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Printmaking - The Beginning for Me

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Woodcut printmaking is one of the most enjoyable processes of creation in my art and practice, how did this begin and how have I developed this skill?

Just before the summer of 2020 I took part in a session with my tutor group at university to explore mark-making and create woodcut pieces. Woodcut is a relief method of printmaking when a piece of wood is carved, scratched and marked to gouge out a non-printing area and leave a level surface to be inked and printed. This is a reductive process, taking away from the initial block rather than adding to it. During the session we used scrap wood we scavenged, some woodcut tools and wooden spoons to produce prints. These pieces were, in my case, the beginning of something amazing! I greatly enjoyed not just the work produced, with the ink picking up on the textures of the wood and grain as well as the type of gouging and scratches that were being done to the piece, but I loved the effort of producing. The method of taking away and carving, the bite and fight of the wood against the blade, was captivating.

Following this initial exploration, I began to hunt for wood around the facilities and began to experiment with chipboard. These pieces were all very 2D, so I contrasted them by using blues and reds akin to that of commercial 3D glasses to add depth and create these almost nauseating pieces. Besides this initial experiment, my pieces were about the texture of the wood and working to pick that up.

I continued to experiment, borrowing woodcut tools from university and sourcing my wood from the 3D workshops scraps. I attempted to create a piece with multiple pieces of wood, the portrait of a cassowary assembled like a puzzle, alongside this I also experimented with a two-layer print, using two different pieces of wood for each layer. I enjoyed this, though struggled to line the pieces up together and felt I hadn't truly been able to truly harness the ability of multi-layer prints.

The Attic and summer of 2020

The pandemic struck and I found myself at home in my attic bedroom. Removed from my university facilities and desperate to experiment I invested in some woodcut tools, lino printing inks as well as a cheap roller and a wooden spoon from the kitchen (sorry mum!). Soon I was on my way, grabbing old plywood scraps from the garden and digging in. My first print was using some chipboard I had brought home with me and was quite amateur but this was key in figuring out how to use the tools at my disposal. At one point I recall using a dremel on the parrot woodcut. Following this print I produced a peregrine falcon.

Today I printed a reduction of a Peregrine Falcon - first I have heavily planned the piece to help remind me of the process then I carved and printed in yellow and repeat in black. - notes in a journal 09/04/2020

Starting to experiment with more layers, using a reduction method of carve, print, carve, print was a revelation. Suddenly I could create pieces with multiple colours, depth and textures. I started this process by mapping the piece I wanted to produce on layers of tracing paper, simulating how I would carve the piece. I would then 'proof' the piece by producing a rubbing of the wood to ensure all I need to carve was carved. Looking back over my journal and the pieces I produced you can see a clear development of understanding of layers and carving beginning to unravel.

Reflecting on these prints you can see how I struggled to balance colours within many of the pieces; often using a hard black to block out the final layer and background. This is particularly evident in the Golden Pheasant and Pigeon prints. I find these pieces very important for this reason, they show my development and allow me to continue to grow and develop as an artist. Overall I am extremely proud of these pieces and their pitfalls.

The Return

Moving back to Falmouth, but still without access to university facilities I continued my printmaking journey. I wanted to continue my avian exploration, however my work had also taken a turn to looking at the intersection of bird and human in the form of hybrids. These BirdFolk, are figures with bird heads and human bodies. Playful and interrupting, these figures were developed through collage and later digital methods. This was a particularly important development in my woodcut journey as I transposed my tracing paper method of mock-up to a digital one, planning the colours and print digitally rather than several layers of paper. This was very helpful as I could easily switch colours and play with the composition, however, also meant the piece looked very 'clean', lacking texture, on the computer screen.

Throughout the BirdFolk series I experimented with colour and layout, finding it hard to balance colour choices in these lone figure pieces. It is something I still need to develop, however, I am still proud of the work I produced creating 6 BirdFolk prints each with various colour palettes and of varying layer difficulties.

Following the BirdFolk prints I decided to return to producing individual portrait prints but on a much larger scale. I have since produced the Flamingo and Peacock prints and aim to keep exploring woodcut! I hope you've enjoyed this little recap of my work and how I started my printmaking journey. Stay tuned for updates!

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