From Sketch To Print

This was a woodcut reduction print. (See below for more information about this specific technique.)

The start – a pen and wash sketch of a gate I drove past in a nearby village. The sun was hitting the old wall through the bars of the rusty gate and there was dense, lush, varied foliage. I was really drawn to the warmth of the colours and the gorgeous textures.

The first step was to draw the design onto the birch plywood with a permanent marker.

I tinted the board so that I could see where I was cutting more easily. I cut out the Convulvulus flowers as I wanted them to remain paper white. (I left the centre of the main bloom intact though so that it could have some shadow printed later).

I blend each ink colour I use and then roll it very thinly on a plate of glass. This leaves a very fine layer on the roller which I use to transfer the ink onto the wood sheet.

I put the inked wood sheet onto a registration board which holds it in the same position each time I print from it. I mark the registration board with the position of the paper too and clip the paper to the top of the board, ready to be lowered onto the inked wood and printed.

I then lower the paper carefully onto the inked wood and gently burnish (rub) the back of the paper to press it against the ink. By varying the pressure of the rubbing I can achieve different depths of colour and varied textures.

At this stage you can see the white of the flowers and the putty colour that I want for the brick grouting.

Next I cut out the grout areas between the bricks, ready for the first brick colour.

The first brick colour is a graded yellow/green. I sand away some areas that will be leaves so that I can keep some of the golden tints in the foliage.

Next I use a translucent orange to add some more brick tones but I when I burnish the print I reduce the pressure towards the middle where I want the bricks to look lighter in the sunshine. I cut out some of the leaf edges for more Autumn colour and sand some of the bricks to vary the amount of ink they will now take on.

Last brick colour – a rich red.

Here I am painstakingly removing all the bricks ready to print the first of the leaf colours…

A graded pale green, rolled so that a darker colour sits on one side of the roller and inks one side of the wood (and paper) slightly darker.. Next I cut out some of the Convulvulus leaves which were much yellower than the other leaves around the gate.

Now I mix and print a pale bluey green for the verdigrised colour of the gate.

Next I cut out the bars of the gate except for any parts that will be in shadow. Then I print a translucent leaf green and cut out more of the leaves that will remain this green in the finished print. I leave some of the veining on the beech leaves to the right of the print so the details will be picked out by the next, darker green.

A darker, bluer green starts to show the shadows and pushes some of the leaves into the background.

Now I spend quite a bit of time cutting out the rest of the leaves so that I can build up the shadows between them and lay down some shadow on the gate bars. I mix a deep reddish purple and mix in some translucent medium so that it won’t be too intense.

This shows the areas that will have the darkest, final layer of ink. I have sanded some of the wood so that it will produce a softer, blurred edge to the shadow on that part of the print.

I carefully burnish this print layer and keep the pressure very light on the area around the convolvulus. I want to pick out some of the shadows there but not too many or too deeply – I want it to look sun warmed and slightly bleached.

I press harder for the deepest shadows.

Ta Daaa!! The finished print.

Some information about relief printing.

I print with either wood or, occasionally, lino. I like wood for the texture you can achieve and the gorgeous grain you can encourage to show in your prints. I like lino for its ease of cutting – you can get a lovely smooth curve out of lino cuts whereas wood fights back!

Woodcut printing:

Woodcut is a relief printing technique in which a design is carved into the surface of a block of wood (I usually use Japanese Birch), with the parts to be printed remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with sharp gouges. In a simple black and white print the areas to show white (the colour of the paper to be printed on) are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the design to be covered in black ink on the original surface level. The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), before pressing the wood against the paper either in a press or by rubbing the back of the paper (burnishing) with a baren (a flat bamboo disc) or other tool. In multi coloured prints, each time a colour is printed the parts of the design to be left that colour must be carved away before the next colour is printed.

I also choose to print using the reduction method:

Reduction printing:

In reduction printing, a multi-colour print is created using only one block (sheet of wood) by cutting away parts of the design for each colour printed. Every time you print a colour, you then carve away anything on the design you want to remain that colour before printing the next colour. Every sheet of paper in the edition must be printed for each colour, because once you have carved away the block you can not go back at a later stage to reuse the design. Once a colour is printed and the next round of cutting begins, there is no going back. For this reason, the method is often known as “suicide printing.”

Usually the colours are built up from light to dark. The underlying colours can affect the tone of the colours printed over them, depending on how opaque the pigments are.

Printing by hand:

I also hand burnish the prints rather than use a press. I like the option it gives me to vary the pressure and affect the colour and texture achieved in the print.

In traditional printmaking each copy should be as identical as possible to the other; I like to make each print I produce an individual work of art. Mixing my own colours and burnishing by hand gives me that flexibility.