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October 15, 2015

Chapter Three [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


GRADATIONS

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To print gradations load only one corner of the brush with pigment, the rest of it with a little water and paste. If the gradation covers a large space this is unnecessary: start with a full brush where intense tone is intended and work towards the light; you will find if you manage properly that you will finish with a comparatively clean brush. It is sometimes expedient to print the gradation first, and a flat tone over it. For small areas, such as the boy’s red cheeks in The Bather, use a dry brush with a small quantity of strong pigment, already mixed with paste, on damp wood.

The practice of mixing powder and paste on the slab before use is effective for intense tones, and small patches of color, and it saves time on most blocks. The ideal surface, however, is obtained only by brushing paste over color already spread upon the block, and this method should always be used for large masses of color.

The best impressions are taken when the wood has become a little sodden with paint and paste and its pores closed. It follows that the more impressions taken off at one sitting the better. After trial proofs have been pulled and studied, and the final state of the print decided upon, let your first set number as many as may be finished conveniently in two days.

When your papers become too dry always stop printing and slip them between damp sheets of newspaper. It will never do to persuade yourself that a slight dryness does not matter, or that with only a few more to do you might as well go on. It is the little extra trouble occasioned by the determination to have every step perfectly accomplished that makes all the difference between success and failure. From beginning to end everything must be right, every small process efficiently performed, all mistakes corrected, not slurred over, and success, you will find, is easy of attainment.

Trial proofs show mistakes made in cutting; faulty register marks for example, which must be corrected; smudges which indicate shallow clearing of waste spaces; overlapping edges, and so forth.

I have described this process because I have found it the most satisfactory; not the easiest, but the most beautiful. Other binders than paste may be used. Some artists invariably use oil on dry and unsized paper, in the form of printers’ inks, of doubtful permanence, or artists’ oil paints in tubes, conserving a great deal of energy. For years I used water-colors in tubes or pans, latterly with a little paste, on unsized paper. The print so made differed from the powder-and-paste print in surface quality. It has an unpleasant glaze due to the gum, and records also all the imperfections of the wood, because, being very finely ground, the pigment penetrates its pores, and even with the aid of paste has insufficient body.

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