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Previous Print-Making Lessons

Printing Lesson: Tools of the Trade

Printmaking is one of the most versatile and fulfilling art involvements one can experience.  There are so many different types of printmaking that there is surely one to suit your personality and work style.   Everything from simple shaped sponges and other materials to more technical etched metal plates--and an ocean of ideas between the two--can be used to create controlled images, personal art statements and saleable art items.  All you have to do is examine the possibilities and dive in!

Supplies needed for basic printmaking include ink, paper, ink brayer (a small roller with a handle attached), and your choice of plate master.  Linoleum block, wood block and easy-carve soft base materials are great for those beginning their printmaking experience.

Shaping any type of sponge, foam sheet, mat board, or foam board can create simple, yet striking prints.  What makes these "masters" so appealing is their availability, their ease of manipulation and the low cost.  Once you are finished with the master, simply toss it away, or clean it and re-use it later.

Tools required for shaping these materials might include scissors or sharp-bladed knives.  Remember that the positive, or high, portion of the master will be coated with ink and leave its reverse image on the printing paper.  Select a design that is full of large flat areas, allowing the shapes and contours to create rich prints.

To ink the master, roll a brayer (roller available at any art materials dealer) over a dollop of ink, rolling to spread a smooth even layer over the surface of the roller.  Then roll the ink over the high spots on the master plate.  It is now ready to print.

Place the paper over the master plate and rub gently to press the wet inked surface against the surface of the paper.  When all areas of the design have been pressed, gently and evenly lift the paper.  The resulting print will be a mirror image of the inked master plate.  The first print is most often used as a test print, to examine places where more or less ink might work better for the design.

After exploring these immediate and easy types of printmaking, consider graduating to woodcut, linoleum block or soft-base material for prints.  Special woodcarving tool sets can be used on wood blocks to create detailed, long-lived master plates; and these same cutting blades can be used to carve into linoleum (mounted onto wood blocks or unmounted) as well as the soft-base mediums now available from Speedball.  This soft base is easily carved and can depict and maintain sharp detail print after print.

Detail is sharpest with the hard quality of wood, but linoleum masters are long-lived and can be cut to create dynamic designs.  One aspect of linoleum that makes it most appealing is that you can carve your design from unmounted linoleum and piece different designs together.  This opens yet another door in the printmaking experience.  When you combine the versatility and ease of manipulation, multi-piece linoleum masters can be used to create an unending sequence of patterns.

Metal plates and plastic surfaces--such as acrylic sheets like those used to cover artwork--can be scratched, inked and printed with remarkable ease.  Tools used to etch both surfaces include any strong, sharp metal tool.  Old dental tools make especially good etching styluses because they are very strong and rigid.  Sharpen the tip of any old tool to a point using a bench grinder or by raking across a smooth cement surface.  The resulting point will scribe into the surface of either metal or plastic.  Special tools for scribing are available at art supply centers and offer several tip sizes and handle shapes that make them easy to use.

Scribing should be done very similarly to the lines you use in cross-hatching during drawing.  The more crossed over lines you build up in any given area, the richer the tone of dark in that spot.  The less lines or etch marks you create, the lighter the area will be.

Inking metal or acrylic masters is very similar.  Ink is rubbed gently into the scribed lines.  This can be accomplished with a fingertip or a small scrap of mat board or cardboard.  Once the ink is worked into the scribed lines, wipe away all excess ink with a soft cloth.  Removal of lots of ink will soften the color of the etching, while leaving more ink on the plate will create a darker, bolder image.

Once this image is inked and excess removed, it is time to print.  Lay a slightly dampened paper over the plate and press firmly with a baren (hand burnishing tool) or with the back of a wooden spoon.  Even pressure is essential.  In the very best situation, the use of an etching press is ideal.  It allows the master plate and paper to be evenly pressed so that all the ink is extracted from the etch marks.  Hand burnishing can accomplish a very good image, but requires more energy.  Either method creates breathtaking images.

For best access to printmaking classes, consider university art workshops, continuing education or private printmaking studios.  Museums and art schools offer many classes related to all types of printmaking.  But to explore on you own, you can get started for very little money and the experience you gain will aid in your future exploration of the medium.

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I hope that these lessons are helpful to you. Please feel free to explore the rest of the site. Many of the link pages contain various art lessons to enhance your visit.

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