Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Continuing Down the Printmaking Trail

Thanksgiving's passed and linocuts continue their siren call. As I think I said in my first post on linocuts I haven't done any printmaking in over 30 years, outside of a brief time when I taught etching about 25 years ago. So no printmaking of any time in over 25 years.

But now that I'm back working on a new print I remember printmakings addictive qualities. I'm sure not everyone would agree with this. Some people don't have the patience for it. You don't see your results as you work as with most other media. You can't see the results until you ink up your work and print it on paper, either manually or using a press.

Normally I'm not a patient artist. But for me the need for patience is outweighed by the element of surprise. I'm sure that there are some printmakers who can visualize every mark they make and know how it will look when it prints. But my guess is that most printmakers don't. I probably shouldn't say what most printmakers do or don't do though, since I don't know any and haven't for years. But for me there is always a great element of surprise in printmaking. I never know what the changes I've made to the plate/block will look like until I pull a print. I love this. There is a sense of having a dialog, a give and take, with your materials. There is always the element of surprise.

Another appeal of woodblock printing and linoleum block printing is that it lends itself to high contrast patterns. If you want you can emphasize every gouge mark you make. Though I work in many ways, and can appreciate many styles of work, I think that high contrast is something that comes natural to me. And pattern does as well.

This makes for bright and bold, some might say garish, work. Since I often work that way anyway it's nice to work in a medium that encourages it.

And finally, to end my list of appealing things about printmaking, all of the extra work that goes into it pays off in multiple prints. A print is normally not one of a kind. You can print as many as you'd like. And, if you're at all concerned about the cost of your work being prohibitively high to some people, multiple prints allow you to offer each one at a lower price. All of this is appealing to me.

It is untrue however that I can print as many as I'd like of the print at top, an immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron that I saw this summer. I posted watercolors of it this summer. The reason I can't make innumerable prints here is that I've used 'reduction printing.' I've never tried this before. As far as I can tell the proper way to do it is to print each color separately, carving out that area once it's been printed. But once you've done that the first color is gone. You can no longer go back and print more copies of it.

So for this one I printed eight copies of the print using yellow ink. The areas that I had carved out before inking the block with yellow ink printed as white or the color of the paper. But the next step was to print in black. So I started carving out the areas that I wanted to stay yellow, the color of the paper, or both. I'm part way through that process now. I've run out of black ink so am waiting for a new shipment before I continue.

But I'll never be able to do more than eight prints. That's because I can never go back to the yellow portion of the linoleum block. It's been carved away. This is a rough summary of a technique I've never used before. So take it with a grain of salt. I think it's accurate. Certainly it's accurate about what I've done. Maybe in a year or so I'll be able to talk more authoritatively.

Stay tuned for the completion of this print. The next challenge will be to register the paper properly. When I'm happy with what the black portion looks like I'll ink up the block with black ink, put down each of the sheets that have already been printed in yellow and try to get them registered correctly. Then we'll see what we'll see.


Anonymous said...

I am enjoying these posts on your return to printmaking. You are very brave to try this reduction method. The heron is very fine now. For me fear would set in. Print makers do need to have tolerance for surprises, but you are right, that's the addictive part. It was over 30 years ago that I studied printmaking until the funds to finish art school ran out and I needed to get a job. I'm only now starting to paint and draw again. Reading your thoughts on the process and seeing your progress is a great pleasure and inspiring.


Ken Januski said...

Hi Garden Groans,

I'm happy to hear that you enjoy my blog, especially the part about printmaking.

This blog really started out much more about my nature observations and then moved more and more to being about art with nature as its subject. I think I lost some readers but then gained some others.

In any case I hope that it is inspiring. It's always hard to know just who your audience is. But I think in the main my audience is other artists who understand the excitement and travails of being an artist, particularly an artist with nature as his or her subject. Or maybe non-artists who also have some interest in seeing how art works, how it just doesn't spring out of your forehead fully formed!