Original Prints

Original Prints

Throughout history mankind has demonstrated an irresistible urge to engage with 'art'. From Stone Age engravings to Neolithic stenciling, to early 1st millennium B.C. Japanese screen printing, right up to 21st century digital printing, the various forms of printmaking reflect an insatiable appetite for creativity.

We have a wide selection of oils, watercolours and mixed media paintings at our gallery in Great Dunmow, many of which you can see on this website, but we also have a particular passion for original prints.

What exactly is an 'original print'? It is very difficult to arrive at a universally acceptable, enduring definition but a starting point, generally agreed upon, is that the artist has created an original image which they then transfer onto paper using one or more processes. Each resulting print will normally be signed and numbered by the artist, usually in pencil - 16/21, for example, denoting print number 16 from an edition of 21. Extra, signed prints which are not part of the numbered edition may be sold as "Artist's Proofs" - commonly marked AP and not normally exceeding 10% of the numbered edition.

Original prints can be divided into various categories:

Relief Prints - also called surface or block prints - includes linocuts, woodcuts, wood-engravings and collagraphs.

This technique usually involves cutting away areas from a 'base' or 'block' to make them lower than the surrounding surface and therefore unable to pick up ink during the printing process, which is done by using a press or applying pressure by hand - 'hand burnishing'.

Original Print   Penny Berry Patterson - New Furrows (linocut)

Original Print   Robert Gillmor - Poppycock (linocut)

Characteristically a relief print will have bold, sharp lines. In his linocuts Robert Gillmor has occasionally used up to 11 carefully registered blocks but typically uses far fewer to produce his desired result - just 3 blocks, partially overprinting, can produce 7 colours with the white paper making an eighth.

Original Print  Paul Finn - Tuscan Pathway - Val D'Orcia (woodcut)

Introduced by Dürer, woodcuts use the side-grain of the wood; the resulting work may utilize the grain itself to add interest to the print.

Original Print  Andy English - Monet's Gardeners (wood-engraving)

Wood-engraving involves the design being cut into the end grain of a block of wood (usually box or fruitwood) with the ink resting on the relief surface. The smoothness of the end grain enables a finer image to be cut, as epitomized by the work of Andy English.

Original Print  Sally Bassett - Bobbing Boat and a Good Fish Catch (collagraph)

To make a collagraph a variety of collage materials are glued to a base of card, metal or wood to form a relief surface which is then inked-up and printed. The resulting print may then be further embellished to produce a highly textured, multi-layered image. An intaglio approach can also be utilized, as described below. Sally Basset's work illustrates this exciting technique. Editions tend to be small due to the limited life of the plate.

Intaglio encompasses engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint and mezzotint.

Intaglio is essentially the reverse of relief printing - the printing plate has the image incised into it and the ink is held in the incised grooves. The plate is pressed onto dampened paper and the incised image printed. Traditionally, metal plates are used.

Original Print  Laurie Rudling - Wind on the Heath (etching)

Original Print  Sue Williams - Stepping Out Number Two (etching)

In etching, a flat metal plate is coated with acid-resistant wax; once the wax has cooled and hardened a design can be scratched in the wax, exposing the metal beneath. The plate is then treated with acid, the depth and density of the etched line being determined by the length of exposure.

Original Print  Terry Bryan - Stormy Days (drypoint)

Drypoint is a technique developed during the fifteenth century and used by Dürer and Rembrandt. The engraving tool not only cuts a line into the block (a variety of materials can be used) but it also pushes up a 'burr' - both the cut and the burr are capable of holding the ink to print out as a thick, velvety line.

To produce an aquatint, fine acid-resistant powder is dusted onto a plate and fused by heat. The design is then drawn through the powder and the plate immersed in acid. The longer the plate is immersed, the deeper and darker the resulting tones.

The mezzotint process uses a 'rocker' enabling the flat steel blade with a fine serrated edge to produce thousands of minute holes evenly over a metal plate. Tone is achieved through scraping and polishing the surface of the indented plate; darker areas arise where the indentation is deeper; highly polished smooth areas carry little or no ink and appear as highlights.


In Chine-collé the image from a plate or block is transferred to a thin paper which is glued to a heavier paper in the printing process, thus allowing the use of delicate papers to reproduce fine detail. The technique is also often used to produce a subtle background or give additional colour.


This technique is based on the principle that grease and water do not mix. Using a grease- based material, the design is drawn onto the prepared surface (nowadays probably zinc or aluminum plates rather than the original limestone blocks). In the printing process the undrawn areas are kept damp so that the inked roller can pass over the plate and ink-up only the greasy image. The surface is alternately sponged with water and rolled with ink, so strengthening the image. Paper is laid over the plate, pressure applied and the print revealed - always an exciting moment!


Original Print  Terry Bryan - By the Wind (monotype)

A monotype is a unique print which cannot be repeated. A design is painted onto a plate (such as a sheet of Perspex) and, whilst the ink or paint is still wet, pressed onto a sheet of paper.


Original Print  Terry Bryan - Autumnal Tones (monoprint)

A monoprint is a unique impression that is different from other prints taken from the same block or plate by reason of its colour, paper or finish.

Screenprint (also known as serigraph or silkscreen)

Original Print  Catherine Rayner - Yogi (screenprint)

Original Print  Sue Molineaux - Life and History (screenprint)

Screenprinting is basically a stencil process whereby a mesh (traditionally of silk) is stretched over a frame. Parts of the mesh are blocked out and the ink is forced through the exposed mesh using a squeegee. Usually a separate screen is used for each colour.

Carborundum Printing

Invented in the U.S. during the 1930's, this technique enables very large prints to be made - but only in small editions. Ground carborundum is used to put the design onto a card or wooden plate. The plate is inked and pressed against dampened paper.

Digital Printing

Original Print  Tony White - Jazz - Guitar/Sax - 1 (photo polymer relief plate print)

This form of printing radically widens and challenges any definition of 'original print'. Initially, the whole or part of the final print is digitally created. The image can then be printed onto film to be utilized as the printing matrix for further embellishment such as portraying photo-etching / litho / screen or relief work. These digital procedures enable a variety of finishes to be incorporated, resembling traditional print-maker's techniques. The practical input of the artist is very different to that of traditional print-makers. As new technologies emerge and are explored by the creative mind, no doubt the definition of what constitutes an 'original print' will continue to evolve.

Mixed Techniques

Many of the above print-making techniques can be combined and some lend themselves to the addition of watercolour, as with Andrew Haslen's bold linocuts. The possibilities are endless and today's printmakers continue to break new ground as they practice an age-old tradition.

Original Print  Andrew Haslen - Kingfisher (hand coloured linocut)

Original Print  Tony White - Amazed (woodblock, card and stencil)

Original Print  Sue Molineaux - Illusion (drypoint and chine-collé)

Original Print  Tania Scott Durrant - England's Green and Pleasant Land (silkscreen/monoprint)