“La promenade”, 1988
same print in color, 3 colors, 3 more blocks
One of my 1st woodcut, 1985
Playing with lines and color, 1985
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© Dominique Lecomte 2014

History of printing relief

Beginning

500 BC - 100 AD Relief printing techniques are first used by the Egyptians to print on fabric (les indiennes). A piece of wood is cut with a knife, and what is left of the drawing is inked and pressed on the fabric. To get more than one color, one has to cut as many woodblocks as there are different patterns. Stone is used by Chinese artists to make the seals they will use to sign their artworks, but generally speaking, only ethnic groups with no access to wood, like the Inuits, use this material. 100 -1300 In India, pictures and texts are cut on a same plank and then printed on paper (discovered around 100): it significantly promotes erudition under the Long dynasty (961-1279). These pictures and texts are then put together to make the 1st books: the older one known is called Sutra of Diamond (868)

Printing and relief printing

1300 - 1450 Crusaders bring back to Europe the secret of paper making and relief printing techniques: the 1st known woodcut is called Bois Protat (made around 1375/1400). Monks are the ones generally making images: inspired by piety, distributed by religious orders, they are intended to evangelize the populations. When pope Clement IV organizes the gifts of indulgences, the production of these images increases dramaticall “Le Nouveau Monde III”, 1997                                             “Bison couché”,  1999 Printmakers get their inspiration from stained-glass windows or paintings found in churches; the pictures come with a short text, first hand-written, then cut in the woodblock itself. Later, someone finds out that it is possible to glue the pieces of paper back to back and to bind them together in order to make books. Secular pictures like heroes of chivalry begin to appear around 1420, and each region has its own style 1450 - 1600 Gutemberg (1400-1468) makes the first printing machine: texts and pictures are separated and the prints illustrate the stories, but each print can also be seen as stand-alone. Some printmakers start to sign their artworks. Specialized craftsmen take care of each stage of the book-making - creation of the text, illustration, printing, and so on- Durer (1471-1528), Holbein (1497-1543), Cranach the Old (1472-1553) are from this period, and they not only use relief printing techniques, but also etching, mezzotints, and dry points to make prints which later will be be published together as books.      Two different uses of watercolor 1999, then 2000-ongoing 1600 - 1800 Relief printing is abandoned in favor of printing techniques on hollow metal allowing a larger edition of prints, and shades of gray or color imitating paintings. During this period, relief printing techniques are only used to produce popular pictures like Les Images d'Epinal (see article I wrote about them here) 1800 - 1900 Relief printing techniques make a come-back thanks to a new method called wood engraving: it is now possible to make pictures as detailed as the ones made on metal, and these pictures will very often be used in romantic vignettes and documentary plates (especially for encyclopedia) After 1900 Quicker methods like serigraphy, photogravure, offset, again replace relief printing techniques in the printing industry, and printmakers' workshops disappear. Relief printing techniques are only used by artists as a way to express themselves using the specific characteristics of these techniques. Relief printing and artists 2 periods: 16th century with Durer, Cranach, and so on, as a way to imitate paintings. 19th century until now: it starts with an interest for primitive arts, then go to Expressionist movements and the discovery of Japanese prints. Relief printing is a way to express strong feelings and become an art by itself, sometimes preferred to painting. Here is a list of artists that mainly or partly used these techniques: Gaughin, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Vlaminck, Matisse, Dufy, Munch, Kirchner, Schmitt, Rottluf, Nolde, Aleckinsky, Dix, Klee, Arp, Chagall, Miro, Picasso...
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