Works on Paper in the Collection
Paper is considered one of the most important inventions ever, helping to document and preserve information for thousands of years. The first creation of paper was documented in China during the Eastern Han period (25-220CE). It was made from pulp in paper mills similar to the process of how paper is made today. From its early creation, paper quickly became used as an artistic medium.
Work on paper is a broad phrase that indicates any artwork that uses paper as its main substrate. The term refers to all artworks that are created on paper as a medium, whether the paper is drawn on with pastels, pencils, ink or charcoal. Works on paper also include prints and collage. The GVSU Art Gallery collection is home to a wide range of works of art on paper, many of which are part of the general collection and are installed throughout our GVSU campus buildings. Additionally, over 3,000 works of art on paper are housed in our Print and Drawing Cabinet, a special sub-collection of artwork begun in 2001 with a donation from English-born, Dutch artist Cyril Lixenberg. This first gift included every print produced by Lixenberg over the course of his 40-year career.
ON THIS PAGE
- Linocut / Linoleum
- Lithographs and Chromolithographs
- Chine Collé
Illustrations and Drawings
Humans have always been interested in image making, in fact the earliest images, cave paintings, date back as far as 10,000BC. In the Middle Ages, narrative illustrations appeared in illuminated manuscripts. The Italian Renaissance (1300-1600) witnessed the invention of the printing press, which allowed for new mass-produced sheet music, literature, art, and publications full of illustrations and designs. At the same time, drawing became the foundation for artistic practices as patrons looked to artists for highly skilled drawings and sketches of their commissioned paintings, sculptures, and architectural buildings.
Beginning in the Industrial Revolution, the profession of illustrator became more accessible as books, newspapers, magazines, posters, and other mass-produced works on paper became part of our daily lives. While utilitarian illustrated images surround us on a daily basis, the work of renowned artists like Edgar Degas helped make drawing a respected form of fine art.
The GVSU collection of drawings includes a number of different mediums, including graphite, pastel, charcoal and ink as well as a number of different forms of illustrations like digital prints and collage.
Graphite has been a common drawing tool in Europe since the 16th century, but its use became more widespread during the late 18th century. The mineral graphite is a crystalline form of the element carbon, which occurs naturally in different rock formations. In early uses, it was cut into sticks and wrapped in twine or a porte-crayon, a tool designed to hold small pieces of chalk or charcoal. Nicolas-Jacques Conté later invented pencils, a word derived from the Latin word for brush, which were fabricated from clay or wood and lower-quality graphite. Today’s pencils are very similar but come in diverse qualities that help artists control both the texture and tonal value of a drawn line.
Charcoal, as a tool for drawing, was traditionally made from thin peeled willow twigs, which were heated without the presence of oxygen. This created black, crumbly sticks. Today, a processed version called compressed charcoal comes in a pencil-like form. Charcoal is known for its ability to create a dark, dense line when drawn with pressure, but also to diffuse and smudge to create shadows and textures. One of the first artists to utilize charcoal as a primary medium was Albrecht Durer who created charcoal portraits.
Pastels have been used by artists since the Renaissance but gained popularity in the 18th century when artists like Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt began to use pastels as one of their primary mediums. Pastels usually come in the form of a stick consisting of a powdered pigment and a binder. While sometimes called pastel painting because of its use of a binding agent, the color effect and techniques used with pastels are closer to that of dry pigments like charcoal and graphite. Unlike paint which can be mixed before application to the surface, pastels must be blended and layered directly on the paper. The line quality a pastel creates depends on the type of binder used. For example, oil pastels have a softer consistency but are more difficult to blend than chalk pastels that have a higher portion of pigment and less binder. The application technique, type of pastel, and texture of the paper can all drastically change how a pastel looks once applied to the paper.
Pen and Ink
Ink, a water-based media made from plant and mineral colorants, has been used to create drawings dating back to early civilizations like ancient Greece and early Chinese dynasties. One of the oldest known ink drawings is an image of the abduction of Briseis on papyrus from Greece. However, it was the Chinese who really developed ink art starting in the Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.C.E.) and continuing through the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.C.E.), specializing in calligraphy and painting. Brush pens were made from animal hair and black inks created from pine soot and glue. Pen and ink illustrations also developed in Western imagery, often found within illuminated manuscripts. Cut, hallowed feathers or reeds were used to apply the ink. Still today, ink is most commonly made of carbon and binders, and used with brushes, pens or quills, while more modern inventions of steel nibs, fountain and felt tip pens have allowed artists to achieve different effects and colors.
Unlike some forms of paint that cannot be mixed together, many common media used on paper, like ink and graphite, can be combined to create one image. Some types of paint, like gouache and watercolor, can also be used and combined with other mediums on paper to create more distinct lines and layers within the image.
Collage is both an art technique as well as a name for the resulting work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric, and other ephemera are arranged and stuck to a supporting background. The arranged images are often cut, torn or otherwise taken from ready-made materials like magazine pages, newspapers or book but can also be sections of colored or painted paper or fabric. While a common technique for decorators and hobbyists alike for decades, Cubists George Braque and Pablo Picasso incorporated bits of newspaper and wallpaper into their paintings, bringing the technique into the fine-art world. Collage later became a dominant technique in the Dada, Surrealist, Pop Art, and New-Dada art movements. Since collage often incorporates mass-produced images, it can easily become a mode of powerful social commentary.
A digital illustration, or computer illustration, is the use of digital tools to create art directly from the artist’s hand through a program that translates the movement on the artist's screen. As other artists use pencils or paintbrushes to create on their substrate, digital illustrators use their mouse, or stylus pencil on a tablet to create images. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator along with other computer programs often include tools like digital palettes, pen textures, and color wheels to assist the artist. Digital programs also allow for layering and manipulation of different types of mediums. Illustrators may draw or paint images on paper and then scan them, converting them into digital images before enhancing their work with other digital techniques, or layer in digital other digital images or photographs.
Printmaking is a form of art that involves transferring images from a matrix, like wood, glass, or metal, onto another surface, like paper or fabric. The printmaker first creates the image on the matrix using tools or chemicals on the surface, then applies ink before pressing the paper onto the matrix, often using a printing press. In most cases, this printed image can be duplicated many times from the same matrix, creating editions of the same image.
Historically, the process of duplicating images can be traced back to the Sumerians who engraved designs and cuneiform inscriptions on cylinder seals in 3000 B.C.E.. These cylinders were then pressed into soft clay tablets, which left relief impressions. This process eventually aided in the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Early examples of printmaking can also be found in Han Dynasty China. The earliest known example is a woodcut print on silk, dated between 206 B.C. E. and 220 A.C.E..
Soon after its invention, printmaking became a popular form of art as it allowed images and text to be reproduced quickly and inexpensively. Printmaking allowed for quick dissemination of information through mass-produced items like posters, books, maps, and religious illustrations. While printmaking served many practical purposes, artists utilized printmaking techniques to create series of prints, offering more affordable options to their patrons.
Presently, there are two main categories of printmaking, relief and intaglio. They differ in the way the matrix is treated and how the ink is applied to create the image. Relief prints require a process of carving into the surface of the matrix, leaving grooves in the matrix absent of ink after application. In printing with the relief process, the transferred image comes from the raised areas of the matrix.
Woodcut prints are a type of relief print where the printmaker uses tools to carve into wood, cutting away the parts that will not receive ink. The raised areas then retain the ink and transfer the image to the paper. In Western traditions, the ink is applied with a brayer, a type of handheld roller.
Woodcuts are considered the earliest printmaking technique, with examples found on patterned cloth as early as 5th century China. Woodcut prints soon developed in Japan as well. The technique has a particular significance in Japan where a distinct aesthetic called uikiyo-e developed. These prints tell stories of the culture, Japanese landscapes, sumo wrestlers, and other scenes from folk history. The same carving techniques are used, but ink is primarily water-based and applied with a brush. Japanese prints of this style are often referred to as woodblock prints rather than woodcut prints to designate these differences.
Linotype / Linoleum
Linocut, or linoleum print, is another type of relief printmaking. The same carving techniques are used as in woodcut prints, but the image is carved into a sheet of linoleum instead of wood. Linoleum was invented by Frederick Walton in the United Kingdom in the mid-1800s as a new flooring material. It is a softer material than wood, making it easier to cut into, and keeps its shape allowing for precise lines or grooves that repel the ink in relief prints. Ink is applied to the final raised areas with a brayer and then printed onto the paper either by hand or with a printing press.
The second category of printmaking is intaglio. Originating in Italy, intaglio refers to prints made from plates in which the areas that hold the ink are recessed below the surface of the plate. The method of creating the recessed areas differs with each technique, but once the image is completed on the plate, ink is applied to the surface and the artist forces the ink into the recessed image, wiping away excess ink. The plate is placed on the bed of a printing press and dampened paper is placed over the plate. The dampness allows the paper fibers to expand and become more porous to accept the ink in greater detail. Blotters and felt cushioning are placed over the damp paper, and everything is rolled through the press. The pressure of the printmaking press forces the paper down into the grooves of the plate where it collects the ink. Engraving, etching, mezzotint and collagraphy are all different types of intaglio style prints. As different intaglio methods developed, the medium became used more for its reproduction value. Historically, it was used to produce religious imagery, maps, playing cards, portraits as well as the printing of books and newspapers.
The intaglio process of engraving was developed in the 15th century by German goldsmiths decorating metalwork. From this grew the engraving of metal plates to produce prints on paper. Engraving is the process of incising a design into a hard surface, like a sheet of copper, by cutting grooves with a burin or graver; sharp hardened steel tools that can etch or cut metal by applying pressure. Today, several pneumatic and rotary tools can be used, creating different types of lines and textures. Engravings are often identified by their smooth, crisp appearance with very few grey tones. Once images have been engraved on the surface, ink is then applied and excess is wiped off, forcing the ink into the engraved crevices. In most cases, pressure from a printing press is required to force the paper into the cut lines.
Also an intaglio method of printmaking, etching differs from engraving because of the use of acid to etch the design into the matrix. A metal plate, usually copper, zinc, or steel, is covered with a wax or acrylic ground that will resist the acid later applied to the plate. The printmaker draws through the ground with an etching needle, exposing the metal plate. The plate is then dipped into an acid bath or etchant. The acid reacts with the exposed metal, leaving behind the image etched into the plate. The ground is then cleaned from the plate and the printing continues with the same process as other engravings.
Etchings became more popular than engravings as it required less laborious metalworking, and the process was easier to learn. Depending on the drawing, lines are not as precise as an engraving, but more black, white, and grey tones are possible with the etching process.
Drypoint is an intaglio printmaking technique where an image is scratched into a plate with a hard pointed “needle” of sharp metal or diamond point. Drypoint is very similar to engraving but differs with the type of tool and technique used to incise the image into the plate. Like etching, drypoint is an easier skill to master as the needle tool is more like using a pencil than engraving tools.
While traditional etchings can produce some grey tones, both etchings and engravings more commonly produce only black and white tones. Artists began creating multiple plates to create images with color or images with more depth through varying shades of grey. Mezzotints, meaning "half tone," is a variant of engraving that requires the printmaker to work from dark to light tones in the creation of the image. The surface of the copper plate is roughened with a tool called a rocker, then the image is formed by smoothing the surface with a burnisher. When inked, the rougher areas of the plate hold more ink than the smooth areas, creating darker tones with more ink.
The process of creating an aquatint is like an etching in that it involves the application of an acid to make marks in a metal plate. First, a fine rosin powder is applied to a warm metal plate. Then areas of the plate are painted with a ground or varnish that will stop the acid from effecting the metal, giving the printmaker more control. When placed in the acid bath, the surface of the metal becomes more textured. The more texture, the more ink the plate will hold, the less texture, the lighter the resulting color will be.
Photogravure is a process for printing photographs in the form of intaglio printmaking. The process follows that of the aquatint closely, starting by covering a chemically prepared copper plate with resin and heating it to create an ink resistant surface. The plate is then coated with a light sensitive gelatin tissue which has been exposed to a film positive before being etched in multiple acid baths. These plates can reproduce the detailed continuous tones of the photograph, but with ink on paper. Two pioneers within photography history, Nicéphore Niépce from France and Henry Fox Talbot of England developed this process in the 1820s while looking for a way to create photographic images that could be etched with a traditional printing press. Photogravure was often used for creating fine art prints of original artwork since it could create high quality and rich images.
Lithograph and Chromolithograph
Lithography is a printmaking technique invented in 1798 by Alois Senefelder based on the chemical repulsion of grease and water. A lithograph is created by drawing an image directly onto a flat stone, usually limestone, using a litho crayon or specialized greasy pencil. When the drawing is complete, the surface of the stone is treated with a chemical etch that bonds the greasy drawing materials to the surface. After this process, water is applied to the stone so the blank areas attract moisture to the plate and repel the lithographic ink, while the drawn-on areas will hold the ink. Paper is placed on top of the image before it is sent through a litho press. Chromolithography follows a similar process but allows for multi-color prints.
Screenprint / Serigraph / Silkscreen
Screen printing, also known as silkscreen or serigraphy, is a printmaking technique that uses a mesh to transfer ink onto paper except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. Silk or synthetic mesh is first pulled tight onto a frame. There are then several ways to create the blocking stencil on the mesh including blocking glues, acetate, and ultra-violet light sensitive emulsions. Once the stencil has been created, the screen is placed on top of the substrate and ink is squeegeed across the mesh, going through the non-blocked portions of the stencil. This technique became popular in the mass-produced market since it can be a used on several different substrates, like fabric, paper, and plastic, and can easily become an automated process done my machines.
Chine collé is a printmaking technique in which the image is printed onto a thin paper or tissue, such as rice paper or Japanese paper, that is attached to a thicker base paper. The thinner paper offers a background color to the image and pulls finer details from the plate. Usually, the thinner paper is first attached to the heavier paper using wheat paste and then run through the printing press.
A monotype is a print, however, due to the unique way in which it is made, the result cannot be reproduced exactly. To make a monotype, the printmaker applies paint or ink directly onto a smooth, non-absorbent surface, usually metal, glass or plexiglass, or gelatin. The paint-covered plate is pressed against the paper to transfer the ink. The monotype process allows for lots of experimentation and variation. Pigments can be layered, pressure can be varied, or items placed between the plate and paper to create masks or shadows. Other techniques include covering the entire plate with paint or ink, then removing it with brushes or rags to create a subtractive image.
Collagraphy is a printmaking process created by Glen Alps in 1955 in which materials are applied to a rigid material, like paperboard or wood, then inked with a roller or paintbrush and pressed by hand or with a printing press. Any number of materials can be added to the block. Different materials, like fabric, bubble wrap, leaves, threads, and wallpaper, hold different amounts of ink, resulting in both different textures and varying shades.
Art on Campus
For more information about the artwork selection and installation process at the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health or other buildings on campus, please contact Art Gallery Project Manager, Alison Christensen; [email protected].
University Art Collection
For questions related to any artwork in the University Art Collection, in storage or on view, please contact our Collections Manager, Nicole Webb; [email protected].
For questions about integrating artwork into curriculum, please contact our UX/Learning Manager, Amanda Rainey; [email protected].