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Print/Printmaking

A print is an impression left on a surface by pressure using a printing method that transfers the image. Printing is a revolutionary method that enables duplication of images over time and makes copies from the original. In art, a print can be a reproduction of an original artwork made into a number of editions or it could be a one-off piece without any other copies available.

Katsushika Hokusai
The Great Wave, ca. 1830 - 1832
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
25.7 x 37.9 cm (10 1/8 x 14 15/16 in.)
In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Woodblock printing

The history of printmaking starts with the invention of woodblock printing in Han Dynasty, China (206 B.C.E - 220 C.E), which is also known as woodcut; the printing was done on cloth then carved onto wood to create visualization. Wide use of woodblock painting spread to the rest of Asia; in Japan it formed a genre called Ukiyo-e, meaning “pictures of the floating world” between the 17th and 19th centuries. Katsushika Hokusai was one of the most famous woodblock artists during this period and he gained fame in Europe for his dutch impressionist style*.

*With a fear that European christianity would influence the people, Japan closed its borders with the rest of the world besides a few that agreed not to proselytize, including the Dutch. The trade relation allowed Hokusai to have access to Dutch landscape painting.

Etching

In Europe, the earliest prints were used for playing cards in the beginning of the 15th century, then the techniques were used by artists such as a German print master Albrecht Dürer who influenced the high-quality woodcut prints across Europe. In the 17th century, artists turned to etching, which has been used for decorating metal since the 14th century. A Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt was a printmaker as well as a painter and created some 300 etchings including The Three Crosses (1653). Lucian Freud, although not a traditional printmaker, also used the method of etching in his work - but using the plate upright like a canvas on an easel.

Lucian Freud
Eli, 2002
Etching
66 x 84.5 cm (26 x 33.3 in.) Edition of 46
© The Lucian Freud Archive

Louise Bourgeois
Ode à l'Oubli, 2004
36 cloth pages with lithography
27.3 x 33.7 x 7 cm (10 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 2 3/4 in.) Edition of 25 +proofs
Courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery, New York

Lithography

At the end of the 18th century, lithography was invented and it made color printing easier compared to the earlier methods; a printing method based on the logic that oil and water don’t mix. The technique has been used by a number of artists to this day and among them, there are Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, Lee Ufan, and David Hockney. The printing process developed into offset lithography where the image is transferred onto a surface before the final sheet; twice reversing the image to make it appear the same way around as the original design.

Screen printing

During the beginning of the 20th century, screen printing was pioneered; it is also called silkscreen, as silk was originally stretched over a frame to make a screen. Unlike previously invented methods, screen printing uses stencils to block out the non-printing areas using paper, or directly applying glue onto the screen. The technique has been commercially used since the 1920s then became popular amongst the artists by the 1950s partly due to its simple design and use.

Andy Warhol
Warhol Truck, 1985
Screenprint on Lenox Museum board
90.17 x 121.92 cm (35.5 x 48 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and HG Contemporary, New York

Open and limited editions

It is easy to recognize whether a print is an open edition or not. If a print is an open edition, it can be produced an infinite amount of times and usually not signed by the artist. While a limited edition can only be produced in a certain amount and this is shown on the artwork in a fraction form; e.g 3/50 indicates the print is the 3rd edition out of the 50 copies. Limited prints have higher value, especially with the artist’s signature.

AP and HC

AP (Artist Proofs) and HC (Hors de Commerce) are similar in meaning. Artist Proofs are used to test prints during the printmaking process by artists to see the current printing state. Artist Proofs are usually gifted to a collection or a museum but they do appear on the market for sales for its value in scarcity. Hors de Commerce is French meaning “not for sale” and the HCs are kept by the artist or displayed at museums or galleries during the show.

Related categories

Etching/Engraving

Lithograph

Works on Paper

Pop Art

Reality and Fantasy / Illusion / Imagination

Ink on Paper

Originality

Japanese Art

Woodcut/Linocut

Paper

Asian Art

Socio-political Issues

20th Century Art

Ink Painting

Silk

Contemporary Asian Art

Native American Art

18th Century Art

Dutch Art

Silkscreen Print

15th Century Art

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