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The Art of Printmaking by Helen Trevisiol Duff

October 27, 2023 1 Comment

The Colourist blogger Helen Trevisiol Duff for Skylark Galleries

Printing processes

Printmaking is a creative artistic practice based on the principle of transferring images from a plate or matrix - or digitally - onto another surface, most often card, paper or textiles. It's an art form which is unique, blending technical skill and creativity.

History of printmaking

Civilisations throughout history realised that it offered immense value as a way of reproducing text and images to communicate. Printmaking opened up communication as it could be distributed to everyday people. It became an accessible artform and an essential means of spreading the news, maps, books and religious illustrations, playing cards and bibles.

Many of our artists at Skylark Galleries are printmakers and here I talk about their work and practice.

Gill Hickman 'Textural Artist'

Safe and sound by Gill Hickman Skylark Galleries

Safe and sound by Gill Hickman £450

Gill Hickman has always been fascinated by textures and she collects beautiful hand-made papers from around the world. Her special technique is to use an etching press to emboss textures in paper, sometimes adding gold or silver to accentuate the texture.

Her daily meditation practice often influences her work. She says, "I love texture and I made a series of blind embossed prints reflecting human emotions. The plates are made from hand cut card and I print on Somerset 350gsm paper as I find the crisp edges it produces very satisfying.“

Helen Trevisiol Duff

Dandelion Dreams by Helen Trevisiol Duff printmaker

Dandelion dreams by Helen Trevisiol Duff £120

I first studied traditional printmaking at the age of 18 in Bristol at art college. I then focused on screen printing on fabric for three years as part of my BA hons degree. I have recently returned to hand pulled prints, using etching and collographs, which forms part of my practice. I print from a plate I've created, similar to a collage, using paper, ephemera, glue, card and other materials to form a raised, textured surface. A collagraph can be printed in relief or intaglio, depending upon the printing press used, and the pressure applied. I first sketch my ideas and then I use a blade to cut away certain areas of the plate. This is a slow meditative process. I combine oil-based inks with linseed reducing jelly in exact proportions to create the precise colour I have in mind. I then apply the ink to the plate and transfer using a press onto pre-soaked paper. I hand rotate the large roller on the press which slowly directs the artwork through, similar to the way a mangle works. The resulting piece I evaluate and work into with watercolours if desired.

As the inks are hand-mixed, slight variations will make each one unique. Collagraphs, due to the delicate nature of the plate used, are often monoprints or short, varied editions. I love the fact that each collograph print is unique.

Sarah Knight

From linocut tryptic in parma grey by Sarah Knight

From linocut tryptic in parma grey by Sarah Knight £150

Sarah Knight is both a printmaker and a painter. She studied Illustration at degree level and spent most of this time in the print studio producing detailed and atmospheric collagraphs. The mark making, texture and linear quality in these works feature still in her current linocut prints. The linocuts are botanical in theme, drawing on structure and detail in natural forms. Sarah hand mixes the inks so colour is carefully considered. She uses a muted, gentle palette and purposefully simple composition. Sarah uses pencil to sketch over the finished surface of the linocut prints tying together the two mediums with the simple pencil line.

Heather Tobias

Heather Tobias artist historic figures with an Andy Warhol twist

"Having worked as an actress all my life I find I am drawn to creating groups of characters who interact with themselves and the viewer. I take inspiration in the past and create players who might appear historical in their reference but are in essence of our time. I am inclined to experiment with different processes and medium. This can be porcelain, oxides, inks or acrylics.

Skylark Galleries shop front

Skylark Galleries shopfront with Heather's work in the window

"I am currently playing with images on my ipad and have been printing onto silk. A combination of drawing over manipulation. My new series of work involves taking traditional Tudor portraits and giving them a modern twist by applying the vibrant and iconic style of Andy Warhol's pop art."

Stella Tooth

Stella is a traditional oil painter who, during Covid, began creating digital portraits. She says, “I use an ipad pro with a pressure sensitive pencil to create original, digital paintings in an app called procreate. I first select a canvas shape, and size that I wish to print at, and use a variety of digital brushes and mediums to create the painting. I make my own colour palette choosing tone and hue. Then I paint freehand in layers, sometimes from a small reference photo imported to sit in the corner of the canvas. Unlike giclee, which is a copy of an original physical painting, every digital painting exists only in the ether so every print is unique.

Musician Adam Ant digital painting by Stella Tooth portrait artist

Adam Ant digital painting by Stella Tooth £80

"For my portraits of rock stars I have my digital paintings printed on Canon Pro Luster Photo paper by a professional photographer who uses the same end to end Canon printing for his photographs. This professional photo paper delivers vivid colours, reproduces sharp details with rich blacks and smooth tonality. It is designed to provide a consistent look and colour when viewed under various light sources and offers extraordinary image quality, longevity and protects images from deterioration caused by gas and light. The effect I am looking for is that of a glossy, vinyl album cover as my digital paintings are all printed album-cover size to build into a collection representing the soundtrack of your life on your walls. This method provides this look and feel. Equally I could print them as giclees if I wished and sometimes do for portrait commissioners who wish for a more matt feel."

Stella Tooth creating a digital painting on an ipad pro with procreate

Stella Tooth creating a digital painting on ipad pro with Proceeate

Potato and lino prints

I'm sure we all remember making potato and lino prints when we were young, so consider these as a “plate “. A plate is a template, and can be made of card, glycerin, wood, lino, metal, polyester, photopolymer, perspex or glass. The design is created on the plate by working its flat surface with either layers, collage, tools or chemicals.

This is then inked to transfer an image onto the surface which can range from paper to fabric - or any surface the artist choses within reason. To print from a matrix requires the application of pressure, most often achieved by using a printing press, which creates an even impression of the design when it is printed onto the paper or fabric. (More modern printmaking techniques such as 3D printing, laser, Giclee and screen printing, do not require a press.)

Traditionally, when using a plate, the resulting print is often the mirror image of the original design on the matrix. One of the great benefits of printmaking (apart from monotype) is that multiple impressions of the same design can be printed from a single matrix.

Printmaking Glossary

Printmaking processes

Printmaking processes

Artist’s proof (A/P): A small number of prints alongside the numbered edition for the artist’s private use. Numbered separately from the main edition e.g. A/P 1 (see Edition below)

Edition: A limited number of identical prints, usually numbered and signed by the artist in pencil. The number and edition size are normally written as a fraction on the print, e.g. 2/10 is the second print in an edition of 10.

Aquatint: A means of producing tone, like watercolour, as an addition or an alternative to line in an etching. The plate is covered with melted grains of resin and then put into acid, which bites into the metal around each grain, leaving white dots when printed. Stop-out varnish is used to protect areas during second and third bites to achieve a range of tonal variations. The longer the plate is in the acid the darker the tone will be.

Gelli printing: is a relatively new form of mono printing that uses flexible printing plates to create textures and layers of colour. The plate is made from glycerin.

Giclée: A high quality, digital photographic ink-jet process. A somewhat contentious process, largely because it is often used to reproduce existing works of art and the giclée prints offered for sale as original artist prints, which they are not. There is however no reason why giclée printing should not be used in combination with more creative processes. 

Chine collé: The addition to a print of another piece of, usually coloured, paper inserted between the plate and printing paper when it goes through the press. It is both collaged on and printed over at the same time.

Collagraph: A print from a plate made with glue, card, or other materials to form a raised surface. A collagraph may be printed in relief or intaglio.

Cyanotype: is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. The process is very similar to photogram.

3D printing: means the construction of a three dimensional object from a computer aided design or a digital 3D model. It can be created in a variety of ways in which material is joined, deposited or solidified using computer guidance. An object is made with the material being added together (such as liquids, plastics or powder grains being fused together, layer by layer),

Engraving: Lines are incised into a highly polished metal plate with a very sharp-pointed tool, diamond shaped in cross-section, called a burin or graver. The tool works rather like a plough cutting a furrow. The strength of the line may be increased by cutting deeper. The burin is held in a fixed position and, to produce a curved line, the plate itself is turned. This makes engraving a slow and painstaking process which produces controlled, formal results.

Linocut: A relief process where the negative areas are cut away from a piece of lino in much the same way as for Woodcut. Lino is smoother and easier to cut than wood, and can produce flat, even areas of colour when printed. Instead of cutting the lino may be etched with caustic solution. Either way the ink is rolled onto the surface and the block is printed on a flat press, or the back of the printing paper can be rubbed to take an impression.

Intaglio: Any process where the printing ink is retained in the lower scratched or otherwise eroded areas of the plate and printed under great pressure on an etching press. To print, ink is applied to the whole plate and polished off the top surface. The inked plate is covered with damp printing paper and then with soft blankets that ensure the paper is pressed into the inked lines.

Lithography: The process of lithography depends on the fact that water and grease repel one another. The image is drawn with a greasy ink or crayon on a stone or plate leaving the background retentive to water. The term literally means ‘stone drawing’, although metal or plastic plates are now often used instead of flat stones. The ink is transferred to the paper via a press, either with the paper directly against the plate or in offset lithography onto a roller first, which allows the image to print how it appears on the plate. Photolithography plates are also available.

Mezzotint: A process which works from dark to light tones by scraping down or burnishing a roughened metal plate. The plate is systematically roughened into a mass of close-cut regular indentations using a serrated steel rocker. Working from dark to light the plate is scraped and burnished to produce a design conceived in a series of tones rather than lines. The more scraping and burnishing done, the lighter the tone.

Monoprint: This refers to a single, unique print. Monoprints can be produced using any printing technique.

Monotype: A design is drawn on any smooth surface with printing ink or paint. While the ink or paint is still wet, a piece of paper is laid on top of it and pressure applied, either by hand or with a press. The process, as its name suggests, is designed to produce a single, unique, impression, but there is sometimes enough ink or paint remaining on the plate to produce a second, weaker proof. Monotypes are also made by lightly inking the whole of the plate, laying a sheet of clean paper over it, and then drawing on the back of the sheet, without applying any pressure other than that exerted by the point of the pencil or other drawing tool.

Mokulito: A type of lithography using wood block (plank) instead of a stone, metal, or plastic plate. The wood block can also be carved allowing for a combination woodcut and lithographic print.

Original Print: A print designed by the artist as a print, not simply a printed reproduction of a painting or drawing, signed and numbered as a limited edition or monoprint, and printed either by the artist or by professional printers under the direct supervision of the artist. To be considered an original print the artist must have created the image on a block, stone, plate, screen, or other material from which the final print has been produced.

Screenprint: A stencil process in which the stencil is carried on a fine mesh (originally silk) screen. The ink is pushed through the mesh to the paper beneath with a flat but slightly flexible squeegee blade. Multi-coloured images require many screens and the image must be carefully registered throughout the printing process. Stencils can vary from simple paper cut-outs, to hand painting varnish or other suitable filler directly onto the screen, or to photographic, digitally separated, full colour images.

Solar Plate Etching: An intaglio process, also called photogravure or photo etching. A plate coated with a light sensitive emulsion is exposed to the sun, or placed in a UV light box, with the artist’s image printed or drawn on acetate placed on top of it. Areas where the light does not penetrate become the etched line after the plate has been developed. The plate is inked and printed in the same manner as an etching plate.

Stencil: Arguably the simplest and most ancient of all print processes. Negative spaces are cut into suitably thin card, acetate, or purpose-made oiled stencil paper. Colour is then pushed through the cut spaces onto the printing paper below using a roller, brush or other implement, or sprayed on using an aerosol or manual diffuser.

Sugar Lift: Usually combined with aquatint, sugar lift is a way of incorporating painterly marks into the etching process. A solution of sugar and black drawing ink is used to create an image on the metal plate. Once dry, the plate is then coated with a layer of quick drying stop-out varnish, and when this has dried the plate is washed in warm water to remove the sugar solution, revealing the bare metal. An aquatint is applied, and the plate bitten in the usual way. Using sugar lift it is possible to achieve very sensitive, gradated ‘washes’ of tone.

Woodcut: A relief process like linocut in which a design is cut into the plank (side grain) of a flat piece of wood, using a knife or gouge. Although flat areas of colour are possible, interesting printed textures from the grain of the wood may be exploited and are a characteristic feature of the process. Woodcuts are printed in the same way as linocuts.

Wood Engraving: A relief print but on an end-grain block, usually boxwood, rather than on the plank. Cut with similar tools to those used for engraving on metal, it requires much skill and planning, but the clean-edged cuts allow for very fine detail.

Helen Trevisiol Duff aka Skylark Galleries' The Colourist blogger

1 Response

Stella Toith
Stella Toith

March 08, 2024

Thanks for including details about my digital paintings and how they are printed in your blog Helen, fascinating to learn more about about each printing type.

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