Reduction Block Printing Step by Step

Cabin
Cabin in the Woods, Edition 8, Color Reduction Block Print

Making a reduction block print is a way to print in color without using multiple blocks.  The drawback of using this method is that since you are destroying the block in the process of making the print, your edition is not only truly limited but you may not get as many finished prints as you planned if the color does not register correctly each time you go to print.  Below are the step by step instruction for how I mad the print above.

For this piece, I decided there would be no white color at all. That is important because, like in transparent watercolor, white in block printing is not an applied color but is simply the color of the paper left untouched by ink (or in the case of watercolor, by paint)The best example of this is to see my post on printing a basic block print.    The first color on this print is a  very light gray, therefore, the entire block was inked up with the gray that I mixed. There is no drawing on the block at this point because I am only interested in printing a solid color. The photo below shows the piece of linoleum and the resulting layer of gray ink on paper.

solid color block first color

The next color I want to print is a pale yellow.  But I do not want to cover up the gray I just printed. At this point, I need to get my drawing onto the block so I know where to carve.  You can draw directly on the block or transfer a drawing.  The trunk of the trees, the cabin, the smoke and some branches will remain gray so those parts of the linoleum need to be carved away.  I have inked the block up with the yellow ink I mixed so you can see the cuts better (left) and the resulting print is on the right.   Because these first colors are so pale, they do not translate well in a photo at this stage.

 

 

The next color I want to print is green.  First I need to make sure that my drawing has not been obliterated when cleaning the ink off the block and, if so,  I need to address that first and redraw those lines.  The next thing to do is to cut away the part I want to remain yellow so they will not be covered up by the green ink. Below  you can see the inked block (right) and the resulting print (left). Now that darker colors are being added, the contrast makes it easier to see how the print is developing.

second cuts inked and printed third color

 

The last color I am adding to this print is a dark gray. So I will carve away* everything that I want to remain green so the dark gray does not cover it up.  I ink up the remaining parts of the block with the dark gray ink and pull the print.  The inked block is pictured to the right below and the resulting print is on the left.

last cuts inked and printed fourth color

 

I do want to make a note of something unusual here. Above I put an asterisk (*) after I wrote that I carved away everything I wanted to remain green.  If you look at the block above very closely,  the foreground is still there.  I choose to leave this so my block would not be “floppy”.  Because where the dark gray was being applied was so far away from this foreground area, it was not difficult to ink that part of the block and avoid this uncarved foreground area.  Generally, I would not leave anything uncarved but in this case, having some linoleum remaining at the bottom of the block  gave some stability to the block when I printed it.

Redoing an Unsuccessful Print

A few posts back I wrote about a print I felt was unsuccessful. I had some wonderful feedback and decided to redo the print.  The first thing I did was change the position of the girl. So unfortunately for the idea of a new working title she is no longer holding a “broken golf club” as per my friend Julie. Sorry Julie!   Many people commented they liked the sky.  I liked the sky too but I needed to adjust the color. My friend Claudia offered that she liked how the girl sort of blended with the background and also suggested I make the head a bit smaller. I did initially make the head smaller but then decided to give her hair a bit more volume which, in combination with the change in position, makes her appear at a three quarter pose which I liked more. The print is also 6 x 8 rectangle rather than a long thin rectangle.

So here is the final piece

Big Dreams
Big Dreams, 2020, Reduction Linocut. Ed. 9 Image: 6″ x 8″

And here is the original

A Poor print
Girl with a Broken Golf Club, First attempt, 3″ x 8″

What was a bonus with redoing this print was the the key block is very good and can be printed on its own and hand colored. A key block is the last color printed (generally black) and gives definition to the image.   Here is the key block and a printed image of the block.

Big Dreams and plate
Carved key block and printed image

Notice the image is reversed from the block. They is how block prints are. I used to tell my student that if they were going to write anything on their blocks, they had better figure out how to write it backwards!

Working Title for the Unsuccessful Print

In my last post I talked about a print that was not successful and asked for feedback. One comment I just absolutely loved from my friend Julie was she was struggling with what the girl was holding and thought is was a broken golf club. I busted out laughing and decided that will be the working title for this piece and any follow up efforts.  Thanks Julie!

A Poor print
New Working Title:  Girl Holding a Broken Golf Club

An Unsuccessful Print

It is important that I share my work that does not come out as planned as well as the work I am happy with. Let’s face it, for every good piece of work, artists (I know this is true for myself) make a few crappy ones.  Sometimes I just rework the same thing and other times I abandon the idea altogether or just put it on pause.    Below is a print that did not come out the way I had planned and I will talk about how it came to be and why I think it basically is not so hot.

A Poor print
Example of a print that did not come out as planned

The original idea for this is pretty much as pictured, a girl sitting on a hill over a stream looking at a big starry sky. The other things this work originally was going to include were a full moon, then a crescent moon, and a cat.  But for some reason, I removed the cat and made a different piece of work with a cat.  But that is another story.   So I decided the focus should be on the girl.

I also wanted to do a reduction linocut, which is a way to print in color. It has been a long time since I have made one and I wanted to see if I could still register my blocks properly.  So what is wrong with this print?  Basically, it is too dark. The one I photographed is a bit lighter but in the majority of them the ink is even darker than the one pictured.  So I decided to add some hand coloring to see if that perked it up.

A poor print 2
Same print with some added hand coloring, but it is still not working for me

It did perk it up a bit but not enough to my liking. So now what?  Basically, I love problems like this.  I will probably make this piece again as a drawing but I may also cut it again and print it in lighter colors.

The point is this:  failure is a great thing. Making art is problem solving.  My thoughts are lighter colors but if this was your work, what would you change?