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October 15, 2015

Chapter Two – Cutting [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


PLANNING THE COLOR BLOCKS

When the key is in pure outline the planning of the color blocks is a straight-forward matter exemplified by almost any Japanese print. Local color broken only by pattern and modified perhaps by gradations, fills in the spaces outlined. Broadly speaking one block is cut for one color. Even the addition of light and shade does not complicate matters unduly. But the subtle tonal and chromatic changes for which we now look in landscape may be represented only by the cutting of more blocks and by overprinting.

The tendency is to simplify, to cut down the number of blocks. Instead of using a blue and a yellow and a green you try to eliminate the green block and get that color by printing blue over yellow. Tone is a factor which prevents the extended use of overprinting, however. The blue of the sky is not intense enough to give a vivid green, say, for the foreground. But the carnations of the flesh are invariably and best done in this way. Gray in landscape is a valuable undertone. In Wylye Mill Bridge the ground color is gray with only the high lights (in the sky) picked out. Though by overprinting a better surface finish is sometimes acquired, avoid too much of it. It is bad technique —though it happens —to have a number of colors printing one over the other. The paper becomes sodden, which causes delay.

Make sure the grain of the wood is consistent in quality and direction with the texture of whatever the color surface represents. In selecting wood for a line block let the grain run in the general direction of the lines, if possible, since a line cut along the grain is less likely to chip than one cut across. [Example of a Phillips color wood-cut taking advantage of the grain of the wood]

Rather than use a cheap, thin, and more or less transparent paper for working proofs, use ordinary printing paper, or a fairly heavy paper anyway. If it is too thick and opaque after pasting down it may be stripped very easily. When dry separate the superfluous stratum with a knife at one corner and rip it off boldly. Subsequent oiling is necessary. The reason for my preference for heavy paper is that it permits of greater accuracy in printing. A thin paper will sag over every depression) and so cause mistakes in dimension.

Considering one color only, cut around all the masses that contain it and remove the intervening shapes. Only the surface covered by that one color must remain intact.

Cut along the middle of a fine line which defines a color mass. Do not neglect to cut carefully around the corner of the paper which in the process of printing fitted the right angle (the register mark) which you cut on the key block, and along the edge which fitted the line. Make exactly similar cuts to those on the key block. Done properly this is a perfect system of register; on the other hand it is often the cause of much tribulation to the careless worker.

Two colors far enough apart may be cut on one block.

A simple arrangement of a few colors is generally effective where the surfaces are simple and as far as possible unbroken. Study the possible effects of wood grains, and avoid such mistakes as a vertical grain in a sky, or a diagonal grain in a sheet of water. On occasion it is desirable to select a piece of wood whose grain will not print readily; and conversely a wood like fir which prints a most definite grain pattern, has its uses.

When all the color blocks are cut you are ready to print.

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