Monday, April 2, 2012


© Hannah Phelps
white-line block, Odiorne Rocks! 
with three prints attached to it

I have been experimenting with some white-line blocks for a few months. Specifically, I am trying to figure out if it is possible to make a consistent edition from a block - a finite number of prints using the same paper and ink that all look the same.

As the quote from last Monday's post suggests, when the white-line woodcut method was invented in 1915 or so, artists printed as much as they wanted from any block and did not label the prints on the front with impression and edition numbers. Blanche Lazzell, our most famous white-line artist, kept her blocks open for years. Each print was numbered on the back - 2/6 would mean that it was the second print from her 6th block. She said that she rarely did more than about 4 prints from each block and she felt no compunction to make any of them identical.

Limiting editions is more valued now than it was in Lazzell’s time. With that, consistency and accurate labeling and record keeping become very important.  

Now my question is - what do I do with my white-line prints? Contemporary times call for consistent, limited editions. But could an exception be made for white-line woodcuts, since they are created one at a time by hand? The painstaking way white-lines are printed allows for each one to be different. Variety can be a fun part of the process.

At first, I thought I should honor the traditions of the medium - number each block as I carve it and then number each print as I make it.  I would make no promises that any of the prints would look the same.

As I started to enter shows, it became clear that numbers on the front of the print are important in today’s printmaking world. Collectors like the system and it protects their potential investment in the artwork. I like happy collectors. Frankly, I collect prints too and I kinda see their point.

I researched other contemporary white-line artists and they are limiting and numbering editions instead of mimicking Lazzell. 

So I gave it a go - I took one block, taped three pieces of paper to it, mixed colors and inked all three at once. Then I taped three more to the block and inked those from the same puddles of ink. I meant to do this three times so that I would have 9 prints and the one artist proof (AP) that I was using as my color guide.

Here is what I discovered:

If that is what editioning means for these prints, that is the only edition I will ever do. I really didn’t enjoy it at all. In fact, I couldn’t even get to the third set of three!

Luckily for me, there is a loophole. Printmakers can create "variable editions" and label them as such.

After a little agonizing and a lot of thinking, this is what I am going to do from now on:

- Print from each block when I feel like it with the colors I feel like mixing, on the paper I feel like using. 

- Continue to keep accurate records of how many prints have come off each block.

- Label each print on the front: # of the print/ the total number I am allowed to ever do with a little "ve" for "variable edition".

- Have fun with the blocks - that is why I started making them in the first place!

Any thoughts? Questions? Strong opinions?



malu said...

I liked this idea!!!!!!!!!

Hannah Phelps said...

Thanks, Malu!