Post-Digital Printmaking

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A comprehensive and accessible technical introduction to this important area of printmaking, this book explains techniques and processes in detail, discusses the contexts within which Post-Digital Printmaking has arisen, and includes examples and case studies of artists applying these hybrid techniques in their work.

Front cover image: Josephine McCormick, Fire (detail). Viscosity print from CNC-cut steel plate. Image courtesy of the artist. Back cover image: Tomas Vu, Flatland (detail), 2008–9. Silkscreen, laser-engraved paper and wood veneer, with hand-colouring on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

ISBN 978-1-4081-2494-9

post-digital printmaking CNC, Traditional and Hybrid Techniques

Catanese & Geary

Paul Catanese and Angela Geary are early protagonists of Post-Digital Printmaking, and have been using these techniques, writing articles, and lecturing on the subject since 2005. Paul Catanese is Associate Chair and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College in Chicago, and President of the New Media Caucus, CAA Affiliate Society. Angela Geary, artist and independent researcher, was formerly Reader at Northumbria University and the University of the Arts in London. She directs the Zeropoint Press in Glastonbury UK, which she founded in 2012.

post-digital printmaking

This groundbreaking book establishes Post-Digital Printmaking as a distinct area of printmaking practice both technically and conceptually. Radically different from digital print production (inkjet on high-quality paper), Post-Digital Printmaking integrates Computer Numeric Control (CNC) devices such as laser cutters and CNC routers with matrix production for lithography, intaglio and relief. This contemporary practice incorporates the strengths of both digital and traditional, resulting in hybrid printmaking techniques.


Paul Catanese & Angela Geary 9

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Post-Digital Printmaking CNC, traditional and hybrid techniques

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Chuck Close, Self-Portrait, 2004. A 19-colour, hand-printed ukiyo-e woodcut. Image: 55.25 x 43 cm (21¾ x 17 in.); paper: 72 x 58 cm (28½ x 22¾ in.). Edition of 50. Initial carving of 19 woodblocks by laser; finishing completed with hand tools. Image courtesy of Two Palms Press.

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Contents Acknowledgements...................................................................................... 6 1 2 3 4

Post-digital printmaking defined.................................................. 8 Pioneers and conceptual antecedents................................ 21 Post-digital printmaking technologies................................ 31 Creating line and tone with CNC printmaking...................................................................................49

CASE STUDIES 5 Paul Catanese.............................................................................................77 6 Barbara Foster and Jack Stone....................................................87 7 Angela Geary.............................................................................................99 8 Jean-Pierre HĂŠbert................................................................................... 105 9 Stephen Hoskins and the Centre for Fine Print Research.............................................................................. 115 10 Mike Lyon.................................................................................................... 119 11 Josephine McCormick..................................................................... 129 12 Jon Pengelly............................................................................................ 136 13 Ribuoli Digital.......................................................................................... 140 14 Two Palms Press.................................................................................... 149 Notes.................................................................................................................... 158 Index...................................................................................................................... 159

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Post-digital printmaking defined

Figure 1. A CNC milling machine tool. Automated machine tools developed for manufacturing and engineering purposes are capable of cutting and milling complex forms from materials such as metal or wood.

Printmaking: a site of interdisciplinarity Printmaking is an active interface for so many artists. It is a site of the interchange of ideas, experimental practice and interdisciplinary thinking – a radically contemporary space where emerging, ancient, new and old technologies co-evolve and intermingle. Printmaking is a space of creative action where artists, with roots in myriad disciplines, meet on common ground to engage in the human activity of image-making. The ability of this challenging, diverse and fertile field to absorb developments in concept as well as in technology, lends it a self-rejuvenating dynamism. Within the past several years – or perhaps, as we will point out in this book, rather longer – printmaking has once again absorbed technological developments from the advances in industrial machine tools. Artists’ adoption of computer numerical control (CNC) devices and related technologies is making possible novel printmaking processes and variations on techniques. This emerging axis of workshop practice is introducing printmakers to new ways of envisioning their work and introducing new practitioners to printmaking – expanding the notion of printmaking and, perhaps, even the notion of the image itself. What is more, the initial infatuation with new technologies has passed and, as throughout printmaking history, we have entered a relationship with them as versatile and pliable partners in an expanding artistic adventure. Digital inkjet prints and other formats such as xerographic laser printing, are ‘prints’ in the sense of being a multiply reproduced graphic, but differ considerably from traditional printmaking in material qualities, the physicality of a plate-mediated production and their requirement of an entirely different workshop paradigm. While digital prints and the emergent field of post-digital printmaking share a common heritage in their use of computers to develop, translate or manipulate data (as discussed in Chapter 2), we define post-digital printmaking, in its utilisation of CNC machine tools and related technologies, as distinct and significant in the way that it extends printmaking as a tangible process-oriented tradition, and also introduces a potential evolution of the print workshop environment.

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Figure 2. (Left) A Universal PLS6 CNC Laser Cutter. (Right) Detail of raster and liner CNC Laser etching on an acrylic plate in progress, at the Interdisciplinary Arts Department and Interactive Arts and Media Department, Columbia College, Chicago.

A key element of post-digital printmaking is its fundamental integration with traditional analogue plate and press transfer techniques, which therefore expands the core medium of fine art printmaking by exploiting contemporary technologies while retaining an innate commonality with traditional ones. Critically, CNC machine tools and related technologies offer a rich opportunity for exploring new synergies between digital workflows and traditional techniques, from which wholly contemporary hybrids emerge. Motivated by this significance, and as artists involved in the creative excitement of these developments, we aim in this book to survey and contextualise the evolution of CNC practices in contemporary printmaking, consider their impact and integration in the workshop, and provide a comprehensive practical guide for the artist wishing to apply these methods in his or her own work.

Figure 3. A Tang dynasty Chinese woodblock print. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust Collection.

‘Traditional’ printmaking is already hybrid The core methods of modern printmaking originate from the ongoing drive to create and improve reproducible means of graphical and written communication. These iterations of reprographic technology are familiar as significant steps in the development of printmaking as a modern art form. Yet the timing, pace and pattern of artistic appropriation and the repurposing of these advances – the technical evolution of printmaking itself – is seldom examined from its own perspective. Although, as Walter Benjamin wryly reminds us, copying by hand has always been possible,1 it is most likely that the ancient Chinese invention of the woodcut was the first method of mechanical duplication. This hardly seems like a pivotal technological advance to the post-digital mind, yet the simple possibility of a graphical imprint changed everything, forever.

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Figure 4. Lithography stones at Anchor Graphics, a programme of the Art and Design Department at Columbia College, Chicago.

Figure 5. A detail of acid-etched decoration: the Brunswick Armour, dated 1563. Image courtesy of The Royal Collection, UK.

Whilst wood engraving did not appear in the European artistic tradition until the 15th century, this is where the story of printmaking’s graphical plate and transfer archetype begins. This enduring convention – where the print is mediated via physical interaction with a transfer mechanism – is at the heart of our perspective on the emergence of digital manufacturing techniques within printmaking. Cutting and pressure are both dynamically engaged in the creative process – for ancient woodcut and contemporary CNC laser-cutting alike. An archetypal thread of process can be traced through the innovations of engraving in copper, intaglio printing and acid etching, to the pivotal invention of lithography in the late 18th century. The sheer speed of this latter technique, as Benjamin2 mentions, marked a radical sea change in the potential of graphical reproduction, allowing the image to finally match the versatility and pervasiveness already reached with the printed word. The impact of this on daily life and culture is well documented, but it is difficult for the contemporary mind to fully appreciate the moment of this reprographic innovation, although the Internet is arguably a modern leap of comparable impact on global communication. It is interesting to try to imagine how the progress of image transmission technology might have played out if Senefelder hadn’t been so troubled by the print quality of his plays – or quite so motivated by financial hardship – and the principle of the lithographic print had not been invented at that point. Printmaking is an art form that has emerged from the independent phenomena of technological advance and the opportunistic seizing of materials and processes that artists, as natural interdisciplinarians, have always done in pursuit of image-making. The printmaking story maps both arbitrarily and serendipitously to simple and complex technological innovations intended to solve quite unrelated problems, from the invention

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of movable type to the decorative etching of guns, Alan Turing’s codebreaking algorithms, and post-Second World War aerospace engineering. A repeating pattern, however, is that artists are often quick to appropriate technologies, then adapt and refine them to their own ends. Historically, this progression is recursive and folds around technological singularities – such as the adaptation of acid etching and the invention of lithography – but with an ever-contracting timeline over the centuries as the pace and range of communications media have increased exponentially. The transfer of the etching of metal by acid exposure to an intaglio printmaking process is attributed to Daniel Hopfer, from around 1500. As a wood engraver and son of a printmaker, Hopfer was alert to the potential of the etching method he used to decorate armour for the creation of prints, initially using iron plates. Artists, including Dürer, soon adopted etching in preference to the laborious and exacting craft of engraving. The early technique was limited to a monotone line until the critical leap of modulating acid exposure to vary line weight was made mid-century, probably by Hirschvogel, as evidenced in his landscapes. Callot’s later refinements contributed improved wax ground recipes and the oblique échoppe needle, facilitating expressive line-width modulation. After Bosse’s Manual of Etching was published, a flowering of etching followed throughout the 17th and into the 18th century, with Rembrandt’s and Goya’s mastery of the technique being obvious highlights. Unfortunately just too late for Rembrandt, a variant, aquatint, arrived by mid-century. The possibility of subtle tonality was gratefully exploited by many artists, not least by Goya, whose remarkable prints represent the apex of the fully formed discipline. The modern technique of etching retains these traditions and integrates several 20th-century adaptations such as photopolymer etching, non-toxic ferric chloride etching and, most recently, the CNC methods such as laser etching and automated milling that we will explore in this book. Within the contexts of intaglio and relief printmaking, we pick up the archetypal ‘press and transfer’ journey to map the new expanse of possibilities offered by CNC for achieving graphical cut-mark interaction with the plate. Innovations, hybrids and variations – both material and procedural – have been applied by artists around the core studio practices of relief, intaglio, planographic and serigraphic printmaking, with a particularly intensive period of experimentation taking place in the 1960s and 1970s. It is an interesting experience to revisit the printmaking books of that period. John Ross and Clare Romano’s The Complete Printmaker, published in 1974 (New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan), enthusiastically presents an account of what was then cutting-edge practice – most stemming from the use of novel materials in relief printing. The early use of engraved plastic plates is mentioned, including lucite (an early acrylic) and celluloid coatings in the form of the cellocut. The latter, though somewhat hazardous, permitted innovations such as impressed textures and embedded materials in constructing relief from as early the 1930s, and was popular for creating

Figure 6. An early mono-weight linear etching by Daniel Hopfer (1470–1536): Three Old Women Beating a Devil on the Ground.


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Figure 7. Mick McGraw, Number Plate, 1991. Collagraph. Image courtesy of the artist. Figure 8. Computer tape relief print from the 1970s. The print was created by rolling ink on hole-punched computer tape (ironically, this was also the first means of storing CNC machine data). Sometimes the medium is just the medium.

embossed prints. This was probably a precursor of the collagraph, a late 1960s technique of assembling plate designs from diverse materials glued to a rigid substrate. Anything goes with a collagraph – textiles, paper, cut cardboard shapes, nuts, wire or coins to name a few – if you can ink it, you can print it. Keeping the dimensions of the relief within bounds feasible for press printing, differences in relief height, and the difficulties of inking up variable collaged surfaces consistently, are some obvious challenges of the collagraph assemblage approach. A factor not mentioned in Ross and Romano’s otherwise very practical volume is the very limited durability that plate materials ranging from cardboard to plaster of Paris have. At that time, the formal freedom and innovative scope offered by ephemeral materials seems to have outweighed the precedent of reliable repeatability, from which most of the technologies of traditional printmaking have stemmed. While the authors felt compelled to reassure readers that the ‘painstaking’ but unique process of etching would not be displaced by the collagraph, the latter technique is the far less practised of the two today. CNC machine cutting (especially if combined with 3D scanning) offers a similar breadth of scope for surface construction, but

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with the benefits of a consistent surface material and durability. For example, a collagraph, once constructed (from anything), can be scanned and directly output to CNC machine production in the desired material. CNC tools also introduce new platemaking materials and present opportunities to extend technical horizons such as those of scale, speed and precision.

Entanglements: analogue, digital and post-digital Technological innovations in the production of print, photography, industrial machining and computing have been, and remain, entangled. Conceptual and mechanical innovations can often be found embedded in the history of several fields, though the individual application may be separated by many hundreds of years. Some threads of this can be found in the ingenious mathematical instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries, which through the changing of mechanical ratios by way of gears, linkages or other physical relationships, allowed users to enlarge or reduce drawings, as in the case of Christoph Scheiner’s Pantograph, c.1630,3 or to reproduce a number of figures such as enmeshed spirals, as with Jean-Baptiste Suardi’s Geometric Pen, c.1750.4 The basic mechanical principles used in these devices are not disconnected from the familiar 1960s novelty, the Spirograph,® which utilised the changing of gear ratios and gear arrangements to produce seemingly endless spiralling patterns; figures that bear resemblance to the drawings produced by the lateVictorian parlour toy, the harmonograph, which harnessed the motion of two pendulums to draw complex harmonic curves.

Figure 9. April Sheridan, of the Columbia College, Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts, operating a Leavenworth Router Pantograph at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Photo by Daniel Mellis.


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Creating line and tone with CNC printmaking Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worthwhile, and it will do you a world of good. Cennino Cennini1

This chapter provides an overview of how drawings can be prepared for use in the CNC hybrid printmaking practices discussed in this book. Three broad approaches to generating line for CNC intaglio printmaking are discussed: • • •

Converting hand-drawings to a vector format. Vector drawing using digital tools. Direct vector drawing to CNC codes via a physical interface such as a smartpen or tablet.

The aim is to give an introduction of the strengths and limitations of some the more accessible and reliable approaches that we have explored and worked with. We stress that much scope remains for experimentation in all aspects of image generation for hybrid CNC printmaking, and encourage readers to expand and develop their own ideas and methods. The chapter continues with two in-depth case studies exploring tone and line generation. The first of these tackles area and linear tone, and introduces an alternative to raster laser etching using bitmap diffusion patterns (or digital aquatint), offering the possibility of achieving subtle and repeatable tonal


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gradation in laser intaglio. Secondly, the results of a series of line and tone experiments integrating laser etching with stone lithography are presented. Finally, in closing, a technical note on CNC laser benchmarking is provided. The techniques described in this chapter are couched in the contexts of laser etching and CNC multi-axis routing, and the particular technical concerns of these tools. However, the basic workflows for developing linear and drawing data outlined here are suitable for adaptation to most CNC technologies. Our intention is to convey the general principles of translating drawing data into the CNC environment. Examples of the operational settings that we have tested in various cases are given, relevant to the examples discussed. However, to safely operate any model of CNC mill or laser cutter it is essential to have at least a basic level of technical training, including knowledge of operational safety and any issues specific to the particular device and model being used: it is beyond the scope of this book to provide this.

Languages of drawing For many artists using digital drawing and imaging techniques, the bitmap world is the most familiar one and when digitising artwork, the bitmap image is the primary format of capture. Freehand, digital or traditional, drawing has tended to dominate art practices and bitmap drawing has become popular as a simple, direct and responsive process that intuitively aligns with the native experience of hand-drawing. However, the standard format used to translate form into motion in CNC environments is the vector path or line. Unlike raster image formats (bitmaps), which are constructed from an array of pixel units, vector drawings are scaleable and mathematically defined linear and solid forms. Vector pen tools, found in most image editing applications, allow users to incrementally connect control points with curvilinear segments or splines. Any regular or irregular geometric shape imaginable – complex or simple – can be created in this way, by one or more vector paths.

Figure 51. On the left, a vector line drawing with control points connecting four curved sections and, right, a comparable bitmap line drawing.

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Artists working with vector tools have the advantage of being able to output their drawings directly to the CAD formats used by CNC devices. For hand-drawing, the need for a vector format compatible with machining creates an additional hurdle. However, this is surmountable using the techniques discussed in this chapter, and the effort required to translate the unique autographic quality of your own drawn line is well worth the result achieved. There is certainly something quite strange and compelling about witnessing a CNC machine re-enact your own gestures. Indeed, this moment seems to epitomise the nebulous borderline between the digital and the physical that CNC printmaking occupies.

Vector drawings from hand-drawings The translation of hand-drawings into a vector format suitable for CNC etching and cutting is a highly adaptable approach that can preserve the spontaneity and character of the hand-drawn line. The conversion process does present certain technical challenges and, though surmountable, this method can be more time-consuming than the other direct digital vector drawing methods that will be discussed. Artists can readily adapt the translation tools used by graphic artists and illustrators for the purpose of converting hand-drawn lines and shapes into vectors. In architectural and similar technical drawing applications, the precision demanded usually makes the vector translation of complex, dense or overlaid details unacceptable. However, in an artistic context, we recommended experimenting freely with levels of detail and drawing techniques – physically and digitally. It often takes a little time to settle on a drawing approach that produces the vector translation and CNC results sought, and you may find the journey is littered with serendipitous, unexpected and sometimes frustrating (but often enriching) twists. Figure 52. A drawing for Dragonfly Medicine by Angela Geary, 2010, in preparation for scanning and vector conversion. This simplified drawing was prepared specifically with rapid linear laser etching in mind. Image courtesy of the artist.


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Paul Catanese The syntax of my drawings is immediate, organic; I write my own drawing software to control CNC machinery that is custom tailored to my marks. And while shaping code is a component of my art practice, in my work, gesture drives the eruption of materiality. Paul Catanese

A hybrid media artist who applies digital methodologies and techniques to a wide range of interdisciplinary outcomes, Catanese’s interest in postdigital printmaking began during a residency at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, spe. At the time, he was creating a series of digital Cornell Boxes, and became ‘inspired by the resonance between hand-setting lead type for letterpress and using programming to control individual pixels for black and white animations on a Gameboy Advance’. The connections between the printmaker’s and programmer’s notions of the matrix compelled him to experiment with developing a process combining custom drawing software, industrial machine control and traditional printmaking techniques. What he describes as the ‘digital relief process’ takes a round-trip path from the tangible through to the intangible, where drawing gestures made by hand are recorded, amplified, translated and then re-performed during the cutting


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Figure 93. Paul Catanese, Celestial Workshops 004, 2007. Image size: 50 x 50 cm (20 x 20 in.); paper size: 70 x 100 cm (27½ x 39½ in.). Relief-printed on an etching press. Printed by Oscar Gillespie at Cradle Oak Press in the Art Department of Bradley University. Image Courtesy of the artist.

of printing blocks within plastics, hardwoods and metals by way of CNC machinery. For Catanese, creating work that incorporates the mathematical precision of machine control, soft-bodied human gestures and irreversible ink marks on paper occupy a space for image-making that is neither strictly virtual nor physical. Working in the Processing programming language, Catanese developed a suite of software tools that allow him to draw with a Wacom tablet and directly output G-code, the tool-path instruction language understood by most CNC machine tool drivers. This G-code was used to control a small CNC mill with a cutting area of 15 x 30 cm (6 x 12 in.), a machine that he still uses today. He describes the earliest iterations of the drawing software as ‘bloated’, with dozens of individual drawing tools – ranging from those producing ragged and wavy lines for modifying raw marks to various generative tools for spacefilling and polygon-making. Also included was an unusual cross-hatching tool which combined image-posterising routines with relief-based cross-hatching – mediated via an elaborate software interface similar to a sound mixer. As he transitioned from the initial writing of the software and workflow integration with the machine tool into making an increasing number of prints, Catanese began a long process of jettisoning many of the software components, paring back to precisely the features required to make the marks he wanted to create. Finally, the software simply focused on a single-weight

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Angela Geary

Angela Geary’s physical work in post-digital printmaking emerged from her research in the virtual world of haptics and touch interaction technologies. The work she initiated in the Virtual Haptic Interface for Printmaking (VHIP) project at the University of the Arts London began as an exploration of the virtualisation of the process of plate-making, using Phantom force-feedback stylus computer interfaces. At that time, there was much excitement and intense research attention directed towards the potential of virtual touch to complete the sensory scope of the interaction experience, and even radically modify the standard desktop computer interface, as cost-accessible systems began to emerge. However, with her own aim to assimilate the tacit physicality of art practices into the digital environment, Geary encountered unexpected problems. For the artists testing the system, the human component of the interface, initially charmed by the virtual touch experience, soon began to complain about its persistence in his or her interactive experience: ‘Can I turn it off?’ Once engrossed in the task at hand – creating a virtual engraved plate – the visual feedback clearly dominated over the haptic. This finding is in keeping with what is now understood about the way that attention is shared and modulated during the synthesised cognition of kinaesthetic and visual information. Such perceptual issues, rather than technological limitations, probably lie behind the failure of 3D force-feedback to arrive as the interaction revolution that so many had anticipated in the 1990s. Interestingly, the gesture interaction story has turned out a little differently – 2D touch has since radically modified the human–computer interface on a massive scale and touch-screen interaction now pervades many everyday devices.

Drawing is a powerful and ageless tool with which to explore, or even manifest, your reality. Angela Geary


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Figure 128. (Left) A virtual plate prepared using haptic interaction in VHIP. Figure 129. (Right) The VHIP data output as a CNC plate in acrylic particle resin, 2004, with detail below.

Figure 130. An inked laser-etched line in clear 5 mm (3â „16 in.) acrylic plate, 2007. Image courtesy of the artist.

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Ribuoli Digital

It often takes artists a very long time to really absorb what might be done with a particular CNC tool once they come across it. Because we’ve been working with these technologies extensively for years, and have introduced them to so many, we’re able to hasten that process. Andre Ribuoli and Jennifer Mahlman-Ribuoli

Figure 194. Roland EGX-600 CNC Engraving Machine at Ribuoli Digital’s Manhattan studio. Photograph courtesy of Ribuoli Digital.

Ribuoli Digital is a fine art studio in New York, run by Andre Ribuoli and his wife, Jennifer Mahlman-Ribuoli. Specialising in the creation of original projects and editions for artists, Andre and Jennifer’s studio functions as a speciality consultancy and service bureau that provides the expertise of a master printer who specialises in hybrid digital and traditional technologies. From 2000 to 2009, Andre was the director of Pamplemousse Press at Pace Editions, where he worked with an impressive list of clients and was able to assemble an equally impressive studio of CNC equipment and inventive processes. From laser cutters, water-jets, CNC routers, engraving machines, embroidery machines, pencil plotters and cutting plotters to the rare and enormous WireJet digital painting system, the list of CNC equipment and techniques that Andre has integrated within the context of making prints is encyclopaedic. Jennifer is an artist and classically trained printmaker with an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Madison. During her time there, she became familiar with etching techniques using the laser cutter, but this was not the primary focus of her work. However, the experience led her to think about the possibilities of combining emerging technologies with printmaking, preparing her for an extensive investigation that would challenge the notion

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Figure 205. Two details of monoprint experiments impressed from woodblocks painted with the WireJet digital painting system. Image courtesy of Ribuoli Digital.

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First published in Great Britain 2012 A&C Black Publishers an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP ISBN: 9781408124949 Copyright © Paul Catanese and Angela Geary 2012 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Paul Catanese and Angela Geary have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the authors of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without the prior permission in writing from the publishers. Publisher: Susan James Project manager: Davida Saunders Copy editor: Fiona Corbridge Proofreader: Lisa Carden Page design: Howard Whitley Cover design: Sutchinda Thompson Front cover image: Josephine McCormick, Fire (detail). Viscosity print from CNC-cut steel plate. Image courtesy of the artist. Back cover image: Tomas Vu, Flatland (detail), 2008–9. Silkscreen, laserengraved paper and wood veneer, with hand-colouring on paper. Image courtesy of the artist. This book is produced using paper that is made from wood grown in managed, sustainable forests. It is natural, renewable and recyclable. The logging and manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. Printed and bound in China

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