onto the paper. Each color is printed separately, and gradually built on top of each other.
All these printmaking techniques are limited edition, fine art multiples. They are not mechanical or digital reproductions; each print had the hand of the artist directly involved in printing. They are printed on 100% archival cotton rag paper. An edition is generally all on the same colored ink and paper. EV signifies that the edition varies, as is often the case with colllagraphs. My editions are small, rarely exceeding 50 total.
Printmaking has many different kinds of "voices" to choose from: so many different types of marks and effects to pull from the bag of tricks, from the tightly controlled line to the more random lift ground effects. Some marks look like other mediums, such as pen and ink, and others are unique to the plate making and printing process. Each plate travels on a little journey as you layer on the effects; the transformations that happen often take you by surprise. As you journey, you can take proofs of the different states along the way, to see where you are, and to preserve a record of where you have been.