July 26, 2016

Provincetown White-Line Technique

        You can review my previous post to brush up on the origins of Provincetown white-line printmaking.  Today I’m going to go into more depth about the step-by-step of the method.
         So, step one is to design an image like a coloring book picture - just the outlines of all the areas.  I actually made four or five different sketches trying to figure out the right level of detail for a first experiment in this style.  I kept making designs that I thought would be too complicated.  However, when all you carve is basic outlines, carving goes very quickly compared to the usual kind of blocks that I do!  The characteristic white outlines result when those lines are the only areas of the block that are actually carved away and can’t carry ink.
        Once all the outlines are carved, each outlined shape is then painted with ink, one at a time, and pressed individually.  To keep the registration, the paper is tacked onto the edge of the block, folded back while an area is painted, then folded down and pressed to print the ink.  This is repeated until all the colors are done for a single complete impression.
        As I mentioned before, in a traditional multi-block print, you print the entire edition’s worth of one color (one block), followed by the entire edition with the second color (second block), and so on.  In the Provincetown method, all the colors are done on one impression before the second impression of the edition is begun.  The Provincetown printers often worked on several blocks at a time so that they could do the yellow of three different blocks, then the light green of all three blocks, and so on.  I had two blocks to work on, but one was carved in wood and inked with watercolors, but the other was carved in rubber and inked with markers, so they didn’t share ink anyway.  (Watercolor doesn’t work with rubber blocks because it just beads up, and besides, the rubber block version is to be a possible project for my class this week, so I wanted a version that would be easy for kids.)
        At any rate, the effect of each impression being colored individually is that each impression can be done with its own individual color choices - any two impressions from the same block could have all the same colors, or minor variations, or a completely different palette.    For my wood block print I decided what colors I liked best and just stuck with them - no wildly original red dandelions or purple grass.  But I did make two versions of the child.  Although the design is based on a photograph I took of my son P many years ago, I love the photo because of its universality.  It might be my own son, but don’t all children love to pick flowers?  Don’t all children recognize the beauty in the flowers that adults tend to call weeds?  Don’t all children love dandelions or other “interactive” plants that can be blown, popped, scattered, or otherwise played with?  So I made the blond version that looks like P, and I also made a version with another child, who may be painted with different colors, but is exactly the same at heart.  Aesthetically I like the second child better because I think the dark colors have more interesting contrast with all the light and bright colors elsewhere.
        I tried more variations with my window box design, where I experimented with different colors of flowers, and different combinations of siding and window box paint.  Because I used markers, I couldn’t blend the perfect colors but was stuck with the plain colors that came in the set.  Mostly I would have liked some lighter colors for the house siding: a greyer blue, a paler yellow, maybe a beige…  But while they give less flexibility in color, the markers and the small size of the block do make it easier to experiment.
        I confess that this is not my favorite kind of relief block print.  I like prints better with more interesting carving, and I like the ink to emphasize the carving, rather than just its own color.  I don’t think I have any interest in doing more, or at least not at the moment.  Still, it was fun to try something new, and if my students come up with any masterpieces at the end of the week, I’ll be sure to share them.

[Discovering Dandelions, while-line wood block print in two color variations by AEGN, 2016;
Paper tacked to blocks for registration;
Paper tacked to wood block with several colors printed;
Paper tacked to rubber block with several colors printed, photos by AEGN, 2016;
Little Window Box, while-line rubber block print in three color variations by AEGN, 2016;
Inked block by AEGN, 2016.]

1 comment:

  1. P.S. We ran out of time and the kids never tried this project after all. Maybe next year.