Traveling the Path of Printmaking

Traveling the Path of Printmaking

By Angelo V. Magno

When I was in grade school, our teacher used to give us half a piece of potato to carve on the flat side any shape we wished using a spoon or a plastic knife. We dipped the carved part on a sponge soaked with food coloring and stamped the potato on a colored paper. The result was unpredictable and spontaneous. Nevertheless, what came out on the colored paper was considered a sort of simple treasure. Something to be kept for posterity- a piece of art I can never duplicate. Mom would pinch me on the cheek and tell me that I was such an artist. This was my first encounter with printmaking. Little did I know, this simple kiddie art activity would be my first fond memory of printmaking. In college, I pursued fine arts where you can encounter people using the simplest of mediums in creating amazing visual works. It was really inspiring. One lady caught my attention. Using dried leaves and mundane objects, she was able to create interesting colorful compositions by inking them and pressing them on paper. It was not as naive as the potato stamps that I used to make as a child. It was very skillful. She became my teacher and friend. This was my second encounter with this art form called printmaking. Now I am taking my time to learn this art form. Some say it’s a vocation, a sort of calling. More than a process, it will lead you to a journey more spiritual in nature.

Printmaking is not only based on skill or how good one can render or draw, one also needs a lot of patience and perseverance to be called a “printmaker”. The process is very meticulous, almost meditative. Through this art form, I was able to meet prominent and respected artists in the Philippines. They say that most artists will delve into printmaking in their lifetime but only a few will remain as printmakers. “Many are called but few are chosen” as they usually say. Among the “chosen few” who pursued the less travelled path of printmaking are Manuel Rodriguez, Sr, Virgilio “Pandy” Aviado, Manuel Rodriguez, Sr., Bencab, Raul Isidro, Benjie Torrado Cabrera, Fil Delacruz, Brenda Fajardo, Ambie Abaňo and Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi . Although few , these noted artists certainly enriched Philippine art by integrating this art form with their various artistic pursuits.

In printmaking, you find your own “calling”. Each printmaker chooses his specific process, creating his own mark in the field . Fil Delacruz had made his mark creating sensuous women in lithograph while Benjie Torrado Cabrera creates organic abstractions in engraving. Fulfillment comes to those who explore the various process of printmaking. One can compare this to a spiritual journey where you can find enlightenment. Even though diverse in their chosen paths, printmakers have a strong bond with each other. Printmakers have established humble organizations here and abroad.

One organization continues to propagate and uphold the tradition of printmaking in the country -The Philippine Association of Printmakers. In its almost 50 years of existence, it continues to educate people from all walks of life by holding workshops and exhibitions of multiple originals to promote the art form and subsequently to democratize art. It was founded in 1968 through the pioneering efforts of Manuel Rodriguez, Sr., along with Adiel Arevalo and other printmakers he mentored. For decades, the association has devoted itself to promote printmaking and bring art to the people. As one printmaker would put it, “to the printmaker, the vocation is art, the discipline is the art form, and the mission is bringing art to the world”. The PAP, as it is fondly called, with the help of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, now permanently holds its studio at the back of the Folk Arts Theater. In 2001, it was conferred with the Dangal ng Haraya Lifetime Achievement Award for Cultural Promotions by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Beyond the various processes, printmaking is an art form- a medium for self- expression. The possibilities of utilizing printmaking are endless. In contemporary art practice, printmakers like Pandy Aviado , Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, and Benjie Torrado Cabrera have further extended printmaking in sculptural and installation works using wood, plexiglass and found objects. Ambie Abaňo, Ling Quisumbing and Joey Cobcobo utilize relief printing on handmade paper and three dimensional surfaces. It is very important to be familiar with the different printmaking processes in order to explore the various possibilities of creating prints.

Printmaking is a unique art form in that it involves the process of transferring images from a prepared matrix onto the final material Perhaps many of us have heard of printmaking but are not aware of its process and elements. ground, commonly, but not limited to paper. In woodcut for instance, an artist makes a drawing on a piece of woodblock and by cutting out the background he separates the printing and non-printing areas. He then applies ink using a hand held rubber roller and transfers the image onto paper by applying pressure through simple rubbing – pretty much like rubber stamping. Since the matrix (the cut woodblock) is permanent, the process can be repeated allowing the possibility of creating multiple originals and variation prints!

Each print is considered an original art form because it is done completely by hand. With multiple originals, an artwork can have farther reach. It can be exhibited at various places at the same time and more people can acquire it at the same time. Because it is done in editions, prints are very affordable compared to other art mediums. Truly, it is people friendly – a very democratic art form! To someone who is starting an art collection, it is best to start with original fine prints.

Through printmaking, I have met my closest peers, one thing I am very thankful for. Although a less traveled artistic path, printmaking also has its personal merits. To a printmaker, each print he or she produces is unique in its kind. Even a limited edition holds nuances in each print. Just like twin siblings have unique characteristics, so does each and every print. The result is always unpredictable. As a grown-up, still I remember my first memory of printmaking as a child. Even today when I attempt to create rubbercut prints, I am still thrilled with the results. As Pablo Picasso puts it, “ Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up”. Perhaps one of the magic of printmaking is that you never really grow out of it but you grow old with it. In life we search for our true calling. Perhaps I am still searching for my personal direction. I am happy I took this path to printmaking. Beyond the art works and the camaraderie, the personal realizations I have gained are priceless.

Going into a more technical understanding of the art form here are the four basic printing processes:

In relief printing, ink is applied on the surface of the matrix which is transferred on the final ground. For instance, in woodcut and rubbercut the design is drawn on a piece of wood or rubber. The background or non printing area is cut away with a carving tool. The matrix is then applied with ink using a roller and pressed on the paper, fabric or other surfaces. Designs produced in this process are usually very bold, and raw. . All you need is your ink, your roller and usually a spatula for rubbing and transferring the image from the matrix to the paper .

In the intaglio process , scratches and incisions are made into into a plate or matrix. The plate is usually made of copper, zinc or an acrylic sheet, which holds the ink or pigment. The artist pushes ink with a squeegee onto the entire plate and wipes off excess ink on the surface leaving the ink only in the incised lines. A damp sheet of paper is placed on top of the plate and the plate is run through the etching press, which pushes the paper into the groves, lifting the ink out of the groves. Drypoint, etching, engraving, mezzotint and aquatint are some techniques under intaglio process. In contrast to the relief method, the images produced in etching are more fluid and spontaneous.

The Planographic technique pertains to lithography. It is based on the principle that oil and water repel each other, and limestones are naturally attracted to oil. In hand-made lithographs, the artist draws or paints directly onto the limestone with a greasy lithographic pencil or touche. It is then treated with acid accordingly and the ink adheres only on the drawn areas when rolled on. Soft lines and varied tones are achieved from lithographs.

Serigraphy is also known as the silkscreen process – a method also used in shirt printing. In contemporary silk screen, artists use screens made of a fine nylon or polyester mesh. Selected areas of the screen are blocked out by screen fillers or paper stencils, and the ink is prevented from penetrating through the mesh to the paper or textile underneath. Serigraphy is most favored by artists who use a qualities of color in their works.