Posts Tagged 'etching'

Papered Walls

Sara Woodbury, McDermott Curatorial Intern for American and European Art, recently organized an installation of prints for the Works on Paper gallery on the Museum’s second floor. Cross Cultural Dialogues in European and American Landscapes features landscapes from the 19th and 20th centuries that demonstrate artistic influences occurring between Europe and America. The show also highlights different printmaking techniques. We’d like to explore a few of these methods here, and also share a behind-the-scenes look at how works on paper are stored and cared for at the Museum. All of the prints you’ll see here are included in the installation, so be sure to check them out in person next time you visit the DMA.

Printmaking Techniques

Artists use a variety of printing techniques, but we’ll highlight just three methods here: woodcuts, etching, and lithography.

Lyonel Feininger, Mansion on the Beach (Villa am Strand), 1921, woodcut

Woodcuts are recognized by their linear quality, reflecting the laborious process required to make them. An artist draws onto a block of wood, and then all of the wood surrounding the drawing is carved away, turning the design into a three-dimensional relief. These raised lines are coated with ink, and the block is pressed to a piece of paper, printing the image. The oldest known printing method, the woodcut developed in Europe around 1400. It became less popular as easier printing techniques emerged, but many 20th-century artists embraced the medium’s bold, linear character.

Charles Emile Jacque, A Corner of the Forest of Fontainbleau, n.d. (mid to late 19th-century), etching

Another interesting technique is etching, which is similar to drawing. To make an etching, an artist draws with a tool called an etching needle onto a metal plate that has been coated in wax. Next, the plate is submerged in an acid bath, which corrodes, or “bites” into the exposed metal lines, leaving the wax-covered areas unaffected. The plate is then rinsed, covered with ink, and wiped down. The ink remains in the grooves of the etched lines, and the plate is ready for printing. Etching first appeared in the 16th century and became especially popular during the 17th century. It also experienced a resurgence in popularity during the late 19th century, a period that has become known as the Etching Revival.

John Rogers Cox, Wheat Shocks, 1951, Lithograph

One of the most important printing techniques in 20th-century art is lithography. An artist draws onto a stone or metal plate with a special greasy crayon. The stone is treated with acid, and then covered with ink and rinsed with water. The ink sticks to the greasy crayon, but washes off everywhere else. A piece of paper is pressed to the stone to print the image.

Lithography was invented in 1798 by Alois Senefelder and was initially used for commercial images. By the late 19th century, however, artists had begun exploring lithography’s creative possibilities. Lithography accommodates a wide range of styles, making it an ideal medium for the stylistic variety that characterizes 20th-century art.

Behind-the-Scenes with Registrar Anne Lenhart

Did you know that works on paper–including prints, drawings, photographs, and other types of work–are  stored and cared for differently than paintings and sculptures? Works on paper are sensitive to various conditions and must be handled with special care and attention. We asked Anne Lenhart, Assistant Registrar, to share insight into how the Museum stores and handles its large collection of works on paper.

What DMA department is responsible for handling prints?

Anne: The care and handling of prints is a shared responsibility between the curators, registrars, conservators, and preparators. The curators are responsible for choosing the works on paper for installations and exhibitions. Once the works on paper are chosen, the registrars, conservators, and preparators are responsible for making sure the prints are in good condition and ready for installation.

Where are the prints stored in the Museum? How are they stored?

Anne:  All of our objects are stored in secured art storage spaces. These areas, which have limited staff access and are monitored twenty-four hours a day, have a consistent temperature of 70° Fahrenheit (+/- 2°) and 50% (+/- 5%) relative humidity. Because paper is susceptible to even small changes in humidity (think about what happens to a sheet of paper when it contacts a drop of water), we try to be especially vigilant in terms of how we store our paper collection.

These numbers are considered guidelines for very stable pieces, such as those created with carbon-based ink applied to a good quality rag paper. Objects that are less stable—where the pigment and the materials are of lower or unknown quality or in the case of color photographs (especially Polaroids)—are exhibited for shorter periods of time.

A display table in the Print and Textiles Study Room, where the Museum’s works on paper are kept.

Many of the Museum’s unframed prints are stored in Solander boxes, such as this one.

How long can prints stay mounted in the galleries?

Anne:  The general rule for exposure of works on paper is one to three months, and we try to keep the maximum period of time any work on paper is on view to less than six months. After a work comes down, we usually do not reinstall it for eighteen months so that it can “rest.”

Cross Cultural Dialogues in European and American Landscapes is on view now, and we hope to see you soon at the Museum.

Sara Woodbury is the McDermott Curatorial Intern for American and European Art, and Karen A. Colbert is the McDermott Education Intern for Teaching Programs.

Printmaking 101

Printmaking has been around since the fifteenth century.  There are many types of printmaking processes, such as woodcuts, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and monotypes. The earliest print technique, the woodcut, was used to illustrate books. To make a woodcut, the artist carved a design from a piece of wood and inked the block. Ink would only stay on the areas of the block that were not carved. Eventually, artists looked for new ways to create images, which resulted in etchings and engravings.  

Etchings and engravings were favored by artists. To make either type of print, an image is drawn onto a metal plate with a v-shaped tool called a burin.  The plate is coated in an acid-resistant surface and ink is beaten into the incised lines with a tool called a dabber. Then, the plate is submerged in an acid bath, which opens up the lines and exposes the metal surface. The acid creates the depth of line by reacting with the areas of exposed metal. Afterwards, the plate go through a printing press. In the engraving process ink rests in the engraved lines and the plate is run through a press. Both prints allowed for greater flexibility with images and a variety of lines and tones in the final product. 

Advances in the print world saw the emergence of  lithographs and monotypes during the nineteenth century. Lithographs are a direct medium; the image is drawn on a flat stone with a greasy oil or crayon and run through a printing press. Monotypes have ink drawn onto a glass or copper plate and transferred to paper. Monotypes produce one image; printing another image results in deteriorated quality.

To help you better understand prints, I included some images of the printmaking process. I hope you enjoy seeing how they are created! If you would like to explore works on paper in the DMA’s galleries, prints by the following artists can be found in the collection: Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre Bonnard.

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Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching


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