March 12, 2013

When Black & White are Not Enough - Method 2

        Sometimes a little touch of color just doesn't do the job.  Sometimes you want a full-color block print.  Then it's time for…

Method 2.  Ink and print separately for each color desired.
        This can be done with the same block or with different blocks for each color, but either way the biggest issue is registration: making sure all the separate printings line up.  At least, that's the biggest problem I've had when I've experimented with doing multi-color prints.  My solution was to make myself a cardboard frame (I'm sure most people use wood!) that will always hold the block and the corner of the paper in the same position relative to each other.  Even so, you end up rejecting a lot more prints.  Not only will a mistake in any one of the printings ruin it, but so will misalignment between any printings.  It's a pain in the neck, for sure!
        2A.  In traditional western block printing, the most common method is to carve a separate block for each color.  This allows the
image to be printed over and over with maximum accuracy.  I've tried this only once, and it was not a success.  (The colors didn't layer the way I expected them to.)  So I've posted an example above from someone generally considered a little more successful than me!
        Separate blocks are not the only option.
        2B.  In traditional Japanese printmaking, separate blocks are used, with a key block for the black including the outlines.   However, some blocks may be inked with more than one color, especially for the subtle gradations you see in many Japanese prints.  Multiple colors can be done all at once, or done using the same block in different print runs for the different colors.  Registration is aided by making the wood block larger than the paper, with a notch cut into it at the corner.  Then each time the block is printed, the paper must be lined up with the notch.

        2C.  In a reduction print the same block is used for all the colors, but recarved between each.  This blue jay is my very simple example.  First I carved away everything that was to be white and printed with blue ink.  Then I took the same block and carved out all the parts that were to remain blue, leaving only the parts to be printed with black.  The method can, of course, be used for lots more colors than a mere two.  The main disadvantage of this method is that you can never go back and print more, so you have to print lots and lots of extras of the first color to allow for attrition in each successive printing.  (I am fascinated by this method and plan to try more, so I'll be coming back to this in more detail in another post.)
        2D.  And finally there's the Provincetown or white line style of block printing.  This is another one I want to try myself, so I expect to post more about this later.  For now, I'll just explain that only one block is carved,
with white lines separating each differently colored area, almost like a coloring book.  It's then inked (with a brush instead of a brayer, for control) and printed one color area at a time.  Often the paper is pinned to the side of the block, folded back during inking, and folded down again to print.  Instead of printing an entire edition's worth of sheets in one color before going on to the next color, each print in an edition is printed in its entirety, one color after another, before the next piece of paper is begun.  Artists often experiment with many different color variations instead of making each print identical.

        Inking multiple colors separately is definitely more complicated than plain old black and white.  But what's up next?  Ink isn't the only thing that comes in different colors…

[Pictures: Portrait of a Woman after Lucas Cranach II, linoleum block print, 1958 (Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art);
Massaki and the Suijin Grove by the Sumida River, wood block print by Hiroshige from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856-8 (Image from;
Blue Jay, rubber block print by AEGN, 2010;
Provincetown Backyards, wood block print by Blanche Lazzell, 1926 (Image from Baren).]

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