Research: Coldwell, P 2010


Coldwell, P. 2010 Printmaking: A Contemporary Perspective. London, UK. Black Dog.


Doing a bit of revision:


The milestones in the history of relief printmaking according to Coldwell:


7th century Chinese woodblocks were printed as stamps, but later evolved into rubbed surfaces, and tended to focus on written text. In Europe, in the middle ages, early prints were crude black and white images to communicate religious stories to the illiterate. In Asia, the key development into an fine art form was via Japanese woodcuts: designed by artists and executed by craftsmen, these were delicately carved images with multiple layers of colour, and they reached their peak with “ukoyo-e” in the 17th century. In Europe, it is Albrecht Durer who is credited with developing the woodblock- his are single colour, using line to suggest depth and shade. This type of detailed woodcut (and even more so, engraving) is particularly suited to information-giving, and thus lends itself to scientific illustration. As for Japanese woodcut, Coldwell suggest that its legacy- particularly the graphic possibilities realised by Katsushika Hokusai in his “wave” series- is the modern day graphic novel. Meanwhile, in a political evolution from those crude early prints, the simple, folksy woodcut could a means of dissemination of posters and images inciting proletariat uprisings.

Practical considerations: end-grain or cross grain: end-grain is smooth, whereas cross grain adds wood texture to the print, and can be more expressive, if rougher-looking, which lends itself to expressionist images, for example by Gauguin, or Munch, or artists such as Kirchner working in the style of  “Die Brucke”.

Craft vs art: early woodcuts separated the work of the artist and the craftsmen, the woodcarvers. This is parallel to, today, the dilemma of whether to use e.g. laser cutting by machine.

20th century innovators:

Coldwell highlights Pablo Picasso, with his development of the “suicide” reduction lino print, Michel Rothenstein, who used all types of surfaces to create relief, Georg Baselitz, working in an expressionist style and a large format, Anselm Keifer, who made his prints into sculptures and Klipper, whose prints became installations, for example by being carved on a parquet floor.


Intaglio really lends itself to drawing, in detail, and thus historically is associated with book illustrations. Key distinctions:

Engraving: scratched lines on a metal plate: used for publications but the contours wear down easily, so has limited life.

Etching: originating in armour and jewellery design, using acid to eat into the engraved lines, thus creating deeper incisions and a wider range of tones. In the 16th century, Seghers brought this technique into the realm of fine art by varying the inking of the plate, so that they became painterly and unique. Rembrandt drew directly onto the plate and established a wide range of marks, raising this to new artistic heights, a combination of painterliness and drawing. At the same time, the technique still allowed the possibility of mass production. Hogarth’s Rake’s progress. (18th c)

Mezzotint: the use of many lines to roughen a large surface of the plate and thus create dark darks, and a tonal range. Useful for creating photorealistic images. Developed to assist in creating reproductions of oil paintings, and worked dark to light.

Aquatint is similar but worked light to dark, with the unworked areas stopped out by a medium impervious to acid. Developed to reproduce watercolor paintings.

Picasso again, 20th c master of the technique, innovating and mixing approaches. Morandi also- skillful use of crosshatching.

Potential for lively drawn lines, spontaneity, fluidity, as in work of Anthony Gross (e.g. Arab Horse Bath, 1954) See also Stanley Hayter, Jim Dine, Hockney, Tapies. Female artists using etching: Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Paula Rego.


This is the one you can’t do at home… Associated with Parisian night club posters, and Toulouse Lautrec, they evoke painterliness, bright colours, hand-drawn script. But also associated with 20th century commercial posters, advertisements for trains and petrol, the GPO, The London Underground, in an abstract/ modernist/constructivist style, propaganda posters in communist Russia, China, Cuba, characterised by a strong graphic style. Transformed in USA in the 1960s to a technique used in gestural printmaking, it’s good for drawn lines- I’ve seen some Hockney lithographs that were beautiful, looking like fresh pencil drawings- brush marks, and colour overlays.


Associated with the 60s, Pop art, Andy Warhol and highly fitting for the age of mass production, garish colours and use of more mechanical means of image production. Characterised by flat colour- often matt- and in large unbroken areas, it is prized for looking plastic, unnatural, but can also be a way of reproducing photos in detail. Patrick Caulfield, Julian Opie, Gary Hume produce large works of apparent simplicity. Warhol’s often act as commentaries on the act of reproduction, in the manner of Dada, with appropriated images, and deliberate mis-registrations.



A whole new ballgame, blurring boundaries between photography and art-making by hand. Artistic prints seem to be distinguished by what they are printed ON, rather than the process. I find the use of terminology at art fairs disconcerting. “C-print” just means colour print, same as it ever did, but there seems to be a deliberate attempt to mystify, which makes me suspicious that it’s all rather less than it tries to appear.



Trends, according to Coldwell:

  • Hybridisation, multiple techniques
  • Scale – ever larger projects
  • Putting printed images on products
  • Technical ambition using professional support
  • Involvement in all parts of the process, such as making paper
  • Artists books: limited editions
  • Print series
  • Screen animations
  • Back to basics: backdrawing (Tracy Emin), stencils (Banksy)


The chapter I find most interesting in this book is the one entitled “Painterly approaches”, and looks at a number of ways artists have combined techniques.

I like Anselm Keifer’s collaged prints, such as “Der Rhein” 1983, a black and white collage of woodcuts painted over with acrylic and shellac. , and Prunella Clough’s “Untitled” of 1964, a monotype and collage. Antoni Tapies use of gestural marks in lithographs are beautiful, especially when juxtaposed with a very different set of imprints, such as a copy of an ID card and fingerprint. I am interested in the way Tapies works with Printmaking/ markmaking as both technique and subject matter, and the tactile nature of the work: they work on all levels.



Coldwell represents very much a Western perspective on printmaking, after citing eastern influences as progenitors of the tradition. However, another area of scholarship focuses on Asian traditions, and how they are being reinterpreted in the 20th century. Some interesting material here:




Author: chrisocaprintingblog

Studying visual arts part-time with the Open College of the Arts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s