What is a printmaker?
by Deb Strong Napple
A printmaker is someone who makes prints, right?
But what does that mean?
As a fine artist who works both in oil painting and printmaking, I have had many conversations start with these questions. When someone meets a painter they know that they are talking with an artist who applies pigments to a canvas in order to make a unique image. They are often not aware that a printmaker does the same thing but uses wood, metal, carving tools, acids, inks, and rollers instead of brushes, knives and paint.
Let's start with a few things that I, as a printmaker, do not do:
- Make photographic or scanner based copies of paintings or drawings.
- Reproduce works made by other artists.
- Use machines to produce large quantities of identical images.
- Click an icon to make a print.
Instead, my printmaking involves:
- Starting with an image that can best be expressed through a printmaking medium such as woodcut, collograph or etching. (Lithography, linoleum block and screenprint are other great printmaking mediums, but ones that I rarely use. So we will focus here on etching and woodcut, my favorite ways to print!) Each medium makes a unique kind of mark, and is chosen just as a painter chooses which brush or trowel to use on a canvas.
- Working by hand to carve a woodblock, or to paint an acid resist onto a metal plate before etching it.
- Hand inking the plate or block, then manually pulling each individual print through the press.
- For each of these steps, choosing the correct knife, gouge, acid strength, ink color and amount, and pressure on the press. Each of these tools must be used in a way that will share my vision for the final piece of art with the viewer.
- Making limited-edition (meaning small quantities) prints that are each an original piece of art.
Of course, most images require several more steps, such as refining the cut of a woodblock once the first test print, or proof, is made. And the choice of ink color and paper often requires a few days of printing to find the right combination, especially when a multiple plate print is made. This means that for each color used in the print the artist must carve or etch a separate plate or block, then ink and print it on the same paper in succession and registration with the other colors.
Without going too far into a technical lesson on printmaking, here are some basics:
|1. Photo courtesy of Deb Strong Napple|
The picture above (1) shows the work bench in my printshop. Just like my painting studio, it is filled with cans and tubes of colors and the tools used to apply those colors. But here the tools are rollers and cards, as well as knives and my favorite carving tool, my Foredom. This is a powerful rotary tool that will carve wood or metal, cut, burnish or polish, while letting me control the whole process. On the right you can see a copper plate waiting to be printed, and on the left is a steel heating plate that is used to keep the ink the right temperature while applying it to metal plates for printing.
|2. Photo courtesy of Deb Strong Napple.|
|3. Beaver Road by Deb Napple|
In the second photo I am using a roller to apply green ink to a carved woodblock. This block is the second color block in a multi-color print called Beaver Road that I made in 2010. I have included an image (3) of Beaver Road so that you can see how the color shape on the block becomes part of the final image. Beaver Road was made from three wood blocks. Each block has been carved and inked separately in order to make the print.
|4. Photo courtesy of Deb Napple.|
The fourth photo shows me applying ink to a copper plate. This part of the process is called "wiping." For etchings, or intaglio, prints, the ink is pushed into lines or shapes that have been etched into the metal. The surface is then carefully wiped, leaving just enough ink to carry the image as the artist intends. Under wiping will make a dense, blurry image, and over wiping will result in a faded-out print. Wiping is an incredibly important part of the art of printmaking, and can be just as expressive as drawing the image onto the plate.
|5. Swipe by Deb Strong Napple and Maureen Moll.|
The fifth photo shows the print that was made from the plate you see me wiping here. This print, called Swipe, is one that I made in collaboration with Maureen Moll, an artist friend.
For a printmaker, each step is an artistic choice. Whether to cut with the grain of a board, how deeply to etch a line into a copper plate, or how much ink to wipe off of that same plate are all decisions that the artist makes in completing an expressive, unique print.
I have had the great privilege to study printmaking at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While earning my certificate, I spent much time learning woodcut from Dan Miller, a local master of the medium. His influence has helped me to respect the beauty of the wood, and to push myself to improve my work. The print that I am showing in this year's Juried Show was made while studying under Mr. Miller, and it reflects the passion for this art that he shared with me.
I would love to chat about printmaking! Please email me at deb@DebSN.com if you have any print questions. My portfolio of work, paintings and prints both, can be seen at www.DebSN.com. Please visit!
Deb Strong Napple's work is featured in Woodmere Art Museum's 71st Annual Juried Exhibition,
About Woodmere's 71st Annual Juried Exhibition:
Woodmere's 71st Annual Juried Exhibition, juried by artist Alex Kanevsky, will feature works in a variety of media from 46 artists living within 50 miles of the Museum. Works were chosen to create a cohesive presentation that explores contemporary ideas within the arts of Philadelphia. In conjunction with the juried show, Kanevsky's own work will be on view in the exhibition Alex Kanevsky: Some Paintings and Drawings, and the artist has also selected some of Woodmere's works of art for display in Selections from the Collection.