About Modbritprints

Woodblock

MODBRITPRINTS.COM is the result of a collaboration between Paul Liss and David Maes. Paul Liss has for the last 20 years sought to bring back to public attention the work of many of the unsung heroes and unsung heroines of the 20th century whose creativity - largely through prejudice or misunderstanding - has been neglected. David Maes is one of France’s foremost print makers. He learned the language of printmaking at the prestigious Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut in Paris and has worked in various printmaking studios in Spain and Canada.

This collaboration between Paul Liss and David Maes goes back five years now and evolves around a shared belief in the artistic and aesthetic importance of original woodblocks and etching plates as objects of beauty and value in their own right. Before any print comes into existence it has to be drawn onto a lithographic stone or plate, etched onto a copper or zinc plate, or drawn and then carved onto a woodblock. Understanding the physical processes that this involves is an essential part of truly appreciating any print. The block or plate in fact represents the very moment of creation.

Once printed from, blocks and plates themselves become obsolete, unless the print is re-editioned, often posthumously, or reprinted in a different state, for instance with additions or alterations. Artists have frequently chosen to cancel plates and blocks (by drawing lines through plates or shaving blocks down, often to be re-used) to ensure that editions be respected. Eric Gill realised the aesthetic value of his own woodblocks and would buy them back from the Golden Cockrel Press. He would then run gesso into them and carve them into silhouettes, thus transforming them into sculptures. Robert Sargent Austin, whose line engravings were rightfully compared to those of Albrecht Durer by Campbell Dodgson, cancelled his plates with utmost attention, in some cases almost enhancing the images. Others such as Augustus John defaced their plates with aggressive, uneven cancellation lines. Frank Brangwyn’s woodblocks were frequently left in neglect and consequently fell to pieces. (Woodblocks are made up of small pieces of end grain boxwood, glued and dovetailed together. Inevitably with time these joints work loose). Frederick Carter’s blocks, by contrast, were clearly well cared for, each numbered and titled on the reverse and carefully conserved to prevent them from deteriorating with age.

Using his skills as an outstanding printmaker in his own right, David Maes has embarked on a programme of restoring, re-printing and re-presenting the work of some of the greatest British printmakers of the 20th century. MODBRITPRINTS.COM is unique in offering for sale the prints as well as the original plates and woodblocks of these numerous artists.

MODBRITPRINTS.COM is also interested in purchasing any plates or woodblocks by British artists you may have in your possession. For further information please contact: paul@lissfineart.com.

How it works . . .

   The plate is cleaned...





   It is inked with a roller...




The plate is wiped with a special cloth, leaving ink only in those parts where the plate has been marked...




The plate is then gently wiped with the hand...




It is placed on the press bed...




...and covered with the paper that will receive the ink...





Plate and paper are passed through the press...




The print is lifted from the plate and placed between sheets of blotting paper.

Here is a list of a few terms which will help you understand the art of printmaking. It goes without saying that this list is far from exhaustive.

ORIGINAL PRINT: To simplify matters we will say that a print is the impression left on paper from a metal plate, stone, woodblock or silkscreen. Making an impression is called “pulling a proof” and the standard name for an artist’s proof is an original print. The processes involved in producing an original print can be broken down into several categories, but all exclude the mechanical reproduction of images. Original prints are multiple-proof pictures on paper produced on a handmade basis either wholly or in most part by the original artist.

PRINTMAKING TECHNIQUES: Before an original print comes into existence the artist must create an image on metal, stone or wood. The material chosen determines not only the language or technique the artist uses to express himself or herself, but the physical aspect of the original print itself. The printmaking techniques we are concerned with here are: ETCHING, LITHOGRAPHY and WOODCUTS AND WOOD ENGRAVING.

ETCHING (INTAGLIO) is a general term which has come to define the type of original print that is in fact the result of the use of a series of techniques that come under the heading of the Intaglio Family. Artists began to use Intaglio techniques in the late 15th century. These techniques can be used individually or combined and the image the artist creates is executed on metal, generally copper or zinc for the simple reason that these metals can be easily worked upon because they are neither too hard nor too soft. Etching is in reality one of these intaglio techniques. The others are line engraving, dry point, aquatint and mezzotint.

ETCHING (also known as “eau forte”) The metal plate is covered with a coat of dark, waxy varnish. Once dry, the artist draws into the varnish with a rounded point thus exposing the metal where he has drawn. The plate is then placed in a bath of hydrochloric or nitric acid which “bites” the exposed metal. Once the plate has left the acid bath, the varnish is removed and the plate inked. The inked plate is then printed on a sheet of lightly dampened paper by passing the paper and plate through a press.

LINE ENGRAVING: The artist draws directly onto the metal plate with a tool called the burin. The burin is a tempered steel instrument with an oblique point and wooden handle which is designed to fit into the palm of the hand. The burin produces a very sharp, regular line that cannot be modified, contrary to those produced using other intaglio techniques which allow a certain flexibility. The plate is then cleaned, inked and printed.

DRY POINT occupies a position between etching and line engraving. It is a technique which is simple, direct and autographic. The artist draws directly onto the surface of a metal plate with a needle whose point must be sharp rather than rounded. Sometimes a diamond point is used. The plate is then cleaned, inked and printed. Dry point is often combined with etching.

AQUATINT is an etching in mass instead of in line. The metal plate is covered with a special ground which consists of powdered rosin of various degrees of fineness. (Rosin is the resin obtained from gum thus, the exudation from pines of the southern United States and from similar pines in various parts of the world. It is the residue left in the stills after turpentine has been extracted from the crude exudation.) This is accomplished by dusting the rosin on through a cloth bag or shaking it around in a specially made box, then inserting the plate and allowing the rosin to settle upon it. The plate is then warmed which fuses the particles and causes them to form a hard ground of granular texture. Before the biting, the picture is made by painting upon the grounded plate with stopping-out or resist varnish, and gradations of tone are produced by repeated biting and stopping-out. The acid surrounds the particles of semi-acid-proof rosin and bites through to the metal at their edges, thereby creating a grainy effect; the irregularities of the grains of rosin prevent the texture from appearing mechanical. The plate is cleaned, inked and printed. Aquatint is often combined with etching and/or dry point.

MEZZOTINT: In mezzotint, the entire surface of a metal plate is textured with miniscule points by means of a mezzotint rocker (a curved tool with a finely textured edge) thus creating a completely black ground. The artist then flattens out the areas that will retain little or no ink, in other words, he draws into the black ground to create areas of varying degrees of light. The resulting work is distinguished by magnificent shading on an intense black ground. Again, the plate is cleaned, inked and printed.

LITHOGRAPHY: Invented by Aloys Senefelder in 1798, lithography came into wide use as both an artistic medium and a means of reproducing images for publication. This technique consists of drawing or painting with greasy crayons and inks on a particular type of limestone which has been ground down to a desired texture or on specially prepared zinc or aluminium plates. After a series of manipulations, the stone or plate is well moistened with water, whereupon the parts not covered by the crayon or ink become wet, while the areas where the greasy drawing was made repel the water and remain dry. An oily ink is then applied with a roller adhering only to the drawing, being repelled by the wet parts of the stone or plate. The print is made by pressing a sheet of paper against the inked drawing, thus creating a true autographic replica, in reverse, of the original drawing on stone or metal. Lithography is called a planographic process to distinguish it from intaglio, relief and stencil methods.

WOODCUTS AND WOOD ENGRAVING: Woodcut is the term applied to work done by cutting out the surface of a smooth plank of hardwood with a knife as well as with small V and U gouges. Seasoned planks of apple, pear, cherry, beech and sycamore are generally used for woodcuts, as are mechanically produced boards of medium or plywood. Linoleum is used similarly to produce linoleum or lino cuts. Wood engraving is work done on boxwood blocks made by sawing the wood so that the surface is the end of the grain. (Sometimes red maple is used in place of boxwood.) Wood engraving is essentially a "white line on black background" technique. In the case of woodcuts, larger areas of white are incised and the black and white masses are manipulated more equally. The woodcut is an excellent medium for colour prints, which are made by cutting a separate block for each colour and aligning the progressive impressions by means of register marks on the margins of the blocks. The use of wood engraving as a purely artistic technique dates from the end of World War I.