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Kennys since 1940

Maps & Prints

Printmaking Techniques

The basic notion of how a print is made has existed in Europe for about five hundred years and is thought to have come from China where it believed to have been practiced for nearly one thousand and four hundred years.

After the invention of the printing press, lithographs and woodcuts became the main form of illustration for books and newspapers. Eventually photography became the more dominant method in this field and printmaking has now returned to a generally more artistic endeavour.

The image that results can only be made by this particular process, just as paintings can only be made with paint or photographs with a camera. Printmaking is thus a potentially creative process: it is part of its nature that many prints can be taken from the block once it is engraved, but each of those prints is an original - made by that process, not copied.

In galleries, as artists' exhibition prints, taken by the artists themselves from the woodblocks, they are customarily 'editioned' prints, as expressed by the 'fraction' written on the print near the artist's signature. 10/75 means the 10th print in an edition of 75.

Over time the processes and results have been refined but the majority of prints still come under the headings of either 'relief' or 'intaglio'.

Relief printing consists of removing the lines or chunks from the surface of the printing block (which could be wood, lino etc) to create a design. Ink is then rolled evenly over the surface and the paper placed over it. The raised areas of the surface which hold the ink, will make up all the tones and marks of the print, while the removed areas will result in a white. The block is then subjected to large amount of even pressure by being rolled through a screw-press or by weights being placed over the block.

Intaglio printing is the exact opposite method. Paper is placed over the surface and picks up the design from ink trapped in the depressed areas while the surface areas are untouched by ink.

Other types of printmaking have evolved through the centuries aided by technological and scientific advances. The best known of these are Photography, Lithography, Screen-printing and Digital Printing.

Relief printmaking


The linocut may be considered an engraving and printing technique derived (at least in a technical sense) from woodcutting. The linoleum cut was invented at the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th as a result of a search for easier work and less expense. Linocuts can be made more rapidly than woodcuts and due to this linoleum permits a greater amount of spontaneity. It is a malleable substance that accepts flexible, light, and free lines.

Linoleum often abbreviated to lino is a surface covering material first made in England in 1863 and produced some ten years later in France. The word was coined using the Latin words linum (linen) and oleum (oil). Linoleum is made of a layer of cork dust mixed with linseed oil, gum, and resin, the whole being compressed onto a piece of jute cloth.

For a long time linoleum was considered to be the wood of the poor engraver and was used as a pastime in schools or for amateur cutting up until the time it was used by artists like Matisse and Picasso who demonstrated the possibilities of this medium.

Although it is true that the techniques used in wood cutting and lino cutting are much the same it must also be said that each has its own relative specificity. Both woodcuts and linocuts are based essentially on black/white opposition even though the use of colour can give spectacular effects, especially when applied in solid colour areas.

Woodcuts / Wood Engraving

The woodcut is the art of engraving on wood by hollowing out with chisels areas of a plank of usually cherry wood, pear, apple or boxwood, leaving a design on the surface. The transfer of this design onto paper is achieved by inking the surface with typographic ink and applying pressure with a press. The woodcut technique was used for decorating textiles in China as early as the 5th century AD and by the 15th century it was applied to religious images and playing cards in Europe. The finest exponents of the woodcut in 16th-century Europe were the Germans, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach.

By the early 19th century woodcuts were largely supplanted in commercial work by the technique of wood engraving (a more exact process where the design is incised on the end of a hardwood block) and it wasn't till the latter part of that century when artists rediscovered woodcuts as a medium of artistic expression. Among these were Edvard Munch, who used softwoods, and Paul Gauguin who achieved interesting effects by sanding the wood. The Japanese, traditional masters of the woodcut, must be acknowledged as important forerunners of much of the work done by westerners throughout the 20th century.

Wood engraving is at once the simplest and one of the most exquisite forms of printmaking. The print is made, first, by engraving the reversed design or picture to be printed into the mirror-smooth surface of a block of endgrain wood.

Box wood is best, though other woods and synthetic materials are now also used. Secondly, the block is rolled up with ink (on its top surface) and printed onto paper. The cuts that were made into the wood therefore come out as white, the remaining top surface which gets inked, as black; the artist is, in effect, drawing with light - with a white mark as opposed to the black mark that comes from a pencil, brush or pen.

Most wood engravings tend to be closely worked and relatively small because the tools used are finely pointed. Because the finesse of wood engraving produces a particularly rich tonal range, wood engravings are usually, but by no means exclusively, black and white.

Intaglio printmaking

One of the major types of printmaking, whose distinguishing feature, is the fact that the ink forming the design is printed only from the recessed areas of the plate. Among intaglio techniques are engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint, soft-ground etching and crayon-manner etching. Japanese printmakers added a new twist, printing uninked plates to achieve white-on-white relief designs, a practice (called in Spanish, "golpe en blanco") which quickly found favour in the West.


Etching is a method of making prints from a metal plate, usually copper or zinc, which has been bitten with acid. The plate is first coated with an acid-resistant substance (etching ground or varnish) through which the design is drawn with a sharp tool (burin or other). The acid eats the plate through the exposed lines; the more time the plate is left in the acid, the coarser the lines. When the plate is inked and its surface rubbed clean, and it is covered with paper and passed under a cylindrical press, the ink captured in the lines is transferred to the paper.

The first etching on record was that of the Swiss artist, Urs Graf, who printed from iron plates. Albrecht Dürer, though a consummate engraver, made only five etchings, and never really dominated the technique. That was left to later artists like the Italian Parmigianino and, of course, Rembrandt, perhaps the greatest etcher of all time. Later adepts of acid etching were Tiepolo and Canaletto in Italy and, of course, Francisco Goya in Spain. The 20th century saw important bodies of work by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault.

Engraving / Drypoint

Drypoint is an engraving method in which the design is scratched directly onto the (usually copper) plate with a sharp pointed instrument. Lines in a drypoint print are characterized by a soft fuzziness caused by ink printed from the burr, or rough metal edge lifted up on each side of the furrow made by the etching tool. Drypoint is most often used in combination with other etching techniques, frequently to insert dark areas in an almost-finished print.


Mezzotint or "black manner" is the technique which, contrary to the other methods in use, works from black to white rather than white to black. This is achieved by laying down a texture on a plate by means of a pointed roulette wheel or a sharp rocker. The burrs thus created trap a large quantity of ink and give a rich black. The mezzotint artist then scrapes away the burr in areas he wants to be grey or white. The process produces soft, subtle gradations and is usually combined with etching or engraving which lend clean-lined definition. Historically the technique has been associated with England, and is often referred to as "the English method"

Soft Varnish

Soft varnish or "vernis mou" became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries as a method of drawing or transferring designs and textures directly onto a plate. When used for drawing, a paper is placed on top of a soft sticky ground and then drawn over. The resulting line is broad and soft, sometimes thought to resemble pencil or chalk drawings. When used to capture textures directly the subject (lace, leaves, flowers, etc.) is laid directly on the soft ground and then passed through the etching press with the resulting image being exposed to acid. Both effects can be interesting.


This technique is so called because its finished prints often resemble watercolours or wash drawings. It is a favourite method of printmakers to achieve a wide range of tonal values. The technique consists of exposing the plate to acid through a layer (or sometimes successive layers) of resin or sugar. The acid bites the plate only in the spaces between the resin particles, achieving a finely and evenly pitted surface that yields broad areas of tone when the grains are washed off and the plate is inked and printed. A great many tones can be achieved on a single plate by exposing different areas to different acid concentrations or different exposure times.

Aquatint techniques are generally used in combination with etching or engraving to achieve linear definition. Aquatint was little favoured by etchers until Francisco Goya used it to such great effect in his celebrated edition of 80 etchings entitled "Los Caprichos." After Goya this technique was used extensively by Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro.

In sugar aquatint, also called "sugar lift," the artist uses a sugar-ink mixture to draw with pen or pencil on a surface treated with resin. When dry the drawing is covered with a layer of varnish and when dry introduced into a hot-water bath, which exposes the drawing in the resin. The plate is then bitten in the acid bath and the resulting print has a soft, painterly look.


Carborundum is really the reverse of etching, wherein diverse materials (carbon powder, iron filings, etc.) are used in a glue medium to build a convex texture on the plate, which is then inked and put through the press. When used with other etching techniques this procedure produces varied and interesting effects of line, texture and relief.

Monotype / Monoprint

Monotype is a one-off technique in which a flat surface on copper, zinc or glass is painted with oil colours or ink and then passed through the etching press. The process permits only one copy; thus "monotype." Modern monotypes take advantage of a wide variety of materials including perspex, cardboard, etc., with artists creating veritable collages on the surface, and then printing them for surprising results.


This technique became very popular. Commercial lithography today uses cheaper zinc and aluminium plates. There is a good deal of preparation involved with lithography. The stone must be ground down with sand and a levigator before the process of building up the layers of gum Arabic, ink and French chalk begins. The stone is finally inked up several times on the press before the print is taken.

This printmaking technique was invented by Aloys Senefelder in Germany in 1796. The basic principle of lithography is encapsulated in the adage 'oil and water don't mix'. The traditional surface used is limestone, which is fine-grained but very hard and porous. The grain retains any design drawn on it with greasy ink or chalks and retains water washed over it - except for the greasy parts. Greasy ink is then rolled over the surface and sticks to the remaining greasy areas and is also repelled by the wet areas.

It is considered one of the most authentic means of artistic reproduction as it prints directly the touch of the artist's hand. On the other hand, sheer production numbers detract somewhat from its appeal to collectors, as the method permits practically unlimited editions. The first artists who left their mark on the lithographic tradition were mainly French and go from the early Delacroix and Géricualt to Daumier, Degas, Manet, and especially Odilon Redon.

The advent of colour lithography in the mid-19th century saw significant work by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. The American expatriate, James McNeil Whistler produced some remarkable views of the River Thames in England while his compatriots of the firm of Currier & Ives were papering the United States with their own characteristic lithographs. Other 20th-entury practitioners have been Edvard Munch, the German Expressionists, and the Mexicans José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo.

Screen Printing

Screenprinting, silkscreening, or serigraphy is a printmaking technique that creates a sharp-edged image using a stencil. A screenprint or serigraph is an image created using this technique.

It began as an industrial technology, and was adopted by American graphic art well before the 1900s. It is currently popular both in fine arts and in commercial printing, where it is commonly used to print images on T-shirts, hats, CDs, DVDs, ceramics, glass, polyethylene, polypropylene, paper, metals, and wood.

The most common material used now to transfer the images to the screen is photo sensitive emulsion, which is squeegee onto the mesh and placed upon the relevant images in a light sensitive vacuum packed machine. When printing, ink is spread over the surface of the mesh and fills in all the negative areas with colour. It is important to note that what appears negative will be positive and vice versa on the finished print.

Artists who have used this method, especially since the days of POP ART in the sixties - Andy Warhol, Rauschenber and Hamilton are a few notorious examples. These artists opened up a whole new vista in the use of the screen process.

Digital Printing

Digital prints refers to editions of images created with a computer using drawings, other prints, photographs, light pen and tablet, and so on. These images can be printed to a variety of substrates including paper and cloth or plastic canvas. Accurate color reproduction is key to distinguishing high quality from low quality digital prints.

Printmakers at the Kenny Gallery include:

Jean Bardon Ann Costello Jack Coughlin Jennifer Cunningham
Renate deBrun Gerdtrude Degenhardt Peter Deighan Diarmuid Delargy
Kathleen Furey Jan Heath Margaret Irwin Helga Kaffke
Pamela Leonard Barrie McGuire John McNulty
James Millar Tim Stampton

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