Color Woodcut Printmaking: Day 4 & 5

The last two days of the workshop were work days. After introducing the two block reduction process on Friday (day 3), we had two full days to either continue working on a single block reduction or do second project. I spent both days working to finish my second print before the workshop ended, and I’m pretty happy with the result.

Two block color woodcut reduction print
The finished print.

Unlike my first piece, this one is a little more representational, or at least not completely abstract. I went on a silent retreat earlier this year here one of the topics for contemplation was how our community (locally and more broadly) is interconnected. The meditation used trees as a metaphor, and how their root systems can intertwine and grow together. Thinking about the retreat and walking the labyrinth there led me to draw this, and the result is pretty close to what I had in mind.

I don’t have photos of every step along the way, but I did make some notes. I printed three passes on the print on Saturday, which translated to six opportunities to lay down color (one from each block on each pass). 

“Block B” inked for the first pass.
“Block A” inked for the third pass.

I didn’t get caught in the trough of despair on this piece, but I did stall out a few times trying to figure out color layering. This is probably something you get better at with practice, so in the end I just made a choice and assumed I could make it work somehow. In retrospect I probably didn’t take full advantage of the possiblities this technique allows, specifically selective inking. I went to “full washes” of color after two passes. That is, I was inking the entire block (although not all necessarily with the same color) after the second pass. I think this worked out in the end, but I did wind up loosing the beautiful smoky gray of the stones as well as some of the sky variation by the final print. 

The print at the end of Saturday with three passes applied.

I also didn’t take any advantage of the “leftover” material on the second block. For the first pass I carved a “channel” around the parts I wanted to ink or not, leaving behind lots of extra wood. An advantage of this process is that that extra wood can be used to “break” the rules. That is, you have what looks like a normal single block woodcut, but marks show up in areas that have already been reduced, etc. The people in class who used this most effectively were working on abstract pieces where the rule-breaking allowed them to respond to each layer in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be possible without the second block.

Overall I’m happy with how it turned out. I did another three passes on Sunday to wind up with the final image, meaning that each piece of paper went through the press 12 times. I learned a lot about registration, color layering, and reduction. I also feel like I learned a little about composition.

When the workshop was over I felt like I wanted to collapse. Five days of printing has been an incredible gift, but also very intense. I’m looking forward to practicing what I’ve learned about reduction, registration, and selective inking. I want to try working with wood some more. I’m also curious to see what it’s like to apply these lessons to linoleum, which I normally work in.