Unit 45 - Graphic Image Making

Statement of Intent

In this unit I will:

  1. Research the history and development of graphic images and printmaking.
  2. Partake in various traditional printmaking workshops (i.e. woodcut/cyanotype)
  3. Develop my traditional prints digitally using modern techniques such as image manipulation using Photoshop.

I will produce my work for this unit in a series of prints both traditional and digital. These images will be developed into a further application for example posters and greetings cards.

My work will be reviewed in planned feedback sessions with my tutor and then eventually assessed.

Graphic Image Making

Graphic images are visual images that are displayed on a surface to inform, entertain or illustrate. The images have many uses in modern day life these include presenting data, advertising products and services and also as worldwide recognized icons i.e. toilet, exit and no entry. They can be both artistic and functional. Graphic designers use a variety of media to create images, these include traditional media techniques such as sketching, painting and printmaking or more modern digital media applications (Photoshop/Illustrator). Most graphic designers use both traditional and digital in order to develop their initial sketches and ideas.

Printed and digital images surround us on a daily basis from newspapers and magazines to product packaging and vehicle wraps. These widely available graphic images are all made possible by printmaking techniques which have been developed over the years.

History of Graphic Image Making & Printmaking

Some of the earliest evidence of graphic image making are the cave paintings in Maros, Indonesia. These paintings are estimated to be 35,000 years old and were used to tell stories of successful hunting trips and also to pass on information to their ancestors.

Prior to the discovery of successful printmaking techniques, images were rare and unique, generally locked away in hard to reach places such as palaces and churches.

The earliest printmaking technique recorded is woodblock printing which dates back to 220, originating in China, it was used to print text, images  and patterns onto fabric, with textile dye, and later onto paper. The worlds first movable printing press was also invented in China between 1041 and 1048.  This development along with the increasing availability of paper meant that prints could be produced in very large quantities, therefore China began to print bank notes and playing cards on a large scale.

In the 15th century the printing press was developed further in Germany, printing soon spread from Germany to over 200 cities in a dozen European countries including Belgium, France and Italy.

William Caxton is thought to be the first person to bring the printing press into England. Returning from his travel in Europe, in 1476, he established a press at Westminster. The first book produced was and edition of Chauncer's The Canterbury Tales. Books were an important part of printmaking and opened up the possibility of sharing knowledge.

Another famous English printer was William Tyndale who translated the Bible into English, Just one year after his English New Testament was completed and printed in 1525, copies were being smuggled into England. He was arrested and on 6 October 1536, Tyndale was convicted of heresy and treason and put to death by being strangled and burned at the stake. By this time several thousand copies of his New Testament had been printed.

Printmaking is used in various international cultural issues, the biggest use is propaganda for either war or political campaigns. The use of printed posters and flyers during war increases recruitment and improves morale.

On the development of the modern-day printing press and it's ability to mass produce images, the Pin-Up image was born. Society's views on women and the use of provocative images had become more liberal by the time mass printing became available. The images often displayed women in stockings, with their thighs exposed which was their limit. Due to the non-pornographic nature of the pin-up images they were deemed suitable for mass production and public display.

Printmaking Techniques

Printmaking techniques can be categorized into 4 groups; Relief, Intaglio, Planographic and Stencil.

Examples of relief printing include:

Woodcut - This is when an artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Artists most famous for this method include Albrecht Durer and Thomas Bewick.

At the time Albrecht Durer started printmaking, it was a well known method used to illustrate books, specifically the bible which is why a lot of Albrecht's prints are religiously themed. However, one of Albrecht's most famous prints is the woodcut of the Rhinoceros which he completed in 1515. He created this image from just a written description and sketch received from another artist, this image was used in German science texts books well into the last century. Albrecht was also responsible for the first western star charts which were printed in the same year.

Thomas Bewick was best known for cataloging the worlds animals in print, "A General History of Quadrupeds" which was printed in 1790 includes illustrations and descriptions of 260 mammals from around the world and was originally created as an encyclopedia for children. His most notable achievement was a book which he also co-authored named "A History Of British Birds."  This book had two printed volumes (Land Birds (1797) & Water Birds (1804)) and was aimed at educating people on the appearance and characteristics of British birds.

Linocut - A variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for the relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed.

Examples of intaglio printing include:

Etching- Traditionally the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in the metal. In modern manufacturing, other chemicals may be used on other types of material. As a method of printmaking, it is, along with engraving, the most important technique for old master prints, and remains in wide use today.

Drypoint - An image is incised into a plate (or "matrix") with a hard-pointed "needle" of sharp metal or diamond point. Traditionally the plate was copper, but now acetate, zinc, or plexiglas are also commonly used. Like etching, drypoint is easier for an artist trained in drawing to master than engraving, as the technique of using the needle is closer to using a pencil than the engraver's burin.

Rembrandt created some 300 etchings and drypoints from about 1626 to 1665. By the 1650s, Rembrandt began to treat the printing plate much like a canvas—leaving some ink or tone on the surface of the printing plate in order to create "painted" impressions of prints in which each impression would look different depending on the way he had inked the plate. He was fascinated by subjects from the Old & New Testaments and enjoyed the emotive and narrative appeal to the stories., this influence can be seen in many of his prints.

Aquatint - Like etching, aquatint uses the application of a mordant to etch into the metal plate. Where the engraving technique uses a needle to make lines that print in black (or whatever colour ink is used), aquatint uses powdered rosin to create a tonal effect.

Thomas Rowlandson, a famous political cartoonist, used aquatint to add colour to his prints. He started doing caricatures as a way of earning money but this was quickly adopted by Rowlandson as his career. He is also, along with some other British satirical artists, responsible for developing the personification of John Bull which is used on propaganda posters and political cartoons to this day.

Examples of Planographic printing methods:

Lithography - printing from a flat surface, as opposed to a raised surface (as with relief printing) or incised surface (as with intaglio printing). Lithography and offset lithography are planographic processes that utilize the property that water will not mix with oil. The image is created by applying a tusche (greasy substance) to a plate or stone. (The term lithography comes from litho, for stone, and -graph to draw.) Certain parts of the semi-absorbent surface being printed on can be made receptive to ink while others (the blank parts) reject it. Lithography can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or other suitable material. Good examples of lithography can be seen in the work of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was most famous for his images that depicted the nightlife and glamour of the people who frequented the Montmartre in Paris. When the Moulin Rouge opened he was commissioned to produce a series of posters.

Screen Printing -  Basically, it is the process of using a mesh-based stencil to apply ink onto a substrate, whether it be T-shirts, posters, stickers, vinyl, wood, or other material. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multi-coloured image or design. It is also known as silk-screen, screen, serigraphy, and serigraph printing.

Roy Lichtenstein was among the  first artists exploring new ideas which made art more accessible to the the general public and he was one of the first to exploit the post-war surge in mass-production. Roy made over 300 prints, mostly in screenprinting. The use of Ben-Day dots was a hallmark of him, he enlarged and exaggerated them in many of his prints.

Andy Warhol was commissioned to make album covers but this quickly led to him exploiting the commercial print industry for his fine art. He was known for not correcting any errors in his process and often left the imperfections visible in his prints. His mass-produced prints of everyday items reflected the era of consumerism he lived in.  Andy Warhol was an early adopter of the silk screen printmaking process as a technique for making paintings. His earliest silks screening involved hand-drawn images though this soon progressed to the use of photographically derived silk screening in paintings.

Through the advancements of technology over the decades we are now able to produce digital prints, these refer to images printed using a digital printer instead of a traditional printing press. These images can be printed to a variety of substrates including paper, cloth, or plastic canvas. High quality digital prints typically are reproduced with very high-resolution data files with very high-precision printers. The substrate used has an effect on the final colors and cannot be ignored when selecting a color palette.  Digital printing has a higher cost per page than more traditional methods, but this price is usually offset by avoiding the cost of making printing plates. It also allows for a quicker turnover of printing and and the ever-increasing capability of digital presses means that digital printing is reaching the point where it can match or supersede offset printing technology.

Giclée is the term used for fine art digital prints made on inkjet printers. The name originally applied to fine art prints created on IRIS printers but has since come to mean any inkjet print. It is often used by artists, galleries, and print shops to denote high quality printing. Artists generally use inkjet printing to make reproductions of their original two-dimensional artwork, photographs, or computer-generated art.

Julian Opie is an artist that takes full advantage of these new technologies in his work to create inkjet canvases and album covers.

Printing has now become an every day occurrence with the ready available desktop printer. Most households have one for the uses of printing out family photos, airplane tickets and even bills or forms. Everyone now has the ability to create multiple copies of art work, a piece of text etc. The quality and scale of the print however may be reduced from that of a traditional print.

Printmaking Workshops

Panda Woodcut

(Units 2 & 45)

Firstly, we were asked to find an image that we liked to use in our woodcut. I chose an Andy Warhol panda which I simplified even more to make my carving easier. I chose this simple image because I had little confidence in my ability.

I then drew my panda onto 4mm Japanese plywood using a water resistant pen, the wood was then washed over with a watered down ink mixture. The purpose of this was so I could see what parts of the wood I had carved. Any part of the plate that was still painted would be inked, the carved out parts would appear white when printed. I then proceeded to carve the plate with veiners (V-shaped cutters) and gouges (U-shaped cutters). I did this with caution, making sure to keep my free hand behind the direction I was carving, so as not to pierce my skin with the sharp point of the tool.

Once I had finished carving the wood, I was ready to do my first print. I dusted off the wood shavings and proceeded to roll the yellow ink onto my plate with a rubber roller. I then placed my printmaking paper over the plate and began to burnish the ink onto the paper with the back of a metal spoon. This provided me with my first print from my woodcut.

Looking at my first print I realized that not only had I carved out the wrong parts of my panda I had also not carved out the line for it's head. I then went back to my plate and gouged out the line around it's head. There was nothing I could do about the mistake of carving out the wrong parts. Two more prints were then made from the same plate in plain black and a red and black one.

After cleaning my plate, roller and ink board with cooking oil, I cleaned my work surface down and waited for my prints to dry. I was not happy with my panda prints at all and was hoping they would come out a lot better than they did. The black one is most definitely my favourite out of the three prints. I scanned the black image into the computer and began to edit it on Photoshop, inverting the colours so that my panda looked how I wanted it to.

Having done this I then developed it further to create two versions of a 3 x 3 these prints were inspired by Andy Warhol, I love his use of colour. One in colour and one in black and white. It was at this point that I realised although I enjoyed doing the woodcut, modern techniques including image manipulation and digital printing were a lot easier and less time consuming, they also allowed room for human error.

I was asked to create a poster for the World Wide Fund (WWF) incorporating my panda print. I therefore started to research different poster design styles specifically constructivism (Alexander Rodchenko posters). Alexander Rodchenko created posters that are very angular and geometric. They are often brightly coloured and appear very abstract. I am drawn to this particularly bold design style and when I first discovered it,  my impression was that it was very direct and almost aggressive in it's appearance. Many graphic designers in the 20th and 21st century look to Rodchenko for inspiration.

Once I had decided on the style of my poster (constructivism) I then sketched out some designs inspired by these style. Each of the designs is very angular and bold. I chose to use red and black as the main colours for this poster, they are popular in posters with my chosen style and also red is good to attract attention.

Once I picked a layout to follow I opened up Photoshop and attempted to re-create a constructivism poster for WWF (World Wide Fund). I think the poster is very bold and the use of the newspaper style font is very appropriate for the theme of the poster. I think it is very clear that the poster was inspired by Alexander Rodchenko.

Further to the above image I then went on to develop my idea into a true Constructivism/Rodchenko style poster. This image can clearly be identified as a constructivsm poster. I think it is direct, bold and the colours are very attention grabbing. I enjoyed making this poster and my photoshop skills have improved in the process of making it. The fonts are very typical of a Russian poster. The composition follows the rule of Z. Your eyes are drawn to the text and along to poster following the line down to the panda and then across the text towards the bottom. The burst in the middle of the poster appears as a cry for help from the panda.

I also created a purely black and white poster inspired by Bauhaus design. The poster is a split page of black and white, with panda ears on each section. I have simply chose to put the words "Save Me" in the centre as I wanted to keep the text minimal on this one. This image is also reflective of the Chinese Ying Yang symbol.

My third poster was inspired by Paul Rand. His use of colour and simple lettering in his posters is very effective and eye catching. I have attempted to re-create his style using my Andy Warhol edited pandas. I chose to use colour pandas and combine them with the quote "Life Is Not Black and White" in an attempt to evoke emotion through the use of colour.

The above images finalized my workshop on woodcut. I was very happy I was able to make my prints using the traditional methods. I am not sure I would choose to do it again in the future, as it was a very time consuming process and the results were not reflective of the the time and effort spent doing it.


(Units 2 & 45)

Cyanotype was invented by Sir John Herschel, an English scientist in 1842. Although the process was developed by Sir Herschel, who used it mainly to reproduce notes and diagrams (what we now know as blueprints), Anna Atkins was the one brought this process to photography with the help of Henry Fox Talbot. Anna was an English botanist who classified and cataloged plants, she placed specimens onto treated surfaces and allowed the sun to create a silhouette. Anne is often considered the first person to illustrate a book with photographic images.

The cyanotype process uses two chemicals: Ammonium Iron(III) Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. The chemicals are mixed together to create a solution, this is then brushed on a printing surface, watercolour paper, cotton, anything that is capeable of soaking the solution. Negative images or objects are placed onto the surface to create a positive image when exposed to UV light. The exposure results in a chemical reaction to leave the deep blue colour, also known as Prussian Blue. The surface underneath the negative images should go a white-grey colour, this is then washed in a bath of water to rinse out the excess iron until the water runs clear. The image is then hung out to dry until the blue becomes a deeper shade. this completes the process.

A modern day artist who uses cyanotype is a Russian/Canadian named Tatiana Parniakova. Her work is inspired by Anna Atkins and is decidedly feminine, mixing floral arrangements with more provocative elements such as snakeskin or fur. She uses the traditional process to create her images, however they are innovative due to the unexpected reversed ‘positive’ tonality of the prints and their virtually limitless size. I love the simplistic beauty of her cyanotype images.

Cyanotype Workshop

On commencing the workshop for cyanotype we was asked to create a negative image of our choosing. I used a picture i created for another project and inverted the image in Photoshop. This was then printed onto A3 paper and copied onto A3 acetate sheets in preparation for the exposure.

We pinned the cloth to a wooden frame and placed a blackout piece of material over it until we was ready to put the solution on.

The solution was mixed; 65g ammonium ferric citrate and 23g potassium ferricyanide and added to water. The solution was then brushed onto the prepared cloth and covered over once more with the blackout material in order to dry.

NB. Safety note - When mixing this solution and brushing it onto the cloth, we had to make sure we were in a well ventilated area so as not to breath in the fumes.

When the cloth was dry we then removed it from the wooden frame and pinned it to a polystyrene board along with our negative images or objects. The board was then covered over until we got outside into the sun. We laid the boards down on the grass and then waited for the sun to initiate the chemical reaction.

NB. This photo is not from my process.

Once the cloth had turned a grey colour we put the blackout material over it again and returned to the studio to rinse. This was then hung up to dry and the cyanotype turned a dark blue colour and produced the print below.

The cyanotype print did not come out as well as I had hoped. There had been some over exposure on the way out to the sunlight which affected the process. I am still happy with what I have produced though. It was an overall worthwhile workshop, it was interesting to see how the sun developed the image. I would consider repeating this process in the future as now I understand how it works I could plan out what negative images I used to get a better result.

Image in the style of Julian Opie

I furthered my work on printmaking by creating a portrait of myself in the style of Julian Opie to coincide with my self portrait project as part of Unit 48 - Narrative Image Making. This image was created using illustrator and is a vector portrait. (Unit 34.) I love the simple bold colours of Julian's work and the contrasting thick black lines bordering the faces, hair and bodies of the subjects.

Overall I feel that printmaking has very much advanced in it's techniques but still for me computers and digital printers will be my chosen methods as they are much cheaper, quicker and easy to edit if anything was to go wrong with the image.

I am interested in trying screen printing though in the future, if the opportunity should arise.

At the start of this unit I aimed to:

  1. Understand graphic image/printmaking techniques both past and present
  2. Use a mixture of both traditional and modern processes to create my own prints
  3. Present work that fitted the brief.

Throughout this unit I have been unbiased about the traditional processes. I have taken part in all workshops and presented work of a good quality. I have accomplished my desired aims and have furthered my work digitally. Although my woodcut did not turn out how I wanted it to I have managed to edit the print on Photoshop, mixing traditional with digital to create my desired print.

Although I have taken part in workshops during this unit, most of my work has been done independently and with little or no guidance. This style of working is beneficial however I do respond well to feedback at given review periods. I usually carry out suggestions made in these sessions and they often have a positive impact on my work.

A suggestion was made by my tutor to make a poster for the World Wide Fund (WWF) using my panda woodcut print. I managed to do this successfully by using the edited print and adding some bold text in Photoshop. The posters were inspired by Alexander Rodchenko's poster style.The font I used in the first looked like an ransom note made from newspaper clippings which I thought would be very effective in getting the message across and asking for donations. In addition to this created a second poster was purely inspired by Alexander Rodchenko and was a direct copy of his "Lengiz books on all subjects!" poster. The second poster is my best graphic work so far and I am very proud of it.  I created two more posters in different design styles (Bauhaus & Paul Rand). Although the Constructivist one is still very much my favourite I was very pleased in the way both of these posters turned out. My preference is the colour one as it is a

I am astonished with myself and the progress I have made in this unit. On commencing the unit I had originally thought that using traditional processes would be both a long and tedious task, I was however proven wrong by the workshops. I have learnt how to print using woodcut and cyanotype, developed my Photoshop skills further to improve my prints and learnt how to use illustrator in order to create a portrait in the style of Julian Opie. I probably would not attempt the woodcut again as it was quite hard to do, messy and the quality of the prints was debatable. My interest in printmaking has been aroused and I think I will perhaps look at this again in the future, probably re-attempt cyanotype and hopefully to look at screen printing.