Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Green Printmaking

Above is a photo of the green printmaking studio, D.M. Penny Press, in Manchester, NH. You can see some proofs of my latest, large jigsaw woodcut print under the presses.

Even though oil based inks are allowed in the studio and there are etching baths for copper plates, the DM Penny Press is a "green studio", perfect for our workshop.

Any oil based products are cleaned with vegetable oil, simple green and/or soap and water - no turpentine or mineral spirits are allowed.

But white-line woodcuts don’t need that anyway.

You use watercolor as your ink, which is easy to clean up - you only need water to clean your brushes and other equipment. You could even use a rag instead of paper towels if you wish. The blocks don’t need to be cleaned at all. In fact, as discussed earlier, they become beautiful works of art in their own right after a few prints have been produced from them.

So if easy, environmentally-friendly printmaking sounds good to you, you still have a little bit of time to sign up for the White-line Workshop at the D.M. Penny Press in May. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Minimal Carving, Minimal Tools

Damascus steel marking knife and partially carved white-line block 

White-line woodcuts have a giant advantage over other types of relief printmaking - There is very little carving. 

Only the outlines around your shapes are removed. That means that you only need one knife. Yours could be very fancy - like the one I had made for me by New Hampshire Bladesmith, Zack Jonas - or you could get a less expensive Japanese Sho To, or use a utility knife. The point is, you don't need an array of gouges and chisels.

And the carving is very easy. Compare the small lines carved out of the block above to the retired block from the print Upright Wave:

 Block used to print Upright Wave, 24"x12"

The light parts on the blue block and the golden colored part of the brown blocks all had to be carved away.

If you want to try woodcut printmaking, but you are afraid your hands can't handle all that carving, give white-line woodcuts a try.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Portable Printmaking

Printing Odiorne Rocks! on site in Odiorne State Park
© Hannah Phelps 2010

The reasons to add printing white-line woodcuts to your life continue to mount.

White-line woodcut printmaking is very portable - for starters no press needed.
Everything you need to make one can easily fit into a small pack - a few brushes, a spoon, your block, a piece of printmaking paper, some watercolors and a small bottle of water fit easily in a small bag. 

If you want to work start to finish outside for some plein air printmaking, add a sketchbook and pencil, a piece of tracing paper and your knife. All of this is lightweight.

In the photo above, I brought a small table to hold some extra stuff, but I sat on the rock wall to do all the printing. In many places, you can use a picnic table or a bench or whatever. 

Trust me, it is a lot of fun to sit outside and create a print on a beautiful day.

I'll teach you all you need to know to get started (inside).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Extra Art

 Block for Calm Day at Fort Stark, white-line woodcut print

Have I mentioned that when you create white-line woodcut print, you end up with an extra piece of art when you have finished your edition?

White-line woodcut blocks are more beautiful than any other left over matrix out there. Many people love them more than the prints!

When you take my white-line workshop in May, you will carve and color a block or two plus all the prints you can make!

 Pine block (left over wood from a construction project) and print in progress for Morning Obsession on Appledore

Pine block and print in progress for Leaves in Winter

 Block for Leaves in Winter

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Changing Colors with the Seasons

Spring, Summer and Fall prints all from one block

White-line woodcuts are printed one at a time by hand. Using a brush, you paint and print one shape at a time until you are satisfied that you are done.

When you go to print again, you can certainly use the same colors you did before. If you mixed enough of paint in the first place, your print might look identical to the first one.

Most of the time, that doesn’t happen. Instead, you try to make the second print look just like the first, but you don’t match the colors exactly. You might not even know the new one isn’t the same until you get that first one out and compare them.

Here’s the fun part - the first one isn’t really better than the second or third or however many you end up printing. It is just different. And that is exciting.

Next time, you might intentionally mix different colors on purpose.

You can’t do that as easily with painting or with every type of printmaking. With white-line woodcuts, you can play with color relationships and harmonies on the exact same design very easily.

Say you have a beautiful image of a beach. Print some inspired by a sunny, bright summer day and another with a grey sky and moody seas. In a still life, you could try a green vase with red roses one day and a red one with white flowers the next.


Come carve a block at the workshop on May 6 & 7 and print it multiple times with the same pallet or a completely different one and see what happens!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Along the Lines

First Watch, white-line woodcut print

Last week, you saw how learning a new medium can help you improve upon your current skills. Specifically, learning printmaking can strengthen the design of your paintings.

Along those same lines (pun intended) the outlines around all the shapes in a white-line woodcut can unify your images if you pay attention to it in the beginning.

Each line you are to carve in a white-line woodcut defines two shapes. This is always true in painting and drawing and real life - each edge you see is where something begins and something else ends. We don’t always pay attention to both of these things.

This is the idea between “positive” and “negative” shapes. Draw a circle on a blank piece of paper and you have really drawn two things - the circle defined by an outline and the non-circle shape surrounding it.

With white-line woodcuts, you can use a line that defines a bunch of different things to track along the entire image. Long, shared edges like that move the viewer's eye exactly where you want it to go.

In the white-line print at the top of the post, there are many lines that travel all the way from the left side of the image to the right side, even if they are informing different shapes along the way. It is more obvious in the water, but I did it in the rocks too.

You don't have to be a printmaker to do this. Celia Beaux used a similar technique in this painting:

Ernesta (Child with Nurse), 1894

There is one "line" that you can trace from the bottom right corner all the way to the middle of the top of the image - it swoops to the left, catches the outside of the little girl's dress, takes a right turn at her shoulder and shoots up her arm and into the nanny's.

You could have a lot of fun tracing this type of energy in Georges Rouault's paintings too. Also notice how his strong outlines describe the positive shapes of the women and the negative shapes between them at the same time:


Automne (Autumn) (1939-1946)

No matter what type of artist you are right now, you can use white-line woodcuts to practice this design technique.

Need some help learning about white-line woodcuts? Sign up for my workshop!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

One Way Printmaking Improves Your Painting

White-line Woodcut Print in Progress

After I fell in love with the white-line woodcut printing method, I realized that creating them was improving my painting.

I wouldn’t have expected that. In fact, I would have predicted that adding a medium would have meant less time painting which would lead to atrophied painting skills.

Instead, I found myself anticipating prints while I was painting. And that became a very useful thing.

 New Look at an Old Friend, oil on board
inspiration for the print pictured above

Right from the beginning, I had used some of my plein air sketches as references for my prints. I quickly transitioned into thinking about what would make a great print while I was painting.

That meant focusing, first and foremost, on creating solid compositions.

Compositions ARE paintings, really. Without a great composition, a painting will never work out no matter how skillful the brushwork is, no matter how vibrant the colors are, no matter how well it is rendered.

Before printmaking, I occasionally got a bit lazy about that. With oil paints, you can wipe off and start over or paint over things that don’t look right. With printmaking, it is a lot harder to fix mistakes - sometimes even impossible. Planning everything in advance doesn’t just make things easier - it is crucial.

Which really is true for painting too - if you want to get anywhere.

This was something I already knew and valued, but I didn’t always act like I knew and valued it. After printmaking for a short time, I painted like a printmaker - planning in advance.

And that made all my paintings more successful. I designed the compositions carefully right from the start and the rest of the session went smoothly.

Want to improve your painting? Paint like a printmaker. 

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