Studio

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The information you find here is the synthesis of my studies, research and years of experience as an artist. I hope to explain some of my personal processes as well as to outline general techniques. If you have questions, let me know, I'm happy to share.

 
Cutting a one-color woodblock.

Cutting a one-color woodblock.

Printing inks, knives and a brayer on my printing bench. These are used in printing traditional western woodcuts.

Printing inks, knives and a brayer on my printing bench. These are used in printing traditional western woodcuts.

The white-line woodcut

A white-line woodcut differs from a traditional woodcut in many ways. An innovation of an early 20th century art colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts known as the Provincetown Printers, the technique was developed as a way to create a multiple color print without the necessity of carving separate blocks for each color. In a white-line woodcut only one block is used. A small v-shaped groove is cut to separate each color in the design. The paper is attached directly to the block, and folded back creating a hinge. This allows the print maker to keep perfect registration while painting and burnishing each color. Watercolor paints are most often used (as opposed to traditional western printing inks), brushed on and then burnished to the paper one at a time, and the color is built up slowly. It is a time consuming process, with one print being completed in its entirety before the next is begun. This resulting print is thus unique from other prints made from the same block, and this is the reason white-line printers usually do not edition their prints. If they are editioned, they will often be marked with a V/E before the edition number which indicates that that there are variations within the edition.

What is a woodcut?

A woodcut is a relief printing technique in which an image is carved into a wood block using knives and gouges. The printed image is left level with the surface of the wood and the non-printing parts (the negative spaces) are carved away. The finished block is then inked. A print is made when the inked block is covered with a sheet of paper and pressure is applied, transferring the ink to the paper's surface. This printing can be done by hand, using a baren or wooden spoon to assist in applying the pressure, or with a press. When a press is used, it is most often an etching press, however other presses such as a book binding press can be appropriated for the task.

My antique book press, which I use for some block printing.

My antique book press, which I use for some block printing.

The color woodcut

In the traditional western woodcut method, multiple color prints are made by carving separate blocks for each individual color. Creative print makers can create additional colors by layering elements of the blocks and using transparent inks to make a new color (for instance layering blue and red to create purple). Layering in this way requires an understanding of the unique properties of the various inks, and a bit of problem-solving when laying out the blocks to be carved. In some cases multiple colors can be carved from one block, if the colors are separated by enough space so that the print maker can easily ink up the individual colors cleanly.

Editions

An edition refers to the number of prints made from a particular block(s). Print edition numbers are usually written in pencil in the lower left corner of the print. The first number is the individual print while the second number is the total number of prints made from the block. For example a print marked 3 / 25 would mean that the print in hand is the 3rd print in a run of 25. Once a run is completed the blocks are usually canceled or destroyed so that no other prints can be made from them. On some occasions a print maker might choose to make a second edition from the same block(s) but in a different colorway, but those prints should be noticeably different from the first edition. In general, the value of an edition comes from the rarity of a print; a print from an edition of 5 would be more valuable that one from an edition of 500. But of course value in the art world is subject to many factors including demand for the print and the celebrity of the print maker.