Method in Medieval aka Making a Reduction Print

Jester - Four-colour reduction print

Jester - Four-colour reduction print

It’s time again to sign up for the Solstice Print Exchange.  How quickly six months barrels past.  The last exchange seems only a week ago and here I’m thinking about what to do for the next.

The Jester, above, done for the last Solstice exchange, was my first attempt at the ‘reduction method’, also known as the suicide method of print block making.  The reason for the rather dire description is that there is no going back once the process has begun.  And what is the process?  Complex is what it is.  Not so much in the actual doing, but in getting my head around it, and being completely in the dark regarding how the finished product might look.

All printmaking has that element of mystery.  No matter how good my imagination and envisioning the result of an inked block kissed passionately by paper (it has to be a definite smooch and not a mere peck), the pulled print can be unpredictable and sometimes surprising.  Never more so with a reduction print.

Friends had gifted me a piece of faux lino I decided to use for the exchange print.  It turned out a bigger adventure than anticipated…

I wanted to get away from just black and white, but didn’t want to hand colour.  Perhaps I should have gone that way, as this print run is definitely a ‘variable edition’.

I also wanted my subject to be ‘light’ and something fun.  Had the design drawn for ages before I could screw up the courage to make the first cuts – and get my head around the process.  Nervous about my first attempt at this method, and knowing I had to produce at least 28 usable prints, I prepared 40 pieces of paper, to allow for the inevitable dodgy ones.

The process:

  • Cut away those sections of the block I wanted to remain white, with the paper showing through.
  • Ink the block in the lightest colour, in this case yellow.
  • Pull all 40 prints, ending up with prints 99% yellow with a few dabs of white evident, looking like nothing much at all.
  • Clean the block and cut away the sections I wished to remain yellow in the finished print.
  • Ink the block with red and pull all 40 prints, ending up with the image gradually emerging.
  • Repeat the last two steps, using blue and, finally, black ink.

The block of faux lino, aka ‘rubbery stuff’ although easy to carve, turned out to be a bit too ‘giving’ and spongy in the book press (the only type I own), resulting in uneven ink-to-paper smooching.  It took me a while to discover that if I hand burnished with a barren, before putting it in the book press, I got better transference.  Registration (lining up the block exactly each time on the paper) also turned out to be an issue for me because of the block being the same size as the paper.

I did manage to produce the right amount of decent prints for the exchange, though only just.

I learned a lot, enjoyed the reduction method, and am quite pleased with the marriage of method and subject, despite using only primary colours and black.  There is not a lot left of the block, really only the outline, so I can never produce any more of this particular print – thus the term ‘suicide method’.

Despite the challenges, I’m already keen to have another go at a reduction print!

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