Diversity in Digital Print

This article is based on a presentation given by the authors on 9th March 2001 to the conference of the International Association of Fine Art Digital Printmakers (IAFADP), part of The Southern Graphics Council's 29th Annual Conference, held at the University of Texas at Austin. © George Whale & Naren Barfield

Catalogue paper: George Whale and Naren Barfield
ISBN 0-7136-4489-3.; Adamson Editions www.adamsoneditions.com
Cone Editions Press www.cone-editions.com Muse [X] Editions www.musex ...

To view this essay in its complete form with illustrations go to:

Prediction is a risky occupation, not least in the rapidly expanding field of digital print, where technologies for the creation, manipulation, and printing of images are continually evolving, and artists continue to find new ways of adapting and integrating those technologies into their creative practices.
Computers are changing not only the way we make prints, but also the way we think about print. This is evident in renewed debates about the status of the edition, which somehow must take account of the infinite transformability of digital images. It is evident in the work of artist-programmers, exploiting contemporary knowledge in fields such artificial intelligence, evolutionary computation, and scientific visualization. And, most significantly, it is evident in the new forms of exchange and cooperation enabled by the Internet.
These developments were at the front of our minds when we first approached the task of writing an introductory handbook on digital print (Note 1 »). Our brief was to provide a practical guide for use by artists, students, and teachers having some knowledge of printmaking and varying levels of computer expertise. But we were keen to address the technical aspects by reference to innovative work being done by artists, editioners, and researchers from around the world.
A Range of approaches
The submissions we received for the book revealed to us a great diversity of contemporary activity, and enabled us to identify five broad approaches to digital print production:
* all-digital approaches, where prints are made without recourse to traditional printmaking media;
* hybrid approaches, combining traditional and digital methods;
* manufacturing - the exploitation of specialist digital fabrication and machining technologies;
* programming - where print imagery is produced by original software;
* Web-based approaches.
The categories are by no means mutually exclusive, since many artists have developed methods that combine two or more of these approaches.
By far the most popular method for creating a digital image is to scan pre-existing drawings, paintings, or photographs into the computer then, using an image-processing application such as Adobe Photoshop, to manipulate and combine the imported elements. Alternatively, with an electronic pen (stylus), drawings and paintings can be created entirely on the computer using synthetic tools and materials, many of which have their own distinctive qualities. Painting applications, designed to emulate natural media, tend to emphasize soft, autographic qualities (Fig. 1), whereas structured drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator give an altogether flatter, harder look (Fig. 2).
Many artists have set up their own facilities for editioning such images, typically comprising an Apple Macintosh or PC computer, a flatbed scanner, and a desktop inkjet printer using inks and papers designed for longevity (Epson, and some other printer manufacturers, supply these). Other artists prefer to use the specialist facilities of commercial print bureaux, such as dye-sublimation printing, or large-format electrostatic printing (Fig. 3).
Click on images to enlarge and for notesFig 1
Fig 2
Fig 3
The various types of output devices are covered in the first section of our book, together with descriptions of the different kinds of two- and three-dimensional images, and the applications (software) needed to create them. There is practical advice on buying and selecting equipment (hardware), and a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to scanning and printing.
No overview of all-digital fine art printing would be complete without acknowledging the pioneering work of editioning studios such as Adamson Editions (Washington, DC) (Note 2 »), Cone Editions Press (Vermont) (Note 3 »), and Muse [X] Editions (Los Angeles) (Note 4 »). These and other ateliers (Note 5 ») have driven the development of high-quality giclée (inkjet) editioning, through improvements in hardware, software, and materials. And by collaborating with artists of international repute, including David Hockney, Jim Dine, and Chuck Close (all featured in the book) they have helped to achieve widespread acceptance - the market for digital prints is now into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and growing.
Hybrid printmaking
Ironically, instead of replacing traditional print media, it seems that digital technologies are giving some of these media a new lease of life. Whether for reasons of quality, directness, or familiarity (or possibly Luddism!), printmakers have devised all sorts of ingenious ways of combining old and new to create so-called 'hybrid' prints.
In the area of colour etching, for example, Rodica Simon (USA), has developed methods of 'soft proofing', enabling her to pre-visualize complex combinations and overlays on the computer screen, before outputting individual separations to sheets of toner transfer paper, which are used to make the etching plates. Other artists have developed methods for integrating 2d or 3d digital imaging with other traditional media such as lithography, collotype, screenprinting, or letterpress (Fig. 4).Click on images to enlarge and for notes
Fig 4Manufacturing approaches
For really large scale digital prints there are now industrial 'grand-format' devices such as the VUTEK UltraVu inkjet printers, used by sign manufacturers to output waterproof, pigment-based images on huge sheets of paper, vinyl, canvas, and other substrates, making them suitable for exterior billboards (Fig. 5).Click on images to enlarge and for notes
Fig 5

Other artists have utilized digital machining technologies to cut or engrave images into conventional print matrices. Graphic Primitives, a portfolio of woodcuts by Terry Winters (USA), began life as a set of structured drawings made in CorelDRAW. They were output to a vector engraving machine, cutting the images directly into cherry wood blocks. According to David Lasry (Two Palms Press, New York) who editioned the prints, 'Hand carving each block would have taken months and even with enough time it was unlikely that we could maintain the pure mechanical perfection of the computer drawn lines.'
In recent years, a number of researchers have tackled the age-old problem of how to break down continuous-tone images into manageable numbers of colours. Taking his inspiration from Renaissance engravings, Canadian Victor Ostromoukhov (Note 6 ») has developed original software which enables a user to render greyscale, or full-colour images with dot and line hatchings, interactively configured so as to follow the 3d contours of the depicted surfaces.
Some artists, including Anna Ursyn (USA), Douglas Sheerer (Australia), and Robert Urbásek (Bratislava), have become adept at programming, escaping the limitations of 'ready-made' applications by designing and writing their own (Fig. 6).
A recent collaboration between French artist Joseph Nechvatal (Note 7 ») and Professor Jean-Philippe Massonie, of Laboratoire MIS, resulted in a family of original computer programs capable of mutating and recombining existing artworks. The artist scanned his entire body of existing work into the computer, then let the 'virus' programs loose on them, resulting in many strange new configurations (Fig. 7).Click on images to enlargeFig 6
Fig 7
Collaborations, in which artists work closely with specialists of one kind or another, appear to be an increasingly important and widespread phenomenon in digital print. These collaborations are often quite different from traditional studio collaborations, which tend to follow the old artist/artisan model, characterized by a sharp distinction between conceptual and technical functions.
Web-based approaches
Rapid, global communication made possible by the Internet not only offers new opportunities for presentation and marketing, but also leads us to question some traditional notions about the nature and status of printed art.
The Web makes readily available an unprecedented range of visual material in different forms, all of which can be made concrete in print. The Web facilitates recombination and adaptation of images, and instantaneous reproduction and dissemination. It also facilitates remote, collaborative working, enabling people in different parts of the world to participate in common projects.
In the late 1990s, Peter Halley (USA) and Charles Carrico (USA), in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, created the Exploding Cell website (Note 8 »). Visitors to the site can select and interact with any one of a number of images, alter it, sign it, and print it out to make a unique, 'collaborative' artwork.
New York artist Jack Ox has created VR (virtual reality) systems for translating musical compositions into abstract visual performances, which can be viewed on a computer screen, or in a 'CAVE' (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment - a special room where 3d scenes are back-projected onto the walls to give an 'immersive' experience). Ox is planning to sell limited edition giclée prints - individual frames (Fig. 8) rendered at high resolution, and output to a wide-format printer using archival materials. Via the Web, customers in any part of the world will be able to order from a selection of frames, and to pay online.Click on images to enlarge and for notes
Fig 8

It was around 30 years ago that significant numbers of print artists first became interested in the computer as a creative tool. In the long history of printmaking, 30 years is, as they say, the mere blink of an eye, yet already we see digital technologies applied in almost every area.
The new handbook, of which we have only been able to offer a glimpse in this article, aims not only to provide essential technical know-how, but also to convey some of our own excitement at the expansive vitality of contemporary digital print. We hope that it will inspire many more artists and students to make their own original contributions, for this is a field of activity offering unprecedented scope for creative and technical innovation.
© George Whale and Naren Barfield

This article is based on a presentation given by the authors on 9th March 2001 to the conference of the International Association of Fine Art Digital Printmakers (IAFADP), part of The Southern Graphics Council's 29th Annual Conference, held at the University of Texas at Austin. We would like to thank Chris August of the IAFADP for helping to make our trip such a success.
All images are reproduced by kind permission of the artists.
George Whale is a Research Associate in Computers and Drawing, at Loughborough University School of Art & Design (LUSAD).
Email | G.Whale@lboro.ac.uk »
Dr Naren Barfield is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art: Print, at Wimbledon School of Art in London.
Email | nbarfield@Wimbledon.ac.uk »
1. Digital Printmaking by George Whale and Naren Barfield, is published by A & C Black (London). Price £12.99 (or equivalent). ISBN 0-7136-4489-3.
2. Adamson Editions www.adamsoneditions.com
3. Cone Editions Press www.cone-editions.com
4. Muse [X] Editions www.musex.com
5. The website of International Association of Fine Art Digital Printmakers www.iafadp.org contains a directory of digital ateliers throughout the world, and is an authoritative source of information on digital printmaking.
6. Victor Ostromoukhov's home page www.iro.umontreal.ca/~ostrom
7. Joseph Nechvatal's home page www2.dom.de/groebel/jnech
8. Peter Halley's Exploding Cell project

An exhibition by Quay Art in partnership with Ferens Art Gallery

Catalogue paper: George Whale and Naren Barfield
ISBN 0-7136-4489-3.; Adamson Editions www.adamsoneditions.com
Cone Editions Press www.cone-editions.com Muse [X] Editions www.musex ...
www.in-print.org.uk/essays/whale-barfield-pp.shtml - 32k