The History of Printmaking
The history of Printmaking is global and so the story varies from one location to the next, but it matches up with the following pattern fairly well. The history of the discipline is a little bit like a history of special effects. Each new movement is tied to developments in technology, and all of them “up the ante” over what was possible before.
RELIEF. People figured out that you could save time and energy by stamping things in wet clay early in the history of human life on this planet. They figured out that you can apply ink to the stamps and “print” them. The history of printmaking starts when people started printing multiple copies of designs on paper and fabric.
INTAGLIO. Folks were incising designs on metal for a long time, but at some point they decided to offset the designs onto paper using pressure -- and intaglio was born. They usually credit armor makers in Europe with this discovery, but who really knows for sure? This process took longer to print than the old relief process, but it yielded more detailed images and soon became the preferred way to reproduce famous paintings.
LITHOGRAPHY. A crazy Bavarian German named Senefelder wrote his laundry list on a huge limestone rock, and created lithography. It was much faster to print than Intaglio and it fit perfectly into the industrial revolution. It’s still the dominant method for mass-printing.
SERIGRAPHY, OR SCREEN PRINTING. It’s possible that the stencil actually pre-dates the stamp as a printmaking process. But in the west the process was only accepted as a legitimate way to make art in the mid twentieth century.
DIGITAL PRINTMAKING. Some printmakers still don’t think of digital output as REAL Printmaking. No one really knows if its a good thing or not, but it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay. This era of Printmaking history ushers in what we like to call the “mixed-media” movement. Artists are more excited about using digital output, monoprinting, etching, and hand coloring all at once to create unique impressions than they are in traditional Printmaking.
Barbara Earl Thomas