Printmaking 101: Gray area printmaking

We at WPG just happen to have recently been involved in a few casual discussions about whether someone’s work would be considered a “print” or not.  Sometimes, we have a hard time deciding.  Here are some of director Annie Newman’s thoughts on a few media.  These are one person’s thoughts, and by no mean reflective of the entire gallery membership or other artists’ beliefs.  We’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree or disagree!

"Days o' Work" by Trudi Y. Ludwig

Rubbings-I tend to lump this into printmaking, generally because relief printing was developed from the art of making rubbings.  I’ve also seen some really great incorporation of rubbing into mixed-media prints.  Take a look at Trudi Y. Ludwig’s Days o’ Work. The color portions of the foliage were made from a rubbing, and the black and white imagery is a giant woodcut.  That doesn’t mean that every piece of notebook paper with pencil rubbings from a monument is a work of art, necessarily.  Really, it comes down to the intention of the person creating the rubbing–are they trying to convey a message or subject that is best done through rubbing?  Then yes, that’s a print.  Are they making a souvenir?  No, that’s not a print.

Acrylic Transfers-Acrylic transfer is done by taking a xerox copy and using a clear acrylic medium to adhere it to a surface (usually canvas, but not necessarily).  After it dries, the paper on the backside of the xerox is rubbed away with water, leaving the image adhered to said surface.  Anyone with access to copy machine and some acrylic medium can all the sudden become an “artist.”  For this reason, I generally think of acrylic transfers as more of a craft project than a printmaking technique, but I have seen some exceptions.  Again, the difference lies in the intent.

"Georgetown View with Scullers" by Yolanda Frederikse

Pastel Transfers, Watercolor Transfers-Yes.  These are essentially monotypes, just created with a media other than intaglio ink.  They differ from Acrylic Transfers in the fact that the artist is creating the image, rather than just cutting something “cool” out of a magazine and making a photocopy.  Also, pastel and watercolor transfers are run through a press in order to get the pigment onto the paper, truly making them a print. Check out Marian Osher’s work for an example of pastel transfers-her recent work is labelled mixed media monotypes, since she manipulated them further after the printing, but the original technique is unchanged.  You can also see some beautiful watercolor transfers by Yolanda Frederikse on our website.

Identical paintings/sculptures-While these may be true multiples, they are NOT prints.  If you see an artist with four paintings that are (mostly) identical, it just means he or she painted that painting four times.  Sculptures from a mold can be made in multiples.  In an oversimplified sense, sculptures from molds are basically made the same way chocolate bunnies or other shaped candies are made: a liquid (melted chocolate for candy, uncured cement, liquid bronze, or something else for sculpture) is poured into a shape and allowed to set.  You can do this over and over until the mold wears out, making those statues multiples, but not prints.


4 responses to “Printmaking 101: Gray area printmaking

  1. Muffie Houstoun

    This is yet another interesting series on the WPG blog–and these are distinctions that are not only based on empirical differences but are also well articulated–brava, Annie!
    Muffie Houstoun

  2. Wikipedia actually has a very succinct definition of a print. Though there are always gray areas to dispute, digital prints for instance, the definition is quite good and would take in rubbings and monoprints. What it implicitly excludes are reproductions of paintings such as those produced by Thomas Kincade, Peter Max and others, whether or not they are signed and numbered.

    • I know it has it’s problems, but I love Wikipedia! You’re absolutely right-I looked on the “printmaking” page and it provides a good overview, including a blurb on digital printmaking, something we don’t do here, but has gained a lot of interest and validity over the years. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Also, via Muffie Houstoun and the London Original Print Fair: At the bottom of the page (after all the videos) are some great definitions and some other interesting information.