The plate is the basic "canvas" used in printmaking. Materials such as stone, wood, linoleum, copper, aluminum, zinc and silk are the most common substances used as plates. In subsequent paragraphs we will describe the preparation of the various plates which determine the terms used to describe prints
For an artist´s work to be classified as an ORIGINAL print, the artist himself must: 1) Create the master image in or upon the plate, stone, woodblock or any other matrix from which the print is made; 2) Either make the print himself or direct and supervise the process and; 3) Personally inspect, approve and hand-sign 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 combinations of methods which are briefly described here.
Many reproductions are prepared by photomechanical 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.
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 which 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 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 textured 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.
A very important related process in ethchings 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 plate by heat to create a grained pattern. When the plate is immersed in 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, multiple plates are often used to create variety and texture.
Intaglio techniques, which include etching, are distinguished from other techniques by the method of printing. When a plate is engraved the lines are etched so that when it is inked, and then lightly wiped off with muslin or the palm of the hand, ink is left in the engraved furrows. When a piece of damp paper is laid over the plate and placed under pressure, the damp paper is forced into the engraved lines and so picks up the ink in them.Variations are often accomplished, and experimentation of various techniques have always been the goal of the masters. Use of foreign materials, called "found objects" are used for printing, as are cut out pieces of metal plates, glued on objects, etc. It is even possible to use materials such as plastic as plates in conjunction with the traditional metal plates.
These are examples of relief printing 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 was one of the earliest materials used 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 is has a smoother and more predictable surface to work with. Picasso was well known for his linoleum block printing, and Baskin is probably best known for his wood block prints.
This method of printing was first discovered in 1798, by Alois Senefelder, 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.
Also known as serigraphy, screenprinting is 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 framework holding the silk by a blade called a squeegee, the color goes through the open ares 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
For limited edition prints, the plates or screens are used to produce the specified number of images or proofs, and are then destroyed or cancelled. The prints are inspected, numbered and signed by the artist. In addition to the numbered prints in an edition, the artist and the publisher may agree to print additional copies, generally not more than 10% of the numbered edition. These are known as Artist's Proofs (A.E. or E.A.) or Hors Commerce Proofs (H.C.). 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. Often the artist will also number his Artist's Proofs, as E.A. 1/10, etc. The top number signifies the number of the print, and the bottom number 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 cancelling the plates prevents restriking. For a "second state", the plate is altered in some way, so that the new image differs from the original.
A "full disclosure" certificate should be provided by the publisher through the gallery, stating the number of prints in the edition, numbered, as well as proofs, and confirmation that the plates have been cancelled or destroyed.On older prints, or when the publisher's certification is not available, the selling gallery should provide a Certificate of Information "to the best of their knowledge," which means that you rely on their integrity. Often books are published, called "Oeuvre" books, or catalogs, which list, with varying detail, the prints made by an artist. You can compare your print with the description of the work in such reference books. The history of previous ownership of a work of art is called its "provenance." As a rule the previous ownership of older prints is hard to trace, but if the means to do so are available, they help to establish its authenticity and value.