Tag Archives: printmaking 101

Printmaking 101: Intaglio and Relief revisited

Ooooh, remember the Art Babble pressure + ink video we linked to last week on lithography?  They have one for intaglio and for relief printing, too!  They’re shorter than the litho video, but you can still see the materials and differences.  Enjoy!

Printmaking 101: Lithography Revisited

"Grass V" Lithograph, by Jenny Freestone

“Grass V” Lithograph, by Jenny Freestone

We have written an earlier printmaking 101 post about lithography, which you may have read.  However, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video, put together by MoMA in conjunction with the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop is worth 10,000!  If you’re still having trouble visualizing how a lithograph is made, check it out!

Tips on being a Professional Artist

Wow!  We are so impressed with the quality of the work that is coming in for Excellence in Printmaking–it just gets better every year!  When expanding the original award into a full-blown exhibition, professionalism was one of our biggest concerns.  Would these students know how to frame a work properly?  Would they be able to ship it well, if need be?  Turns out, they do!  But it has gotten us to thinking, what are some main points we at WPG would share to emerging artists trying to look professional?  Read on to find out!

1. Follow instructions-If we could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this.  When applying to a gallery, a show, a residency, or anything else, make sure you read the prospectus thoroughly and completely before starting anything.  Yes, sometimes it’s annoying to have to resize all your images, but we promise, nitty gritty details like that aren’t arbitrary (or else they wouldn’t be there).  Expanding on the above example, images won’t show up well in our jurying system if they are too small or too big, and might be arbitrarily re-sized.  If you don’t follow directions, you (at best) annoy the person who is in charge of giving you that show/grant/residency or (at worst) have your entry thrown out entirely.

2. Paperwork is your best friend-A very boring friend, maybe, but definitely reliable.  If nothing else, keep an inventory and a calendar.  The inventory can be a simple spreadsheet by title where you can check whether a piece of work is in, out, or promised to be somewhere.  The calendar also helps in your planning.  If you know you’re applying for a show when your work is due May 1, you know not to submit anything that’s going to be in another show April 15-May 15.  You can also see when you’re free for artist talks, gallery visits, and more.

3. Multiple résumés are good-If you take a day to make a few résumés you’ll thank yourself later.  Every artist should have at least three:  A long artist résumé, a short artist résumé, and a professional résumé.  The long artist résumé is where you list everything you’ve ever done.  It can be as many pages long as you want it to be.  The short artist résumé is a one-page document that highlights some of your biggest accomplishments in the art world.  The professional resume may or may not have some of the same information on it, depending upon what field you work in.  If you’re in the arts field, the short artist résumé and the professional one may be identical.  However, if you aren’t, perhaps your prospective employer doesn’t need to know about every art show you’ve been in the past two years, and conversely the gallery you’re applying to may not need to know every place you’ve worked since high school.

4. Keep going!  It’s always tough to get a rejection letter, but you’re going to get a lot of them.  Do NOT take it personally and do NOT give up.  You’ll find that fit that’s right for you, but only if you keep looking.  The more you put yourself out there, the more good things that are going to come your way!

Want more advice?  Check out our earlier posts on applying for shows, presenting your prints, and planning a stress-free solo show.

Printmaking 101: Paper Lithography

The following introduction to paper lithography is taken from an article written by Martha Oatway, in our Winter 2012-13 Newsletter just published today!  You can read more about lithography and all other happenings at WPG in the newsletter, at the link above.

"Branches" by Martha Oatway

“Branches” by Martha Oatway

Paper lithography is the process of inking a toner based photo copy (the plate) and printing it onto printmaking paper. I first learned of this process when I took a workshop at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut in the late 1990s.

The workshop instructor told us the method was invented for woodcut and linoleum printmakers to transfer their images onto wood and linoleum blocks. At some point a printmaker discovered it to be a method in its own right.

The method is simple but technique driven. A high contrast drawing or  photograph is photocopied onto paper. Alternatively, a hand drawing in grease pencil or oil pastel can be used. The toner, grease pencil or oil pastel is the vehicle for the ink.

Etching or litho ink is modified with plate oil to reduce tack. The paper plate is saturated with a 50/50% ratio of gum Arabic to water to protect the paper fibers. The grease pencil and oil pastel marks or copy toner does not absorb
the gum mixture. The plate is inked with a brayer and wiped with gum mixture repeatedly until the grease or toner image is completely covered. This part is tricky as darker inks can’t be seen as well on the toner. Over working the plate is very easy as the paper fibers wear down and the toner can rip up if the ink is not modified correctly.

The fully inked plate is placed on the print paper and run through the press. The plate is thrown away. Images can be enlarged or reduced according to the need of the printmaker.

There are many advantages to using paper lithography. It can be used as a one-off, in multiple layers to build up imagery or to add an element to another printing technique such as etching, collagraph or drypoint.

Printmaking 101: Watercolor Monotype Process

As you look at Yolanda Frederikse’s current show (either online or in person), you may be struck by her use of watercolor.  Yes, these are watercolors, but they are also prints, specifically, Watercolor Monotypes.  Here is how the process works:


1. First, the artist (Yolanda is shown here and below) paints onto an aluminum lithograph plate.  To the left, you can see Yolanda preparing a plate, to the right is a fully prepared plate.  The plate is then left to dry.

2. The dry plate is positioned on the press bed.


3. Dampened paper is laid over the print (on the left) and the entire thing is run through the press (on the left).  The damp paper re-activates (re-wets) the watercolors on the aluminum plate, allowing for the transfer to happen.

4. We have a print!  As the name implies, this usually only yields one print per plate.  Occasionally, however, there may be enough pigment left on the plate for a strong second image or a weaker ghost image.

Your first question may be “why the extra step? Why not just make a watercolor?”  Yolanda answers, saying “effects are achieved with monotype are not possible in other forms of art [such as watercolor].”  In Yolanda’s watercolor monotypes in particular, one can see a certain uniformity of mark-making and color:  this is in part from the artist herself but also from a flattening, if you will, of how the paper uniformly picks up color off the plate.  Also, we like the tell-tale print edge, where the plate indented the paper, that is present on these monotypes.

Printmaking 101: Tips from Smidegeon Press on Approaching Galleries

Thanks to Smidgeon Press for their wonderful “Common Sense Information About Approaching Galleries” in their recent post Approaching Galleries and Avoiding Questionable Advice.  This PDF is a wonderful, concise document that we think every emerging artist should read.  We can’t tell you how many emails or phone calls we’ve received from someone who wants to show their oil paintings/watercolors/acrylic paintings/sculpture at our gallery.  While this work might be interesting, it doesn’t fit with our focus on printmaking and wastes not only our time, but, even more importantly for an artists seeking representation–theirs.  It pays to do your homework!  Thanks for the tips, Smidgeon!

If you’re looking for more tips on promoting your own artwork, our absolute favorite go-to book is Caroll Michels‘ “How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul.” The link above is to Ms. Mitchels website, where you can read excerpts and also order the book.

Printmaking 101: Direct-Etching Charcoal Drawings onto Solarplates

“Arabesque” by Matina Marki Tillman

While constantly experimenting with different drawing techniques on transparent media for solarplate etchings, Matina Marki Tillman recently re-visited one of her favorites — charcoal. During the ongoing process, she made some observations that she would like to share with others who might be interested in trying this. It looks like the smooth gradation of a charcoal drawing, the richness of values, or even the intensity of a chiaroscuro are possible to be etched directly onto solarplates. An early attempt, “Arabesque,” shows an example of this process.

The first step is to create the original drawing directly onto transparent media, like any other drawing intended for a solarplate. Matina has so far mainly been using vellum, which has some tooth that can hold the charcoal and also tolerates the necessary erasing when this is used as one of the tools together with charcoal sticks and pencils. Keep in mind, though, that vellum is not a heavy weight drawing paper; it can be scratched or folded, so care has to be taken. The drawing needs to be checked at various stages during the process on a light box. As Matina likes to often quote, “what you see is not necessarily what you get,” and that’s a good application. Etching times will have to balance both views of the drawing: what is seen by eye with the drawing placed on an opaque white background, and what is shown through the drawing when it is placed on top of a light box or held up to ambient light.

Now for etching under the sun (or any UV light source), the plate has to be prepared to hold the rich black tones in the drawing, so the usual aquatint screen exposure is done first. After this, a friend, colleague, or assistant may be useful in helping to carefully handle the finished drawing, and to position it on the solarplate to avoid smudging. Unlike other drawings, some of the charcoal powder can be lost each time the drawing contacts the plate. Therefore, it is advisable to limit the number of test exposures typically done in order to find the proper etching time. One (admittedly somewhat time-consuming) solution to this is to do small studies of portions of the drawing on another piece of vellum, which allows for experimentation without using the original. Talc powder (applied to the plate with a soft brush) has also been tried to reduce sticking, so that the artwork releases from the solarplate without losing as much charcoal.

“Unlocker” by Matina Marki Tillman

When proofing or printing, vine black ink is a logical choice to capture the essence of the charcoal drawing. Matina has observed so far that this particular technique creates strong prints. The velvety richness and depth of the darker parts of the print, together with all of the in-between tonality and the often ethereal lighter areas, could ask for other blacks or gray-based mixtures if you’re after the traditional charcoal feeling. Of course, different moods can always be achieved using other colors, for example, seen in one of the variations of “Unlocker,” which was actually printed with an indigo mixture. In any case, this technique so far has been fun and encouraging enough for Matina to share her experiences, and suggest it to others interested in combining elements of both charcoal drawing and printmaking.

Hannah Phelps on White-Line Woodcuts

We’ve shared our own Printmaking 101 post on White-Line Woodcuts, but here’s an explanation in the artist’s own words:

“Gentle Assault” by Hannah Phelps

Like any piece of art, a white-line woodcut print begins with an idea. Using the natural world as inspiration, I create a drawing on paper. This drawing is then transferred onto a piece of wood. With my lines visible on the surface, I carve an outline of the drawing with a knife. The carved lines will become the “white-lines” in the final print.

The wood left untouched now stands in relief from the lines. I attach a piece of paper to the edge of the woodblock to ensure that it lays on the wood the same way each time I place it against the block (this is called “registration”). I then “ink” one shape with watercolor using a brush, flip the paper down on the block and rub the back with a wooden spoon to print that shape on the paper. I repeat this until all of the shapes are impressed
on the paper.

When I am satisfied with the image, I remove the paper from the block and get ready for the next print. The block can be printed several times, but no two will ever really be alike, so each piece becomes a combination of print and original painting.

Printmaking 101: White-line and Jigsaw Woodcuts

We’ve discussed the difference between a wood engraving and a woodcut and also a woodcut sub-media, color reduction woodcut.  With Hannah Phelps’ plein air to print exhibition coming up next month, we want you to know a little bit more about what you’re looking at.

“Path of the Water” by Hannah Phelps, White-line woodcut, 2009.

Hannah has two woodcut sub-media in her exhibition.  The first is a white-line woodcut.  White-line woodcuts are characterized by exactly what it sounds like: a white outline surrounding each shape of color.  These lines are carved into the wood using woodcut tools.  Then, the individual shapes are inked one by one using different colors (Hannah actually paints hers with watercolors) and run through a press or rubbed with a spoon onto the paper, like a regular woodcut.  The “streaky” quality of the image above is actually the natural wood grain of the block.

“Private Wave” by Hannah Phelps, jigsaw reduction woodcut, 2012.

Jigsaw woodcuts are made from completely separate blocks of wood.   Each shape corresponding to a color is cut out, usually using a jigsaw, and put together like a puzzle after each piece is inked, usually into a mold to hold all the pieces together.  Depending upon the artists’ intention and how tight the pieces fit together, jigsaw woodcuts can also have a bit of a white outline between color shapes, but it won’t be as pronounced as a true white-line woodcut.  The print to above also has some uses some reduction.  Without seeing the plate, we’d guess there were 4-6 main color shapes–perhaps the foreground, back cliffs, water, and sky, that were each printed and then re-carved to get some of the darker colors.

“Ernesto” by Ed McCluney, from his recent Press Room Mini Solo

Some of Ed McCluney’s woodcuts are also jigsaw woodcuts (see his chicken, Ernesto, at left, which was printed using two jigsaw pieces).  As you can see, there’s a lot of aesthetic variety within this media!

Advice to Artists: Planning a stress-free solo show

A Print from our upcoming Ex Libris Exhibition!

We’re in the final stretch to our Ex Libris Exhibition, and gearing up Press Releases and more for National Small Works.  After 26 years, planning shows around here has become pretty systematic.  But different galleries have different rules and requirements.  Also, if you’re showing in an alternative space, you may not have any rules and requirements to go by, which can be just as tough.  Here’s a few tips to get you started on planning a stress-free solo exhibition!

Set up a calendar-This is the absolute most important thing to do.  We’ll get into specific dates below, but as soon as you know you’re having a solo show, write down dates and tasks!  If you keep several calendars–a work calendar, an e-calendar, a personal date-book, write down those important memos in ALL your calendars.  Nothing is worse than having to scramble last-minute (or even after) a deadline.  If you are showing with a gallery, read the agreement carefully.  In the agreement they will probably have set dates, and then it’s just a matter of copying those time frames down.  If not, make sure you have planned for the big three: Documenting your work digitally, PR and Postcards, and framing or other display preparation.  Now onto our suggested timeline!

Documenting your work:  This should be done well before the show.  If you’re creating work down to the wire, document it as you go. Even if you don’t have the whole show done until two months before-hand, you will at least have some images to put on your website, the gallery’s website, and to use for PR.  I’d say have your work at least partially documented a MINIMUM 4 months in advance. You can get some tips on documenting your work in one of our Printmaking 101 posts, Presenting your Prints.

PR–A press release should go out about a month before your show.  If you are able to send one sooner, great!  In order to create a good press packet, you should have an up-to-date resume, show/artist statement, and some press images.  To give yourself time to promote your show, we suggest having all these things ready a week before your scheduled press release date, or one month and one week before your show.  It is also important to find out what the gallery is responsible for and what you are responsible for.  Often the gallery handles most of the press, but it’s always good to check.  In addition to traditional press releases, post your exhibition on any relevant online calendars (here, we post at the Washington Post Going Out Guide, Pinkline Project, and Creative MoCo’s Do&Go calendar, amongst others) at this time.

Postcards–These are optional.  We at WPG still send out postcards because our clients have expressed gratitude and interest for getting something in the mail.  It’s also nice to have them on-hand for one-on-one promotion.  Say you see an old friend, or meet someone interesting in the metro, or want to share your achievements with your co-workers.  Postcards are a great way to reinforce those connections and invite these people to your show.  These should go out no later than two weeks before your show, and we suggest having them a month before your show.  You can order them online for almost immediate turn-around (WPG usually orders from Printplace), but if you want to avoid expedition fees, these postcards should be ordered two months before the show.

Framing-Don’t forget, after you make your work, you have to get it on the walls somehow!  Canvases often don’t have to be framed, you can just put hanging wire on the back and you’re good to go!  2D work, though, usually needs to be framed.  Be sure and give yourself ample time to do this!  Unfortunately, we don’t have a set calendar date for you.  But you should make one for yourself based on how much work needs to be framed and how time-consuming your framing is.  We can tell you, however, that it should be all framed up two weeks before the show, giving you time to concentrate on other little details–like labels, reception food, and just enjoying the feeling of a job well done!