Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Intaglio, relief, planographic, and stencil are the traditional printmaking types referred to as “original prints.” An original print is an “original” image because it varies largely or slightly from others coming from the same printing matrix (plate, screen, etc.). Making original prints can be quite simple taking minutes or is highly involved taking years. It is a process that involves either only the artist or a team such as: artist, papermaker, ink maker, platemaker, the one who applies the color (dry or wet pigments), and printer.
The reasons why painters began creating prints was to facilitate the distribution of their images and messages, and it was an income source. Today, sometimes printmaking is solely an exploration into other artistic styles.
For me, there is such joy in seeing a successfully conceived and printed image coming off the printing press. It is generally not easy to accomplish the “perfect” print—which may only exist as a concept. Regardless, this desire to print for artistic or economic purpose is a magnet that still attracts visual artists and crafts people.
Will there be a new generation of printmakers?
I recently enjoyed a visit from my teenage grandchildren. I gave them each linoleum cutting tools and PVC foam plastic plates to make relief prints. The “artist” of the three who had been learning digital art, seemed to give up. She could not get the perfect line she demanded. The youngest, cut two plates. He was happiest with the second. He said he'd like to do it again but when offered, did not opt to take any of the tools home. The third one my 18-year-old math whiz. She completed a nice plate (not perfect but arty). She was so excited to see the results. With college fast approaching, she may take it up later. I could not resist cutting a quick plate of some old lemons left hanging on the tree. Using a “white line” approach, I cut a 10-minute plate inked with a green mixture and ran it through my small press…I still got it!
Notes on the history of printmaking.
1. Of course, there was the centuries-old Japanese printing technique of mokuhanga using water-based inks...watercolor with the addition of rice starch.
2. Albrecht Dürer was the master of 16th-century German graphic arts. Today, he is one of the towering figures in the history of printmaking.
3. Many of the early French Impressionist were both painters and printmakers.
4. There were hundreds of images produced by the painters/printmakers known as the Mexican Masters. In fact, their students have become famous, for their prints from people’s workshop: Taller de Gráfica Popular.
5. We are rediscovering American Black printmakers of the early-20th Century and now recognize the contributions of both Black men and women.
6. The New York artists of the mid-20th Century heightened silk screening (serigraphs) to the fine arts realm.
7. There still exists formal societies for the painter/printmaker, for instance the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
8. Printmaking workshops have lessened, but not disappeared from the American scene. Printing presses and lessons are available for rent at many local workshops. And printmaking is still an art course offered by many colleges.
9. New approaches to the original print are the product of the 21st Century. For example, digital artmaking and 3-D printers have combined to create printmaking matrixes.