In relief printing, the artist draws a design on a smooth block of material, usually wood or linoleum, and uses tools to carefully cut away the areas that are not to be printed, leaving behind a raised surface of lines and shapes. The surface of the block is inked using a dabber or a roller. A sheet of paper is then placed on top of the block and vertically pressed against the surface; this can be done by hand or using a printing press. The most common types of relief processes are woodcut, linocut, and wood-engraving.
Design and Carving
Designs are created and drawn on a flat block of wood or linoleum. The composition is created knowing that the print will be a mirror image of the carved block. All areas that are not to be printed are carved away using small hand chisels and U-shape and V-shape gouges. The Raised area of the block that remains will be the printable surface. Depending on the complexity of a block this process can take several weeks, and a series of test prints are made to trouble shoot and check for mistakes.
Once a block has been carved and checked for mistakes it is ready to be inked. After carving a blocks raised areas are inked with a roller, or brayer using oil based inks. The ink is mixed and rolled out on a flat smooth surface. Once it is the desired consistency and color it is applied to the block. Various processes can be used to add multiple colors, colors can be added by hand after an outline is printed, blocks can be carved in multiple sessions for reduction prints, or multiple blocks can be registered together to create one final print. Multiple block prints are achieved using a key block with a master image.
Printmaking papers are available and are usually handmade. I prefer to use Arches BFK paper, a handmade cotton paper manufactured in France. I also use a Japanese Washi paper which is also handmade. These papers can be slightly dampened to create a nicer print and are specific to printmaking. Other papers may be used with less high quality results and will not be archival, resulting in fading over time.
I print on a Griffin Etching Press manufactured in 1984 in San Diego California. I also have access to several other etching presses including a Conrad Press. The studio also includes several letterpresses including a press from the late 1800s and several large cabinets of type. I print at the Imagine Butte Resource Center Community Print Studio where I volunteer to teach printmaking and have loaned my Griffin Press for public use during workshops.
Printmaking is traditionally a community oriented affair and I am proud to continue that tradition by participating in a public studio.