Sunday, October 13, 2019

"Keepers of the Desert" 3-Color Reduction Linocut

A few weeks ago, I completed my first reduction linocut print since returning from my summer workshop at Penland School of Craft. It was a valuable learning experience for me, so I thought I'd share a bit about the process here. 

For video clips and further explanation of the printing process,
check out my Stories on Instagram @smallfoxpress

As great as it was printing on Penland's automatic Vandercook letterpress machines, I don't have the advantage of such technology in my home studio. So initially, there was a lot of trial and error as I sought to find the perfect registration system for the Jack Richeson Medium Press that I picked up via Craigslist shortly after returning home from North Carolina.

Registration refers to how well the layers of color align on a print. Each layer of color requires another pass through the press, and another opportunity for either the block or the paper to fall out of alignment. To ensure precise registration, I purchased a set of Ternes-Burton Registration Pins and Tabs, and am really satisfied with how well they worked. However, there was one flaw in my system: The cardboard jig that I made for the block was not 100% snug, and the block was able to shift slightly, resulting in some imperfect registration on a few prints. Something to improve upon next time.

"Keepers of the Desert" is a 3-color, single reduction linocut, meaning that the print was carved from a single block of linoleum. After the first layer of color is printed, the block is carved again in preparation for the next layer. This process was repeated three times. Because the first two layers were destroyed via the carving process, this is a limited edition print. It cannot be reprinted.

I realize that most folks who are new to printmaking find it somewhat challenging to visualize the reduction process, so I made this little gif to show how the layers of the colors stack up (from lightest to darkest):

After many hours of drawing and redrawing, the design is transferred to the linoleum block using a graphite pencil and tracing paper. 

Carving the first layer of color.

The first layer of color is printed. The number of prints made at this stage will determine the maximum number of prints in the edition. It's best to print more than desired, as this layer cannot be reprinted after further carving.

Carving the second layer of color. More details begin to emerge. 

The second layer of color is printed. The print is beginning to take shape. 

 The third and final layer of color (the "Key Block") is carved, inked, and ready to be printed.

 The final layer of color is printed. Registration looks good!

As I mentioned, this print turned out to be a great teacher for me, and I learned a lot through the process of creating it. I'm glad to have challenged myself, but it certainly wasn't as easy without the support of a knowledgable instructor and a studio full of other talented artists to help guide and reassure me through the inevitable bumps in the road. I have a feeling that I'll be drawing from the wisdom and confidence bestowed upon me by my Penland experience for many years to come.