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"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."
- Thomas Merton
Printmaking as a medium takes many forms, with a long and varied history. One of the oldest printmaking techniques, and art forms, is engraving. Engraving has been found on ancient bones, cave walls and stones. Dating back to 3000 BCE, soft clays were rolled over to leave relief impressions. This principle is the start of the printing press.
Types of printmaking include relief impressions, rubbings, aquatint, drypoint, intaglio, lithography, mono-print, screen-print, offset lithography, stamping, woodblock, woodcuts, textile printing, etching, digital and more.
A print is an image which has been transferred from one surface to another.
Many artworks which are sold today as 'original prints' or 'limited edition prints' are actually reproductions of artworks that exist as originals in another medium; high quality photocopies, often referred to as Giclée prints, created using inkjet printers.
An exception to this is the relatively new genre of 'digital art', which utilises the Giclée method of printing, but is not a reproduction as described above.
Well known original printmaker Anita Klein explains further:
“Real artists’ original prints are different from reproductions in that they are original works of art in their own right. There is no original painting or drawing. Instead the image is conceived by the artist as a print from the outset. An original print is an image produced from a surface on which the artist has worked, such as a stone or wood block, a computer screen or a copper plate. This surface is intended by the artist be a stage in the creation process of the artwork. The original work of art in this case is the print itself rather than the block or plate from which it is printed.”
- Anita Klein PPRE, Hon. RWS
The two printmaking techniques we are going to focus on in this blog are screen printing and etching.
Screen printing is a type of stencil printing. The print is made using a fabric screen (usually synthetic or silk) stretched tightly over a frame, and ink passed through it. Areas are blocked out using a stencil, often glue of lacquer and film or paper. Ink is passed through with a rubber blade (squeegee) onto the paper below. Screen printing has grown in popularity due to its use commercially since the 1920s!
Etching is a very different process. It is a technique that uses chemical reactions to produce lines in a metal plate (traditionally copper, but often zinc today) called a printing plate. These lines hold applied ink and form a printing image. Originally used for decorating metal in the 14th century, it is now popular among artists for original printmaking!
Popular original print artists include:
PURE original print makers Include:
Visit the Pure Shop to view and buy artwork
Clay has often been overlooked in the art world, partly because of the same reasons it is so attractive to artists! The underdog of the art world, clay is often seen as a subversive material, being cheap, natural, inexcusable and familiar to many.
Clay is an ancient medium, soft and sticky it comes from the earth itself, made up of broken-down pieces of flora, fauna, minerals and soil, compressed by time underfoot and seabed.
The first uses of pottery were Palaeolithic pottery in approximately 20,000 BC. These were pottery vessels from East Asia and were simple objects likely used for water.
Glazes are often added to clay works to transform the final piece. An impervious layer or coating for the clay, these come in many types, each lending themselves to different effects and finishes. For example, Ash Glaze is particularly popular in East Asia, produced from plant ash, whereas Salt Glazes have been historically popular in Europe, traditionally made from salt mixtures.
The use of firing clay by applying high levels of heat that harden the clay structure, as well as the ability and discovery to add glazes to a piece, allows artists freedom from certainty about the final product of their work. Picasso explored this through his ceramics though his work with thrown pots and transforming them in the kiln.
In a similar way, Joan Miro found excitement in the unpredictability of ceramics in the transformative firing process.
Clay has been widely used historically and in the contemporary art world, from Grayson Perry, Beatrice Wood, Hans Coper to Antony Gormley!
Charcoal is one of the oldest art mediums. It is an ancient medium produced by heating wood - usually willow or vine twigs- in a tight space with a lack of oxygen to produce the black drawing sticks we know today. It is essentially carbon mixed with mineral ash. Throughout the centuries, the medium has been refined from the original burnt wood to pencils and crayons.
Cave paintings are art historian’s earliest evidence of charcoal used as an artistic medium. These date back approximately 28,000 years. These pieces of charcoal were likely not made intentionally but were used from firewood created for heat and light.
Cave paintings in the cave of Niaux in France
Charcoal as a medium was used widely in the Renaissance period for preparatory drawings, with fixing methods being developed in the 15th century. To make the artwork last they were dipped in baths of gum to preserve the drawings on the paper.
Renaissance charcoal sketch
During the 19th century, experiments with scraping, mixing of charcoal and water, and reductive techniques with a rubber began to emerge.
The 20th century saw charcoal marked as a medium in its own right. Whereas previously it had been used for initial drawings before a larger work, artists like Picasso and Matisse were now using the medium as their final works.
Charcoal boasts a wide range of expression, often producing gestural marks rich in drama and fluidity. Artists have made it their own. Think of Da Vinci’s ochre ‘Study of a Woman’s Hands’ or Redon’s Spider Charcoals.
The particles of charcoal that are created when brushing the medium across the surface allow for a diversity of marks and a scale and variety of tones. These are then easily manipulated by a finger or tools.
The beauty of charcoal lies in the interplay between shadows and light.
Significant charcoal Artists include:
Pure artists who use charcoal include:
Oil paint as a medium has a fascinating and extensive history.
As a product, the medium is made using finely ground minerals and botanicals (called pigment) that are suspended in drying oils. The most popular oil is linseed oil as it dries by oxidation, but poppy seed, walnut or safflower may also be used.
Interestingly, not all pigments dry at the same rate! Ochres and reds dry faster than most black paints, for example!
The facility of oil paint is astounding. Many artists favour its ability to fuse tones, as well as its ability as an opaque, translucent or transparent medium, being each within its range. For this quality, the oil paint itself can be loosened to a more mobile quality by the artist, adding a painting medium such as turpentine or oils.
Good oil paints offer extended working time, depth of colour (high concentration of pigment), stability in its suspension and permanence on the painted surface. Oil paint dries slowly allowing the artist the opportunity to continue manipulating it.
The earliest oil paintings used oil that may have been extracted from poppies or walnuts and were used to decorate ancient caves in Afghanistan, around the 7th Century CE.
There is evidence of oil paint being used outdoors on surfaces like Shields around 1125, as oil paint was more durable than traditional tempera paints (pigment mixed with egg).
Many argue that the Dutch artists, including Jan van Eyck, led the way to the prominence of Oil Painting throughout the 15th century.
 The Arnolfini portrait by Jan van Eyck
This dominance of medium spread throughout Europe, including to Italy, where Renaissance painters began exploring the use of layers and glazes, still used today - think Bellini, Titian (below) and Rembrandt!
Oil painting remained quite unchanged until the 19th Century when John Goffe Rand invented the paint tubes we know today. Before this, oil paint was confined to studio works due to the pigments lack of portability. With paint tubes came new ways of working, including 'plein air' (painting outside), a way of working common in the Impressionist movement!
Famous Oil Painters throughout the centuries include:
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Many of our PURE Artists also favour oils, including:
Oil paint was and remains so common because of its great versatility; drying slowly, the medium allows subtle rendering as well as longer working times. Artists are able to manipulate the medium for long periods of time, compared to other paint mediums such as acrylic or watercolour.
The Stuarts were monarchs of Britain and Ireland from 1603 until the death of Queen Anne in 1714, excepting the interregnum of Oliver Cromwell.
The reign of Charles I (1625–49) was as exciting artistically as it was disastrous politically. The Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens came to England, was knighted, and designed an elaborate ceiling that was installed at the Banqueting House at Whitehall. Another Flemish painter, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, followed Rubens and created an English portrait type that was to serve as the model for two centuries.
This was the age of the British Baroque, characterised by self-confidence, dynamism and a realistic approach to depiction.
Sir Christopher Wren presided over the genesis of the British Baroque manner, which differed from the continental models by clarity of design and subtle taste for classicism.
Following the Great Fire of London, Wren rebuilt fifty-three churches, his most ambitious and famous being St Paul's Cathedral (1675–1711), which bears comparison with the most resplendent domed churches of Italy and France.
The best known British Baroque painters include Mary Beale , Richard Gibson and Sir Godfrey Kneller.
Mary Beale (née Cradock; bapt. 26 March 1633 – bur. 8 October 1699) was an English portrait painter, and, along with Joan Carlile (c. 1606 – 1679) and Susan Penelope Rosse (c. 1655 – 1700), was part of a small group of female professional artists working in London at the time. Beale was the main bread winner for her family and was also a writer, whose prose Discourse on Friendship of 1666 presents a scholarly, uniquely female take on the subject.
Richard Gibson (1615-1690), known as "Dwarf Gibson", was a painter of portrait miniatures and a court dwarf.
Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1st Baronet (born Gottfried Kniller; 8 August 1646 – 19 October 1723), was the leading portrait painter in England during the late 17th and early 18th century, and was the court painter to Charles II and George I. His major works include The Chinese Convert (1687; Royal Collection, London); a series of four portraits of Isaac Newton; a series of ten reigning European monarchs and ten beauties of the court of William III.
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