April 2010

Fine Art Relief Print Making

Printmaking began in China after paper was invented, about the year 105 with stone rubbings. As the process of making paper reached Europe, relief forms of printing flourished in the 1400s. It was the Japanese in 1700 that refined the woodblock print and authenticated editions of prints, beginning a fine art trade.

The most common types of relief printing are woodcuts, wood engraving or xylographs, linocuts and metal cuts. Areas are carved or gouged away from the matrix of wood, linoleum or metal, leaving the uncut areas as the printing surface. This raised area is inked (usually applied with a roller) then put through a press or paper is placed on the block and the image is applied by rubbing the back of the paper. With xylographs, the image is engraved into the wood like drawings and the lines are not inked.

Multi colored works require multi blocks of matrix and multi stampings. In chiaroscuro woodcuts, the natural color of the paper creates a “light-dark” effect where all blocks have the same area gouged or removed. To keep the areas of color in the correct locations, registration marks align the printing.

Contemporary fine art relief prints will be signed and numbered in an edition. With woodcuts, the grain of the wood is usually evident. The Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and MC Escher offer good examples. Cuban woodcuts relate to a tradition of activist printmaking initiated in Mexico in the 1930s by José Guadalupe Posada.

Wood engravings that are incised on the end grain of hardwoods create a soft transparent look…like some of the works of Durer and Edmond Evans.

With linocuts, smooth areas of color show. They offer more precision and a greater variety of effects than woodcuts. At one time denigrated by serious artists as not challenging enough, the linocut came into its own after artists like Matisse and Picasso created in that technique.

The print is the core of the work of many international contemporary artists. Artists who do not think of themselves as printmakers frequently use concepts of imprinting and multiplicity as well as printed images and print techniques. In the 21st century, mixed media has become an established technique. Artists increasingly push the boundaries of printmaking to achieve specific aesthetic and expressive goals.

Suzanne Snider, May 2010

woodcut by Posada

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