“The joy of it is simply pulling it off the press,” Mary Ann Gerwing said when asked why she chose printmaking as an art form. “It’s the great reveal.”
What she means is you never know exactly what’s going to emerge in the transition from artist’s vision, to plate or stencil, to print on paper. Despite painstaking preparation there’s always an element of suspense and surprise.
Printmaking, which can trace its origins all the way back to the Gutenberg presses of the mid-15th Century, is enjoying increasing popularity today. But most people aren’t familiar with the processes artists use in what is one of the most technically demanding visual art forms.
There are four types of printmaking: relief, when the ink transferred onto the paper medium from areas raised above the surface of the plate; intaglio, when ink is transferred from areas etched or carved into the plate; planographic, where the art is prepared on a flat surface for transfer; and stencilled, where the work is transferred by spraying or painting through a prepared screen or template.
But there’s a variety of techniques that can be applied within those main categories. Gerwing described linocuts, where a sheet of linoleum, carved with knives and chisels, becomes the relief foundation. Then there’s etching, where copper plates coated in wax designs are soaked in an acid bath, leaving an intaglio imprint on the metal. One of her favourite methods is the monotype, which results in a single, multicoloured planographic image.
For most art lovers, it’s the results that are appreciated; the methods remain a vaguely understood mystery. Gerwing herself became fascinated with printmaking about ten years ago, after working in watercolours, acrylics and other media. It was a whole new world. “Suddenly you are having to work with a press, and you have to learn how a press itself operates,” she said.
You also have to learn the properties of paper and ink. A single sheet can pass through the press 15 or more times, as the artist layers on shapes and colours. “The inks, and the colour mixing of inks are very important,” she said. One of the highest compliments she can imagine is for a viewer to say of her art, “Gee, I wonder how she got that colour. If I ever hear that, I will be really happy.”
Gerwing’s Printmaker show will be featured at the Rainforest Arts gallery from June 28 to September 3. She will hold a meet-and-greet July 9 from noon to 3pm. Rainforest Arts is located at 9781 Willow Street in Chemainus, hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 4pm. Visit RainforestArts.ca for more information.