Monday, February 6, 2017

Making Lemonade Out of Failed Woodcuts

A few less-than-ideal proofs

I'm discovering that you can accumulate A LOT of "failed" woodcut prints. There are smudges, bare spots, prints where the register was off, areas where I either over-inked or under-inked the block, or prints that I discovered later had random bits of detritus accidentally adhere themselves to the print and are now an unwelcome part of the artwork. (For a good overview of the most common problems in block printing and how to fix them, check here). My pile of rejects is towering over my pile of acceptable prints, and it is rather disheartening.

As I delve deeper into the world of relief printmaking, I've been making a general pest of myself with other printmakers, asking all sorts of questions and soliciting advice. Thankfully they all seem to be a very generous and patient bunch. The other week I was having an email conversation with the wonderful and talented printmaker Belinda Del Pesco about a totally unrelated issue when she happened to mention using colored media on the reject prints. My brain packed that little nugget away, but it didn't take long for it to come in handy.

One of the most challenging pieces I'm working on is a woodcut of a tree in winter. I love the image, but have been having the hardest time getting it to print the way I want. Part of the problem is that I live in a very dry climate. (I'll be posting about the problems of and solutions for printmaking in a dry climate sometime soon) The wood just soaks up any ink I put on it. The other day I was looking at all the sad proofs of the tree print in my studio and Belinda's comment popped into my brain again. I took a proof off the pile, reached for my watercolors that just happened to be sitting close by, and...

Tree in Winter
5.5x5 inches, woodcut with watercolor

In some ways, I actually like this better than my intended vision for the woodcut. The color seems to bring out the texture in the tree bark and the cold wintry feel of the night. Suddenly that pile of reject prints looks more like a pile of artistic gold!

Obviously a huge thanks to Belinda Del Pesco for making this blog post possible. Belinda has a time lapse video on using watercolor on a woodcut print. Check out her other printmaking videos on her YouTube channel here.

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