Relief printmaking has it's origins in second century China alongside the invention of paper. Woodblock printmaking dates to the ninth century in China. The technique made it's way to Europe by the 14th century where it is initially used in the printing of textiles and texts. Artists adopted woodblock printmaking as an expressive medium during the 15th century and it continues to be popular to the present day. The best known periods of woodblock printmaking include the Edo period (1603 - 1867) of Japanese printmaking and the German Expressionist movement of the 1920's.
Woodcut and linocut prints are both part of the relief mode of printmaking. The wood or lino block (matrix) is prepared by carving the image into the surface using sharp gouges. The area that is left uncarved is raised (in relief) and will receive the ink which is applied using rollers (brayers). The ink is transferred to the paper under the preasure of the hand held baren or by the use of an etching or relief press.
My Working Process
In gathering source material for my initial designs I collect drawings in my sketchbook or go on a photo shoot. For some images I prefer to use my own photographs as I want a particular fleeting quality of light or detail that is easier to capture with a camera. When I am working from life with sketchbook and pencil the subject matter is usually landscape, plants or sleeping dogs! Working from life is a slower and more considered process which usually involves a greater aspect of compositional design. When I am happy with my final design drawing I need to reverse it before applying it to the surface of the block (matrix). The final image is always a mirror image of that on the printing block, so this always has to be taken into consideration at the design stage. For that reason I sometimes draw my final design directly onto the block to speed up the process.
I often work with the reduction process when creating a relief print as it allows me to create all the colour layers from one block. The reduction method involves carving away successive areas of the block for each new colour. The surface area of the block is reduced as you develop the print, until only the final detail is left. By the nature of the working method the block is destroyed as you go so automatically limits the print run. However as with all original prints the editions are limited and once the prints are completed the blocks are 'decommisioned' by the artist. Sometimes the blocks are lovely objects in themselves and are a shame to lose so my husband has taken to incorporating them into wooden box lids!
The printing process has many stages and is quite time consuming so as a result each new edition is a serious undertaking. Depending on the complexity of the image the edition may take up to two weeks to produce. I have kept my edition sizes small anything from two to twenty five in a limited edition. Ten percent of any edition will also include artist's proofs, signed AP, which I keep for my own collection. Each print is signed titled and numbered with pencil just under the image, as is traditional with original prints. I use very high quality papers and inks. The papers I use include Arches, Fabriano and a Japanese paper called Ho Sho.
Although I have worked with etching processes in the past I have tended to work mainly with relief in recent years as I enjoy the sculptural process of carving the block and the unique marks that can only be achieved using V tools and gouges.