City Lit Blog

Print and media: old and new technologies combined

Story added 27th Oct 2020

(Dreamscape by Cathy Hull)

Print is a medium that offers the visual artist a remarkable range of possibilities for creative expression. Raz Barfield, Head of Advanced Programmes in the School of Visual Arts (and a print and digital media artist), talks about our advanced print and media course, and the exciting ways in which traditional and digital processes can be combined in forms of creative practice that cross conventional boundaries of fine art, visual communications and publishing media.


Print: the first mass medium

Printmaking has always been used by artists as a means of disseminating their work to wider audiences, increasing their exposure and commercial opportunities. Through the use of limited editions, artists were able to distribute their work more widely, through networks of trade and communications, accessing audiences across locations far wider than they could hope to visit in their lifetime.


Although printmaking is generally considered a fine art form, for the most part, it has always been inextricably linked with the latest technologies in a way that makes it inseparable from commercial printing and publishing. As already stated, artists would produce print versions of their most popular or important works as a way to maximise revenues from their ‘biggest hits’. From this practice, the concept of the ‘multiple original’ was born, through which, by declaring a ‘limited edition’, authenticated by their signature, artists could publish genuine works produced by their own hand (or, more likely, produced by their studio from a block or plate they had worked on), and enable patrons, collectors and private individuals to own an ‘original’ work: to own the image, as it were, for a fraction of the cost of a painting on canvas or board.


(Bikelocks by Alex Snax)


A space to experiment

Beyond these considerations, in creative terms, artists have also always used printmaking to explore themes, compositions and ideas in different media, and to engage with the creative potential revealed through engagement with process, allowing discoveries to spark new possibilities. These new ideas night be reintegrated into their work in other forms, or lead to new areas of creative practice, which can take on a life of their own.


(Cy Bernheim)


Hundreds of years of cultural development

Consider block or movable type, also: printmaking and its technologies have been the vehicle for the spread of ideas, information and learning, around the world, for centuries. As such, it is a form of creative practice with an established tradition several hundred years long, throughout which entire time, it has been at the cutting edge of technology and the forefront of publishing, communications, and the dissemination of ideas, news and propaganda.


Printmaking is bound up with the development of advertising and commercialism, and of packaging, branding, visual identities and logos, signage… It is critical to the development of visual communications as a cultural phenomenon, of central importance equally to fine art, and graphic design, and to the propagation of visual information in all forms. It is impossible to imagine the world in its current form without the influence of print. It is literally everywhere: physically, in the products and signs around us; visually, in the forms and convention of typography and layout, and the organisation of information; as a foundational influence in the development of all forms of media-based communication.


(Cyanotype by Caroline Penn) 


New possibilities

Digital media and contemporary communications technologies have changed practically everything. Given this, and the direct proximity of the concepts and traditions of print to the ideas and principles that drive mass communication, it is only natural that fine art print practices have evolved under their influence, over the last 30 years or so, and continue to do so.


The wealth of digital media and digital manufacturing processes that are now as immediately accessible to the printmaker as pressing ‘print’ on a computer (eg: plotting; laser-cutting; CNC routing; 3D printing; digital looms…), presents an almost infinite range of possibilities for creative practice, when combined with both digital and traditional print media, and the forms of practice they make possible in conjunction with lens-based, time-based, online and broadcast media.



(Silkscreen by Cathy Hull)


Explore this rich creative territory

That’s what our advanced print and media course is about: although not necessarily new, printmaking is a set of technological processes. This course helps you to develop your ability to engage creatively with these technological processes, and others, and to understand that the range of possibilities at your disposal is far wider and more flexible than you probably imagine. Digital media allows you to do things, creatively speaking, that traditional processes can’t; likewise, conventional physical media and processes retain a formally and aesthetically satisfying material presence and pathos that can sometimes be lost in the digital space. Working across both, in combination, you can take your ideas into uncharted territories and outcomes.


(Guildhall by Paul Lincoln)


In creative and conceptual terms, therefore, while this course is situated at the intersection of traditional printmaking and digital media, its purpose is to give you the technical skills, and the creative and conceptual insights, to enable you to develop your work wherever you want to take it. This might mean a set of prints, but, equally, it might be digital video, animation, book-forms, construction, collage/assemblage, installation… depends where the ideas lead you.


You can find out more about our Advance Print and Media course here.


See work from students who completed the course in 2019-2020 academic on and