About graphic art

Graphic art is a particular form of pictorial print that can be produced in editions. Each print is considered an original work of art even though there can be a certain number of the same motif. A graphic print is an imprint from a stone, a wooden board, a metal plate or another material on which the artist has created his or her artwork.

New, modern printing methods are continually being developed, and graphic artists are often the first to explore the artistic potential of emerging techniques. None of the old methods have been replaced; on the contrary, new methods have been added to the old. Thus, the richness of graphic art has been enhanced by every generation of inventive and inquisitive printmakers.

Graphic art or prints represent a wide range of artworks that are mostly two-dimensional and printed on paper, although they may also take the form of books or be printed on other materials. Graphic art may also be three-dimensional, taking the form of installations. The definition of “graphic art” employed by the Foundation may be summarized as “a print in which the image is handmade by an artist and produced from a block, a plate or a type, irrespective of motif or edition, and of the highest quality.”

Printing studios and Workshops in the Nordic Countries

Graphic art is divided into four main types:

  • Relief print
  • Intaglio print
  • Planographic print
  • Screen print

Relief prints

Relief printmaking is one of the oldest print processes. It includes techniques such as woodcut, wood engraving, linocut, type that has been hand-set, rubber stamps and potato prints. It works with the idea of cutting or removing areas in the matrix with a chisel or gouge. The surface is then inked and printed thereby producing a print from relief.

Woodcut is one of the earliest printing methods. It was invented in China during the 8th century. The sheet of wood is carved with a sharp chisel or gouge, and then the surface is charged with ink and printed. Artists like Albrecht Dürer used it with great success and created historically known pieces.

Linocut is a variation of woodcut where a sheet of linoleum is carved with a V- or U-shaped chisel to create the relief surface. The surface is charged with ink and printed.

Wood engraving (Xylography) is a method where hardwood from the end grain is used with a similar burin as for regular engraving, cutting away what is not to be printed. It played an important part in the old newspaper industry where xylographers would engrave images and advertisements for printing in newspapers. It was also used in making illustrations for books. Artists have worked with it ever since its invention.

Gutenberg invented moveable type for relief printing in the mid-15th century. Movable type had been used in Asia hundreds of years earlier, but Gutenberg’s innovation was developing a casting system and metal alloys which made production easier. The types are charged with ink and printed.

Rubber stamp is a method where the surface of a sheet of rubber is cut away either by hand or with a laser cutter. The image has to be in reverse in order to print the right way. The produced relief in rubber is then mounted on a handle, and an ink pad is used to charge the stamp for printing.

Potato print is the quickest way to produce a relief print. A potato is cut in half, and areas not to receive ink is cut away.

Students at KHiO Creating Graphic Art

Intaglio print

In intaglio printmaking, the printed image derives from a plate made of copper, brass, zinc, steel or plastic which has been etched with a mordant or worked with tools. When printed, the image is incised into the material producing an image in relief on the surface of the paper.

Hard ground etching involves applying ground onto a plate that is either liquid or solid made from beeswax and asphaltum. Marks that are then drawn into the ground will print after being etched.

Soft ground etching involves using the same components as hard ground but with the addition of a tallow to make it soft. It comes either in liquid or solid form. The advantage of soft ground is that it is sensitive to the touch and will show for example finger marks, marks from different textures, or the drawn line from a piece of paper that has been laid on top of the coated plate.

Open bite is a technique where open areas in the plate are left for the acid to freely etch the plate. It produces a crevice or crevices in the plate that when inked will print grey with dark edges.

Aquatint is a way of creating tonal values in a plate using resin or asphaltum powder. When etched to different levels, the aquatint will produce a spectrum all the way from the finest greys to the deepest blacks.

Engraving is a method using a handheld burin which will cut lines into the plate that when inked will produce a distinctive sharp line. The engraving was reconstructed as an art form in the 20th century by S.W. Hayter.

Drypoint is a method using a handheld or diamond-tipped needle that when pushed into the plate will create a metal burr which stands up from the surface. This burr will hold ink and prints when inked with a soft fussy look.

Mezzotint is a way of working the plate with a tool called a rocker that will fully or partly give the plate a tooth that will make it print black. The image is then scraped out from the black surface producing different tonal values (manière noire).

Photogravure is a way of transferring a photographic continuous tone image to a plate with the use of light-sensitive gelatin paper that when printed mimics the photographic image.

Photopolymer is a plastic light-sensitive plate developed for the printing industry that has been re-contextualized as an artistic medium as a hybrid mimicking photo-etching and photogravure.

Magne Furuholmen Creating Graphic Art

Svend-Allan Sørensen Creating Graphic Art

Planographic Print

Lithography is a process based on the idea of oil rejecting water invented by Alois Senfelder in the late 18th century. It's base is limestone that was quarried in Bavaria, then cut to different sizes and ground to be able to receive an image. It paved the way for commercial printing and was used up until the 1940s. The introduction of the lithographic plate or the offset plate came at the beginning of the 20th century and quickly took over the industry due to its speed in printing and long runs. Stone, plate and photolithography are today still in use, but mainly in a fine arts context.

Stone lithography is a technique where limestone is ground and prepared and an image is created with a wax-based crayon, chalk or tusche. The image is then etched, stabilized, washed out, rolled up with ink and printed.

Plate lithography uses a zinc or aluminium plate that can achieve the same surface as limestone. The process of creating the image is the same.

Offset lithography uses a plate that is developed for commercial rotary offset machines that print with high speed which enables them to produce large numbers of impressions.

Photo lithography is a way of transferring a photographic halftone image to a light-sensitive stone or plate.

Haavard Homstvedt Creating Graphic Art

HM Queen Sonja Creating Graphic Art

Serigraphy / Screen Printing

Serigraph, silk screening, or screen printing as it is also called, is a stencil-based printing method and one of the oldest forms of printmaking. It is used both commercially and for artistic purposes. It consists of a frame with a stretched mesh that holds a stencil that is either handmade or produced with the use of a photographic emulsion. Originally the mesh was made of silk, hence its name. These days it is made of polyester. Silkscreen or serigraphy was made popular as an art medium during the era of POP Art in the 1960s.

Silkscreen or serigraph print is made by pushing ink with a squeegee through the stencil in the mesh. Each colour requires a separate stencil. The process can be used on paper, metal, wood, plastic, etc., and also on curved materials by using pad printing with a soft cushion that forms around the object to be printed.

Hand-made cut stencil method is the simplest and oldest method made by using a stencil of either a paper or a plastic material. The positive areas of the image are cut away, leaving the negative areas solid. When printed the open areas deposit ink onto the printed surface.

Block-out method is direct work on the screens mesh using a screen filler that will block out everything not to be printed when the image is created. Optionally you can work with tusche or crayons with high grease content directly on the screen. The image is coated with the screen filler and when dry the tusche or the crayon is dissolved, thereby leaving the image to be printed on the screen.

Photographic screen printing is where an image is transferred to the screen by first coating it with a light-sensitive emulsion and when dry exposing the photographic halftone image to it. The image is developed, dried and then printed.

Ørnulf Opdahl Creating Graphic Art