October 15, 2015

Chapter Three [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


The gold and silver in Japanese prints are brass and lead powders mixed with glue and printed directly from the wood block. A better method is to print with a sticky mixture: glue or gelatine size, or gum, mixed with some pigment if you like, and to brush bronze or lead powder over the print with a soft brush, immediately.


The finished prints must be laid out to dry, and then ironed on each side. Use a fairly hot iron, and cover the print during the process with a piece of rice paper or tissue. Or, preferably, place the prints separately between drying boards (straw boards) in a pile under a weight. This process may last a week in a humid climate, so that the first has the advantage of speed.


It is usual among print makers to limit the number of proofs taken from one set of blocks, though hard wood will stand up under very extensive printing. Thousands of good impressions can be pulled. White-wood, which is very soft, failed me on one occasion after four hundred printings wearing on the edges and surfaces, too, but it was a poor piece of wood. That is the only example of serious deterioration within my experience. An edition of one hundred proofs is common. It is indicated on each proof in this way: the first is marked on the lower margin in pencil 1/100, the second 2/100, and so forth. The proof is also signed in pencil immediately below the design on the right, and frequently the title is added.


Proofs are marked “second state” when further work has been done or some alteration made after a number have been issued, and if the second state is final it may comprise a complete edition disregarding the number published in the earlier state. Extra proofs are sometimes made for special reasons, which are indicated thereon.


The most effective way to market prints is through a print publisher, but many of them naturally look askance at an unknown artist. If this should happen to you, submit your work to interested societies for exhibition —a list of them is appended —where the critics in the light of their physical well-being and according to the extent of their knowledge, may appraise them conveniently. For an intelligent estimate of your technique go to another artist working in this medium.


I have tried to describe the whole process of making a wood-cut in color as minutely and as faithfully as possible. Follow the instructions as faithfully and you may succeed. Difficulties will assail you only when you lack in concentration and persistence. It is most important to perform each operation perfectly. Be content with nothing less than perfection. Carelessness in pasting a drawing down on wood for example, must be paid for in time, material, and energy. There is nothing more exasperating than cutting through paper that has failed to stick when sections of it fall away to leave you without guide lines. Every careless gesture entails a penalty —but cultivate patience. In printing, remember that cleanliness and order wait upon success.

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