The Printmaking Bible

It’s the classic plot. A rag-tag bunch of screw-up misfit art processes need to come together as a team, against all odds, and become a lean mean technical guide. No one thinks they can do it but somehow, they manage to reach deep down inside of themselves and find the moxie to pull it off. It’s as old a story as… well… the bible. Okay. That may be a bit too dramatic.


This fall, Chronicle Books released The Printmaking Bible: The Complete Guide to Materials and Techniques by Ann d’Arcy Hughes and Hebe Vernon-Morris.

At over 400 pages and packed with 1,000 full-color photos and illustrations, The Printmaking Bible is the definitive resource to the ins-and-outs of every variety of serious printmaking technique practiced today. In-depth instructions are accompanied by profiles that show how working artists create their prints. Historical information, troubleshooting tips, and an extensive resource section provide more invaluable tools. Perfect for students, artists, print aficionados, and collectors, this is truly the ultimate volume for anyone involved in this creative and influential art form.

This sizable tome aims to be a technical tour de force and in large part achieves its goal. While no one survey of something as broad and varied as printmaking could be compiled into a single book, the authors do a good job of covering the basics while also including interesting asides for those already up to speed. Though the primary focus is technical, they also delve into context providing both historical background and contemporary examples. Hughes and Vernon-Morris take the lead role as authors but they also (refreshingly) share the stage with other contributors creating a well-rounded sense of field.

Chapters are broken up by media- a fairly standard approach: intaglio, relief, lithography, screenprinting, monotype, and a sixth chapter is dedicated to resources. Each chapter is then broken up into sections that deal with different media specific concerns. Work and statements by a variety of different individual artists are interspersed (Yuiji Hiratsuka, William Kentridge, and Mary Farrell to name a few). While the writing in the book is more than competent, the strength of the book lies in its abundant didactic images and clarifying graphics (see below). It’s really thorough. The Printmaking Bible is part of a new generation of print manual, like Walker and Moser’s Woodcut Artist’s Handbook, that benefits from the contemporary infographic and digital page layout software.


I admit that I’m not wild about the title but let’s face it, there’s no shortage of people who worship at the altar of print. As far as art mediums go, printmaking can be more than a little cultish. And yes, I am very aware that I myself write for a site called “printeresting,” so who am I to say it isn’t a “bible”? It’s definitely a good book, if not the good book.

More important than the title, I think the better question when confronted with any new printmaking how-to book is why, with libraries already full of various print manuals, do we need another one? From an author’s point of view, I can only guess it’s because you think you can do it better (Hughes and Vernon-Morris have certainly done a great job in this case). But from a reader/practitioner point of view… is it a need to reinforce things we already know or a desire to delve further into the minutiae of print?

For those interested, this post might be a good place to share your thoughts on printmaking technical manuals… has it all been written? What are the best? Is Peterdi’s opus still the measure by which print books are judged? Or is it The Complete Printmaker? Maybe another one entirely? Or should we be looking at printmaking DVDs instead of books?

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Categories: Resources, Reviews

12 Responses to “The Printmaking Bible”

  1. amze says:

    Weirdly we seem to be on the verge of a tidal wave of new print books, many of them coming from europe (perhaps testament to our friends across the pond being sick of 8 years of Bush’s doctrine of preemptive editioning).
    My favorite amongst them being: The Art and Craft of Woodblock Printmaking : Woodblock Printmaking with Oil-bases Inks and the Japanese Watercolour Woodcut
    by Kari Laitinen, Tuula Moilanen, Antti Tanttu
    It’s a great volume and the images make you want to find a spot by a window with some soft light and start carving a block.

    I also have to admit that I’ve become a fan of Kathan Brown’s Magical secrets books, my favorite being, Magical Secrets about Line Etching & Engraving: The Step-by-Step Art of Incised Lines, with an Appendix on Printing by Kathan Brown
    O.K. I haven’t watched the DVD (i had a bad yoga dvd experience a few years ago and I’m still working through it) but i hear it’s good.

    And perhaps this deserves it’s own post but Tamarind has released it’s first full volume on lithography since..well the original litho bible. The Tamarind Techniques for Fine Art Lithography by Marjorie Devon was just released a few weeks ago and while I
    miss seeing b&w photos of Garo Antresian working his tail off, the new volume is infinitely more readable with great photo illustrations.

  2. RL Tillman says:

    We need new books because the standards are dated, especially in regard to the illustrations. Worse, the older books are dated when it comes to nuts-and-bolts, practical info. A lot of the technical suggestions are dangerous or just ridiculous. Sometimes the processes described depend on materials that are impossible to obtain.

    In that regard I should give a shout-out to Beth Grabowski’s Printshop Handbook, which was a very practical resource when I first started to manage a shop. Sometimes I turn to the Internet, source of the absolute most reliable information available anywhere! (That’s why my hands are covered with horrible scars.)

    I think the Peterdi book is badly written and incomplete; I’ve never understood the appeal. I was trained out of The Complete Printmaker, and so I have a soft spot for it. I especially enjoy the earlier editions, which are chockablock with comical photographs. But it has its own major flaws.

    …So if publishers want to print a billion new printmaking manuals, I say bring it on. Of course, what I’d really like to see is more ART BOOKS about contemporary printmaking. But we can’t ask for too much.

  3. Danielle says:

    “A lot of the technical suggestions are dangerous or just ridiculous.”

    ummmm… so am I NOT supposed to taste my nitric/ gum arabic mix now? someone please let me know when the jury’s in.

  4. ben says:

    i have a copy of peterdi’s book in my office, and have used it exactly never. i do refer to the complete printmaker quite often, but i still find that some of the info is in need of an update. i may also have an older edition. i think things (see chemistry, materials, digital concerns, “greener” thinking, etc.) are changing quite rapidly, and it’s nice to have a proliferation of print manuals available. i’ve been plowing through carol wax’s mezotint: history and technique, and find it incredibly useful. where else would i be able to find that info?
    and we absolutely need more books on printmakers and prints! i mean it’s great to read/see about blue chippers and master prints, but what about those print artists where printmaking was their primary output?

  5. amze says:

    It seems like most of the art books, or artist monographs side step the “fine arts” question altogether, choosing instead to focus on print in the larger visual culture. I’m referring to books on cross-over street artists like SWOON, and the tons of street graphics books to come out in the last few years, and on the other side of it you have all the new design oriented books focusing on printed matter.

    And no you shouldn’t taste the nitric/gum arabic slurry.. Pour it over your chex mix and let it soak-in for a few minutes first.

  6. RL Tillman says:

    Of course, there are plenty of great books about blue-chip prints made in collaborative studios. To be fair, the publishing industry has to sell books, and that’s the best way to appeal to a wider audience.

  7. jasonurban says:

    Where’s our Vitamin Pr, Phaidon Press?

    Beth Grabowski’s Handbook is a good one. I haven’t read it in a while but I remember that the intro has a great rallying cry about the power of print. Did I hear rumors of an updated version in the future? I do know she’s coauthored a book with Bill Fick that’s supposed to come out this summer. That’ll be one to check out.

  8. RL Tillman says:

    Jason’s remarks about the intro to the Printshop Handbook are right on. the essay is a very concise introduction to the vital theory, and required reading for my students.

    Beth, thanks for the update, and I look forward to the new book…

  9. Beth Grabowski says:

    Yup. The rumor is true. The book that I co-authored with Bill is being published by Laurence King in London and distributed in the US by Prentice Hall. It uses material from my old Printshop Handbook, but has updated many things and, of course, has lots of pictures. Bill and I were recently alerted to the fact that Amazon has it up on their site (although they got the title wrong):

    On the issue of titles… the final decision rests with the publisher. We had a great time working with LK, although we would have preferred a title that reflected the theory component of the book a bit more. I’m sure they did some market analysis that affirmed a perception of printmakers as all about material and process… hence the title of our book. Thanks to everyone at Printeresting and all efforts that continue to frame our practice intelligently.
    We hope you like our book, too!

  10. keiko says:

    Awesome! Chronicle Books though? Surprised in a good way. I will look into this.

  11. RL Tillman says:

    Recently I bought this book, and here’s my two cents:

    A+ for the fabulous cover design.

    B- for the technical matters, with a solid A- for the didactic photos. As Jason says, the photos are the book’s strength.

    D- (verging on failure) for the prints used as illustrations. The selected pieces are not illuminating as examples of the various processes. Worse, many of the prints fail on the most basic formal and aesthetic grounds.

    In fact, there’s almost no work in this book that I find interesting as art. It’s especially lacking in regard to the most compelling aspects of contemporary print work. Perhaps this is a function of its technical emphasis?

    Overall, the book has some utility as a manual, but little use as an art resource. The experienced printmaker probably knows most of the covered material, but would appreciate it as an addition to a personal library. The student printmaker might be interested in the technical information, but should be advised to look elsewhere for compelling contemporary printwork.