Well, ladies & gentlemen, as you can see from the delay between last post and this, I've not been particularly active art-wise. The summer months, especially end of August, are taken over with work in the garden, and, as a result, work in the kitchen to put away all those goodies for the rest of the year. You can check out what I've been up to in the garden & kitchen (and a little R&R on the side!) on my other blog, Roman Life.
That said, I just came back from a trip up to my Dad's in Horsefly, and at the beginning of that trip was a fantastic weekend, hosted by the Cariboo Arts Society, where I taught an introductory relief printmaking workshop.
We started the weekend with a discussion of materials and tools used. For this workshop, I had insisted that everyone use the soft carving materials, like Safety Kut or Speedy Cut, for their blocks, because I find that most people are able to carve those materials fairly easily, especially if they don't have great strength in their hands. I showed them different tools to carve with, and of course discussed safety and sharpening (not that I'm the best instructor for sharpening!).
I'd asked everyone to bring some source material, and to choose something to work on that would just be black and white. I demonstrated how I transfer an image from my sketchbook or a photo by tracing onto onion skin tracing paper, then flipping that paper and rubbing the image onto the soft carving block. That automatically reverses your image so that the printed version will come out in the same orientation as your original drawing. This technique works beautifully for the soft vinyl composite blocks, but I haven't had much success with transferring to linoleum that way. As a result of the reversal of the image, we discussed the fact that what you're carving needs to be mirror-image of what you want to end up with on your paper. That always causes a bit of consternation, but if you've got your tracing to work from, and if the tracing paper is thin enough, you can always flip over the tracing paper so that you're looking through the back side of it, giving you the same image that is sitting on your block.
Everyone worked away at carving their blocks for a while, then I demonstrated rolling up the ink on the palette, building up thin layers rather than gobbing it all down in one go. People got really good by the end of the second day recognizing the sound of too much ink, or the feel of not enough ink. We were working with Speedball, and that was a bit of a disaster. It seized up almost immediately. I'd fortunately purchased retarder, which worked quite well, but it still gummed up pretty quickly. At the end of the weekend, I'd asked whether they'd rather have me provide better quality inks for a materials charge, and they'd all agreed that would have been better. The only problem is, of course, as one student pointed out, that they wouldn't have known about the challenges of working with Speedball, and might not have understood the value of having better ink provided for a charge. The other problem is that most people have easier access to Speedball, whereas all other water-soluble inks are mail order only from the States, and that definitely gets a bit pricey, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to ask people to purchase their own inks first in that case. I didn't want people to use oil-based inks for this workshop, mostly because the smell makes me sick, and I didn't feel like having a huge sinus headache the whole weekend!
While everyone was working on their black & white images, and proofing, and printing, I went on to discuss some simple options for adding colour. You can print on papers that are different colours: everyone tried printing on black paper, using either straight white, or inks that had a bit more white mixed in. Some people had small enough images to try out the Mr. Ellie Pooh Paper samples in shades of lavender, golden orange and natural, that I'd brought. Then we discussed using different coloured inks, and I demonstrated a couple of options. Obviously, just a single colour of ink pre-mixed on your palette, then rolled up onto the block is the simplest, but I also showed how you can use the inks in a more painterly manner, by using multiple brayers and selectively adding colour to the image, like I had done for this print. We also discussed using the back of the block to do a solid colour first, then ink the carved image in another colour, and printing that on top (like this one). Finally, I demonstrated the "rainbow" or blend roll (as I had done in this recent print), and provided everyone with a copy as a sample for their records. Everyone tried their hand at different techniques, and came up with some lovely results.
At the end of the day, I discussed the reduction cut method to create a multiple-colour print carved from a single block. I explained the process, then asked them to think about an image they'd like to use, and to work out what the light, middle and dark value shapes were in that image. Then I asked that they do a tracing of each set of shapes, separately, so that they could consider how they might have to break down the image for carving the next day. I also suggested that they think about what colours they wanted to use, keeping in mind the values they'd need to achieve with those colours, and maybe write them down on the separate tracings.
We reconvened the next morning, and everyone had either brought value sketches or tracings of what they wanted to work on. I reviewed the process, and suggested that everyone start with carving away whatever they wanted to remain the colour of the paper. One of the students wished to start with a solid colour, so she inked up the back of her block and printed a series of those first. I made sure that everyone was aware that they should decide how many prints they wanted to end up with in their edition, then add at least another 3 or 4 to that for margin of error.
Before everyone started inking and proofing, I went over a few different registration methods, including the simplest one of positioning the block on the paper, then flipping everything over to burnish the back of the paper to transfer the print. I also showed them how to do T-bar registration and how to use two right angle corners to align first block then paper repeatedly. Everyone decided that simple was best, and chose the first option for their registration, and it worked very well for almost all of their prints, such that very few were spoiled due to mis-registration.
Some students stuck with just three colours: paper as the lightest value, a mid-value, and a dark value, but a couple were very brave and printed three or four colours. One even printed I think five!! Ideally, they should have allowed the inks to dry longer between prints, but the one student who printed the most layers was happy with the textures that were achieved by overprinting still-tacky ink. At the end of the day, everyone managed at least a two-colour reduction, and many went even further. Again, I worked on a demo piece which I sent home with them as a sample for reference to the reduction method.
I was absolutely blown away by the enthusiasm of the students, and their intense focus during the whole weekend, as well as their incredible productivity. Everyone went home with many prints, and with a better appreciation of the relief printmaking process. I am very pleased with the results, and am very grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such a talented crew. I hope they invite me back so that we can play with printmaking some more!!
Thank you, Cariboo Arts Society, for the opportunity to share some of my knowledge and experience.