Review: Original Fine Art Prints: Part Two

Review: Original Fine Art Prints: Part Two

Last October, David Maskill gave a talk to many Friends on Fine Art Prints, focusing on the earliest printmaking techniques – woodcut, engraving and etching. In part two, he focused on later printmaking techniques – drypoint, aquatint, mezzotint, wood engraving, linocut and lithography, illustrated with a selection of works from his collection.

In drypoint, the artist uses a stylus to make a line and removes tiny filaments of copper either side of the line (a burr). When the work is printed this burr creates a soft slightly fuzzy effect. The downside of the drypoint technique is that not many copies can be made before the burr is flattened.

Mezzotint: Unlike the techniques discussed before, which are processes involving line and contour, mezzotint is tonal – that is, it has ranges of white and black. It was invented in seventeenth century Germany and became particularly popular in England. On a plate, a tool called a ‘rocker’ (like a chisel with fine teeth) is used to make tiny dots over the entire surface. Then, the areas the artist wants to print lighter need to be burnished or smoothed – it is a difficult process where the artist has to anticipate the effect they want. Only about 200 prints can be made. Mezzotint became popular again in the twentieth century, and in New Zealand, one of the best exponents of it was John Drawbridge (1930-2005).

Aquatint is another tonal technique, which as a process has nothing to do with water. A plate is covered with resin, which an artist then scrapes away the areas they want to print. The plate is put into an acid bath which eats away the worked areas and leaves the rest, creating a type of wash effect useful for reproducing drawings or watercolours.

Wood engraving was invented to serve the book industry – the prints tend to be small as it uses the end grain of a typically hard wood like box. New Zealand artist Mervyn Taylor (1906-1964) was a master of this process.

Linocut technique developed after linoleum as a floor covering was invented in the nineteenth century; it became particularly popular in the 1920s. Lines are carved into the linoleum as with wood cutting.

Finally, lithography doesn’t involve a metal plate, wood or cutting and scraping. It is traditionally done on a piece of limestone and uses the principle of water and grease repelling. Using a greasy substance such as a wax crayon or ink the artists draws on the stone. The stone is first covered with water, then ink – which adheres to the crayon or ink used in the drawing, but is repelled by the water from other areas. A limitless number of prints can be made.

We had the opportunity to observe closely a selection of prints David had brought along.

David Maskill is an art historian, formerly of Victoria University of Wellington, with a particular interest in the history of original prints. In 2021, he founded Mariette Prints, a dealership specialising in fine art prints.


Vivienne Morrell, member.