Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Indoors with Provincetown Prints

copyright 2010 Hannah Phelps

Calm Day at Fort Stark
8" x 10"
white-line woodcut print
watercolor on Stonehenge paper

Another fun thing to do when the weather is a bit nippy for plein air painting is working on white-line relief prints (aka Provincetown Prints). I moved my work table right next to the fireplace and printed away all afternoon with Hatrick snug in the small space between me and fire. As I worked I thought about all the things I love about white-line relief printmaking:

1. The line drawings that I start with-I enjoy translating my other work into simplified designs suitable for transferring to the woodblock

2. Carving out the "white-lines" with a knife is a process during which I really lose myself. The knife flows through the wood in elegant curves and creates uneven paths in the surface. I sometimes feel that the wood is telling the blade where to go, not me.

3. Applying just the right color to the shapes left in relief. Sometimes I make sure the watercolor paint is evenly distributed on the wood while other times I ink part of it more heavily than another.

4. Laying the paper on the block and rubbing the back with a wooden spoon. This transfers the color from the block to the paper. It is a very physical process and I like to use enough pressure to "sculpt" the paper into the white-line grooves, embossing it with the design.

5. Lifting the paper to see a clean, crisp shape. Even during the earliest stages when the colored shapes are sparse, I am excited by the design emerging on the paper step-by-step.

6. Seeing the pattern of the wood grain in the colored shapes.

7. Deciding the print is finished. There is a definitive moment of completion with prints because once the paper is removed from the block, it would be nearly impossible to replace it correctly again. This may seem stressful, but in actuality I welcome this conclusive end to the process.

8. Seeing a print matted and framed. The prints transform from pieces of paper with paint on them in a pile to fully dressed pieces of art ready to show themselves off.

9. Attaching a new piece of paper to the block and inking the whole thing over again playing with new color combinations.

10. Thinking up ideas for the next block so I can start all over again!

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