Get up close and personal with the rich history of woodcut prints by viewing Albrecht Dürer through the magnifying glasses provided in the Graphic Masters galleries. With more than 400 artworks by six artists, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to soak up the details during your visit to SAM.
Dating back to the 14th century, woodcut was the first process developed in Europe for printing on paper. Woodcuts are a relief process —the artist makes a drawing on the block and chisels everything else away, leaving the raised lines on the surface intact. Before printing, a uniform layer of ink is rolled onto the wood block surface using a brayer.
Woodcuts are characterized by crisp outlines and a sharp contrast between the black ink and white paper. Dürer used hatching, a series of parallel lines that vary in thickness and frequency, to create a mid-toned background for Christ’s divine halo.
Images: The Last Supper, from The Large Passion, 1510, Albrecht Dürer, German, 1471–1528, woodcut, 17 5/16 × 12 1/16 in., Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The George Khuner Collection, Gift of Mrs. George Khuner, 1975 (1975.653.12). Illustrations: Time Marsden.
This huge exhibition showcasing over 400 print works created across 500 years closes August 28. That means, you’ve got one more Press & Print: Drop-in Studio where you can experiment with the techniques you see in the exhibition. Also, coming up is the final My Favorite Things tour of the exhibition with Jessixa Bagley.
A variation of the etching process, aquatint allows for areas of printed tone in order to achieve a more painterly effect. Instead of a uniformly brushed on ground, powdered rosin is dusted onto the plate until the desired coverage is achieved. The acid eats away the unprotected portions of the plate between the rosin particles, resulting in a rich, speckled effect.
Goya used aquatint to create a dank, gloomy prison cell that mirrors the despair of this unfortunate young lady.
IMAGES: Illustrations: Tim Marsden. Los Caprichos: Por que fue sensible. (Because she was susceptible.), 1796–1797, Francisco Goya, Spanish, 1746–1828, aquatint, 8 7/16 × 6 in., Private Collection.
August is the final month of Graphic Masters, which means you’ve only got three more Press & Print: Drop-In Studio events left to learn the printmaking techniques of the masters! Here’s your weekly primer on etching, a type of intaglio printing that Rembrandt uses in combination with drypoint in Christ Healing the Sick. Come to SAM and see.
Instead of removing metal from the plate through force, etching uses a chemical process. The plate is prepared by brushing on a thin layer of waxy, acid-resistant covering called ground. The design is scratched through the ground, revealing the plate below. Compared to engraving, very little pressure is needed, allowing for fluid lines more akin to drawing. The entire plate is then submerged in acid, which etches, or bites, the exposed metal. Once the desired effect has been reached, the plate is removed from the acid bath and the ground cleaned off. It is then inked and printed through the same process as engraving.
The depth of an etched line is determined by how long the plate is submerged in acid. To achieve dramatic tonal variations, Rembrandt removed the plate from the acid and applied more ground to protect the lighter areas before submerging the plate again—a process called stopping out.
Images: Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), 1643, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669, etching and drypoint, 11 1/8 × 15 1/4 in., Private Collection. Illustrations: Tim Marsden
We continue to dig in to the printmaking on view in Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb with another technique requiring carving—drypoint, a type of intaglio printing. Last week we discussed engraving, a method that produces clean, smooth lines. Drypoint, on the other hand, produces a more textured and ephemeral effect offering delicate and subtle touches. Looking for a more hands-on learning experience? Check out our Press & Print: Drop-in Studio events taking place Sundays, 11 am–1 pm through August!
Similar to engraving, drypoint requires the artist to carve directly into the plate surface. What distinguishes this technique is the way the drypoint needle displaces the copper to form burr—jagged furrows and curls of rough metal on the surface. The burr grabs and holds the ink, resulting in rich, fuzzy lines. Because repeated pressure from the printing process quickly wears down the burr, the effect is fleeting and early impressions are considered the finest and most sought after.
Ink captured by the burr spreads out on the paper, resulting in caterpillar-like lines. In this etching, Rembrandt added touches of drypoint to accentuate the texture of the foliage.
Saint Jerome Beside a Pollard Willow, 1648, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669, etching and drypoint, 7 1/16 x 5 1/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Dr. Leo Wallerstein, 53.186.
Illustrations: Tim Marsden
Check back weekly through the run of Graphic Masters for more information on different types of printmaking and get creative in and out of the museum.
To make an engraving, the artist incises a design into the plate using a burin, a tool with a sharp diamond-shaped tip that creates smooth lines with crisp edges. Significant pressure and a steady hand are needed to force the burin into the plate and cleanly remove the excess copper from the surface. Because of the immense skill involved, some artists employed professional engravers to execute their designs.
Whether calligraphic curves or stippled dots, engraved lines are clean and precise. Hogarth employed cross-hatching, the angled intersection of hatched lines, to achieve a great range of textures and tones.
IMAGES: The Harlot Finds a Protector, 1732, William Hogarth, English, 1697–1764, engraving, 12 3/8 x 15 1/16 in., Seattle Art Museum. Gift of Lloyd Spencer, 44.298. Photo: Elizabeth Mann. Illustrations: Tim Marsden. The Harlot Finds a Protector (detail), 1732, William Hogarth.
What is a print? At its most basic, a print is a work of art on paper that’s produced in multiples from an inked surface. While various types of printmaking exist, the basic components are the same—an inked wood block or plate, a sheet of paper, and a press that transfers the ink to the paper. The process is repeated many times, resulting in multiple impressions of the same image. Voila, a print edition!
The development of printmaking Following the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, printmaking gained popularity as an inexpensive way to disseminate visual information to a mass audience. Early prints—typically illustrations in books or reproductions of famous paintings—tended to be relatively small, affordable, and easily transportable. While fine paintings by important artists were too expensive for most people, prints were within reach.
Prints did not remain purely illustrative for long. Printmaking came to be seen as a distinct mode of expression capable of producing works of fine art. Artists like Albrecht Dürer established a tradition of virtuoso printmaking. His episodic handling of narrative through print series, like The Large Passion, laid the groundwork for later generations of graphic artists from William Hogarth to R. Crumb.
The technical innovations of artists like Rembrandt van Rijn and Francisco Goya pushed the boundaries of the medium and further elevated printmaking as an art form. Connoisseurs began to build collections of particularly fine impressions. Rembrandt’s Christ Healing the Sick was so sought after that it fetched prices usually associated with oil paintings, earning it the nickname “The Hundred Guilder Print.” But in general, prints remained accessible works of art meant to be viewed and appreciated up close.
Intaglio (Italian for “carving”) is the opposite of relief. A linear design is carved into the surface of a polished metal plate, usually copper. Ink is worked into the entire plate and then the surface is wiped clean, leaving ink only in the recessed grooves and pits. As the printing process wears down the plate, the artist can rework the design to pull more impressions. Altering the plate surface results in a new version, or state. Some artists, Rembrandt in particular, used this opportunity to make dramatic changes to their compositions.
There are several types of intaglio printing: engraving, drypoint, etching, and aquatint. Artists may use just one technique at a time or a combination of several in a single print. We’ll cover each type of intaglio printing in the weeks to come, stay tuned!
IMAGES: Illustrations: Tim Marsden. Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), 1643, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669, etching and drypoint, 11 1/8 × 15 1/4 in., Private Collection.