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)
Tarateta, Maja, Art Business News
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. …