An educational resource based on the holdings of HKOP, covering the various techniques in Relief printing, Intaglio, Planography, Screenprint and Others.
In relief printing, the printmaker uses an engraving knife to remove unwanted parts of the matrix. This leaves a raised area, which is then covered with ink or pigment, and should leave an image when pressed or rubbed onto paper.
Woodcut is one of the oldest techniques of relief printmaking. In the early 1930s, Lu Xun initiated the New Woodcut Movement, which advocated the use of woodcut prints to awaken the nation to the suffering of its people. In the following two decades, many Chinese artists from the south came to Hong Kong and used this type of printmaking in a high contrast black and white style to highlight the harsh difficulties faced by the lower classes. Printmakers also made use of the textures in wood grain to create unique textures in their work.
Linocut is a type of relief printmaking that uses the material of linoleum for the matrix. It is a popular printmaking method as linoleum can be cheaply produced at large sizes. The material of linoleum is softer than woodblock, which therefore allows for smoother and neater engraving lines.
The technique of water-based woodcut printing developed from traditional woodblock printing, which aimed to create accurate reproductions of original work. In 2006, it was listed as one of China’s national intangible cultural heritages. The Rong Bao Zhai in Beijing, which is an old stationery, calligraphy and painting shop, is famous for its woodblock-printed reproductions of Chinese paintings, calligraphy, and memoirs. In Japan, woodblock printing is called mokuhanga, where “moku” means wood and “hanga” means printmaking. In recent years, many young artists have taken a liking to this technique. They use wood, water, pigment, and rice or washi paper to create prints with delicate colours.
At the mention of ukiyo-e, it is likely that Katsushika Hokusai’s famous work The Great Wave off Kanagawa comes to mind. In Japanese, the word “ukiyo” is what Buddhists refer to as “the living world,” and “e” means painting. Therefore ukiyo-e can be taken to mean “paintings of the living world.”
Ukiyo-e is usually produced by a team of craftsmen. Each craftsman is responsible for one specific part of the process. The team includes an artist (eshi) who designs the original image, the carver (horishi) who carves the image into the wood panel, the printing artist (surishi) who prints the print, and the publisher (hanmoto) who distributes the work.
The tradition of ukiyo-e has been likened to an encyclopaedia as it recorded what life was like for common people in the Edo period. Despite its humble beginnings, ukiyo-e was strongly influential in the 19th century Western European art world (japonisme), and even in the later in the Art Nouveau movement.
Frottage, as a method of relief printing, is believed to have originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty, earlier than woodblock printing. It was used in ancient times as a method to preserve or spread the knowledge contained in carved stone texts or images.
The method of frottage is very simple: first lay a piece of strong paper on the object to be copied, and then press or rub it onto the object’s texture, which should transfer onto the paper.
In 1926, German painter Max Ernst published a book called Natural History, which used textures from wooden floors, wire mesh, and bread crumbs, etc., as well as different extra details to create landscapes and creatures of strange forms. Ernst called this process “frottage,” which is the French word for “rubbing,” and saw it as a technique that represented surrealism.