When you get right down to it, being an artist is about seeing and about deciding. A work of art becomes interesting when it helps us see something about the world in a new way. Thus an artist must be a keen observer. They must be able to see shapes, values, colors, movement and textures. Sometimes this is in the real world, and sometimes it is only on the easel (or the plate).
An artist, when they are creating, is also making one long series of decisions. What is the subject? What will they keep? What will they remove? What will they modify? For printmakers, one of those questions is: What process should I use?
Sometimes printmakers are driven by process. “I am going to make an etching” or “I am going to make a lithograph”. While it is important to be conversant with and in control of your process, this seems to me to be putting the cart in front of the horse. My first question is: “For this image, what kind of marks do I want to make?” The process to use then becomes obvious.
Each particular process brings its own, unique, set of marks. This is most easily explained by showing some examples. The image above is a close up view of some of the kinds of marks that are possible in a woodcut. The texture of the wood shows, to a greater or lesser degree. The marks are hard edged.
An engraving, like this one has its own set of marks. They are crisp, sharp, linear. They start with a point, taper to a full width and either end squarely or taper back out to a point. The nature of the mark is a function of the process used to create it. In this case, carving into the plate with a very fine burin.
A lithograph, like the example to the right is closer to the spontaneous marks that you get with a pencil or charcoal. They can be fluid and tonal. The blacks can be incredibly velvety and rich.
One of the things that I love about printmaking is the wide range of possibilities that are available to me as an artist. I love the process, but I always want that process to be the servant of my artist’s hand, not the master.