April 21, 2009

How We Roll: Printing at the Johnson

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Minna Resnick is a local artist who has been printmaking and drawing for over 30 years. She was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1980, one of many other honors she has received throughout her career. Her work is currently displayed at more than 50 public and private collections, both nationally and abroad. She has taught and lectured at many colleges across the nation, and was even an art instructor at Cornell for a few semesters.
This weekend, Resnick spoke at the Johnson Museum on the various types and styles of printmaking, accompanied by demonstrations following the lecture at her private studio less than ten minutes away from campus. Resnick began by categorizing four basic types of printmaking processes: relief printing, intaglio, lithography and silk screening. Relief printing, such as woodcut and linocut, is a process where the plate or block is carved away so that what remains is what is printed. The remaining original flat surface that lies unscathed is then inked with a flat tool, such as a roller or brayer, and printed.
Her lecture including explaining intaglio techniques, such as etching, engraving and aquatint, are almost the inverse of relief. In intaglio processes, the printing plate is typically copper or zinc, and excavations are mere depressions into the surface. The plate is then heavily inked, but in this instance, the original surface is then wiped clean of ink — the rest of the ink remains in the depressions. To print, a piece of paper is laid over the ink, and a heavy roller compresses the paper into the ink so that the ink transfers from the plate to the paper.
Following the talk at the Johnson, Resnick then invited participants to her house and studio where she displayed some of the discussed methods of printing in real time. She showed how a simple black and white ink-jet printed image found off the internet could be turned into a lithograph. She then layered a silkscreened print that she designed on top of the lithograph in a different color, showing how the addition of another color and a play of design arrangements could result in a more artistic interpretation of the initial digitally-produced appropriated image.
Lithography, one of Resnick’s preferred methods of working and part of the larger planographic printing category, is the most common modern method of printing, and is one of the major ways high-volume books today are printed. A stone block or metal plate is drawn on with a fat or oil-based medium, in liquid (like ink) or hard-compressed (like charcoal or pencils) form. The entire surface is then coated in sap from the gum tree, otherwise known as gum arabic, which is repelled by the areas that have been drawn on, but which adheres to the untouched areas. Then printing ink is rolled over the entire surface; the gum arabic repels the ink, and thus only the drawn on areas receive the ink, and are ultimately printed.
Silk screening, another one of Ms. Resnick’s more used methods of working, is a type of stencil printing like pochoir. Here the original surface is woven fibers directly onto which the design is drawn. Originally, human hair was used to make these screens, but now they are typically constructed of nylon or polyester. The negative area which is left is then coated with an emulsion which is not permeable to ink. The design is then washed or wiped off, leaving only the emulsion that forms the negative space around the design. Ink is then rolled onto the screen, filling only the emulsion-free areas, and then rolled again against a piece of paper to print the image.
At the Johnson, Resnick presented various examples of prints that are part of the Museum’s collection. They ranged from lithographs almost 200 years old to works displaying more modern techniques of layering types of prints. Lichtenstein is an example of a more modern printmaker — most of his works are an indistinguishable mixture of screen printing, lithography, and collage. Printmaking using digital working methods is also an increasingly popular technique. This means of working is much more efficient, as designs drawn digitally, including photographs, can be easily transferred into a print. It simply consists of printing out a digital design to paper from a printer whose ink is then either directly used or transferred onto another source.