Saturday, 5 May 2012

Printmaking is a fine art

Different, yet the same as painting.

Close-up detail of print surfaceClose-up of surface of a print, "Lighthouse", showing how many colours?

"Fine Art" is defined as:"Creative art, esp. visual art, whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content". This could be a description of either painting or printmaking.

Just like painting, printmakers construct a 'picture' – a view of the world – with a focus (or focal point), a story to tell: composed, distilled and cropped. Like painting, there is a texture to the surface, generally subtle, resulting from the printmaking process. The two are very close cousins indeed. Original prints are however distinct from painting in a number of ways. One way is: colour.

An optimum few

Generally with painting there is an unlimited colour pallete easily available to the artist – a painter can readily mix and add another colour to their work, at any point in the process, if they choose. Printmakers on the other hand, have to invest a great deal of effort for each colour they use. They have to either carve a completely new additional plate for each colour, layering one on top of another to produce a third, or plan carefully how to add another colour to an existing plate, already committed to other hues without the colours mixing in an unfortunate way. It's complicated to describe as well as to do. This is not to say that printmaking is 'better' than painting because of this 'effort'. The point is that many printmakers try to keep the number of plates to an optimum 'few', because each plate takes a great deal of work to produce and complicates the printing process too. It is the number of plates that dictate how many colours are added to a print. This is why prints tend to involve less colours than paintings. For some printmakers, the challenge of creating a rich image from as few colours as possible is something they relish and feel makes their art better. There are of course exceptions that prove the rule in both printmaking and painting, ie: painters who restrict their colour pallette to a very few colours. However, a distinct characteristic of most original prints is the small number of colours used.

In the print above there appear to be up to 5 colours applied to the ivory paper: sky, grass green, earth brown, dark blue-black and black. There are in reality only 3 – an optimum few?


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