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.
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 Woodcut Printing
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 and how this will contribute to the image. I use mahogany with its dramatic and visible grain for my background blocks. Fine-grained birch is used for my detail block. Look for the background textures and weaves created by the wood.
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 part of the image, and 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.
After the first rough carving of the blocks, this is the process of experimentation with color, press pressure, and amount of ink. I often pull five or more prints adjusting the carving and colors until I get the print that looks right. This image is the called the “proof” and this is the prototype for the entire edition. I sometimes produce “varied editions” in which I deliberately use a variety of color schemes. These are denoted by the “EV” after the number.
Editioning the Print
The “edition” refers to the group of prints that will be produced from these blocks. Editioning is the structured and rhythmic process of printing the blocks onto paper in sequence, finally arriving at the completed print.
What do the numbers mean?
Near the signature, each print is marked with numbers indicating the order in which it was pulled and the total number in the edition. 2/20 means this is the second in an edition of 20 prints.