Brian Robinson, Linocuts (detail)
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Printmaking

KickArts has been instrumental in the development of contemporary print making practice in Queensland. KickArts has an extensive collection of Fine Art Prints produced in Cairns by prominent local artists that are available for sale through our shop. This collection has been produced using the following print making techniques.

Printmaking is the process of creating original artworks by printing from a block or plate onto a flat surface. Fine Art Prints are created and printed by hand and each print is original. It is important to note that Fine Art Prints are very different to photographic prints, which are direct copies of an original artwork.

Printmaking is not only popular due to its ability to create multiple impressions of an artwork but also because of the individual outcomes that each printmaking technique creates. This page looks into more detail at some of the common printmaking techniques used around the world.

Brian Robinson and Carolyn Craig at Djumbunji Press

Relief Printing

Relief printing is the oldest and most durable method of making prints, dating back eleven hundred years to hand printed scrolls made in China. Relief printing developed in Europe during the 1450s, influenced by the development of moveable type printing and the printing press. Early common relief printing methods used by artists include wood cuts, linocuts, rubber stamps, wood engravings and collographs. With the development of new technologies other printing techniques have been introduced, these include lithography, etching, screen printing and digital processes.  

Linocut and woodcut are two of the most commonly recognised processes in the relief printing medium. The relief printing process is similar to using an inkpad and stamp. Linocut is a type of relief printing in which linoleum (as in lino flooring) is used as the printing surface. The material is cut with small pen-like tools. The tools have a variety of forms: straight and rounded edge, double-pointed or a V-shaped chisel for a few examples. Using these gouges and knives, the artist cuts the design into linoleum taking into consideration that the image will be reversed in the printing process. That is, the lines that have been carved will be white and the parts that are raised will have ink on them.

Cross section of block or plate

Ink is applied to the raised surface then rolled or stamped onto the paper (or other surface). As lino is a light material it can be printed by a press or by hand (via a Japanese barren or even a spoon), it can also be used for exceptionally large printed images, as seen in recent years from Far North Queensland artists.

Joel Sam Thulup au thonar, 2008

Due to the relative ease of relief printing methods they are favoured by many artists who personally produce smaller editions, though the durability of a lino plate, with care, can also have the potential to produce a large print run. Colour may be introduced to relief printing in a number of ways. Artists may prefer to colour by hand and will often use ink, watercolours or acrylic paint to add vibrancy to a black and white print. Separate lino blocks can be printed successively onto the same paper, each adding a new dimension to the one print. Another common method is reductive printing. After a colour is printed onto the paper, the block is cleaned, the artist then cuts away lino to achieve more detail in the design. After each colour layer is printed the block is carved until the surface is no longer practical for further use.

Linocuts and wood cuts are also used to create embossings. Embossing uses the same process as other relief printmaking techniques the only dffierence is that there is no ink, rather the image is pressed into the paper.

Brian Robinson, Skull

Intaglio Printing

In the 14th century metal engraving was used to decorate armour and precious metals, it wasn’t until the early part of the 15th century that a print on paper was taken from an engraved line. The word ‘intaglio’ is derived from an Italian term meaning ‘to be incised’. The image is created by a layer of ink held in the recesses of the plate, which is wiped or dabbed into the engraved lines. These recesses may be either manually incised or chemically etched through the surface of the plate, using a variety of chemicals, techniques and tools. The chemical processes and tools used distinguish the mediums in intaglio.

Cross-section of plate or block

Unlike relief printing, in intaglio printing the paper receives the ink from the incised marks and not from the top surface of the plate, although thin films of ink may be left on the surface to produce a variety of tonal effects. As the ink is held in the recesses of the plate a great deal of pressure is required to transfer the ink from the plate to the paper. Therefore unlike relief printing it is necessary to use a press to adequately transfer the ink from plate to paper. The pressure required adds a unique element to intaglio prints as a plate mark or embossed shape is left from pressing the metal plate into the paper. 

Drypoint

A drypoint is created by working directly onto a metal plate (or laminated cardboard as a cheap alternative) with a sharp pointed instrument known as a stylus. Lines are scratched into the metal with the same freedom as a pencil, the effect is spontaneous, not formal.

When the metal stylus is drawn through the surface it creates a rough raised edge known as a burr. This burr means when the plate is printed the lines have a delicate "feathered" effect that is quite distinct to the drypoint process. The burr that creates the distinctive drypoint line is quite delicate and can wear quickly and therefore a great deal of care is taken in creating the image and editioning the prints in order to preserve the integrity of the line.

Brian Robinson Woven Fish, 2010

Engraving

To create an engravinglines are incised on a highly polished metal plate by means of a sharp-pointed instrument, diamond-shaped in cross section, called a burin or graver. The tool works like a plough cutting a rut. 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 technique producing controlled, formal results.Cross-section of Metal Burin

Etching

Etching is one of the most important methods of intaglio printing. It is  a means of incising lines into a metal plate with acid. The plate is first coated with an acid-resistant substance (etching ground or varnish) through which the design is drawn with a sharp tool (burin or other) that exposes the metal underneath. The acid corrodes or dissolves the metal plate through the exposed lines; the more time the plate is left in the acid, the deeper the lines. When the plate is inked and its surface rubbed clean, it is covered with paper and passed between the cylinders of an etching press under high pressure. The ink captured in the lines is transferred to the paper.

Jessie Hall Beauty (a study), 2009