Many people are familiar with printmaking based on having carved and inked a linoleum block in elementary school. The basic idea behind the printmaking process is that an image incised or carved on a block or plate will be transferred to paper when inked and run through a press. In the western world, printmaking originally was used as a medium of communication, evolving in the 19th century into an art form in which printmakers produced limited and signed editions of their work. Because this process is done by hand, all the prints are originals.
Woodcut is my primary medium. It is a complex process involving either multiple blocks that must register precisely on a sheet of paper to produce a full-color print or the more spontaneous reductive process using one or two wood blocks with an alternating sequence of carving and printing until the image is developed. The wood blocks are rolled, using a rubber brayer, with oil-based inks and run through a printing press. Other printmaking processes I use include monotype, drypoint, and collograph. Monotype is a painterly approach in which ink or paint is applied in various ways to a plate, and each print is a one-of-a-kind original. Drypoint involves incising a copper or plexiglas plate, then inking and wiping; a process that imprints linear details. Collograph involves creating a plate by gluing paper, fabric or other material to a surface creating unexpected texture and details.
The process of a multiple-block print begins with a sketch that will be transferred to a block of wood. The carved image on the block will print as a mirror image on paper, so printmakers learn to think in reverse.
I select wood specifically for the grain or texture and how this will contribute to the image. I use mahogany when I want dramatic and visible grain or birch when I need a smooth surface that is conducive to carving fine detail. Most of my images are printed on a combination of both woods.
CARVING THE BLOCKS
Next I transfer the image to the blocks making decisions about which part of the image goes on individual blocks. Usually each block is designated as having a single color or two, and contains a part of the image. A print may require several blocks. All of the blocks will be printed on a single sheet of paper, completing the entire image with all of its colors.
The paper is prepared by tearing it down to size and marking the top and bottom with registration marks that match the marks on the face of the blocks. I enjoy the exploration of finding just the right paper for an image. Paper can be soft, hard, slick, absorbent, and comes in more shades of white than I could ever express.
This is the process of experimentation with color, press pressure, and amount of ink. I often pull five or more prints before I settle on the colors. When I finally get the print that sings to me, I have a big sense of relief-an ahhhhh.... in which I relax with recognition. I am finally seeing what I've been holding in my imagination for so long! This image is called the "proof" and this is the prototype for the entire edition.
EDITIONING THE PRINT
The "edition" refers to the group of prints that will be produced from these plates. It requires all of my skill, visual sensitivity and equanimity to focus and stay present in this demanding process. This is the zen of printmaking! Imagine one print with 8 colors on 6 blocks, requiring 6 press runs and multiply that by 15 prints. Losing track and rolling even one extra layer of ink means that the red in that print will be darker than in the other prints. In the tradition of printmaking, I want every image in the edition to be a close replica of the proof. I sometimes produce "varied editions" in which I deliberately use a variety of color schemes. These are denoted by the "EV" after the number.
Archival digital reproduction
prints are commonly referred to as "giclees" in the art world.
To maintain a value distinction between originals and
reproductions, I put edition numbers only on originals.
I offer my art as reproductions only after the original
edition is sold out and I print them in a different size than
the original. An
exception is the Hawaii Heritage Plant series. My archival
digital reproductions are produced by an art photographer who
uses the highest quality inks that will last a lifetime or
longer and archival papers.
LIMITED EDITION PRINTS
On a limited edition print you will find a series of numbers indicating the order in which the print was pulled and the total number in the edition. 2/10 indicates that this is the second print pulled out of 10 prints total in that edition. After completing this edition I will not print that image again. Art is commonly reproduced by mechanical methods and may be presented in numbered editions. The distinction with printmaking is that each print is an original, with the artist using a press or other method of transferring the image from plate to paper by hand.