Cat and Dragonfly, 8"x10", Block Print on Mulberry Paper, 2017, MEC.
Above are a series of block prints of the same image in different colored inks and on different tints and textures of handmade papers. Block printing is a medium that allows you as the the artist to explore the same image with different colors, values and textures. Here is how it is done:
I first created a line sketch on tracing paper. While sketching I consider how I will create a "hierarchy of line." In other words, which lines will be thinner and which thicker. Remember the human eye is drawn to darker, bolder lines, so those lines will appear to come forward or rather be in the foreground; whereas thinner, more delicate lines recede and will appear to be "behind" the bolder lines in the picture plane. Also, I consider where I want the viewer of the work to look first, second, third..etc. By creating a hierarchy of line I can create visual movement that draws the viewer not only into the illusion of spatial depth in the work, but around the work. My composition employs not only line but, value (darks and lights) in order to enhance movement, create emphasis as well as balance and unity through the definition of positive and negative space.
I like to draw the final image on the block with a permanent marker in such a way that I capture the line variety I am trying to maintain. This helps me be able to focus on just careful cutting of the block rather than trying to remember while I am cutting which lines should be thick and which should be thin and which should be positive (left in high relief) and which should be cut away (negative cuts).
Using a block carving knife with a variety of tips, including an x-acto knife for particularly detailed and delicate areas, I begin to remove the block material where I want to paper to be exposed (light values) and keep clean sharp edges area the high areas which will be "inked" to insure a clear, sharp image.
Here is the completed cut print block. The first few prints are "proofs" to see if I need to return to the block with the cutting tools in order to make corrections, edits, or just simply sharpen up some areas. You will notice that the block is inked and ready for printing revealing the "highs" and "lows" of the relief that the original pencil line sketch has become. I like to keep some of the accidental lines to give directional movement and texture to my block print designs. You could say it is part of my style as a block print artist.
On the inking plate I mix my colors. Here I have a combination of brown, copper and a touch of black. I use scrap paper for a few practice rolls of the roller in order to be sure the ink covers to roller evenly before I ink the plate. I try to be sure that the ink is rolled on the plate evenly and thoroughly, but not thickly as a thick application of ink on the plate will cause the image edges to be blurred.
Handmade, absorbent, flexible, soft papers are best. Be sure to use papers that are labeled as being for block printing. The paper is gently placed on top of the plate (you do not "flip" the plate, that would be messy and difficult to keep the image and paper edges square). Once the paper is in place, I firmly, but gently use the round tool with the wooden handle, called a baren, to smoothly and evenly press the paper on the plate being sure that I work from center out to the edges and all around the image. Different tooth (roughness or smoothness) of papers and different textures from fibers and other materials within the paper (I am fond of papers with leaves and flowers embedded in them) will create different effects with the printed image. I enjoy experimenting and trying to create thematic connections between the paper materials and the subject in the image. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!