Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Picture Perfect Every Time

Gray Catbird with Walnuts. Early Proof of Multi-block Woodcut by Ken Januski.

That's the lot of the printmaker, even a part-time one like myself. No matter what you do it turns out Picture Perfect. Well not quite. I've always been a bit scared off of printmaking and printmakers I think because there seems to be far too much concern with technique in the field, almost like an arcane religion.

But the thing is that there are just so many things that can go wrong with printmaking that it's easy to become concerned with technique. I've already run into two of them with this print. First because I've used a black block composed primarily of thin outlines to tie everything together there's always the possibility that one of those thin lines will break, and end up lost on the floor with all the other intentional cuttings. That happened not just once but FOUR times! I think I know why but I won't go into details. It has meant finding a way to repair the lines.

A second problem involved inking up just a small area of the woodblock, for instance the green of the walnuts.  Sometimes I can just ink up the entire block knowing that some areas will be covered by a second color. That is the case with the gray here. I printed the entire second block in gray. There is one area where I would have preferred not to have the gray underneath, since it will affect whatever color is printed on top of it, but I decided I could live with it.

Sometimes I'll print the color and then wipe off areas that shouldn't get that color with a rag before I place the print on top and rub the ink into it. That was a possibility here with the green walnuts. But I didn't think I'd be able to clean up the aberrant green successfully. So instead I tried a stencil or mask. This is something I've experimented with before but not too successfully. In any case I tried it here by cutting out a section of mylar the same size as the print. The result is above on a trial proof. I'm still deciding whether I can live with it or should redo it before I print it on the actual edition.

So as you can see it's sometimes easy to get lost in technique when it comes to prints. I really try to stay away from it as much as possible. To me it never adds anything to a print. But it may help save a print, i.e. repair one.

When I print I experiment quite a bit on the way to the final edition. In the 4x6 (7x9 with border) proof above I first printed the second block, which will have all of the colors, in gray. I then printed the first block, consisting mainly of black lines, on top of it. After I'd cut the stencil I decided to print the green of the second block on top. This won't happen when I make the actual print. But for now I just wanted to get a quick look at what it might look like. The black lines, at least as far as my picture perfect plan foresees it, will be printed on top of everything else. So here there would be a black outline around the green walnuts instead of underneath the green.

In the end there's a lot of imagination and guesswork involved. I'm guessing what all of this will look like when I'm done. Of course it won't turn out that way, or is very unlikely to, and I'll then need to improvise. And perhaps I'll have to resort to technique once more to salvage what I've done. If that doesn't work there's always rationalization.

In other news sparrows and butterflies seem to be the most exciting visitors in the natural world right now. I'd love to have the time to do and show some artwork based on them but that will just have to wait.

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