History of printmaking

De eerste Engelse drukker William Caxton toont een proefdruk aan koning Edward IV en zijn vrouw.
The first English printer William Caxton shows a proof print to King Edward IV and his wife.

In case you are not familiar with graphics as an art form, I want to take you back in time. Graphic art is also known as printing art. It was invented to quickly duplicate text and prints in order to provide a large group of people with books. In the first instance, wooden and metal plates were used in which letters and drawings were cut, scratched or etched and then printed. Later, this manual work was taken over by printing presses and screen-printing machines. But the old techniques always remained and were used by artists for making hand printed works of art. Due to the rise of industry and mass production, marketing has begun to use advertising. Now the printing press was not only used to print the newspaper, but packaging and posters with appealing texts and images. Graphic design became an industry in itself. And now everyone knows how to find the button of the printer.

Lead letters used to print pages of books and newspapers.

Lead letters used to print pages of books and newspapers. So the printing of books has actually led to the discovery of stamps and printing presses. In China they were far ahead of their time, in the beginning they cut the text for a whole page from a sheet of wood, but if you made one mistake you could start all over again. That was quite time-consuming, thought the German printer Johannes Gutenberg, who was busy printing the state Bible. And that is why he invented the loose lead letters, with which you could form and change every word. Even in the year 2016, the Bible is not only the most widely read book in the Netherlands but in the whole world. But because of industrial development the world became bigger and today most people read the newspaper every day. And until the last century, the pages were printed each night with separate letters for printing the paper. The lead letters have been replaced by rubber or metal plates with a light-sensitive layer. The lay-out of the pages is done behind the computer by means of special design programs.

Houtsnede van de Japanse kunstenaar Katsushika Hokusai
Woodprint of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.

The charm of the old printing techniques is simplicity. Every child can make a stamp out of a cut potato. Perhaps as a child you have also cut out a design for a Christmas card in linoleum and printed or cut out templates and print them on a sheet of paper with a roller. The old masters in Japan were skilled in wood carving, they made the most artful multi-color prints. Or to return to the art of printing, in Europe illustrators used the engraving technique and cracks in copper plates the finest drawings. Like the famous biblical prints by Gustav Doré. In addition to the old techniques, modern techniques are also used to make graphics, and they are also used together.

Not all manual work has been replaced by the computer, it is still the people who come up with the designs. Computer programs and special printers have helped the design and offer new possibilities. By digitizing a design it can be processed easily and quickly in different ways, just another color and a simple shape suddenly becomes a pattern for a wallpaper, quilt or wrapping paper. Over time, graph art has retained its versatility and accessibility, which is why this art form is current and interesting.

Hedy Hempe – October 2016