Many reproductions are prepared by photo-mechanical means from original artwork, using technicians and color separation equipment to produce a copy of the original as may be seen in magazines and books. Color reproductions of original artwork are often offered as limited editions signed and numbered. When a plate is made by a technician, known as a Chromist, by copying an original painting, the print is referred to as an “after.” Even when signed and numbered by the artist these are not considered to be original prints.
In contrast, in order to be classified as an ORIGINAL print, the artist himself must create the master image in or upon the plate, stone, woodblock or any other matrix from which the print is made; the print is made from this matrix by the artist or pursuant to his directions and supervision; and the artist personally inspects, and approves and hand signs each finished print. The print is the original art and can be anything from a relatively simple drawing of one image to the most complex combination of methods which are briefly described herein.
Materials such as stone, wood, linoleum, copper, aluminum, zinc and silk are the most common substances used as plates.
The etching process (a form of intaglio) was first used by artists, including Durer, in the early 16th and 17th centuries, and artists such as Rembrandt brought it to a popularity that flourishes to this day. While there are varied ways in which to create an image on a plate in the etching process, the most common probably is the use of a sharp etching needle or burin to draw lines into a flat copper plate through a coating of black wax or varnish which is acid resistant. When the metal plate is immersed in acid, only the lines which are not coated by wax or varnish are “etched” into the plate. The length of time the acid remains on the metal determines the depth of the bite; the deeper the bite, the darker will be the print. In repeated immersions into the acid for more bite, those areas which have been sufficiently worked can be stopped out with additional varnish to allow for further bites of only the remaining unvarnished areas.
Another major related technique to create textures effects in etching is called Carborundum. This is a method of adding to the surface of the plate by placing a granulated material in a mastic onto the surface where the artist shapes or models it to create his desired effect such as embossing or texture patterns, after which it is set by heat to become part of the plate. In all cases this type of plate must be hand inked. Many important works done by Miro in the period of 1967-70 were created as etchings with aquatint and carborundum.
A very important related process in etchings is called Aquatint. Aquatinting is generally used to create tonal areas, although it is possible to create an entire image with the use of aquatint. In the process, a dusting of finely grained resin is fused onto the late by heat to create4 a grained pattern. When the plate is immersed in the nitric acid, it etches away the resin-coated area creating a desired textured effect. For large aquatints this becomes an exceptionally time consuming process as the working and reworking of areas which require further acid biting demand careful control of the stopping out of the rest of the plate. This is followed by the removal of all varnish and meticulous cleaning of the entire plate before inking for testing or proofing of the results, and then repeating the process again and again, until the artist is satisfied with the end result. Because the plates are inked by hand, different colors can be placed on a single plate; however, often multiple plates are used to create variety and texture. Many important works done by Miro in the period of 1967-70 were created as etchings with aquatint and carborundum.
These are examples of relief printed in which all surface not to be inked is gouged or chiseled from the block. When the block is inked and pressed onto paper, the image printed is that of the raised surface only. Wood is one of the earliest materials by artists to make prints. Easily cut into to create a printing pattern or image it nevertheless required considerable skill to create fine images. Linoleum, mounted on wood is similar in its application except that it has a smoother and more predictable surface to work with. Picasso was well known for his linoleum block printing. Well known linocuts are his “heads”.
Alois Senefelder first discovered this method of print in 1798, and Goya was probably one of the first artists to make truly memorable use of it. The principle of lithography is the natural repulsion of oil and water. When an image is drawn on a plate with a greasy substance, a special pencil or crayon, or painted with a brush using grease base ink, the plate, which has been suitably prepared, will absorb water everywhere except where the image has been drawn or painted. When the ink is subsequently rolled onto the plate the areas with the image retain the oil-based ink. Thus when the paper is placed on the plate, and burnished across the back, the ink offsets onto the paper, printing the artist’s original image. Since only one color is printed from each plate, it is not unusual for fine lithographs to be printed from 15 or more plates.
This method is fairly new, a 20th Century development. The screen is generally of silk, stretched taut on a wood or metal frame. After drawing a wax image onto the fine mesh screen the artist coats the material with glue, which is rejected by the wax, but dries to an impermeable finish on the remainder of the mesh. The original wax image is then removed with solvent, which leaves the glue intact and opens the screen beneath the original drawing. When the ink is drawn across the inside of the framework holding the silk by a blade called a squeegee, the color goes through the open areas of the screen and onto the paper underneath. The inks may be transparent or opaque, and the artist can build up an image one color over the other, or he can, in effect, mix his colors by printing one transparent color over another. Each color requires a different screen. This is important to note that when documentation mentions a numerous amount of colors, it is that much more work put into the piece.
For limited edition prints, the plates or screens are used to produce the specified number of images or proofs, and then are destroyed or cancelled. The prints are inspected, numbered and signed by the artist. Sometimes additional numbered series will be made which are varied by use of a different paper. These may be numbered in Roman numerals or with letters A through Z. The top number signified the number of the print, and the bottom numbers the quantity of prints in that series of the edition.
The term “restrike” means that the plate is printed again. This creates a situation of questionable ethics, unless previously disclosed to the buyers of the original edition. Destroying or canceling the plates prevents restriking. For a “second state,” the plate is altered in some way, so that the new image differs from the original.