We know that, as early as 3000 BC, people in Mesopotamia were using cylindrical seals to make an impression on clay tablets. Much later, Guttenberg's invention of a movable printing press in 1448 opened the floodgates for printed matter to make its way into the hands of ordinary people. Since then, the art of printmaking has flourished.
This week, more than 450 delegates from 35 countries will arrive in Dundee - currently bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2017 - for the eighth IMPACT International Printmaking Conference, a biennial get-together for artists and academics with an interest in this wide-reaching field. This is the first time the event, the biggest and most prestigious of its kind, has been held in Scotland.
The overarching term of print-making generally refers to the process of using printing to make artworks, but IMPACT 8 will explore ways in which print has contributed to social, economic, political, cultural and medical developments. Usually the conference is an academic affair but this year Professor Elaine Shemlit and Dr Paul Harrison of Dundee University's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) have taken it off-campus by establishing the first-ever Print Festival Scotland (PFS).
Taking place at venues throughout Dundee and at satellite spaces across the country, the aim is to celebrate printmaking in all its glory as artists and writers adjust to the digital age. "Exploration" is the theme, one that's particularly apt in this City of Discovery, famous for its journalistic publishing expertise, as well as its international reputation as a hub for digital technology innovation.
According to Dr Harrison, it's "time to shout out what we've done here in Scotland in the last 50 years". The print festival therefore features around 40 exhibitions, workshops and performances. The majority are based in Dundee, but there are exhibitions in Edinburgh (Rachel Maclean's acclaimed I HEART SCOTLAND at Edinburgh Printmakers), Stirling (1NEFOURZERO at Stirling Old Town Jail), Aberdeen (Artists In Print: 21 Years Of Collaboration at Peacock Visual Arts) and Glasgow (40/40: Forty Years, Forty Artists at Glasgow Print Studio). There is even an 'off-site' happening by Huntly's boundary-pushing Deveron Arts in the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda.
Home venues range from the restored McManus Galleries, now showing Modern Masters In Print, to artist-run initiatives including the Dundee-based GENERATORprojects.
Another artist-led body, Yuck 'n' Yum, has curated Proof by Beatrice Haines at Abertay University's Hannah Maclure Centre. This body of work, comprising of prints and installations, was made during Haines's residency in the forensics lab at the university and the DCA Print Studio.
The big summer exhibition in Dundee Contemporary Arts is There Will Be New Rules Next Week, which brings together the largest selection of work by the late Sister Corita Kent (1918-1986) seen in Scotland. The title is inspired by a set of rules for creativity which this inspiring artist, teacher and nun - who taught at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles throughout the 1960s - gave to her students.
A political and religious rebel, she was one of the most innovative pop artists of the era, using her art to galvanise fellow nuns and students to make ambitious installations, processions and banners. Her use of colour and graphics using screen-printing set a tone of peaceful protest for the flower power generation.
This exhibition, which includes film footage of Kent in full flow, presents a portrait of a complex yet wholly direct artist and teacher. Also on show here is new work by five artists; Peter Davies, Ruth Ewan, Emily Floyd, Scott Myles and Ciara Phillips, who have all been influenced by Kent.
Even though this liberal nun appears an open-minded woman, I wonder what she would have made of Davies's large-scale painting Why Is British Art So Crap which, on the one hand, acknowledges her approach to typesetting and, on the other, offers up a cynical world-weary view. She may well have referred him to Rule 8: "Don't try to create and analyse at the same time. They're different processes."
However, I'm sure Kent would have approved of The Big Print, which will culminate a week today when linocuts created by professional printmakers, local schools, community groups and students will be printed onto paper by The Big Print Roadroller, a steamroller stationed outside DJCAD. In the City of Discovery, they think big.
Print Festival Scotland (in conjunction with Impact 8 Print Conference, Aug 28-Sep1, University of Dundee) is at venues across Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and beyond. Many of the exhibitions have now opened and will run into September. See www.conf.dundee.ac.uk/impact8/exhibitions for details