5.22.2006

A Woodcut How-To

I spent last night and this morning working on a woodcut of Jenny, rediscovered the sheer joy of printmaking and decided to post a how-to in case anyone is interested in trying one on their own. This here Jenny is 5x7", an edition of 12, some of which will be mailed out to unsuspecting victims this week (or as soon as I can get to the post office). Normally printmaking requires a press...lithography, acid-etching, even linoleum usually needs to be run through a press to transfer ink from your plate to your page, but with a woodcut, all you need is a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. It can get complicated for some people, because it is a reductive process, but I prefer to work reductively (especially with charcoal...I usually cover the page black, then erase away the image).
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First let's talk supplies. You'll need wood (nothing too hard or you'll wear yourself out carving), paper (any kind really, though Japanese papers or rice papers work best), a tear-bar for tearing your paper, ink (which comes water-based and oil-based), a brayer (basically a rubber rolling pin), a flat surface to roll out ink (glass or plexi is best because it won't absorb the ink as you are working), and some carving tools.
I'm discussing a one-color print here, doing multiple colors is much more complicated, I'll explain at the end. Start off by drawing the image onto your wood plate. Keep in mind that carving is easiest if you go WITH the grain of the wood. You can draw in graphite but the graphite marks will sometimes transfer to your paper when you print, so it is best to use a sharpie or permanent marker to draw your image, and will be easier to see that way...I usually draw in graphite then go over with a marker...also keep in mind that the image when printed will be a mirror reflection of the plate, so lettering, etc. needs to be drawn backwards. Check the composition of your image by holding the plate up to a mirror, then if you're satisfied, start carving away the negative space. I chose a fairly soft wood, so I was able to use my dremel with a very small drill bit to outline the hair and carve away the smallest details in Jenny, then used wood-carving tools on the rest of the plate. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Once the plate is carved its time to print. Prepare your paper, you usually want a border around the image, with about twice as much space at the bottom of the page so the image can 'breathe' a bit. Figure out what size each piece of paper should be...here my plate is 5x7", so my paper is about 7x8.5", Rives BFK, leftover scraps that I had sitting around. Don't CUT the paper to the size you want, TEAR it so that you have a sort of fuzzy edge...most fine drawing papers have fuzzy edges, and its a nicer presentation if the rest of the edges are similar. I don't have a tear-bar (a large metal bar with a beveled edge) so I used a T-square...mark your paper where it will be torn, line up the bar, and tear the piece quickly, one swift whoosh. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Now you're ready...squeeze a small amount of ink out onto your rolling surface. I used a water-soluble black Speedball ink here, just slightly more viscous than acrylic paint. Use the brayer to spread out the ink, like rolling out dough for a pizza, until the brayer is evenly coated, then roll the ink onto your plate, not too thick...you will need to print a couple of APs (artist proofs) because the wood plate will absorb much of the ink on the first few prints, and your image will be light. You can also use the AP to make sure everything is carved the way you want it. Here's a comparison between my AP and the final print of the series... Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
After you roll the ink onto your wood, place a piece of your paper on top of it. You can register the paper to make sure it is lined up properly, and will have to if you are doing multiple colors, but here I just sort of eyed it up. Press the paper down a bit with the palm of your hand, then take the wooden spoon and start rubbing, putting as much pressure on the spoon as you can handle.
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I usually get all of the edges and corners first, then rub horizontally across, then vertically, then diagonally, to make sure that I have rubbed the whole plate. Then peel off the paper, and Voila! Your first print. Keep doing this for each piece...the more you print the less ink you will need toward the end, because the plate will hold a lot of ink.
Technically I could do another run off of this plate (I won't) because it is one color. For multiple colors, it gets a little complicated. Here is an example of a three-color woodcut that I did of my Grandmother when she was ill.
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First I carved away only what I wanted to remain white, the white of the page. Then rolled the block in yellow and printed 10 copies. Then I carved away wherever I wanted the yellow to show, rolled the plate in light green, and printed again, directly on top of the previous color drop (which is where registering the paper comes in, to make sure you place the page in the same spot)...then I carved away what would stay lt. green, rolled the plate with dark green, and did the final color drop. The cool thing here is that once you're done, that's it. You can never print the plate again in the same way because of the in-between carving, unless you do each color on a separate plate, which is even more complicated, because then not only do you have to line up the paper properly, but you have to make sure that the image is in the same place on each plate.
My next Jenny print :) will be multiple colors...
Hope you learned something useful...with stop-motion, I am such an information leech that its nice to feel like I'm giving something back for a change...

24 comments:

herself said...

Wonderful, Jeffery! I love the idea of your film project art being made into hand-crafted artwork as well. I can't wait to treasure my very own, original, hand-carved, Jenny woodblock print on fine art paper with deckled edge. And I loved getting to see how you've created them!

sven said...

Lovely tutorial -- and I ADORE the print! It's too bad doing woodblock prints as animation would be so damn laborious... I feel like you really conveyed Jenny's essence in this image.

Ale said...

I love it too you information leech ;) just kidding

I've wanted to sculpt some wood for a while, so I might try this someday.

See ya (and sorry again for those 'Ale Stop Motion invited you to become a member of his blog' mails....just delete them)

Anonymous said...

Very nice Jeffery,

Thanks for the clear explanation and photos, I had never seen the multi color from the same plate process before. That seems much easier than the multi plate version. Although there is no going back to change an earlier color.

How do you keep the sheet of paper from moving as you rub it with the spoon? Is the ink tacky enough to keep in in place or do you have to be real careful?

nice work!

It's got my wheels turning.

Mark F.

Darkstrider said...

Whoah!

How totally Expressionist of you Jeffrey! I love woodcuts... it's almost like an Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Ubatuber said...

Thanks folks!

Shelley--deckled, yes, great term that I had forgotten, thanks for the memory jog...sounds much more professional than 'fuzzy' :)

Sven--woodcut as animation would be cool, been trying to figure a way to mesh the 'fine art' with the animation...it would be much cooler without having to rely on digital manipulation, but talk about time consuming!!...like a primitive Walt Disney, printing frame by frame from blocks of wood...

Ale--someday I'm going to make a wooden puppet, I have this image in my head of a tribal sort of guy, with woodburned and carved tattoos...its on the growing mental list ;)

Mark--I like that there's no going back, makes the edition more precious. The process is called Reduction Woodcut, and registering the paper is the key...the way I was trained to do it may be difficult to explain without pics, but let me try....basically you set up a frame around the block with pegs in it, tear your paper so that it has extra space around the edges that will be torn off after printing...the extra page space has holes punched which fit onto the pegs in the outer frame, so that when you place the paper it falls in the same place every time....its not perfect, you need to allow for a few prints that will not be registered properly, but the possibilities are endless, Ive seen prints that had dozens of different color drops...
The ink is tacky, yes, but you do have to be careful...the thinner the paper, the easier to print, hence the rice paper recommendation...also with rice paper, its transparent enough that you can usually tell if the registration is spot-on...
I like making people's wheels turn!

Mike--Thanks! Kirchner's cool, like Picasso in pain :)

sven said...

Interested in making wood puppets, eh? Have you seen this fellow's site?

http://www.follysfables.com/

...Most of it's really not my cuppa tea -- but the fella clearly has an affinity for the wood he works with.

Ubatuber said...

Yeah, the Folly's Fables puppets are great, and he seems to have an unlimited supply of the type of wood he prefers...some great designs there...and a link to a gallery in L.A. thats going to display his work! Bonus! ...added it to my favorites for future reference...I kind of have this vision in my head of premiering the Jenny film at a gallery opening featuring my Jenny-inspired 2-D work, plus sets/puppets/etc. Have some ideas for an 'underwater' stage setup to display the film, but thats a ways off...figured L.A. would probably be the best bet as far as finding a gallery that would be interested in something so diverse (2-D, 3-D, and film work from one artist? Well I never...) :) Who knows, maybe one day that Jenny print will be on a postcard announcement...wouldn't it be awesome to time it with the big Stop-Motion Centennial if it does indeed happen out west?.........

Darkstrider said...

Heh.... I remember when I was younger I had this notion that I would have a combination animation studio/screening room/living space where I would also sell sculptures of my puppets and drawings/paintings etc. Who knows... it could happen.

DG said...

Thanks for the tutorial on woodcuts. I like the idea of a gallery featuring stopmo/installations too -- the underwater stage concept would be so great to experience in person.

herself said...

Ok, you guys are forgetting the WORKSHOPS in OUR studio/screening/living/gallery/shop where people could come the world over to learn hands-on from the masters everything from duck soup to hex nuts. Like the boards/blogs, only Live. Oh, in my fantasy it's all also in a big ol' cool victorian 2 or 3 story house, with the shop and coffee café (simple good foods prepared in kitchen) in the front window with small tables out on the front porch, the gallery and killer art supply shop (including a bite your wrist hard art instruction/mastery library/bookshop) in the main rooms as you enter, perfect screening theater in the basement, clean editing station space in the first floor back, upstairs are messy workshop tables and private rooms we rent like a bed and breakfast. Oh... yeah.

Ubatuber said...

Jinkies....sounds like a slice of heaven Shelley....let's add an overgrown garden/courtyard, maybe even a hedge maze, complete with huge kinetic sculpture puppet that responds to the wind, which is always blowing, cool and breezy (its pushing 100 degrees here already, I hate summer in NOLA)...we'll build a giant armature and tap Ron Mueck to flesh it out....and 'simple' good foods? No such thing when I'm in the kitchen...artichoke-stuffed chicken and spinach manicotti with a diavolo tomato sauce, my specialty...mmmmmmmmmmm....gotta go :)

herself said...

Stop It!!! You're killin' me.

Darkstrider said...

I've been known to nuke up a mean bowl of Beefaroni.....

Darkstrider said...

I'd be asleep in the day while you guys are whipping up meals to put Emeril to shame... I'd get up at dusk and scarf the leftovers, then wander the hedge maze in the moonlight and commune with the spirits that talk to me through the Mueck windpuppets, then straight to my subterranean sanctum sanctorum to animate in my private animation chamber. We each have our own of course.

mefull said...

Don't forget the Stargazing deck on the roof!

I am getting hungry just reading these posts

herself said...

To Mike, I find it is the greatest of introverts that hold forth with the greatest of brio, when finding themselves in the midst of a worthy group. Je'sayin. I bet a few others would be a night walkin with you in our labyrinth anyways.

Darkstrider said...

Yes. Brio. I got loads of it. Never knew what the heck it was though... can you enlighten?

( I do get the gist of what you said, just wondering what brio is)

Ubatuber said...

You know....brio.....like the cheese...

herself said...

Main Entry: animation
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: liveliness
Synonyms: action, ardor, bounce, brio, briskness, buoyancy, dash, dynamism, ebullience, elation, energy, enthusiasm, esprit, excitement, exhilaration, fervor, gaiety, high spirits, life, oomph*, passion, pep*, sparkle, spirit, sprightliness, verve, vibrancy, vigor, vim, vitality, vivacity, zap*, zeal, zest, zing*, zip*, élan
Antonyms: inertia, lethargy, sluggishness
Source: Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.2.1)
Copyright © 2006 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
* = informal or slang

Or... "What-you-will-likely-do-when-you're-sitting-at-our-big-kitchen-table-late-at-night-talking-all-our-ears-off-about-something-fascinating-even- though-you-think-you-won't-like-being-around-people" is what I mean. It's often the gifted lone wolves that appreciate a good exchange of ideas. I'm teasing you is all.

Darkstrider said...

Um..... could you elaborate a bit more? ; )

Darkstrider said...

(Kidding, kidding!)

seeker of shadows said...

Awesome tutorial Jeff!

Ubatuber said...

Hey thanks, seeker of -urban ;)-shadows....checkin' up on me, eh? Hope you follow along for the ride...probably be working on this little film for another 2 yrs or so....