Technical Notes

Printmaking as an artistic process

Printmaking as an artistic process is distinctive in that it places a matrix or plate in between the production of the art work and its realisation as the final image. It freezes gestural mark-making, leaving time for reinterpretation before the final work is produced. The insertion of the matrix or plate also introduces an element of unpredictability – much depends on the particular state of the ink on the plate before it meets the paper. This unpredictability can to some extent be controlled through meticulous planning, experience and repetition, but is very sensitive to timing and heat and humidity in printing environment. In my work I prefer to treat unpredictability as part of the creative process – interacting with the plate as it evolves and building on what is produced as I go along. In that way I often discover new things about the image, new feelings and elements that I can push beyond what I could have planned or imagined.

Printmaking is generally done in layers. This enables both reinforcement and contrast in meaning and effects between layers. It means you can get intense splashes of light peeping through, struggling to emerge through the dark – sometimes planned, sometimes unexpected. I am interested in exploring the interactions between different types of ink, different papers and how this affects the ways that colours translate and interact to produce sharp and blurred edges to the transitions.

Types of printmaking process

Different types of printing process: monoprint, linocut, collagraph etc have their specific ‘natural’ effect. At the same time any process can also be varied to produce a wide range of effects and mood. And the different techniques can be combined in an infinite number of variations.

  • There are many different types of plate – from metal to lino to potatoes. Each has different properties in affecting the qualities of line that can be produced, textures and how they absorb the ink and interact with the paper.
  • Different types of drawing implement can be used to produce different qualities of line or shape. They can also be used on the back of the paper to draw down into the ink. Or to incise through the ink on the front of the paper.
  • Different types of paper can enhance or contrast with the qualities of the plate – underlying or showing through the printed image.
  • Different types of ink give different layering effects, degrees of transparency and possibilities for texturing and combining colours.
  • Even the subtleties of the printing process itself affect the final image – the precise pressure of the printing press, whether the paper is placed on top or below the plate, is dry or damp to absorb the ink in different ways or whether the sensitivity of hand printing is used and in which parts of the image.

For details of the different techniques used in my work for Printmaking 1 and 2 and other OCA visual communications courses see:


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