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Color Woodcut

The technique of woodcut is the oldest form of printmaking. An artist carves an image directly into a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the matrix level with the surface, while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print.

In color woodcuts, multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks and using a different block for each color, or alternatively, by painting and blending directly on a woodblock, each impression obtaining it’s individual variations in the process -  thus creating a mix between a woodcut and monotype.


A linocut is a newer variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum is used for a relief surface. Since the material being carved has no directional grain and does not tend to split, it is easier to obtain certain artistic effects with linoleum than with most woods, although the resultant prints lack the angular grainy characteristics of woodcuts.

The use of color in relief printmaking was reborn in 19th century Europe with the craze for Japonisme, when artists such as Degas, Manet, Bonnard and Gaugin became fascinated with the flat planes of pure color and variety of pattern, found in Japanese prints.


Color Etching

Etching technique was first used by goldsmiths and other metal workers to decorate guns, armor, cups and plates - it has been known in Europe since the Middle Ages, and may go back to antiquity.

The etching as means of printmaking is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470–1536) of Augsburg, Germany. Hopfer was a craftsman who decorated armor in this way, and applied the method to printmaking, using iron plates.


In traditional pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy substance which is resistant to acid. The artist then scratches off the ground with an etching needle, exposing bare metal. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid.  The acid "bites" into the metal where it is exposed, leaving behind etched lines. The remaining waxy ground is then cleaned off the plate. The plate is inked all over, then wiped off the surface, leaving the ink only inside in the etched lines. A sheet of paper; usually wet, is applied on the inked plate using a press; the paper gets forced into the etched lines that hold ink, thus producing an image.


Until the 1880s, black and white etching was the preferred printmaking technique for most European artists, but by 1890s printmakers of all media were beginning to break the color barrier – initially greatly frowned upon by the art establishment (Société des Artistes Français disallowed color prints in it’s annual Salon until 1899).


Initially having used à la Poupée method, where the printing matrix is painted with the “doll” -- a small wad of fabric, used to apply different inks selectively to the design etched on copperplate. The inked plate is then printed only once, at which point the artist has to painstakingly repeat the process. In the early nineties, several artists started experimenting with printing from more than one plate to create a color etching. The greatest obstacle was the tedious task of accurately superimposing one inked plate after another onto a single piece of paper; a process called repérage. Special “registration marks” were therefore used in either margins, or within the print itself. Inevitable stretching of the damp paper as it passed through the roller further complicated the process; making the process long, labor intensive and rather expensive.


The “pioneers” of the color etching were Rafaëlli, Pissarro, Maurin and Cassatt. The young painter Eugène Delâtre played an important role as a technician and instructor. He was also a prolific producer of his own color etchings; many of which are significant artistic examples within the entire  spectrum of the movement.


There are 2 basic techniques to create a color etching:


1) The etched plate is painted with other colors after being inked in black. That way the colored parts are at the bottom when printed on paper and the black lines are printed on top of that.

2) Several different plates are created, one for each main color. The lightest colors are often applied first, and then darker colors successively until the darkest.

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