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Alongside the advent of printing and paper technologies, printmaking history is also traced back to Asia - specifically China. And like those technologies, illustration processes evolved towards greater efficiency and mass production. The four main categories of printmaking are relief, intaglio, planographic, and screenprinting or stencil.
In relief printing, the surface of the block is inked, whereas in intaglio printing, the ink is drawn into the incised areas and the surface is wiped clean. Both transfer the ink directly onto the paper but in opposite ways, like a photo and its negative. The earliest printed books featured woodcuts, a simple relief printing technique introduced in Europe at the start of the 15th century. The image is carved along the grain of the wood, allowing for greater ease in cutting, but rendering the block susceptible to splintering and breaking. Peter Apian’s Cosmographia, a 16th century treatise on astronomy and navigation, features ornate movable woodcut diagrams called volvelles that allowed users to make calculations. 16th century Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi assembled one of the most extensive cabinets of curiosities in Europe, to which his encyclopedic 13-volume natural history set served as a catalogue raisonné. The volume shown here focuses on quadrupeds, or four-legged beasts, and includes fantastic woodcuts of both observed and alleged creatures alike.
Thomas Bewick innovated wood engraving, another relief technique that uses fine metal engraving tools on the harder end grain of the wood, allowing for more detail, precision and durability. The illustrations are necessarily smaller as a result - so small that at times, a magnifying glass is needed to examine them. Bewick is best known for his British bird illustrations which have been reprinted profusely. His flawless style has been mimicked for decades; thousands of copies of books have sold by simply printing "in the style of Bewick" on their title pages.
Intaglio printing techniques include line engraving on metal, etching, drypoint, aquatint and mezzotint. Copperplate engraving was especially popular in book illustration beginning in the 15th century and until steel plates emerged in the 19th century. The Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, is a massive 28-volume set that was published between 1751-1772, with additional volumes contributed later by Charles-Joseph Panckoucke. The original volumes contain over 71,000 articles and over 3,000 illustrations from copperplate engravings. Publication was intermittently banned as heretical, but the support of secular authorities and the inevitability of the Enlightenment enabled the work to endure.
Planographic printing is done on a flat surface, where variations in printing mediums and the surface’s absorbency enable the creation of an image. Lithography is the best known planographic technique, based on the idea that oil and water don’t mix. Lithographs are printed from limestone or other surfaces, with areas either greased or etched and moistened to repel or attract oil-based inks. Greed, published by the Janus Press, is illustrated with black and white lithographs created by its founder, Clare Van Vliet. Printed in a limited edition of 150 copies, the accordion book explores the greed and corruption that evolved out of Reagan-era economics, and more immediately, the arrival of wind developers in the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont.
Screenprinting, pochoir and other forms of stenciling involve blocking out the non-printing areas of a surface, usually some form of mesh, paper, plastic, wood or metal, while passing paint or ink through where the image is desired. The concept has been discovered in art dating as far back as prehistoric Asia and Europe, but gained popularity as a method of book illustration in the early 20th century. California-based artist Art Hazelwood created this accordion-fold artist’s book to accompany Berkeley poet Arnie Passman’s text about “a self-conscious Dollar, aware of its own dark past and uncertain future.” The screen-printed illustrations include a pull-tab cover image of a dollar devouring everything in its path.