“On Printmaking”

from Liv Rainey-Smith

As you’ve been perusing your Portland Open Studios Tour guide, you may have noticed the media legend, “pnt,” short for Printmaking. So just what is printmaking? It isn’t just any art on paper. True prints are original pieces of art, even if made in multiples known as editions. Prints are created by applying ink to a surface via a matrix such as a woodblock or metal plate; or by pushing it through a screen such as a silkscreen. Printmakers can spend weeks, months, and sometimes years, creating the printing matrix with the final result unknown until it is finally inked and printed. The first printing is often approached with trepidation, particularly if many hours of work have been invested in the matrix. It is the moment of truth, and every printmaker has experienced moments of elation as well as disappointments upon seeing the first print. If the first printing does not yield the desired result the matrix will be re-worked until it produces a satisfying finished image. The matrix may then be used to produce prints until it wears out, or if the printmaker choses to limit the edition, until the edition is complete. The matrix may then be canceled by destroying or defacing the plate, or the printmaker may chose to retain it for future editions.

Pulling One Print

Editioned prints may vary subtly from impression to impression as a result of wear to the matrix, or the human hand of the printmaker. They’re typically signed and numbered with pencil by the artist, and may incorporate multiple printings of the same or different plates, or alterations after printing such as painting or collage. In Oregon, prints should be accompanied by a certificate including information such as the title of the art, the method of printmaking, the number of prints created, when and where they were printed, and whether or not other editions of the same print have been made.

Woodcut Carving

Printmakers work in a wide variety of styles, ranging from extremely hands-on spoon printing where the ink is massaged into the paper by rubbing with a wooden spoon, to printing with a mechanized press. If you were to visit all eight printmakers on the Portland Open Studios tour, you’d see each utilizing different techniques and materials with very different results. Some will use modern materials such as photopolymer to translate photographs into plates, which may be inked and arranged to create collage effects. Others will work etch metal with acid and create subtly toned intaglio plates, into which ink is carefully rubbed, then transferred to wet paper via an etching press. A few practice woodcut, the earliest form of printmaking; and many have created their own hybrid style from various printmaking traditions. Visit a few printmakers during Portland Open Studios Tour and discover the possibilities for yourself!