Traditionally, printmaking has been long practiced for copying and mass-producing an assortment of paintings and sculptures to the general public. However, as time went and new technology came about, new innovations were discovered which made printmaking an art form of its own identity. This identity would be eventually shaped by artists such as Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer. Prior to this, a traditionalist sense of printmaking was the norm. A Japanese artist by the name of Katsushika Hokusai created a famous work called “The Great Wave.” In this piece, Hokusai utilized relief printmaking which is a method that involves carving a design onto a block of wood. A ground figure would be created by raising a substantial portion of the wooden area, leaving some negative space. The result is a raised area which is then colored in with ink and printed on paper; basically, this was a stamping method of printmaking. Strictly speaking, relief printmaking (as this is referred to) still pertains to a traditional usage; in using the method, an artist can copy a painting over and in Hokusai’s case, he can simply make multiple stamps, one of each color both for commercial purposes.

A printed copper work by Rembrandt.

Similarly, Dürer would “copy” ink paintings in the form of engraving. Engraving, which was done on a copper plate by carving directly into it with a sharp metal tool, was a printing technique opposite of relief printmaking. Dürer, who was a master of engraving, showcased variance in tone throughout this works but not structure (since the subject matter remained the same, just on a different medium). Another technique called etching also came about in this era and like with engraving, was done on a copper plate. Here, the copper plate is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. The ground is then scratched off with a needle where the artist can form lines, exposing bare metal which is then eaten away by the acid, resulting in a design etched by what else? Acid borders. Rembrandt used this method as well as another called dry pointing but was notable for being one of the first artists to use printmaking for original works of art. Rembrandt would do this in a number of ways. One very unique method called for using different colored papers and inks in capturing different tones and moods on each print. Another method was reworking copper plates so that part of an original image would become altered in design properties (such as color). With Rembrandt’s significant contribution to printmaking, the art practice continued to evolve to what it is today.

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