Printmaking Terms Related to Picasso’s Graphic Production

Aquatint: A printmaking technique that uses ink in recessed areas to create tonal effects rather than lines. An acid-resistant powder, such as resin, is sprinkled on a metal plate and then adhered using heat. When the plate is submerged in an acid bath, the parts of the surface that are unprotected by the resin are “bitten” by the acid, creating lightly recessed areas. The powdered coating is removed and the plate is inked, filling in the recesses. Gradations in tone are achieved by varying the length of time in the acid bath, with longer baths producing darker tones.

Artist’s Proof (AP): A print traditionally reserved for the artist but pulled at the same time as the numbered edition and therefore identical to those prints.

Bon à Tirer (BAT): Bon à tirer—the French term for “good for printing” or “ready to go”—refers to a proof created and signed by the artist to approve its use as a control or model for the edition. All impressions in the edition are compared and matched to this proof.

Edition: A group of identical prints made from the same plate. They can be limited or unlimited in number. Artist’s proofs, BATs, and printer’s proofs are excluded from the final edition number, even though they are identical to the prints in the numbered edition. See also Print Run.

Etching: An intaglio technique in which a metal needle or other sharp tool is used to draw on a metal plate that has been coated with a thin layer of acid-resistant wax. The plate is submerged in a bath of acid, so that the exposed, drawn areas are “bitten” or “eaten” by the acid. When the rest of the wax is removed and the plate is inked and wiped, only the recessed areas of the drawing accept ink.

Impression: An image reproduced on paper by manual force or a printing press. A group of identical impressions constitute an edition.

Intaglio: A family of metal-plate printmaking techniques that involve incising into the plate’s surface. The incised line or area holds the ink, creating the image. Aquatint, drypoint, engraving, and etching are all intaglio techniques, and Picasso employed this method for the majority of the 2,000-plus prints that he made in his lifetime. In 1933, he began working with the printer Roger Lacourière (1892–1966), who introduced him to new ways of experimenting with intaglio processes. Thirty years later, Picasso began collaborating with master printers Piero Crommelynck (1934–2011) and Aldo Crommelynck (1931–2008). The brothers worked closely with Picasso in the south of France, producing over 700 works before his death in 1973, including his largest print series, Suite 347.

Linocut: A technique in which lines are cut or gouged into a sheet of linoleum that has been mounted on a wooden block. The linoleum block is inked and impressed onto paper or fabric manually or with a press. In 1955, Picasso developed a “reductive” method of linocut with printmaker Hidalgo Arnéra (1922–2007). In this process, the block is cut and printed and then cut and printed again, moving from light to dark colors. Linocut accounts for only a small portion of the artist’s graphic oeuvre. Nevertheless, he found a receptive audience of admirers who welcomed color in his printmaking.

Lithography: A printing process that involves a flat printing surface and the mutual repulsion of grease and water. The image is drawn on a stone or metal plate using an oil- based medium, such as a crayon. A chemical wash is applied to the surface, producing water-receptive nonprinting areas and grease-receptive imaged areas. Water is wiped across the plate, and an oil-based ink is evenly applied with a rubberroller. The ink adheres only to the drawn image, and is repelled by water in the blank areas. Paper is then placed on the stone and run through a press. In 1945, Picasso began a decades-long relationship with famed printer Fernand Mourlot (1895–1988) at his Mourlot Frères print shop in Paris, ultimately producing over 400 lithographic prints there. Picasso began to use chemically prepared zinc plates, finding them more portable and convenient than heavy lithography stones. The textured zinc plates lent comparable results and offered numerous possibilities for wash drawing using lithography ink. 

Matrix: The base from which a print is made. Wood blocks, metal plates, and lithographic stones are the most common forms of matrices.

Print Run: Every print in a limited edition is numbered, usually in pencil at the bottom of the print. This notation, which looks like a fraction, is called a print run number, and it shows the print’s unique position within the edition. For example, 2/10 would be the second impression in an edition of 10 prints.

Proof: Any print that is not part of the final numbered edition. It anticipates the artist’s proofs and BAT proofs, which are identical to, but not part of, the numbered edition.

State: A step in the development of a print, involving alterations to the printing surface. All the impressions of a print before a change is made to the matrix belong to the same state. Throughout his printmaking career, Picasso frequently altered states of his prints, as displayed in the two proofs of Head of Woman, No. 3 (Portrait of Dora Maar).

Sugar-Lift Aquatint: A variant of the aquatint technique in which the artist brushes a solution of black ink and sugar directly on a metal plate. The plate is coated in an acid-resistant varnish and immersed in warm water. The warm water dissolves the sugar, and the plate is lightly rubbed, causing the image to “lift” off the plate. Picasso learned this technique while working with famed Parisian printer Roger Lacourière (1892–1966) throughout the 1930s. Picasso used this technique frequently in the production of his Suite 347.

Transfer Lithograph: A lithographic technique in which a drawing is made on coated paper that is transferred to the stone or plate before printing. Because the process reverses the image twice, the image maintains its original orientation.

Trial Proof: A print made in advance of the numbered edition, before the matrix has been finalized. Trial proofs are used to test the appearance of the image.

Unseen Picasso  is on view through January 10, 2022.