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Prints With/Out Pressure

The Relief Print

The term “relief print” refers to any print made from a raised printing surface, created when the non-printing areas of the block or plate are cut away below the surface. Examples of this technique include woodcut, wood engraving, and linoleum cut, and it is by far the oldest method in the history of printmaking. Woodblock printing on paper was invented in China in the ninth century, and first developed in Europe around 1400. Working on the grain side of a block of wood, the artist makes a woodcut by carving away, with sharp knives and gouges, the areas that are not intended to be printed. The remaining raised surface is then inked, usually with a roller, and the paper is placed on top and rubbed with a spoon or other hard instrument to transfer the ink from block to paper. Alternatively, the block and paper may be run through a printing press, which offers more pressure than manual rubbing. A wood engraving is similar, but is carved on an end-grain piece of very hard wood, with engraving tools rather than gouges. The end-grain is considerably denser and more uniform than the grain side, and therefore lends itself to much finer carving than the woodcut. The linoleum cut is a 20th-century development of the relief print. The block consists of a thin layer of linoleum mounted on wood, but otherwise the technique is identical to a woodcut. The advantage of linoleum is the softness and pliability of the material, and therefore the ease with which it can be cut; however, it is not as suitable as wood for fine engraving. During the 20th century, artists experimented with numerous materials for relief printing plates, such as plastic, celluloid, and Masonite, sometimes carving them like a woodblock, sometimes building up the surface in the manner of a collage (the term for this is collagraph). Whatever the technique, the basic printing method for nearly all the works in this exhibition was the same: the raised areas of the plate were inked, the recessed areas were not.

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