As can be seen in the section of this website "Printmaking" and as we have already discussed in our previous article "All you need to know when buying fine art prints" there are many printing techniques by which artists create their limited editions. We can have serigraphy, engraving, lithography, gliclée... but sometimes we can find in the description of a work certain information which, if not well known in this discipline of art, can be disconcerting. This article will delve into the techniques used by artists to complete their works of graphic art and thus provide them with exclusivity and character. We will answer questions like: What does it mean that a screen printing is hand finished? What is UV varnish? What do we mean when we say that a silkscreen has an extra layer?
But first let's briefly review the most common printing techniques in graphic works:
Serigraph: This technique of ancient origin and popularized by the Pop Art, involves placing a mesh on a support that prevents the passage of ink into the areas where there should be no image. If this process is repeated x times with different colors, then we obtain an image with x color layers. For example, the Andy Warhol’s Marilyn screen prints published by Sunday B. Morning have 5 layers of color, one for the background and eyelids, another for the hair, another for the shadows, eyebrows and lips, one for the face and another for the lips and neck. Some artists like Beejoir can use up to 70 layers to create a work, as we can see in his work Imodium 70.
Engraving: The artist draws on the surface of the plate carving where he/she wants the image to be. By applying ink on the surface, it will be hosted on all the remaining gaps, and pressing the plate on the media we get the image. Depending on the material used as the plate (wood, metal, stone ....) and the way in which the artist engraves it (directly, for example with a punch, or indirectly with products that corrode the surface) we will talk about different mediums, such as aquatint, etching, linocut, woodcut ... Some masters in the use of these techniques are the artists Antoni Tàpies or Antoni Clavé.
Lithography: Here the artist works on a plate of limestone. He or she creates the image using a fatty material and then moistens the stone. The next step is to add through the surface an also greasy ink. Attracted by the fatty material and repelled by the water the ink will create the image and, once the stone is pressed onto the support, this last one will absorb the ink. For each color a different plate will be made. Although this technique can be seen as an engraving technique, the difference is that the printed media has no reliefs because the plate is not carved but is drawn over it.
Giclée: This term is used for digital prints made with high quality ink jet printers and used for creating art. This term was created with the intention of distinguishing these impressions with an artistic purpose of the regular Iris prints, with an industrial cut but made with same printers (Kodak Iris printers).
In Artetrama we strive to give all the information we have about the works we provide. Thus, we can find descriptions like "Screen print hand embellished with spray paint on Archival paper". When we state that a work is hand illuminated, embellished, retouched or finished by the artist, we mean that the work in question is a print created using one of the techniques mentioned above, and also has a manual work added by the artist. This retouching or finishing can be done with ink, acrylic, spray or any other material which has not been part of the printing process. The works that have this type of finishing have a special attractiveness for collectors since, because of this manual work, each one is different to the others, which gives it a unique character.
Contemporary artists such as Josep Guinovart retouch some of their works by hand, such as the engravings of Imatges i terra series, which are hand finished with acrylic. Others like Steve Kaufman used oil to embellish their silkscreens and some such as Elvis II, also have glitter on the background, which gives it a striking shine and make a clear allusion to the style of the portrayed singer.
Martin Whatson often uses markers and spray paint to give a touch of color to his screen prints (we can see an example in his works Climber or Zebra. Pure Evil uses Poska and Krink inks or spray paint for his "hand finished" editions that are so unique that he numbers each one 1/1. Other artists such as Mr. Brainwash or Nick Walker use spray paint to finish their works but do this through a stencil, this is a cut layer through which the spray paint passes. Roamcouch, a true master when it comes to creating stencils, finishes some of his limited editions with pearlescent inks giving his work a very particular shine. An example of this can be found in the work Rainbow Inc. (sepia edition AP).
As for the artist Antoni Clave, some descriptions of his works presented on our website, mention carborundum or embossing. As we’ve discussed in our article "All you need to know when buying fine art prints" carborundum is a printmaking technique where a material, in particular silicon carbide powder, is added to the plate on which the image has been captured. This gives texture and shape the final work. However, embossing simply focuses on giving relief to the work by a plate with a bite of greater depth that may or may not be inked or through the incorporation of objects on the paper so that once pressured on, it creates a relief image. Some urban artists like Martin Whatson, Eelus or Sandra Chevrier use this technique to stamp their signature, apart from hand written.
In the case of screen printing, in some works as "Choose your weapon" by Lora Zombie, or "Nubian princess" by Hush, we talk about an "extra layer". This extra layer is the last to be printed onto the work and is usually printed with a different material to the inks used to create the previous layers. In the case of "Choose your weapon", the artist uses red foil (see detailed photos), while Hush gives the finishing touch to his work with a layer of UV varnish.
The UV varnish is used by many artists to give mate or gloss effects to their work. It is non-corrosive and resistant to abrasion. Applied to the silkscreen technique, a layer of this varnish can cover the whole work or part of it, as if it was a layer of paint. Takashi Murakami uses this material in some of his works to provide them with a high gloss. Example of this result may be Who's afraid of red, yellow, blue and death.
For other works by this artist we describe the medium as "offset lithograph with silver", which means that the work is printed with a silver layer to provide the image of a metallic effect. It is also quite common to find another peculiarity in some works by Takashi Murakami: What does an "offset lithograph with hot stamp" mean? And with cold stamp? Both make a reference to the temperatures that the materials involved reach during the printing process. Both finishing are different. For Murakami, with hot stamping he gets pearly effects and with cold stamping gets glossy colors because, in many cases, this process also involves the use of UV varnish.
As we can see, the graphic work is a complex discipline. The artist can use multiple mediums, tools and procedures for creating and add to his/her works different finishes. Depending on the purpose of the work, the artist's style and intentions, we find various media, materials and embellishments that make collecting fine art prints exciting.