I’ve been searching for years for a decent course on printing. I think I’m partially inspired by the great work done by Shannon’s mother, Sandy. She’s been through most types of printing, as far as I can tell, and her output is beautiful. We have a few pieces of hers at home.
I think I also like the qualities of good embossing, the depression left on decent paper from a print.
I missed my opportunity a little when I was in Seattle, because now that we’re back in the UK there are NO courses anywhere, as far as I can see. Meanwhile, whenever I’m back in the UK I bump into friends who’ve been doing printing workshops in one of Seattle’s colleges.
I finally got fed up with this situation and decided to get on with it. Getting on with it, in a house with little spare room, and without the facilities to deal with many of the more caustic aspects of some of the print processes, meant starting a little modestly. Luckily, I came across a copy of Louise Woods Practical Printmaking on sale in a local art shop. It’s the first book I’ve found that literally shows photos of most print processes step by step, with all the required bits of equipment. Really great resource. After reading it I picked on woodblocks as a first process to try.
There are basically two engraving processes for wood, woodblock and woodcut. Woodcut uses often cheap planks of wood, and you cut along the wood, with the grain. The texture of the grain is an integral part of the design, and it’s also a constraint, since you’re really forced to cut in one direction.
Woodblock, on the other hand, is done on pieces of wood that are cut across the middle of the tree, so you’re carving into the end grain. This means there is no grain to cut with. You can cut in any direction. And the type of wood you use (typically boxwood, lemonwood or maple) are selected for the tightness of their grain, and are quite expensive once they’ve been cured. This means you tend to work using quite small pieces of wood, which fits my space constraints quite well.
In addition to the wood, you just really need a couple of gravers, some ink, a roller, something to roll the ink out onto before you put it onto the block (like a sheet of glass) and some paper. And a spoon to rub the print down with. At some point I’ll take some step-by-step shots of the process, but for now I thought I’d just show some results.
Here’s my first attempt, an anniversary print as a gift for Shannon. Our fifth anniversary was in September ’07. Five years = wood apparently. The print is of the view from our house, out to the Thames past our fence line. That’s the block standing up in the back, obviously, after it has been inked up.
In December I made our Christmas cards. This is an image of our cat, Sidney, “frolicking” in the snow.
One other printing process I’ve always wanted to try is letterpress. This is one that is hugely challenging if you’ve got space constraints since most presses are huge and heavy. But a couple of months ago I found out about Adana, a company that used to make really small presses that print onto cards that are limited to about 5 by 3 inches. They’re made for invitations, and things like that. You can find them, and all their accessories, very easily on eBay. They’re also only about a foot and a half by a foot in dimension, and easy to carry. So they’re pretty straight forward to store. Here’s a shot of someone else’s press. It’s pretty identical to mine.
Again, I’ll go through the process in more detail another time. I’m just trying to get my output into a blog post at this point. With the Adana, all I’ve done so far is a valentine’s day card for Shannon. I find it much easier to find a theme for a print if it’s for someone, and around a specific occasion. That someone often seems to be Shannon 🙂
Here’s a shot of some type I arranged in the shape of a heart. Most of the letters are selected to create the form of the heart, rather then making any grammatical sense. Can you spot the four letters that actually mean something?