To draw or to make a print? That is the question. Or — maybe it’s a bunch of questions. What follows are questions – and some of my answers – about the relationship between drawing and printmaking. These are questions that I’ve recently asked myself in order to motivate and focus my own current printmaking.
What characteristics do drawing and printmaking share? What’s similar? Drawing and printmaking are both graphic arts. Thus, these activities both use tools to acquire and hold pigmented material for application to a flat, graphic, or two-dimensional space. Despite the complexity of printmakers’ matrices (e.g., stones, plates, planks, screens), printmaking tools share those common purposes and functions with pencils, pens, and other drawing tools. My screen-mesh-stencil-squeegee combination may seem complicated, but it’s not any different than a pencil in its purpose or in its use of my mind, eyes, hands, and pigmented material. My matrix is my pencil.
Drawing and printmaking often share a common problem: Pigment or not? Dot or not? Ink or paper? To put down a mark or not? Think about drawing with a pen and black ink on white paper. How do you get tones between black and white – when you only have black and white? Dots, stippling, scumbling, crosshatching. That’s how. While these drawing strategies are made explicit and precise in printmaking through the use of halftoning, that printmaking purpose is one that is shared with drawing. This common context has made me rethink the use of halftoning in printmaking. If dots, stippling, scumbling, and crosshatching are not to be obscured in drawing, why obscure such techniques in printmaking? And, in fact, halftoning techniques may be openly exploited for interesting textures, patterns, and tessellating image elements.
So much for some similarities. What’s unique about printmaking compared with drawing? Despite their shared contexts mentioned above, printmaking has uniquely defining characteristics relative to drawing. Specifically, it’s printmaking ability to efficiently and accurately repeat imagery – across an edition and within an individual work – that gives printmaking its uniquely defining characteristics as a graphic arts medium. If you’re repeating images accurately and efficiently, then you’re almost certainly using a printmaking technique. Drawing many repeated images quickly and precisely is not easy to do – although it may be therapeutic. And, if precise repetition is an important element of your composition – think about jazz – then printmaking is a natural graphic arts choice.
To draw, and then to print? Perhaps that’s another question. Does drawing precede printmaking? I know that many painters do not want to be known as people who draw – and then ‘paint’ their drawings. Likewise, I don’t want to be thought of as a person who draws – and then ‘prints’ my drawings. Does it even make sense to print a drawing? Would it make sense to draw a print?
[When Roy Lichtenstein painted his ‘halftones’ and printed his ‘brush strokes’ he was making a similar point about painting and printmaking.] To focus my work and to free myself from the tyranny of this temporal relationship – i.e., that drawn imagery precedes printed imagery – I try to avoid traditional drawing processes in developing a printed image. For preliminary work, it’s ABD – Anything But Drawing. But, as a printmaker, can I get away without drawing? Not really. To the extent that drawing involves using the mind, eyes, hand, and tools for clarification of the image, I must often draw in preparing to print. However, if I have to draw, I’m often able to avoid traditional drawing processes. How? A subject for future commentary.