Last month, Jules and I walked along the Embarcadero, when we stopped in one of my favorite San Diego bookstores. I pulled out a book on German woodcut prints and showed it to her, saying how much I'd like to try making my own prints sometime.
For the first time since I've lived in California -- almost eleven years -- I have a Christmas tree.
Presents sat anxiously at its base. Being each others' greatest enabler, we had the following conversation:
"Do you want to open presents now?"
Five days before Christmas, wrapping paper exploded across the living room.
The best presents are those that reveal the other person was listening when you felt you were just blathering, and support endeavors that are important to you, even when you felt you were being idealistic or fanciful.
Jules had bought me a woodcut block printing kit. It was perfect.
(She also got me the most amazing alarm clock ever, but that deserves its own entry.)
For woodcut block printing, you are -- in essence -- making a large ink stamp. You carve a design into a wood block, apply a layer of ink, and stamp it onto paper.
This medium forced me to thinking differently about the image and process. Planning was important. There was no such thing as an eraser. The technique of carving and process of stamping reduced the amount of detail that could be given. How would I render an image using scratches? Simple often worked best. For my first prints, I would use only black ink. Therefore the image would have to work in two tones (black ink and the color of the paper). When you wrote in pen, the mark you made was black. However, in block printing, the line you cut would be light -- it is the uncut sections that were black (ink). I had to think in terms of negative space. In addition, the image was reversed left to right (like a mirror). I had to figure a way to transfer my sketch to the block so that it would be flipped vertically during carving, and therefore appear correct when stamped onto the paper.
Conceptually, making a block print was simple, but there were some steps involved.
As the gift meant a great deal to me, I wanted the subject matter for my first block print to be special as well (the kit contained one 4x5" block). I chose the Flatirons located in my beloved Boulder, Colorado.
This has been my subject matter for a few pieces (an oil painting, pen sketch, and a watercolor -- all done while sitting before the Flatirons).
I took this black and white photo four years ago.
I drew the image in my sketchbook to the same dimensions as the wood block (5x4").
I traced the design onto wax paper and transferred it onto the linoleum layered block by flipping the wax paper over and retracing the outline again.
After the image had been drawn in pen on the block with the image reversed left to right, I started carving.
It turned out that inking the block was almost an art form in itself. I thinned the sticky ink with a few drops of water so that it laid on the block correctly. The type of paper also made a considerable difference. But after some experimenting, I created my first official print.
I produced 14 total prints for this series -- each hand inked and pressed.