Make-ready, set, go.

We had our artist friend Laura Starkey in the studio with us yesterday working on some of the commercial projects going through the studio. while she worked, she had a view of me pulling proofs, furrowing my brow over prints, peering through a variety of different lenses of varying degrees of magnification, cutting little bits of tissue and pasting them on an overlay sheet. During a break from this atypical Type A behaviour, I chatted with Laura about what I was doing and trying to explain the dubious benefit. It’s great talking to someone who ‘get’s it”. To an untrained or indifferent eye, the nuance between the too much ink and too much impression is simply that one version a little darker. But to someone who appreciates fine printing, the attempt below, “River Road”, is not a prime example of press craftsmanship:

Too much ink, too much impression, not enough meake-ready

The most obvious clue is the black mess at along the bottom of the print, particularly at the right side. I used too much ink under too much pressure, causing the excess to squish out over raised lines and hang there for the rest of the run, filling in — just marginally — the white areas and killing the detail — and not just at the bottom, but over the entire impression. I sacrificed detail for solid blacks.  I’ve said before the reason I want to present these wood engravings to the world in a portfolio is to show off the talent of these craftsmen. Pulling prints like the one above somehow defeats that intent.

So back to work. I purloined the paper intended for the broken Book Boy and began to work more intensively on the make-ready for “River Road”.

I used a harsh task master as my guide. Some months ago, I pulled a print of this block using gloss paper, and the resulting proof was close to ideal:

Crisp print on glossy paper

The tree silhouette in the middle is solid black, while there has been little loss of detail around the bottom and top edges. Laura asked if I considered doing the entire portfolio on gloss paper, and I admit, I was tempted. After all, it shows the skill of the carvers better than any other substrate. But there is another purpose buried in this exercise: that in tackling these blocks I come away with some greater skill at printing challenging forms. Otherwise I might as well just send these blocks off to some printer who has already mastered the skills, but that doesn’t help me learn.

So with a pristine print beside me on the feedboard, I began to strive to recreate the same crisp impressing on Italian paper. I starved the press of ink, took proofs and added to the make-ready sheet interpreting the grays. Once I began to see a more evenly gray tone, I added ink to the press in micro increments, slowly building up until the darker areas at the bottom were crisp lines with no in-fill. It didn’t take long for this to happen, which meant I had a long day ahead of building the make-ready and pulling proofs.

As I worked, using a magnifying loop, I watched carefully this part of the print:

Close up, bottom right corner

When it got to this point, I felt I could no longer add any ink to the press, and with ample pressure thanks to make-ready in the dark central areas, I had gone as far as I dared with this block.

The tree isn’t the striking silhouette seen in the proof on glossy stock, but overall I think the effect is greatly improved, and this print will go in the final portfolio. The photographs don’t do much justice to the prints either. Looking at this reduced, it seems almost lighter on one left side of the crack, yet when I look at these issues under the glass, everything is fine. Optical illusion? Too bad about the crack. There is almost nothing a printer can do to rectify this. In relief printing, you can’t print what’s not there. Then again, after 150 years, I think we can excuse a few cracks.

Explore posts in the same categories: Block Printing, Wood Engraving

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