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A guide to popular printing methods: education is often your best asset in making sales and keeping customers returning to your shop. Here, we continue our series on printmaking methods with a look at some of the work being done at Pace Prints in New York City. (Part 2).

Pace was founded in 1968 with a two-pronged mission, according to Jean-Yves Noblet, director: to respect the desires of the artists it works with and to endeavor to create the highest-quality prints possible. Prints created at Pace sell in galleries and frame shops around the globe. Knowledge about the methods Pace Prints employs--some ancient, some cutting-edge--might help both your staff and your clients better understand the work that went into the prints that hang on their walls.


In etching, a process introduced in the late 1400s, a metal plate is covered with an acid-resistant resinous coating called a ground. An artist then draws an image on the plate with a sharp stylus that scrapes through the ground and exposes the plate. The plate is then placed in an acid bath that eats into the exposed areas, creating marks. The characteristics of the marks produced depend, among other things, on the type of tool used to draw the image, the type of ground used to coat the plate (hard or soft) and the length of time the plate is left in the acid bath. The plate is then inked and wiped by hand, leaving ink only on the marks created by the acid. Damp paper is placed on the inked plate and put through a printing press, where the paper is forced down into the inked grooves. For each print in an edition, the hand inking and wiping process must occur again.

A final etching may involve many plates, a variety of inks and delicate registration of the paper to the plate with each pass through the press. "The technique is long, and you don't always see the results right away" said Noblet, citing one of the difficulties involved in the process. Another concern is protecting the integrity of the image. Plates can be made from a variety of metals, including zinc, copper, bronze and steel. Zinc plates are softer than some of the other metals, making it easier to etch but unstable over long print runs. Printmakers generally prefer copper plates, which are harder than zinc and tend to etch very cleanly. However, even with copper, according to Nobler, the ink still has a tendency to oxidize the metal of the plate causing light-colored inks like white and yellow to print a dull gray. To combat this, Pace steelfaces the plate when the artist is pleased with the image being produced. This electroplating process also hardens the surface so delicately detailed areas will not wear down during editioning. In the plus column, Noblet said etching allows for the use of bright inks and colors not available with some other processes. "If the artist is comfortable with the method," said Noblet, "we can accomplish the results the artist seeks."

There are many subsidiary methods used in conjunction with etching. In aquatinting, introduced in the mid-1600s, printmakers adhere an acid-resistant powder, like rosin, to the metal plate. The metal that remains exposed around the rosin is "bitten" in the acid bath, creating a pitted, grainy surface that holds a thin layer of ink and prints an area of unlimited tonal gradations. These gradations are controlled by the platemaker's skill, depending on such things as the length of time the plate is left in the acid bath or the amount of rosin used.

With sprite aquatint, the acid is painted directly onto the aquatint ground of an etching plate. Light to dark tones are achieved, depending on the amount of time the acid is left on the plate. Printmakers traditionally used saliva to control the acid application, although gum Arabic, plastoflow, methyl cellulose or liquid detergent can be used today to a similar effect. "Aquatint and spitbite are spontaneous processes that allow a lot to chance," explained Noblet. But, he added, they also allow for magnificent results in tone.


The first recorded use of drypoint engraving occurred in 1465. Drypoint differs from etching primarily in that it does not involve acids. Artists use a number of instruments to incise a line directly onto a plate. The recessed areas of the plate, which hold the ink, are made by the stylus rather than by the acid biting into a particular area. The tool used in drypoint causes a curl, often called a burr, to form along the sides of the mark. When inked, the burr produces a particularly velvet appearance to the line. The ability to create this effect is a plus of the process; however, the burr tends to become flattened and less distinct over the course of printing and with every inking of the plate, which is why drypoint editions usually have a low edition number.


There has been a great deal of confusion regarding the terms monoprint and monotype, which some artists, dealers and historians have used interchangeably. A movement is underway, however, to clarify the differences between the two processes.

A monotype is traditionally a painter's technique used to create a one-of-a-kind image. Its first use is attributed to Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione in the 1600s. With monotypes, the artist paints directly onto a smooth plate and transfers the image to paper through a press. Typically, only one impression may be made, although some artists have made second and third fainter pulls, called "ghosts" to achieve varied results. Jasper Johns is an example of a modern-day artist who has experimented with monotypes.

A monoprint, on the other hand, is also a one-of-a-kind print. Around the same time Castiglione was creating monotypes, art historians report that Rembrandt van Rijn was experimenting with monoprints. Unlike the monotype, a portion of the monoprint is made using a printmaking method, such as etching. However, the monoprint is wholly unique because the artist finishes the print by hand-coloring or adding hand brushwork to it, or the plate or block can have ink applied in ways that could not be consistent for an edition. With monoprints, the etching essentially becomes the duplicable base for individually colored versions. The monoprint process is used by artists, said Nobler, who "have the desire, the imagination and the excitement to make none of the prints the same."


The woodcut is one of the oldest forms of printmaking. Some art scholars trace its beginnings back to Egypt and China before the 2nd-century A.D. The oldest known example of woodblock printing dates back to 868 A.D. In the 6th century, the technique appears to have been exported to Japan and was later used in Europe in the 14th century. Color became more frequently used in the 16th century and was highly developed in Japan, during the Ukiyo-e period in the 18th century, when 10 or more colors were printed with separate wood blocks. However, according to the book The Complete Relief Print, it wasn't until the 19th century that Norwegian Impressionist Edvard Munch "greatly helped to renew interest in the woodcut as a serious contemporary art form. With this revival of the woodcut ... came a new spontaneity and creative use of the material."

Around this time, despite its use by many renowned artists, the woodcut became more of a reproduction method than an art form. Skilled craftsmen were employed to create woodcuts from pen drawings created by artists, and over time, the artist became very far removed from the actual woodcut process. Oftentimes, the crafts-people were less gifted. However, according to The Complete Relief Print," because the contemporary artist uses the wood more freely with a real sense of the material and usually cuts ... his own blocks, a more complete knowledge and respect for the material's potential comes forth. The aesthetic freedom of the 20th-century artist has enabled him to make new discoveries through experimentation and given him a richer utilization of the medium."

Today, artists can use various implements to cut the blocks of wood. The raised surface of the woodcut contains the positive image that is printed, while the background, which is carved away, contains the white, nonprinting areas. The printer inks the blocks, then places paper over the block and rubs by hand or passes the woodcut and the paper through a press to transfer the ink from the block to the paper, creating the image. "Woodcuts offer a very specific feeling," said Noblet. "The transparency of the colors, the texture of the wood, all come through in the final print."

Although a fairly simple process when it was invented, the woodcut has grown ever more complicated over time. At Pace, a master printer is working on a woodcut for artist Chuck Close that involves 27 blocks and 127 colors. Created painstakingly in a humidity-controlled environment, it will take two-and-a-half years to finish the 60 prints being created.

According to Noblet, the printmakers at Pace strive to always use the most appropriate, oftentimes both meticulous and cutting-edge, techniques to achieve the desired results of the artists with whom they collaborate. Sometimes, this even means creating a new printmaking method. According to Noblet, a master printer at Pace who has passed away created a printmaking method called paper-pulp printing, which Pace used to create a Chuck Close self-portrait in close collaboration with the artist. To achieve the desired effect, Pace printers created a grid of the self-portrait. Paper pulp, which was produced in collaboration with Manhattan paper mill Dieu Donne, was mixed with pigments and laid down into the grid. The pulp was then saturated with water. When the water was pressed out, the pulp came together in one sheet, creating the image.


Another way Pace is pushing the modern printmaking envelope, according to Noblet, is through its method of creating giclee prints with a twist, working closely with modern-day artists. At Pace, "We are more interested in the technology as a medium, not as a process," said Noblet. "We ask ourselves, `How can we use the technology to create an original artwork?' The creative part is our main excitement" For example, Pace collaborated with artist Jane Hammond, who brought the printmaker a collage she had created. The collage was manipulated digitally and given back to Hammond as an Iris print. Hammond then painted on the print, which was later re-scanned and re-composited digitally. Another Iris print was made on Japanese paper. Hammond further hand colored this print, which was later sealed. A collage was made with the Iris print, wood veneer and aluminum on a board. The black lines were then printed on the composite image at Pace Editions using a magnesium plate. Hammond completed each image in the series, in an edition of 35, with hand work.

To contact Pace Prints, call 212-219-8000 or visit
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Author:Tarateta, Maja
Publication:Art Business News
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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