Meet the Prints


Last time we met I told you about myself. Now that you've gotten to know me a little better, I'll tell you a bit about my printmaking.

Though I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, I've only been making prints for about a year or so now, and my initial interest in them was art historical. When I was a curatorial intern at the Dallas Museum of Art, I put together a print show of landscapes done in a variety of styles and techniques, from naturalistic-looking lithographs to abstract woodblocks. As I researched these prints and learned more about the artists who made them, I became fascinated with the versatility of  printmaking.

 The works on paper gallery at the DMA, with my show being installed

Lithograph by Bolton Coit Brown, one of the artists I featured

Color woodcut by Hildegarde Haas, another artist I included

I became a printmaker after I moved to Shelburne in 2011, when my supervisors at the Museum asked me to curate new shows that featured our print collection. Since I was going to be working closely with the prints, I decided to try printmaking myself to better understand it, and took an introductory class at an organization called Burlington City Arts. What started out as an intellectual curiosity, however, developed into an artistic passion in its own right, and I've been making them ever since.

Personally, I'm not loyal to any one particular technique because I find that each one offers its own distinctive merits aesthetically. I'm also still new to printmaking, and I'm continually learning about each method I use. There are definitely a few that I tend to favor though, including:

1. Monotype - This is basically is a printed painting. You apply ink directly to your printing plate with a brush, towel, fingers, etc., lay a piece of paper over it, and then run the whole kit and kaboodle through a printing press. Unlike other printmaking techniques, you usually only get one print from monotypes, though you can get a second, faded version called the ghost for its translucent, ethereal appearance.

Monotypes are wonderful for adding color and texture, and can completely transform the mood of a piece. I love layering these with other techniques.

Painting a monotype
That same monotype, printed over a yellow monotype and a drypoint

An example of two ghost monotypes printed on top of each other

2. Woodcut - The most well-known type of relief print. Whereas a monotype is an additive image, a woodcut is reductive in nature, which means that you have to carve away wood in order to create your composition. It's challenging both physically and conceptually because you have to think about composition differently. Negative space (the space surrounding your subject, whether that be a square, a pot of flowers, or a flying narwhal) gets a lot more consideration, and you come to more greatly appreciate how intimately it interacts with positive space.

Woodcuts are great for bold images. I use these when I want to give my work a rougher character, something rugged and even a little ragged or weathered.

Woodcut of a friar lobster

Here's that woodcut printed over two monotypes, with some additional line drawings

3. Linocut - Essentially the same as woodcut, but linoleum is easier to carve, and you don't have to worry about the grain. I started out with linocuts before moving into wood, but I still enjoy using linoleum. These prints tend to be a little less rough in appearance than my woodcuts, but they still have that wonderfully graphic and bold feel to them.

4-color linocut of a coyote skull I own. And no, it's not turquoise in real life.

4. Drypoint - This method is similar to drawing, except you use a tool called an etching needle to draw into a hard surface. Traditionally that surface is metal such as copper, but I use Plexiglas because I get a free supply of it through the Museum. I use drypoints when I want to make meticulous, detailed images.

My Plexiglas plates

My etching needle

Lobsters in Victorian-inspired shell dresses are an ideal subject for drypoint

5. Silkscreen- This is the most complex method I use, and I'll dedicate a separate post to it in the future. Basically though, it uses photographic technology to create a transparent image through which you can squeegee ink onto basically any surface, from fabric to metal signs.

I admittedly don't use silkscreen often because of the lengthy process and the cost of materials, but now and then I'll make a T-shirt for someone. In other words, bribe me and I'll do it.

Silkscreen of a giraffe head printed over monotype.

If you were to ask me which method I'm best at, I'd say none. I don't consider myself a master in any of these techniques, and there is much that I still want to learn about them. There are also several other techniques I'd like to try in the future, including traditional etching.

Despite my limited experience, though, what I do know is how much I love the versatility of printmaking. I especially enjoy combining various techniques to create rich, complicated pieces, and I love how you can take the same basic image, such as a woodcut or a drypoint, and completely transform its character by adding different colors or textures.

One of my multiple-technique prints: drypoint, monotype, woodcut, and freehand drawing

As I start posting my projects on here, I'll take you through each one step-by-step so that you can see how I put them together. Until next time, have a wonderful day, and I hope you visit again!