Dove Image
Indian Hill Press - Martha's Vineyard
Birth of a Print
Photo Ink Can
The Birth of a Print
 Much as I'd like to offer an in-person demonstration of how I make a print, it makes me nervous to have people breathing over my shoulder. Instead, here's a quick show-and-tell, illustrated with photographs by my friend Charlie Utz. These pictures first appeared in a profile of me that was published in Vineyard Style magazine. They were taken while I was working on my print called "Whale Hunt" (see the "View My Prints" page). I've since decided that "Whale Hunt" is one of the best prints I've ever done.
Photo of Drawing
Drawing
 If I'm going to spend days laboring over a stubborn block of linoleum, I want to make sure I start with a good, solid composition. I meditate on the design, refining it with a pencil and tracing paper through countless drafts, revisiting it afresh over many days. It always takes considerably longer to draw the original sketch than it does to carve the block. I am not always struggling toward verisimilitude. More commonly, it's spirit and spontaneity I'm striving for: an accidental sense of the inevitable. Regardless of the concept, the finished drawing will not include a lot of detail that gets added later, in the carving stage.
Photo of Transfer
Transferring the Drawing
 When the drawing feels done, I make a photocopy. Then I use Scotch tape to hinge the photocopy face-down to a blank linoleum-block, so that it can be lifted up by one edge. I rub the back of the photocopy with an unspeakably toxic solvent that kills human brain cells. The solvent dissolves the toner from the photocopy, leaving it on the surface of the linoleum. This method of transfer has the benefit of reversing the image, automatically making a mirror-reflected replica of the original drawing.
Photo of Carving
Carving the Block
 Using the transferred drawing as a guide, I spend many happy hours listening to music and carving the face of the linoleum with either a flat blade or a V-gouge. There are details that are more native to the gouge than to the pen, so this is the time to add such elements as tapered shading and pattern that did not appear in the original drawing. Carving has dangers that make it a high-wire act: one bad guess or slip of the wrist can destroy hours of work. On the other hand, the risks and potential rewards keep this step from becoming tedious.
Photo of Block
Locking the Block in the Press
 I use type-high linoleum, which can be locked into the bed of a cylinder proof press. (Mine is a Vandercook SP20, which can handle a maximum image of about 18x24 inches.) Then I add small gobs of ink to the press rollers, which mill and massage the viscous substance into a thin, even layer the press will apply to the surface of the block. The black ink I use is very dense, and smells of clove oil while it is drying.
Photo of Press
Pulling the Proof
 The moment of greatest suspense occurs when I pull the first proof. Days and even weeks of work come to a head now. They will either be rewarded or feel terribly wasted at this stage.
Photo of Printer
Examining the Proof
 My heart is in my throat when I look at the initial proof for the first time. Will the block require only partial touch-ups, or is it a disaster? To tell the truth, even a misjudgment during the cutting process isn't fatal. If the original design is compelling enough, I'll find the energy to go back and cut a fresh block. After I pull the first proof, I take a coffee break before I do anything else. Producing an edition means using up a stack of precious handmade Japanese mulberry paper, so I want to make sure this print is exactly what I want to live with forevermore.
Text & Images © 2008 The Indian Hill Press. All rights reserved.
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