BY PROCESS OF REDUCTION
November 13 - December 23
Reduction block printing (woodcuts/linocuts) is a centuries old process that enables an artist to add successive layers of color to a print by carving away or “reducing” portions of the printable surface of the block between each layer. It’s a process of addition by subtraction.
I do reduction block prints (woodcuts/linocuts) with multiple color layers. Once I have been sufficiently inspired to select a subject for one of my prints, I mentally deconstruct it down to its essential elements. These include the essential colors, objects, shadows, etc. that will be necessary to recreate the image in such a way as to be similar enough to the original, but that will result in an entirely new, simplified creation.
The process begins with a photo or combination of photos from which I produce a very rough sketch. I typically do my sketches on tracing paper so I can easily transfer it to the block in reverse. For any areas that I want to keep white (or the color of the paper), I will first carve those sections out so they are below the printable surface and will always remain white throughout the process. I determine how many color layers each print will require and in what order to apply them at the outset, although I may add colors or eliminate them as I go along. I will then ink either the entire block or just a portion of it with the first color. Once the block is inked, I carefully place the paper on the block and run it by hand through the press to get the impression of that color on the paper. Registration of the paper on the block needs to be precisely the same with each layer or the end result will not be successful.
After the first impression has been completed on the full edition (I typically do editions of 10-20 prints), I carve away the area of the block that I just printed and then go through the same process with the next color layer. For example, if I’m doing 13 color layers and an edition of 20, that will require 260 individual impressions. Each time paper touches block there is a risk of error and it’s common to lose prints along the way. Also, with the reduction process, there is the risk of carving away a portion of the block you shouldn’t have. That usually means starting over (sadly, I speak from experience.) After the final layer, almost all the printable area of the block has been carved away – hence the name reduction block print. By default, it is a limited edition, because it is impossible to create any additional prints. Once all layers have been printed, I hand deckle the edges of the paper and number, title and sign each print. This entire process will typically require 3-4 weeks to complete.
Despite the risks, constraints, and challenges, I enjoy the process. I like that it’s a combination of both sculpting and painting and requires both right-brain and left-brain thinking. Most of all, I love the simple, unique look of the finished prints.