Process and Print

VIRTUAL EXHIBITION; In-person exhibition closed January 3, 2021

Curated by Christopher Herron

Kirkland Museum celebrated the March 2020 Month of Printmaking (Mo’Print)—and then extended the celebration through the end of 2020—by highlighting and explaining some of the processes and techniques used to create fine art prints, illustrated with examples by some of the great printmaking artists in Colorado history. The selected prints are all from the Museum’s permanent collection.

Deputy Curator Christopher Herron selected a group of prints by Colorado & regional artists that illustrate the wide variety of images possible in the art of printmaking. Original printing blocks and plates, study drawings and printing equipment are also on display. Not every printing process is included in this exhibition, and there are many variations of the four that we’re highlighting. Each of the four types of printmaking included are explained in detail below, followed by a slideshow of images from that section of the exhibition.

As part of the Kirkland’s mission of showcasing Colorado and regional art, Kirkland Museum Founding Director & Curator Hugh Grant continues to build on a collection of over 1000 prints spanning two centuries of work in a variety of media created by the state’s visiting and resident artists.


Illustration of the process of lithography

Lithography is a planographic (flat surface) printing process based on the principle that grease and water do not mix. The traditional printing plate is limestone (Lithos is Greek for “stone”) but a flat plate of zinc or aluminum can also be used.

The image is created on the stone with oily marks, often drawn with a grease pencil known as a lithographic crayon. Chemical processes make these greasy crayon marks accept printing ink and repel water, and the unmarked stone receptive to water and resistant to grease. Oil-based ink is passed over the stone and sticks only to the greasy areas drawn on the stone. Paper is laid on the stone and pressed and a reverse image is transferred to the paper.

A different stone or printing plate is required for each color. The two Lawrence Barrett prints on view in this gallery demonstrate the variety of outcomes possible when using different drawing techniques and  color to create mood.

Relief Printing

Includes woodcut, linocut, wood engraving

Illustration of the process of relief printing

The printing block used for relief printing is commonly made from wood (creating a woodcut) or linoleum (a linocut). A knife or chisel is used to remove material from the non-printing areas and ink is applied with a roller to the remaining raised areas of the block. Paper is laid onto the block and under pressure the ink on the raised printing surface is transferred to the paper.

The resulting print is a reverse image of what is carved into the block. Prints can be multi-colored by using a separate block for each color (as with Edward Marecak’s Fish).

An alternative to multiple blocks is using a single block in the  “reduction” method, in which the entire edition is printed one color at a time from light to dark, printing over the color below it. After each color is printed, the block is further carved (reduced) to form the surface for the next color. Because the block is carved away in the process, no further editions of this image are possible. The included prints by Jean Gumpper and Leon Loughridge are examples of this printmaking technique.

Intaglio Printing

Includes etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint

Illustration of the process of intaglio printing

Intaglio [in-tal-yoh] is Italian for incising or engraving. The image is cut into the surface of the plate, commonly copper or zinc, with a diamond-shaped cutting tool called a burin (for an engraving) or a sharpened needle (for a drypoint). Or, instead of cutting directly into the printing plate, the plate can be chemically etched by acid (creating an etching), which bites into the metal where it has been exposed through a protective acid-resistant ground.

During printing the ink collects in the valleys below the surface of the plate. To reach the bottom of these recesses and transfer all of the ink, greater pressure is required than with relief printing, and the paper is moistened to make it flexible. The damp paper is pressed around the edges of the plate during printing, leaving a telltale plate mark  surrounding the image, a characteristic of an intaglio print.

An aquatint is made by spreading an acid-resistant ground over the plate which produces an area of overall tone or gradation when the plate is etched. Aquatint can be used on its own, or combined with etched lines as seen in the George Burr and Gene Kloss prints in this gallery, among others. All of these intaglio techniques can be combined on one plate to create a print, or a single technique may be used.

What is chine collé?

Chine collé [shin collay] is a French term for a process that introduces color and texture into a print by using pieces of paper added to a plate for printing. Paper for chine collé can be any type of lightweight paper but good quality, natural-fiber papers are most compatible. Chine collé papers are brushed with a coating of wheat paste (so they stick to the paper) and placed on top of the inked plate in their desired locations. The papers adhere to the print when run through a press. The colored shapes in the Mark Lunning print are chine collé."

Screen Printing

Illustration of the process of screen printing

Screen printing, referred to as Serigraphy in fine art printing, is a process of forcing ink through a screen mesh onto paper. Screens were originally made from silk, which is why the process is sometimes called silk screening. Today they are generally made from synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon.

To make a screen print, a screen is stretched over a frame, given a light-sensitive coating and a transparency with a positive image of the artwork is placed against it. The coating hardens when exposed to light, while the areas blocked from the light are washed out with water, making openings in the screen for ink to pass through. The screen is then placed above the paper and ink is pushed through the openings with a rubber squeegee. Typically a different screen is used for each color in the print.

Screen fabrics are available in a variety of mesh sizes, which affects the amount of ink passing through the screen. The printer can choose a larger screen opening, which is good for a heavy application of ink as seen in the bold, blocky shapes of Roland Detre’s Indian Corn. A finer mesh can produce detail as in William Sanderson’s City of the Damned, or the thin, precise lines and smooth curves of the Dave Yust print, all included in this exhibition.

To explore other virtual content from Kirkland Museum, please visit our Virtual Exhibitions Page.

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