Technical Info


Printmaking that leads to original fine art prints can be classified into five basic techniques:   Monotypes, Relief, Intaglio, Lithography and Serigraphy. My work involves the first three types, and their combinations, and so my notes are specific to these. Intaglio prints would include drypoints, etchings, carborundum prints, certain collographs, and prints made with sandpaper. Linocuts, woodcuts and wood engravings would fall into the relief category.

1. Monotypes
The distinguishing feature of monotype technique is a homogenous, flat plate to receive the ink or paint, as opposed to intaglio where the ink or paint lies in the grooves of the plate and where the surface of the plate is wiped clean. In Relief printing, the image is created by cutting into the plate and the ink or paint is applied to the uncut surface of the plate.  

See James Mah's Monotypes

Oil Monotype, 22" x 30"

Any non-absorbent surface can be used as a monotype plate, and I have used acrylic and polycarbonate sheets, metal sheets, even glass and prepared matboard. Watercolour monotypes require that the plate be sanded and prepared with a solution of Gum Arabic. The most direct way to work is to paint an image directly onto a plate with watercolour, oil paints or printing inks. Another way is to work by a subtractive method, where a plate is covered with ink or oil paint and the image is then formed by removing portions of the ink or oil paint. Almost all of my Greek Tragedy series of monotypes are made in this way. The painted image is transferred to pre-moistened paper by means of an etching press or by hand-applied pressure.  Because of the nature of the process, only one print (or at most a print and a cognate) is produced and no editions are possible. I enjoy the monotype’s spontaneity and the painterly look of its images.
2. Intaglio Prints
Intaglio comes from the Italian verb intagliare, meaning to incise. The distinguishing feature of intaglio is that the image is incised on a plate either by means of a stylus as in drypoint, by means of a burin as in engraving, or by means of a mordant as in etching. The plate is then inked and then wiped so that (usually)  the ink remains only in the incised grooves of the plate and not on the surface. The image is formed by running the inked plate and a pre-moistened sheet of paper through an etching press which transfers the ink from the grooves to the paper surface. Multiple prints can be made and editions of prints are the norm.
a. Drypoints
I like the drypoint technique because of its directness and spontaneity. I have used metal, acrylic and matboard as plates. With a metal plate, a burr is thrown up at the sides of the groove produced by the stylus and the inked plate gives a soft, rich line that is a characteristic of drypoints on metal. Because the burr wears away after repeated passes through the press, only 6 to 8 good prints are produced before the line quality deteriorates. Using matboard plates allow me to draw rapidly with a ballpoint pen and also lets me work on a larger format as matboard is relatively cheap compared to metal plates of similar size.

See James Mah's Drypoint Prints

Vessels and Fruit I
Drypoint, 6.5" x 8"

b. Carborundum Prints
Carborundum prints are printed intaglio, but in theory they can also be printed in relief. Carborundum is a fine grit in powder form used as an industrial abrasive. I have also experimented with stair tread grit and pumice.  When mixed with acrylic gel medium, the grit in solution is used to make an image on a plate by means of a brush. When dried, it forms areas of texture or line which is then inked intaglio, relief or both, and the image is made by passing pre-moistened paper and plate through an etching press. Carborundum allows you to make areas of tone in a print more easily than say traditional aquatint methods. Again, I appreciate the directness of the technique and the textural possibilities of the print.

See James Mah's Carborundum Prints

Two Dancers (Red & Black)
Carborundum Print, 11" x 8.5"

c. Collograph Prints
With collographs, an image is made on a plate using PVC glue by itself or in combination with other materials (bits of cloth, corrugated cardboard, etc.)The plate is then inked intaglio or relief or both, and printed onto paper with an etching press or by hand. To try to find a simple means of reproducing the effect of mezzotint in traditional etching, I have experimented with sandpaper and emery paper. The emery paper is glued onto a plate and the image is produced by removing portions of the textured surface using a burnisher or other device.  Where the texture is smoothed over on the plate,  it does not hold as much ink as the textured surface and so will produce a lighter area on the print. These sandpaper prints provide an interesting ‘carving out’ of light areas on a dark field and can produce some wonderful tonal effects.

See James Mah's Collograph Prints

Head of Man (red)
Collograph Sandpaper Variable Edition, 10.5" x 9"

3. Relief Prints/ Linocuts
In relief printing, the plate surface is cut away so that the uncut surface is made to stand out in relief. Typically, the ink is applied to only the relief surfaces by means of a roller or other device and the image is transferred to paper using an etching press or by hand. However the plate can be inked both intaglio and relief, or just in relief, depending on how the grooves are cut. I usually use linoleum, but traditionally wood plates are used in woodcuts and hardwood in wood engraving. Usually a different plate is used for each colour so that a print with five colours in it may require five different plates.  I prefer using the reductive technique invented by Picasso, where one plate is used to produce a print of many different colours. This requires visualizing the all the colours of the final print at the initial stage and organizing the printing and plate cutting process accordingly.  I always print linocuts on dry paper.

See James Mah's Linocuts

Auguries of Autumn II (Ochre Sienna Series)
Linocut, 9" x 11"

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Dimensions of the artwork refer to the approximate image size and are in inches, height x width. 
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All work © James W. Mah 2009. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited without the expressed permission of the artist.