Project 8: Reduction woodcut

Further to my statement of intent (here) I decided to look through various old archive photos as a starting point for this project. There were 2 ideas I had:

  1. Fading boat – A photo from Mull of a decaying boat. Personally I find this boat very poignant and affecting. It is present in our photos but in the recent storms it had been washed away, so it is now just a trace. There are also underlying narratives and associations: memories of my father and also a reflection on the fishing industry / times past. All linking with ideas of loss.
  2. Nan as a young woman – an archive photo from my Mum. Her hairstyle is of a particular era / also many personal associations and memories I would like to explore.

Reduction woodcut – Boat

Design / composition stage

Utilising the PC, I manipulated the image to get a reasonable composition. My aim was to produce a print that expressed the essence of the boat; i.e. representing the old, crumbling wood as it decayed into the sea. Therefore, I chose to use wood for my block which clearly had empathy with these concerns.

I had been looking at William Kentridge’s linocuts recently and found that he worked directly onto the block with a brush and ink, then this was carved by assistants later. The resulting prints had a very painterly quality with a freedom of expression, which I find appealing. My intention was to replicate this in this print.

After some initial sketches in pen and ink I painted directly onto the wooden surface with Indian inks; this was sealed with a mixture of acrylic medium and varnish before carving.

Cutting

Because the extreme looseness of the drawing I found that I freestyled my cutting a lot. I found the wood splintered when I carved across the grain, which I found interesting and wanted to exploit these tendencies mirroring the broken vessel I was trying to depict. I found the marks, and textures particularly pleasing.

Printing

Printing was a challenge as the block was very thick much thicker than a lino block – therefore my registration method did not work effectively and I had to forego this method and register by sight in the end.

For harmony I wanted to stick to a limited colour palette and so used magenta, pthalo green, and white as my main mixes. I wanted to get the green to pop forward a bit so mixed in a little process blue for that layer. For the final layer I used flat black ink, which in retrospect was a mistake – I should have used a mix of red and green for this layer. I think it was due to laziness on my part, it was easier to just squeeze some black out rather than mixing, but the effect is that the final layer looks a little too bold and flattens the image.

For paper I chose to experiment a bit with a range. To further explore the ephemeral nature of the subject I painted some pieces of brown parcel paper with white gesso and printed over this. I feel this worked quite well. I also played around with my inking process when I printed the green layer I deliberately under-inked in place to create a mottled patchy effect that I quite liked.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREOne failed print was on black paper –  I did not register properly I used the wrong size registration corners for the paper, so the image was displaced – I quite liked this effect, as it gave a ghostly/ unreal sort of feel, which is in keeping with my theme. Perhaps it is not 100% effective here but maybe it is an effect I can exploit in the future.

Evaluation

What went well?

  • Colour mixing remains a strength.
  • Interesting use of different materials: wood block and painted paper which conveyed the nature of the subject well.
  • Playing with wood cut and exploiting the material’s tendency to splinter created some interesting textures reflecting the materiality of loss well.

What did not work well / was challenging?

  • Final layer – using straight black from the tube was a mistake. A colour mix of red and green would have created more harmony.
  • Composition and design is weak. It is cluttered and confusing. This was due to free-styling on the block and not having a definite composition from the start. I should have taken longer on the planning stage.
  • Registration was a challenge. Because of the thickness of the block my normal method was not working effectively so I had to change tactic and register by eye in the end.

Development?

  • Be disciplined with taking time on the planning / composition stage as that would create a much better result.
  • Don’t use ink straight out of the tube when producing a coloured print – colour mixing would produce more harmony.
  • I plan to produce another reduction cut but go back to linocut next.
  • Ask tutor about the failed print and possibly consciously using this effect in the future.
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