What the heck is a woodblock print anyway? Well, I'm glad you asked. In this post I'll show you step by step how I made my portrait of Luna.
Luna is a Bullador (Labrador X American Bulldog) and though she is quite a bit bigger than Hachi they are best friends. They like nothing better than charging laps around the park unnerving cyclists and small children alike.
Capturing her likeness could be tricky because she is solid black. I decided to use 3 colours: grey, black, and brown for her eye. Normally each colour goes on a separate block (block being a sheet of wood, usually ply), but that stuff aint cheap and I refuse to use up a block just for an eye so I used 2 blocks; one for the black, another for grey and I will paint in the brown eye (you'll see what I mean later on).
First I make a drawing. It's not a great drawing in itself, but the point is to define all the edges so I know what to cut where.
Once I'm happy it makes sense I scan it, flip it, make sure it's the right size and add a line to show where the edge of the paper should go when I print it.
I tape this new reversed drawing to a block and put carbon paper underneath. I draw round all the edges for one colour only. The red above shows where I have gone over some of the black edges.
Then I tape the same drawing to another block and trace the edges of the grey and brown parts.
Above you can see my blocks side by side with the image traced. The black is on the left, the grey and brown is on the right. You can see I have also traced lines to mark one corner and edge of the paper on the left. These are kento or registration marks so that when I print the final thing the colours will line up perfectly.
Now the blocks are ready to be cut. I have to cut away the wood around the image - anything that I don't want putting ink on the paper. In essence, it's like a fancy big rubber stamp.
To do this I use the tools you can see above. Left to right they are a hangito, a comasuki (or u-gouge), an aisuki (or flat chisel) and a common garden toothbrush.
They need to be kept as sharp as possible so I use a wet stone and sharpen them frequently while I'm cutting.
Here you can see the two blocks cut and cleared. I make rubbings to check if everything's right before I print.
Yep. Those look good, so I proceed to the proofing stage. Proofing is printing to check that everything works; the image, the colours, the positioning on the paper, etc.
The lightest colours get printed first so here is the grey/brown block. I mostly use Windsor & Newton Professional Watercolour paints diluted with water.
Next the paper goes down on top of the block and I use a tool called a baren to rub the back of the paper and smush the colour into it. I didn't get a picture, so you will just have to take my word for it.
And now she's facing right again. Magic.
Here are my proofs. The colours aren't quite as solid as I would like, but I can adjust that when I make the final prints. I'm still a rookie as far as woodblock printing goes, but I learn something new with each print I make.
If you're in London and looking for woodblock printing materials (or printing materials in general) I highly recommend Intaglio Printmakers in Southwark. For your convenience, they also deliver!
If you hit me up with questions I'll do my best to answer them. I am @abihey on the Twitters.
Stay tuned for more Work In Progress!