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Reduction Linocut

For this project, we were required to choose one of the collages we made in the first half of the course and use it as a working drawing for a reduction linoprint. Reduction lino is a process that is similar to Japanese Mokuhanga printmaking, but rather than using separate blocks for each colour layer, only the one lino block is used for all colour layers. This means that the block is slowly destroyed with further carving for each subsequent layer. Pablo Picasso was well-known for using this process, and there’s a pretty good YouTube video that outlines it quite well. After receiving some advice from one of my lecturers, I decided to go with the most ‘achievable’ collage for the time frame we were given - which was about 8-9 weeks. From the ‘Deadly Damsel’ series, I chose the ‘moth-clad damsel’.

Our first step was to take our image and reverse it in Photoshop, then print it out and transfer it to our block. I transferred my image by taping the photocopy in the desired area, and then using transfer paper to trace the image on. Along with transferring the image to our block, we also had to ensure that we decided upon our paper size so that we could determine where to make our registration frame. The registration frame can be created in one of two ways: you can either glue your block onto a slightly larger piece of straw board or mdf, and then glue separate lino strips on the board to create your frame, or you can glue a larger piece of lino onto a larger board and carve away your registration frame. The straw board or mdf must be larger than the lino so the etching press roller has a little extra ‘step’ to climb when the block is run through the press. This helps to prevent the paper from shifting on the block. I chose to carve away my registration frame as I thought it would be more stable, and I was concerned that glued strips may dislodge after wear and tear through the press. You can see how this was done in the following photo.

After carving out my registration and transferring my image, it was time to start carving. I decided not to overthink the colour process as there are so many colours in the image! I did want a few of the prints to have that beautiful blue background, and I was advised by Jazmina - a phenomenal expert in the process - to experiment with blended rolls to get as many colours as possible in the print. In the first layer, I carved away any areas that I wanted to keep white, and printed my blue blended background. From there, I attempted to carve away and print from the lightest to the darkest colours, but even this proved challenging as so many of the colours had similar tones, and I found it difficult to decide which blends to move onto next. I also discovered, later on, that the colour from the previous layer would show through in the layer I was printing. Here is the evolution of the prints.

The first three layers of the prints were relatively successful, although I had realised that the underlying colours did show through a little bit. Even though I was using an opaque white ink in all of the colours, the layers weren’t 100% opaque. You can tell by observing the difference between the prints with and without the blue background. A little bit of the blue still comes through in subsequent layers.

The other challenge I faced was that I wasn’t achieving an even layer of ink on my prints. I had adjusted the pressure several times and ensured I didn’t roll on too much ink (I was probably a little too cautious about this, and didn’t roll on enough). I later learned that the unevenness will affect subsequent layers and that speckling will come through with each subsequent layer. I was rather disappointed with this, but received much needed reassurance that this effect aligns with the aesthetic of moth wings anyway, and that I should try to work this into my artwork. I had initially thought that I hadn’t adjusted the pressure or ink quite correctly, but discovered - much, much later - that I had chosen a paper that wasn’t absorbent enough (the ‘smoothness’ of Dutch Etching paper was okay, but it didn’t grab the ink the way the Somerset Satin did). The next challenge I faced was getting an accurate green/blue blend. It ended up being completely green as much of the yellow was coming through from the previous layer! I had to accept the green blend and make every effort to get some blue in there in the 5th layer.

Yet another challenge I faced was that, after the second layer, all of my 'permanent marker' lines were washing away. I had used a Sharpie, thinking that the ink would have been stubborn enough to stay put, but unfortunately it continued to fade and I had to re-trace the lines after nearly every cleaning of the block. This proved to be very frustrating (and time consuming) and some of the original lines had inevitably been lost along the way.

After rolling up my blue blend, I realised I didn’t have enough contrast in areas where I needed it most. I spent many hours making fine cuts in the wings of the moths, and I was disappointed that these details were lost because the colour contrast wasn’t strong enough. After receiving much needed advice and reassurance from my lecturer, Andrew, I decided to go for a pale/translucent mauve blended with deep purple to try and achieve this contrast. I also found that adding extender to the paler/translucent mauve allowed for some of the blue to come through from the previous layer. It worked out pretty well, but the mottled effect was still showing through. This was the point where I printed a few on the Dutch Etching and the Somerset to determine if the paper quality had affected the print; I lamented when I discovered it did! The Somerset was far superior and allowed for a perfectly even layer of ink that picked up all the fine details. This is one lesson I will surely not forget for the future!

This was printed on Somerset Satin, my new best friend in the paper department.

My seventh layer consisted of a reddish/orangey blend. I found this layer helped to 'pull' the image together, as I had beed frustrated by the large areas of colour despite trying to get consistent blends. There were finally colour contrasts coming through by this stage, and the distinction of colour tones and hues were becoming more evident by this layer. I also found that the layer of colour was much more even by this stage, and I may have inadvertently used a little extra pressure to ensure the ink was distributed across the whole print.

The eighth and final layer was a purple/brown/black blended roll....that just turned out black. Andrew had advised that I could try to resolve the ink distribution issue by increasing the pressure for this last layer, so I attempted to do this....very carefully! Here are the final results.

When it came to experimentation of the prints, I did a few things to try and resolve the unevenness of the ink, and I also tried to adjust colours as I was in the midst of printing. In other words, the colours I mixed at the beginning of a print run were constantly being adjusted as I was printing until I reached the the desired colours. I coloured and smudged three prints with pastels, and for a few others I added pearlescent pigments to add a bit of shimmer. For one print, I spread it over the entire image. I initially thought that this was not the best idea as it spread everywhere! But after printing the black key block, I was really happy with how it turned out. For a few other prints, I decided to brush it on with a very soft brush. This gave a more subtle result. I also had more control over the dusty medium as the pigment would stick to any inked areas, not just the slightly wet ink.

Oil pastel 'first aid' for these rough patches!
This print is completely covered in pearlescent pigment, but isn't noticeable in the photo.

The last - very last - stage before signing the prints was cleaning them. After about four and a half hours of scraping and rubbing, most of them are clean (at least, on the front). The back of the prints are a little inked from being taken off the racks too early. I was a bit hesitant to keep my prints on a shared rack for too long, as I had discovered that one print would 'walk away' occasionally. I was a bit disappointed to find one print in a 'transition' drawer in the studio - one that could have been resolved quite well, but I'll take this as an opportunity to experiment a little more with the oil pastels and print my black' key block' over the top. I learned so much from this course and I will definitely be revisiting the reduction linocut process in the future!

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