Relief printing is fun!

Relief printing really is fun. You could do it too!

No, you say? Cast your mind back to your school-days. Did you ever cover your palm with paint and make your mark on paper?

Australian aborigines, in ancient times, did that on cave walls as proof that they had been there.

What about when you cut out sections of a half potato, applied paint to the cut surface and repeated the pattern? See, you already are a printmaker!

This type of image making, when parts of a block are cut away, leaving raised sections, is called relief printing.

Usually some sort of block is carved away to leave a printable surface.

Examples of relief printing are lino-prints (or lino cuts), wood cuts or wood engravings.

But you could also include stamping, which uses almost any materials such as polystyrene, screwed up paper, rubber, odd objects with one flat surface, a leaf… really anything which can have ink or paint applied to its surface.

All prints, which are produced one at a time, are called monoprints. If just one, unique work is made, the term used for that is "monotype".

Relief printing processes

Lino-prints or lino-cuts are one form of relief printing which can be thought of as being relatively easy to execute, as they are carved from thick, soft lino, rather similar to the brown linoleum, which may have graced the kitchen floor of your great-grandmother’s house.

Wood-cuts take a little longer to carve and are more robust. In both cases the material is carved away with simple carving tools to leave the surface, which is to be inked up. The image is then transferred to paper or fabric by hand.

Wood engravings are similar but they use the end of the timber piece, rather than the flat side, and result in much finer, usually smaller artworks.

Once the block is carved, the waterproof ink is mixed to the desired colour and consistency and spread evenly on to the block using rollers of various sizes and degrees of hardness. More than one colour can be applied to different sections of the block if desired.

If an image has multiple colours, a different block can be used for each colour but care must be taken to ensure exact registration.

Lino-cuts are sometimes hand coloured after the basic outline or composition has been printed with, perhaps, sepia or black.

A more exacting relief printmaking process is the reduction method, apparently invented by Pablo Picasso.

Let’s see if I can describe the working methods of Port Douglas printmaker, Anna Curtis, whom I regard as being one of the leading Australian artists in this field.

Anna Curtis Paradox, red flowering gum and bush firesAnna Curtis, 'Paradox'

Anna's working methods

. Lino is first glued to a piece of flat timber for stability.

· It is then carved away, initially, where no colour is required. That section will remain white. A light colour, such as pale yellow, is applied evenly to the remainder of the block. Good quality paper is placed on the block, which is positioned face up in a registration frame.

· Anna then rubs a barren (a tool which reminds me of a collection of ball-bearings) firmly over the paper to transfer the ink from the lino to the paper. Sometimes she uses the back of a wooden spoon instead - or her small press.

· She decides on her edition number and completes the first colour for the whole edition (usually under 30).

· Then more lino is carved away. That area will be seen as pale yellow when the next darkest colour is applied.

· And so the work progresses, becoming darker or brighter as each section of lino is removed until the block is exhausted. Obviously no more prints can be made from this block.

As with most printmakers, Anna must work with a mirror image in mind.

These simple materials and patient, methodical attention to detail result in stunningly intricate artworks, which usually have a thoughtful, environmental message.

Printing with Anna ... check it out.

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