In a recent e-mail, one of our regular customers was curious about the different methods of printmaking that has led to some really beautiful artwork available through Dogbotz Boneyard. “When I think of prints, I am usually thinking about photography: black-and-white prints, color prints, sepia tones, etc.,” Justin writes to us. “And yet, I know there are woodblock prints, stone prints and more. Could you detail some of these for me, using samples of art you sell at the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art?” Well, Justin, let’s begin with some basic concepts: etching, engraving and screening techniques.
Intaglio is the family of printing and techniques in which the image is incised into a surface, and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink. It is the direct opposite of a relief print. Normally, copper or zine plates are used as a surface or matrix, and the incisions are created by etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint or mezzotint. Collagraphs may also be printed as intaglio plates.
In the form of intaglio printing called etching, the plate is covered in a resin ground or an acid-resistant wax material. Using an etching needle, or a similar tool, the image is engraved into the ground, revealing the plate underneath. The plate is then dipped into acid. The acid bites into the surface of the plate where it was exposed. Biting is a printmaking term to describe the acid’s etching, or incising, of the image. After the plate is sufficiently bitten, the plate is removed from the acid bath, and the ground is removed to prepare for the next step in printing.
To print an intaglio plate, ink is applied to the surface by wiping and/or dabbing the plate to push the ink into the bitten grooves. The plate is then rubbed with tarlatan cloth to remove most of the excess ink. The final smooth wipe is often done with newspaper or old public phone book pages, leaving ink only in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top of the plate, so that when going through the press the damp paper will be able to be squeezed into the plate’s ink-filled grooves. The paper and plate are then covered by a thick blanket to ensure even pressure when going through the rolling press. The rolling press applies very high pressure through the blanket to push the paper into the grooves on the plate. The blanket is then lifted, revealing the paper and printed image.
Intaglio engraving, as a method of making prints, was invented in Germany by the 1430s, well after the woodcut print. Engraving had been used by goldsmiths to decorate metalwork, including armor, musical instruments and religious objects since ancient times, and the niello technique, which involved rubbing an alloy into the lines to give a contrasting color, also goes back to late antiquity. It has been suggested by art historians that goldsmiths began to print impressions of their work to record the design, and that printmaking developed from that.
Martin Schongauer was one of the earliest known artists to exploit the copper-engraving technique, and Albrecht Dürer is one of the most famous intaglio artists. Italian and Netherlandish engraving began slightly after the Germans, but were well developed by 1500. Drypoint and etching were also German inventions of the 15th century, probably by the Housebook Master and Daniel Hopfer, respectively. The golden age of engraving by artists was 1450–1550, after which the technique lost ground to etching as a medium for artists, although engravings continued to be produced in huge numbers until after the invention of photography. Today intaglio engraving is largely used for currency, banknotes, passports and occasionally for high-value postage stamps. The appearance of engraving is sometimes mimicked for items such as wedding invitations by producing an embossment around lettering printed by another process (such as lithography or offset) to suggest the edges of an engraving plate.
Lithography (from Greek lithos, “stone” and graphein, “to write”) is a method for printing using a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface. Invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works, lithography can be used to print text onto paper or other suitable material.
Lithography originally used an image drawn (etched) into a coating of wax or an oily substance applied to a plate of lithographic stone as the medium to transfer ink to a blank paper sheet, and so produce a printed page. In modern lithography, the image is made of a polymer coating applied to a flexible aluminum plate. To print an image lithographically, the flat surface of the stone plate is roughened slightly — etched — and divided into hydrophilic regions that accept a film of water, and thereby repel the greasy ink; and hydrophobic regions that repel water and accept ink because the surface tension is greater on the greasy image area, which remains dry. The image can be printed directly from the plate (the orientation of the image is reversed), or it can be offset, by transferring the image onto a flexible sheet (rubber) for printing and publication.
During the first years of the 19th century, lithography had only a limited effect on printmaking, mainly because technical difficulties remained to be overcome. Germany was the main center of production in this period. Godefroy Engelmann, who moved his press from Mulhouse to Paris in 1816, largely succeeded in resolving the technical problems, and during the 1820s lithography was adopted by artists such as Delacroix and Géricault. London also became a center, and some of Géricault’s prints were in fact produced there. The Spanish painter Goya in Bordeaux produced his last series of prints by lithography — The Bulls of Bordeaux of 1828. By the mid-century the initial enthusiasm had somewhat diminished in both countries, although the use of lithography was increasingly favored for commercial applications, which included the prints of Daumier, published in newspapers. Rodolphe Bresdin and Jean-François Millet also continued to practice the medium in France, and Adolf Menzel in Germany. In 1862 the publisher Cadart tried to initiate a portfolio of lithographs by various artists which was not successful but included several prints by Manet. The revival began during the 1870s, especially in France with artists such as Odilon Redon, Henri Fantin-Latour and Degas producing much of their work in this manner. The need for strictly limited editions to maintain the price had now been realized, and the medium became more accepted.
In the 1890s, color lithography became popular with French artists, Toulouse-Lautrec most notably of all, and by 1900 the medium in both color and monotone was an accepted part of printmaking, although France and the United States have used it more than other countries.
During the 20th century, a group of artists, including Braque, Calder, Chagall, Dufy, Léger, Matisse, Miró, and Picasso, rediscovered the largely undeveloped art form of lithography thanks to the Mourlot Studios, also known as Atelier Mourlot, a Parisian print shop founded in 1852 by the Mourlot family. The Atelier Mourlot originally specialized in the printing of wallpaper; but it was transformed when the founder’s grandson, Fernand Mourlot, invited a number of 20th-century artists to explore the complexities of fine art printing. Mourlot encouraged the painters to work directly on lithographic stones in order to create original artworks that could then be executed under the direction of master printers in small editions. The combination of modern artist and master printer resulted in lithographs which were used as posters to promote the artist’ work.
Chromolithography is a method for making multi-color prints. This type of color printing stemmed from the process of lithography, and it includes all types of lithography that are printed in color. When chromolithography is used to reproduce photographs, the term photochrom is frequently used. Lithographers sought to find a way to print on flat surfaces with the use of chemicals instead of relief or intaglio printing.
Chromolithography became the most successful of several methods of color printing developed by the 19th century; other methods were developed by printers such as Jacob Christoph Le Blon, George Baxter and Edmund Evans, and mostly relied on using several woodblocks with the colors. Hand-coloring also remained important; elements of the official British Ordnance Survey maps were colored by hand by boys until 1875. The initial technique involved the use of multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, and was still extremely expensive when done for the best quality results. Depending on the number of colors present, a chromolithograph could take months to produce, by very skilled workers. However much cheaper prints could be produced by simplifying both the number of colors used, and the refinement of the detail in the image. Cheaper images, like advertisements, relied heavily on an initial black print (not always a lithograph), on which colors were then overprinted. To make an expensive reproduction print as what was once referred to as a chromo, a lithographer, with a finished painting in front of him, gradually created and corrected the many stones using proofs to look as much as possible like the painting in front of him, sometimes using dozens of layers.
Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, introduced the subject of colored lithography in his 1818 Vollstaendiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (translated as A Complete Course of Lithography), where he told of his plans to print using color and explained the colors he wished to be able to print someday. Although Senefelder recorded plans for chromolithography, printers in other countries, such as France and England, were also trying to find a new way to print in color. Godefroy Engelmann of Mulhouse in France was awarded a patent on chromolithography in July 1837, but there are disputes over whether chromolithography was already in use before this date, as some sources say, pointing to areas of printing such as the production of playing cards.
The first American chromolithograph — a portrait of Reverend F. W. P. Greenwood — was created by William Sharp in 1840. Many of the chromolithographs were created and purchased in urban areas. The paintings were initially used as decoration in American parlors as well as for decoration within middle-class homes. They were prominent after the Civil War because of their low production costs and ability to be mass-produced, and because the methods allowed pictures to look more like hand-painted oil paintings. Production costs were only low if the chromolithographs were cheaply produced, but top-quality chromos were costly to produce because of the necessary months of work and the thousands of dollars worth of equipment that had to be used. Although chromos could be mass-produced, it took about three months to draw colors onto the stones and another five months to print a thousand copies. Chromolithographs became so popular in American culture that the era has been labeled as “chromo civilization”. Over time, during the Victorian era, chromolithographs populated children’s and fine arts publications, as well as advertising art, in trade cards, labels, and posters. They were also once used for advertisements, popular prints, and medical or scientific books.
Even though chromolithographs served many uses within society at the time, many were opposed to the idea of them because of their lack of authenticity. The new forms of art were sometimes tagged as “bad art” because of their deceptive qualities. Some also felt that it could not serve as a form of art at all since it was too mechanical, and that the true spirit of a painter could never be captured in a printed version of a work. Over time, chromos were made so cheaply that they could no longer be confused with original paintings. Since production costs were low, the fabrication of chromolithographs became more a business than the creation of art.
Screen printing is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink or other printable materials that can be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A fill blade or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing or pumping ink into the mesh openings for transfer by capillary action during the squeegee stroke. Basically, it is the process of using a stencil to apply ink onto another material.
Screen printing is also a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Ink is forced into the mesh openings by the fill blade and onto the printing surface during the squeegee stroke. It is also known as silkscreening, serigraphy, and serigraph printing. A number of screens can be used to produce a multicolored image.
Screen printing is a form of stenciling that first appeared in a recognizable form in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 ad). It was then adapted by other Asian countries like Japan, and was furthered by creating newer methods.
Screen printing was largely introduced to Western Europe from Asia sometime in the late 18th century, but did not gain large acceptance or use in Europe until silk mesh was more available for trade from the east and a profitable outlet for the medium discovered.
Early in the 1910s, several printers experimenting with photo-reactive chemicals used the well-known actinic light activated cross linking or hardening traits of potassium, sodium or ammonium chromate and dichromate chemicals with glues and gelatin compounds. Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens studied and experimented with chromic acid salt sensitized emulsions for photo-reactive stencils. This trio of developers would prove to revolutionize the commercial screen printing industry by introducing photo-imaged stencils to the industry, though the acceptance of this method would take many years. Commercial screen printing now uses sensitizers far safer and less toxic than dichromates. Currently, there are large selections of pre-sensitized and “user mixed” sensitized emulsion chemicals for creating photo-reactive stencils.
Credit is generally given to the artist Andy Warhol for popularizing screen printing identified as serigraphy in the United States. Warhol is particularly identified with his 1962 depiction of actress Marilyn Monroe screen printed in garish colors.
The wonderful examples of lithographs, chromolithographs, and serigraphs displayed throughout this blog are available for sale at the the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art.
All the best,
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC