October 15, 2015

Chapter One – The Print [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


Any subject is suitable provided it is of sufficient interest, but the design must be very carefully considered, and plenty of time and thought given to its construction. It is a responsible undertaking, the making of prints. You may be guilty of perpetrating an ineffable painting, but make a print of it and your crime is a hundred times worse. Subjects may be sought from among your paintings, or in your sketch-book, or you may deliberately make drawings with a print in view. Any medium may be used for recording suitable ideas. The Japanese artist invariably drew with a brush, but since a long and arduous apprenticeship gave him facility with this instrument, and you have not had that advantage, I would not recommend it. “It looked very simple,” wrote Mrs. Bertha Jaques, in her delightful monograph on Helen Hyde, “and I secretly thought it easy to do; but repeated trials convinced me that such skill is not Heaven-born with the unpractised occidental.”

While a line and wash drawing would suit Mr. Platt, Mr. Giles would work from a painting in full color. Whatever the medium a cartoon in color is usually made, wherein form is very carefully defined, and due regard has been given to the simplification of its color scheme, its tonal effects and shapes, to accord with the number of blocks to be used. Some of the tonal and chromatic subtleties which you seem to sacrifice here may be picked up again in printing.

The first block you engrave must serve as a key for those that follow, and therefore must embrace as much of the design as possible. It may not be a pure line block at all. Make it a prevailing color if you like—in a figure the color of the flesh shadows; in a sunlit landscape the sun shadows—purple or gray.

Whatever color you select trace it out upon a sheet of, say, rice paper in soft pencil, or pen or brush and water-proof ink. Place this tracing between sheets of damp newspaper, and let it absorb moisture whilst we meditate upon the many varieties of wood, and a little longer upon the key-block.

Two or more planes in a picture often necessitate the cutting of two line blocks.

A key-block may be cut with every form outlined, irrespective of tone or color, and in the final printing may be eliminated wholly or in part.

Outline may be avoided also by a system of additions in which succeeding color-blocks are printed to form a key for the next: thus 1 is the key for 2, 1 and 2 for 3, 1, 2 and 3 for 4, and so on.

An alternative method: Make your cartoon in color on stout tracing paper, which may be conveniently stretched in a double frame, and trace each color as required directly upon the wood.

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