The earliest printmaking printmaking process, known as woodcut, appeared in China in the ninth century and made it’s way to Europe around the year 1400. Originally used for stamping designs on fabrics, textiles, or playing cards, it consists of carving an image in a wood block, covering the stamp with ink, and smoothing a sheet of paper over the image. Edvard Munch’s 1896 woodcut print Anxiety exemplifies the linear properties of woodcut. Because the etching itself appears as negative space, it can be difficult to create incredible detail, as Munch’s print shows.
Etching, from the intaglio family of printmaking, was developed in the early 16th century. Edward Hopper’s American Landscape from 1920 displays linear the linear aspects of this technique, like with woodcut. Etched prints are made with embossed metal plates, and thus allow for more detail than woodcut, as exemplified in Hopper’s print.
Lithography, invented in 1798 by German actor/writer Aloyes Senefelder, became widely used with color prints in the 1890s. Because it is one of the most direct print making mediums, it was a popular resource. Vija Clemins 1970 print, Untitled, demonstrates the strength in detail allowed by this medium, as the image is transferred directly from a drawing on limestone to a paper by lithographic press. Clemin’s print looks as if it could be a photograph because the process allows for such heightened detail.
Screenprinting, used most popularly during the 1930s by American artists, is a form of stenciling. Roy Lichtenstien uses this technique over a screen of Benday dots – a yellow brushstroke with black outlines – for his 1965 print, Brushstroke. The stencil work is evident and distinctive. Like woodcut, this medium creates defined positive and negative space; but it does allow for great detail if done delicately and repeatedly on one work. Lichtenstien’s print clearly exemplifies the freedom from linear mediums, such as woodcut and etching, that screenprinting allows – as well as its eye-catching nature.