Tradition and technique
The publications and exhibitions of Cahiers d’Art have often given rise to the creation of original printed works.
Since 1926, lithographs by Picasso, Miro, Chagall, Léger and Masson have been specially published by Cahiers d’Art in close collaboration with the artists.
Advancing this dynamic activity, contemporary artists have extended Cahiers d’Art’s printmaking production. Since 2012, John Giorno, Lucas Arruda, Per Kirkeby, William Kentridge, Lee Ufan, Gabriel Orozco, Kim Yong-Ik, Andreas Eriksson, and Adel Abdessemed have reactivated, with a particular imprint, the history and links of Cahiers d’Art with lithography and printing. The ongoing program continues the interests and legacy of the venerable publishing house.
One of the most fruitful collaborations has surely been with the Mourlot Frères workshop, notable for having produced artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Giacometti, Calder, Léger. Since 1997, the Mourlot company has been called Idem, and remains in the same location in the Montparnasse district. Cahiers d’Art renewed its collaboration with Mourlot/Idem in 2012, when the American artist Ellsworth Kelly produced several lithographs on the occasion of the publication of the Cahiers d’Art magazine that same year.
Another important collaboration was made with the preeminent master printer Michael Woolworth, who specializes exclusively in printing techniques on hand presses. Together, Cahiers d’Art and Michael Woolworth have produced several recent co-editions: a series of exceptional steel engravings by Lee Ufan in 2019, and superlative lithographs by Lucas Arruda in 2018.
Photo : Michael Woolworth’s workshop, photo by Michael Woolworth
Glossary of prints and editions
ARTIST’S PROOF (AP)
Originally used to check the progress of prints during their production, artist’s proofs (or APs) are produced especially for the artist. These prints are not included in the count of the edition, but are otherwise identical to the editioned prints. Typically, they are kept for the artist’s archives and used for exhibition purposes. Although they are not generally sold straight away, if ever, some collectors prefer to purchase APs, due to their rarity and to the fact that they belonged to the artist’s own archive and collection originally.
Artist proofs are marked with the initials AP and a number, when applicable. The number of artist proofs produced often relates to the size of the edition run and is always decided by the artist. The French initials EA, short for épreuve d’artiste, carry the same meaning. PP and H.C. can also be found on graphic works, and stand in turn for Printer’s Proof and Hors de Commerce (meaning not for sale). Such prints are produced to donate to museums and public institution collections.
Intaglio prints are made through the creation of indentations in a plate’s surface. These indentations form the motif of the work. While the artist has a variety of possibilities as to how these indentations can be made in the plate, the printing process is always the same. After the artist has finished working on the plate, ink is distributed across it, making sure that it completely fills all the indentations. It is then carefully removed from the surface of the plate, leaving only the ink sitting in the indentations. The printing plate is then placed on the press, and covered with a sheet of moist, handmade paper. Both are coved with a layer of thick, soft felt and all is run through the press under high pressure. The damp paper is pushed into the indentations, pulling up the ink, so that the result is an exact inverted replica of the plate. The ink sits on the paper as a relief cast of the indentations in the plate.
Aquatint is a technique used to create areas of continuous tone on an etching plate, rather than tones created by hatched lines.
Drypoint is an intaglio technique in which the artist scratches the image directly into the copper plate with a hard, sharp steel point.
Drypoint is similar to engraving in the sense that you make your marks directly into the copper plate, but doing drypoint the steel point does not cut a spool like the burin, but plows a scratch into the copper raising a ridge on both sides of the line. These ridges, called burrs, are crucial to the visual effect of a drypoint, as some of the ink applied to the printing plate will collect around the burrs when the surface is wiped clean, giving the lines a soft, wooly character.
Engraving is an old technique used to decorate metal armours, weapons and other object. The process of making an impression of an engraved metal plate dates back to the early 15th century.
It was invented to print gold- and silversmith’s engraved ornaments onto paper, making it possible to distribute original designs and make money from them. Engraving was much finer in the lines than woodcut and made it possibly to render textures and shapes in amazing detail. It quickly became the medium of choice for all high-end prints.
For an engraving, a tool called a burin is used to carve a line directly into the surface of a plate. The burin cuts a spool of copper out of the line you engrave, leaving a clean incision. The width of the line can be varied considerably by applying more or less pressure to the burin. An engraving is usually composed of well-defined fine, smooth lines forming a complex motive.
Engraving demands a high degree of skill and care, as the movement of the burin through the metal is difficult to control. Professional engravers were in high demand. They made engravings after paintings and drawings by artists, and often received higher pay than the artist doing the original artwork. Some artists, like Albrecht Dürer, learned the skill themselves and made their own plates.
Today very few craftsmen have the skills to execute this technique properly.
When making a line etching, an acid or mordant is used to etch the image into the plate.
A copper plate is covered with a layer of acid-resistant wax called a hard ground. The artist creates the motif by scratching through the wax, exposing the copper, with a hard steel point. The softness of the ground compared to copper, makes it easy to obtain a free flowing line. When the plate is submerged in an acid bath, the exposed lines will start to etch. The acid “bites” only the areas of the plate, where the ground has been removed, leaving the rest, untouched. Depending on how long you leave the plate in acid, the lines can be fine and thin or deep and course. The plate is filled with ink and the surface wiped clean before it is run through the press.
Historically, line etching made it possible for artists and amateurs alike to make intaglio prints without learning the skill of engraving, but for a long time the technique was regarded as less refined than engraving.
The etching process will create a flat, rough surface of etched copper surrounded by steep, irregular edges. When the plate is filled with ink and the surface is wiped clean, the flat basin will also be wiped, leaving only a thin layer of ink on the surface with thick ink only along the edges. When printed, this technique creates a lighter, mottled colour tone surrounded by a darker outline.
Photogravure is an intaglio printmaking technique. It is one of the earliest and most beautiful ways of transferring a photographic image to a piece of paper.
The defining characteristic of a photogravure print is that it has thick layers of ink in the dark areas and very thin layers in the light areas, giving it a very long and rich range of greys and blacks. In the traditional photogravure process the image is exposed onto a light sensitive gelatine carbon tissue and the exposed gelatine is then transferred to a copper plate with an aquatint on it. The plate is then etched in a series of acid baths of decreasing strength creating a plate with deep indentations in the dark areas and shallower ones in the lighter areas.
Around 1980 industrial photosensitive polymer plates came on the market. They were made for relief printing, but soon printmakers realised that when used for intaglio printing they had the same printing characteristics as classic photogravure plates.
BORCH Editions have been working with photogravure since the early 1990s in order to accommodate contemporary artists’ desire to include photographic material into their work. Since 2000 we have only used the polymer plates.
To make a polymer photogravure a film with a positive image is exposed onto a photosensitive polymer plate. The grains in the image cast microscopic shadows into the plate’s surface while the rest of the plate hardens with the exposure. When the plate is washed out with water the unexposed shadows dissolve and form microscopic indentations called cups. Depending on their depth, these indentations hold different amounts of ink during the printing process, allowing for a more extensive colour gradation than any other printing technique.
SOAP GROUND AQUATINT
Soap ground aquatint or white ground aquatint is a technique in which the artist paints with a ground made of soap, fat and white pigment directly onto a plate already prepared with an aquatint.
The soap ground is a semi-permeable resist, which means that acid will penetrate it slowly. When exposed to acid, the soap ground will protect the plate depending on how thickly it has been applied, longer where it is thicker and shorter where it is thinner, resulting in a wide range of tonal values in the print.
Soft ground is a hard etching ground to which fat has been added to make it soft and sticky. This makes it possible to make an imprint in the ground itself, by pressing an object or texture into the ground.
If, for example, you press a leaf into the ground its fine structure will pull away the ground when lifted from the plate, exposing the copper below, allowing the acid to etch a very detailed impression of the leaf into the plate. The same principle applies when drawing on a piece of paper placed on top of the soft ground. The pressure of the pencil will push the paper into the ground, and when the paper is removed from the plate surface, small points of the soft ground will stick to the grain of the paper. The copper is exposed wherever a line was drawn on the paper. When the plate is exposed to acid, it will bite only the uncovered copper, forming an image of grainy lines. The plate is filled with ink and the surface wiped clean before it is run through the press. When printed the lines look like pencil or crayon lines.
SPIT BITE AQUATINT
Spit bite aquatint differs from the other aquatint techniques insofar as the printing plate is not put into acid. Instead, the acid is applied to the plate with a brush.
First a normal aquatint ground is applied to the plate, and then the artist paints on the plate with a thick acid solution. Traditionally, the acid was thickened with spit to make it more controllable when brushing it on the plate. The motif is thus etched on the plate in different tones, depending on the thickness of the applied acid.
Spit bite aquatint creates a visual effect similar to watercolour.
SUGAR LIFT AQUATINT
When making a sugar lift aquatint or lift ground aquatint, the motif is painted on a blank plate with a sugar solution.
Then, the whole plate is covered with a thin layer of etching ground. When the ground is dry and the plate is submerged in a warm water bath. The sugar dissolves and lifts the ground away from the plate, exposing the copper below. The plate is then covered with an aquatint and submerged into an acid bath. Where the sugar lift has exposed the copper, the acid will etch the aquatint to an even depth. Then the plate is filled with ink and the surface wiped clean before it is run through the press.
In the print the sugar lift will give crisp, flat, positive marks of brush strokes.
In relief printmaking the ink is applied to the surface of the plate, in contrast to intaglio printing where the ink sits in the plate’s indentations. The parts of the plate, which are not supposed to hold ink, are carved away. Ink is applied to the uncut surfaces with a roller or a dabber. Paper is placed on top of the plate and pressure is applied by running the two together through the press. The pressure can also be applied simply by rubbing the backside of the paper.
Linocut is a simple printmaking technique based on the principles of woodcut.
The motif is carved from a sheet of linoleum, which is often mounted on a piece of wood for easier handling. The artist carves away the areas, which are to appear unprinted on the paper. Ink is applied only to the surface of the linoleum, leaving the indentations free of ink. Paper is placed on top of the plate and pressure is applied by running it through the press or by rubbing the backside of the paper.
Linocuts differ from woodcuts only by the material the plate is made from. Linoleum is much softer and easier to cut than wood. It is a natural material made from resin and linseed oil. While the structure of wood can be important for the final look of a woodcut, linocuts are characterized by their evenness.
Woodcut is the most traditional form of relief prints. It is the earliest printing technique used in Europe.
The motif is carved from a wood plate or block, the artist removing the parts of the block, which are to appear unprinted on the paper. The ink is applied only to the surface of the plate, leaving the indentations free of ink. Paper is placed on top of the plate and pressure is applied by running it through the press or by rubbing the backside of the paper.
Wood is a living material and its visible structure brings a sense of life to the works. This can be more or less visible, depending on the way the plate is prepared and the type of wood used. The process of making woodcut and linocut are very similar.
A silkscreen is produced by printing a design through a mesh screen. A stencil impermeable to ink is applied to the screen so that when the ink is wiped across it, only the areas not covered by the stencil are printed. A form of stencil printing, silkscreens are printed one color at a time, with multicolored prints requiring multiple screens.
This manual masking technique allows an incredibly creative way of working and has been attractive to a breadth of artists since it was first developed in 1910. It was originally used by American sign painters and silk was used as the screen material. This was later replaced with synthetic materials such as polyester mesh.
In planographic printing ink is applied on an even surface. As opposed to intaglio and relief printing, there are no physical reliefs in the printing plate.
Lithography (from Greek lithos: stone, graphos: to draw) is a planographic printing process using limestone as the basis of the artist’s drawing or painting.
The artist draws on the smooth finely grained surface of a porous limestone with a greasy crayon or tusche. The stone is then placed in a special lithographic press and treated with an ‘etch’ consisting of gum Arabic mixed with a very small amount of acid. The acid hardens the grease in the drawing, bonding it to the porous stone and the gum Arabic makes the non-greasy parts of the stone receptive to water.
When printing, the stone’s surface is dampened with a sponge before the colour is rolled over the entire plate. The ink only sticks to the greasy areas where the stone was drawn or painted on and it is repelled by the water on the rest of the stone. The stone is kept moist during the printing process. The paper is placed directly on the stone and both are run through the press. A multi-coloured lithography is build up by several layers of printing; one stone is used for each colour.
A lithographic print has characteristics that can resemble pencil and crayon drawings as well as watercolour and gouache. Lithography is not a technique we offer at the print studio.
Monotype prints cannot be repeated. What differentiates monotypes from all other printmaking techniques is the fact that the artist does not leave permanent marks on the printing plate.
The colour is directly applied to a featureless plate’s even surface, which thus serves as a vehicle to transfer the artist’s painting or drawing onto paper. Although monotype cannot be repeated, because most of the colour transfers to the paper when it is run through the press, a residue of the image, called a “ghost”, remains on the plate. The ghost can be used for another, weaker impression or left and added to for a different variation of the image.
A monoprint differs from a monotype by being made from a plate that already has a printable image on it rather than from a blank plate. It is often part of a series, where the image already on the plate is varied by adding new impermanent marks to the plate before each print is pulled making each print unique, but still related to the other prints in the series.
Offset printing is based on the principles of lithography, that oil-based ink rejects water and water repels oil-based ink.
At the end of the nineteenth century the offset lithographic press was invented and metal plates came into use in lithography.
In an offset press the image is transferred from the stone or plate to the paper via a large steel roller covered in hard rubber blanket. It picks up the ink from the plate and then presses it onto the paper without the two touching each other. The printing plate, often made of zink or aluminium, is coated with a light sensitive polymer to transfer the image to the plate with lighting. The plate is placed in an offset printing press, where it is moistened and rolled over with colour. The printing plate transfers a mirror image with the ink on a rubber roller, which then runs over the paper offsetting the ink. This means that the image on the plate is not mirrored in the print, as it is in lithography.