Rolling with it – Printmaking 101

Carve. Ink. Roll. Repeat! The method of printmaking is one satisfying process. Don’t believe us, keep rolling (or scrolling). Printmaking has been around for centuries and involves transferring an image or creation from one surface to another, according to The Met. The opportunities are endless and many artists dabble in carving, etching or engraving to create their desired works of art. Let’s take a deeper dive into printmaking 101.

How does it work?
An artist will draw a design which will then be traced onto a matrix. A matrix is a physical surface that can be manipulated to hold ink, like a wood block or metal sheet. The whole process acts similar to a stamp! That said, your design once pressed onto a new surface will appear as a mirror of your current matrix appearance. Pro tip: always remember to sketch a negative of your design!

After your image is drawn, it’s time to start carving, molding or engraving the design, utilizing the appropriate tools. Keep in mind, all of the raised surfaces will be the inked parts of your design and the lower “valleys” will remain blank on the final print. Once your design is ready to be transferred, it’s time to ink up. You want to make sure you are rolling an even amount of ink across your matrix.

Now, it’s time for the printing press, which allows for even, controlled pressure and ink distribution. You will place the inked matrix face up and place your desired material, usually paper or fabric, on top of that. From there, it is time to start rolling, and voila!

What is steamroller printmaking?
The printmaking process steps it up a notch when it adds heavy machinery to the mix, specifically a steamroller! Yes, the very same equipment used in road construction and on airfields can be used for art. The process works the same as other printmaking projects but allows artists to work on a larger scale. RMCAD’s annual steamroller event with Mo’Print (Month of Printmaking) provides students, faculty/staff and even the general public an opportunity to experience, witness and participate in steamroller art firsthand.

All participants are tasked with carving an MDF or wood board that is ¾” thick, between 3’ x 3’ to 3’ x 8’ in size. Carving a piece that large requires a lot of preplanning and many hours for concept and creation. According to Associate Professor Alicia McKim, the project can take approximately 40 hours to complete. To get a closer look at the intricate designs created for this year’s event, take a look at the images below or plan to visit RMCAD’s Cone Zone Printmaking Exhibit, happening April 22 – May 27, 2022.

If you are interested in learning more about printmaking and want to start perfecting your craft, check out our Fine Arts major at RMCAD!

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