Printmaking 101 :: A History Lesson

Cylinder Seal (via)

Printmaking did not start out as an art form; rather, it was a form of communication. The earliest printmakers worked in caves, engraving images on stone and using pulverized pigment around the carvings to create prints. It was in 500 BC that the Sumerians created cylinders with carved images (cylinder seal) that could be rolled on wet clay. These were used to claim ownership of goods. And around 200 AD, the Chinese created rubbings from carved texts.

Chinese Rubbing, fifth century (via)

It was with the invention of paper (1151 in Spain) that printmaking began to be more widespread and sophisticated. The Japanese used printmaking to make multiples of Buddhist manuscripts in the eighth century. During the fourteenth century, woodcut prints were used to distribute Christian images to common people, and in the fifteenth century, Gutenberg printed the bible, which began a new era of literacy. 

Gutenberg Bible (via)

Beginning with the Renaissance, individual artists became known for printmaking. From this time onward, printmakers developed new techniques, and as the processes became more complex, artists began to study in workshops under master printmakers. Today, artists continue to use their hands and time-honored printmaking techniques to create images that can be made in multiples. 

Landscape with a Cow c.1650, original etching by Rembrandt (via)

Oh my! I have to tell you that once I started digging into the history of printmaking, I was afraid there was no possible way to simply introduce it to you. I hope this post gives you a short glimpse into its history and promise to introduce many more of history's printmakers as I introduce the different types of printmaking. Tomorrow I'll be back with a fun project designed to get ink on your fingers. I thought it would be fun to follow up each week with fun and simple projects.

Sources: Highpoint Center for Printmaking, The Complete Printmaker, Printmaking: History and Process