Printmaking 101 with Karolina!

5 Dec

One of the great parts of working at the Museum of Inuit art is the amount of art that you get to see on a daily basis. I have always had a passion for graphics and am really impressed by a lot of prints! So much so that I wanted to examine the process for myself and learn how it’s done. Turns out, it is quite the labor intensive process but also quite fun!! There are many types of printmaking methods that are in use today. Originally when printmaking began in the North, a lot of the prints were the result of stonecuts.  A drawing would be carved into the surface of a flat stone and then a roller is used to apply the ink to the surface. The image itself is left in relief so as to pick up the ink and the negative space is chiseled away from the stone. A paper is placed and rubbed over the entire inked stone to create the image transfer. Woodcuts are another form of printmaking and work much the same way but instead of carving into stone, wood is used. Now printmaking technology has advanced a great deal and various methods are in circulation. There are stencils, etchings, lithographs as well as mixed medium prints.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a course on printmaking methods offered at the Toronto Central Technical School where a variety of printmaking methods including linocut, etching and screen printing were demonstrated. Today, I will show you the process that goes into the creation of an etching.

In etching, a metal plate made of either steel, zinc or copper is used. The first step in etching is to prepare the plate. Often this involves filing down the sides of the plate and polishing the surface to create a smooth surface for working on.

Here I am filing the zinc plate down so that each edge is smooth and even all around.

Once the plate is ready it is covered in a waxy ground that is resistant to acid. The ground can then be scratched off or “etched” into with a variety of tools. Wherever the ground is removed and metal is exposed is where the design will result in the final print.

There are two types of ground that are typically used. Soft ground and hard ground. Hard ground dries before being etched into and soft ground remains malleable so that textures can be pressed into it.

Once the design is etched into the plate, the whole plate gets dunked into an acid bath.  The acid “bites” the exposed metal and creates lines and depth in the plate. The longer the plate remains in the acid, the more severe and deep the lines will be.

Safety first! Protective eyewear and gloves have to be worn when working with acid. Here I am running a feather along the surface of my plate to remove any bubbles that form as the acid "bites" the plate.

The next step in the process is to remove the excess ground and then go ahead and ink the plate. Ink is applied with cheesecloth or similar material in order to push it into the engraved lines. The excess is then removed from the plate which is now ready for printing.

Inking can take a long time, depending on how many colors are used. This one here is only using black ink.

The plate is then placed on a printing press, inked side up. The paper used for this type of printmaking is usually quite heavy such as watercolor paper. The paper is soaked in water and then the excess is squeezed out. The dampened paper is now ready to be placed on top of the plate. Next, a blanket is placed over top of everything and then the whole thing is pushed through a high pressure printing press.

Plate, damp paper and then the blanket get placed before being pushed through the press.

Once everything is pushed through, the blanket and paper is peeled off and Voila, a print is made! The process of inking and printing can be repeated many times which is how editioned prints come to be. A great example of an etching is Annie Pootoogook’s (1969-) print from 2003 entitled, “Interior/Exterior” which can be seen inside the Museum.

Ta da! The finished print being peeled off from the plate.

Posted by : Karolina Tomaszewska, MIA’s Development Officer

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