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Printmaking Methods

À la Poupée | Aquatint | Drypoint | Engraving | Etching | Lithograph | Mezzotint | Monoprint | Monotype

This is a process of printing many colors from a single plate: colors are painted directly onto the plate before printing, giving each impression the appearance of a monoprint with uniquely varied coloring. Belle Epoque artist Manuel Robbe was an innovator of this process. His "painterly" approach to printmaking, with its echoes of Impressionism, is perfectly suited to the technique. Another artist using this technique is contemporary artist Joseph Goldyne.

A form of etching, aquatint is so called because of its ability to produce tones reminiscent of watercolor washes. A copper plate is sprinkled with rosin dust, then heated to adhere the rosin to the plate. The melted rosin serves as an acid-resistant ground wherever it has adhered. In the acid bath the areas between the rosin grains are etched, producing pits that hold ink. When printed, the result is texture and tone rather than line. You can see this technique in the works of Belle Epoque artist Manuel Robbe, as well as contemporary artists Erik Desmazières, Joseph Goldyne, and Friedrich Meckseper, among others.

In drypoint, the artist "draws" directly on a copper plate with a sharp stylus. No etching is involved. The point of the stylus creates a "burr" of copper on either side as it is scored through the metal. In the printing process, the burr holds additional ink, giving the finished print a velvety richness unique to this method. Artist Gunnar Norrman (1912–2005) worked in drypoint for over 50 years. Because the copper burr wears down from the weight of the press, Norrman kept his print editions small (sometimes as few as four prints in an edition) in order to retain the delicate clarity so characteristic both of Norrman's work and of the drypoint technique itself. Other examples of drypoint can be seen in the works of Hermine David, Jules Pascin, and Paul César Helleu.
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The engraving tool, called a burin, has a V- or U-shaped edge. With it the artist gouges away strips of the plate surface, the resulting grooves holding the ink. By altering the pressure of the burin the engraver can vary the depth and thickness of the grooves, achieving subtle changes in the tonality of the print. As with drypoint, there is no etching involved. Contemporary French artists Philippe Mohlitz and Jacques Muron demonstrate the great precision and subtlety of line that is the essence of the engraving.
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In etching, the artist covers a metal plate (usually copper) with a resinous substance (or "ground") that is acid-resistant. The artist then "draws" on the ground with a sharp needle. Wherever the needle is applied the ground is removed, so that in an acid bath those exposed lines are eaten away, or etched. The plate is then inked and wiped, leaving ink in the grooves created by the acid. When the plate is placed on damp paper and put through the printing press, the paper is forced into the inked grooves. For each print in an edition, the plate must be re-inked and wiped. For examples of etching, see Erik Desmazières, François Houtin and Gérard Trignac.

For a color etching, the artist will create several plates of the same size (sometimes one for each color, sometimes including more than one color on a single plate). Each plate is a puzzle piece of sorts, containing a specific part of the final image. The finished product is achieved when each plate has been etched, inked and printed (after careful registering) onto a single sheet of paper. See Lynn Shaler's color etchings.

Resist-ground etching is a technique used in particular by contemporary artist Peter Milton. The artist draws an image on Mylar, then transfers the image to a copper plate that has been treated with a light-sensitive (photo-resist) ground, thus preparing the plate for etching of the image. Creating the drawing independent of the copper plate allows the artist not only to etch images at varying stages of a drawing (and combine those into a "collage" of sorts later), but also to save the original drawing when the process is finished.
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Using a greasy crayon, the artist draws directly on a flat stone or specially prepared metal plate. The surface is then dampened and inked. The ink is repelled from the wet areas but sticks to the greasy areas, which are then transferred to paper. Odilon Redon owed his first fame to his lithographs, whose rich blacks were the envy of fellow artists and the delight of collectors.
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Mezzotint is among the most physically demanding mediums in art, one tried and quickly abandoned as "too difficult," for example, by the great printmaker M.C. Escher. A copper plate is "rocked" with a curved, notched blade until the surface is entirely pitted. At this stage, an inked plate would print a rich, uniform black. The artist then uses a scraper or burnisher to flatten the raised parts, a little for dark grays, a lot for light grays, completely for white (after inking and wiping, the plate holds no ink where it is smooth). Colors are achieved by similarly working one or more supplementary plates. The result of this process is an image emerging from pitch black "nothingness" — a true analogue to Creation (see the work of 19th-century artist John Martin, whose mezzotint illustrations for Paradise Lost and The Bible exemplify the extraordinary effects of scale and dramatic light possible with this medium). Outlines are simplified by absence of line, while substance is rendered with a virtually infinite range of tonal subtlety. With the passing of Yozo Hamaguchi in December 2000, Mario Avati is the foremost living mezzotint artist. Avati's mastery of the mezzotint is most remarkable in his still lifes, which convey both the volume and dimension of his subjects, combined with a sense of timelessness.
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The Monoprint combines elements of etching and monotype. The artist creates an etching which then becomes a duplicatable "base" for individually colored monotype versions. Artist Joseph Goldyne often works with this technique, as does Janet Yake, thought the latter is best known for her monotypes.
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In monotype, the artist paints on a smooth surface such as plexiglass, then transfers the image to paper by means of a press or by hand-rubbing.

According to artist Janet Yake, who has been working in this medium for close to 30 years, "sometimes what's left on the plate has its own merits." Fitch-Febvrel Gallery exhibited Yake's color monotypes, along with the plates from which they were printed, in April of 1999. The pairing of the prints with the plates enables the viewer to appreciate the unique and painterly aspects of the monotype, which yields one-of-a-kind prints.
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