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Introduction to relief printmaking

Relief printmaking, born in China around 255 B.C., is a simple, accessible art form. It's like a stamp, transferring images from a raised surface to another. Modern materials like linoleum offer unique opportunities for artists. This low-tech method produces bold, detailed graphics and is popular worldwide. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

Relief printmaking, the first print process invented had its origins in seals in China around 255 B.C. If you think of relief printmaking as a stamp, which is a very basic transfer of an image from one surface to another. That is the initial concept of relief printmaking. The image area is raised, whereas the non-image area is lowered. So if you think of a plank of wood and you carve away the white areas, what is raised would become the image area. One of the modern inventions, linoleum, for what we call a linocut or linoleum cut, provided artists with the opportunity of working on the material in a way that was new and unique. Relief printmaking, as the earliest form of printmaking, is still the most accessible form of printmaking. Because a press is not required to transfer the image from the block to paper, it allows artists just about anywhere in the world who have access to a small amount of materials, whether they be wood or linoleum, and a small amount of ink, to be able to create an image. Artists like relief printmaking because it affords them the opportunity to have a very direct low-tech way of working to produce bold graphic images with strong blacks as well as fine detailed lines. Its accessibility allows for a variety of marks and sensibilities, both abstract and representational, both things that involve text as well as images.