Relief Reduction

Relief Printing has a long history in both Eastern and Western cultures.  Wikipedia tells us that the earliest surviving woodblock printed fragments are from China and are of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han Dynasty (before 220 A.D.), and the earliest example of woodblock printing on paper appeared in the mid-seventh century in China.

 Woodblock relief printing was the main medium for book illustrations in Europe until the late-sixteenth century.  The first use of linoleum as a printmaking matrix is attributed to German expressionists around 1913.

A relief print can be made from any flat, carvable surface.  Traditionally they are created using a wood or linoleum plate, also called a block.  Knives, gouges, or engraving tools, are used to develop a variety of shapes, lines, and textures.  The areas that have been carved away will not print as the ink will only be rolled up on the raised surface.  This unprinted negative space will remain the color of the paper.  Once the plate has been cut and the surface rolled up with ink, the paper is placed over the plate.  Pressure is then applied by hand, with a burnishing tool, a press, or, in the case of some very large prints, a roller normally used in road building. 

Pablo Picasso is credited with invention of the linocut reduction process.  This can be a hard process to get your mind around.  This process allows the creation of complicated multicolor prints from one plate through the use of a number of color overprints.  The printmaker progressively cuts away more of the plate after each color is overlaid.  At each stage the plate is re-cut and reprinted with a new ink color, each color being overprinted until the image is complete.

Imagine that you have a printing plate and you coat it with red ink and print it onto your paper.  You'll print a red rectangle onto your paper.  But, if you had cut into that plate and removed some of it's surface, maybe in the shape of a circle, before you printed it you would have printed a red rectangle with a white circle in it.  What if you then cut more of the plate away, maybe in the shape of a another circle, and you covered all of the remaining surface of the plate with green ink and print that on top of your red square with a white circle in it?  All of the surface of the plate that you have not cut away will print green over your red.  But the places where you have cut away the surface won't print over the white or the red.  You'd then have a green square with a white circle and a red circle in it.

Asia, particularly China and Japan, have long histories with relief printing.  Master printmakers in Japan brought relief printing to a very refined art.  Katsushika HokusaiAndo Hiroshige and Kitagawa Utamaro are good examples.  Albrecht Dürer is considered the first European master woodcut printer and Ugo da Carpi was pretty good too.

Some contemporary artists who work with relief printing include:
Katie Baldwin
Käthe Kollwitz
He Kun
Karen Kunc
Nana Shiomi
Chris Papa
Ian Phillips
Endi Poskovic

Here is another helpful page on Relief Printing Techniques.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can use this Ukiyo-e app to practice on your device.  The main thing is to catch on that the image on the plate and in the resulting print will be the reverse of each other.

For this assignment you will be making a four-color reduction print in an edition of eight.  Your four colors will be the white of the paper, any two colors you can find or create in the shop and a key color.  Black is usually a convenient key color.

Use as much newsprint as you need to create proofs, or practice prints.  You will receive only two sheets of good paper to make your prints.

You will need to print with a partner.  You may choose your own partner.  Be sure to find a someone whose schedule is similar to yours as you will not have as much in class work time for this assignment.

Your plate for this image will be 6"x8". Your margins will be 2 inches on the top and sides and 2.5 inches in the bottom.  

You will need: 
- A good dark pencil, maybe a 6B drawing pencil
- A Sharpie
- A thin piece of plywood or MDF the same size as your linoleum plate
- A small amount of rubber cement or wood glue

Preliminary Assignment
Session 1:  

This assignment is designed to give you some time to practice with the ink and the plate and some time to work in your journals outside of class.

Before class:
- Collect some examples of things you are interested in.  Be prepared to talk about what you are interested in and why it's interesting. Bring examples of actual things in the world as well as the work of artists who deal with that kind of subject.  
- Watch the Reduction Relief videos.  
- Find a wooden spoon with a well rounded back or a similar type object that you don't mind getting inky.  
- Have in your sketchbook:
     - A description of this process in your own words.
     - A copy of the process steps.
     - At least some brainstorming on your image for this project.  
In class:
- We will divide into groups based on interests.  The members of your group will describe to each other your interests and the things and art work of influences that you have brought to class.  
-We will practice by hand printing a small reduction print using the white of the paper, black and one other color that we will all share.  
- Find a printing partner in your group.  Make sure this person has a similar schedule to yours as you will be printing together outside of class.  
- You will also be contributing to a portfolio.  A group of printmakers might decide to all make work based on a similar theme.  They'll make enough prints that they can all exchange prints and everyone in the group gets one of everyone else's prints.  The group of prints on that theme is called a portfolio.

You will be handing in your preliminary assignment prints at the end of class.

Primary Assignment:
Session 2:
Come to class ready to print.  Before you can receive your plate you must show me:
- Your image.
- Your plan for printing outlining which areas will be which color and in what order they need to be cut away.  Be aware that the plate's surface will be reduced at every stage, you'll need to plan your carving carefully.  Remember that everything will be reversed.  Your plan for printing should include a reversed version of your image to look at while you carve.  

Process Steps:  
You will have linoleum plate which will serve as your matrix.  You will be cutting into it to create your print.  The linoleum likes to curve and stretch which will ruin your registration, so you'll need to attach your plate to a stiff backing, maybe a piece of plywood.

1. PAPER:  
- For this project you will use a box registration technique.
     - Tear a larger sheet of newsprint for your registration template.  
     - Lay your plate in the middle of your sheet of newsprint and trace around it's edges.  
     - Measure and mark 2 inches from one side and 2.5 inches from the bottom.  Use a straight edge to draw lines connecting those measurements.  
- Tear your newsprint proof sheets and good paper to the correct size.  

2. Matrix:
- Draw the image on your plate with a pencil and make sure it is as it should be, backwards.  When you look at your plate the image should be flipped horizontally.  Text should read backwards.  Show it to your partner and make sure they agree that it is reversed.  Take it in the bathroom and look at it in the mirror, it should read normally in the mirror.  
- Go over your pencil lines with a permanent marker.  
- Map out your colors on the plate, again with permanent marker.  Use a "paint by numbers" scheme to tell yourself what to cut for each step.  You should have three steps.  
- Use a paper towel and a little bit of mineral spirits to wipe down the permanent marker on your plate.  It should become fainter.  This is to prevent the permanent marker showing up in your print.
- Carve away all of the spaces that should remain color #1 (the white of the paper) in the image.  

- Prepare the press and set the pressure before you do any inking.    
- Arrange the blankets on the press. Two thin wool blankets with a thick felt blanket between.  
- Make sure everything is centered and that the blankets do not extend beyond the ends or sides of the press bed.
- Lay your registration template, linoleum, and good paper on the press bed.  
- Roll everything through and adjust the pressure until it is as you like it.  

 4. INKING AND PRINTING: Again, you must print with a partner, one of you with clean hands and the other to do the inking.  DO NOT GET INK ON THE BLANKETS! 
- Roll out your first color, work it and loosen it up for a minute or so.    
- Roll up your plate with your ink. 
- Put your plate on your registration template, make sure the top and bottom are lined up correctly.
- Lay your newsprint on the plate, again making sure the top and bottom are lined up correctly with your registration template.
- Pull your proofs to get your ink thickness dialed in.  You need to build up enough ink on your plate to get a good print.  That will probably take three or four proofs.  Pull at least five so you will have enough to get through the project.  You will re-use your proofs at every step.
- Print on your good paper.  Save any mistakes, they may still be useful for something.

- Take the blankets off of the press and store them either folded on top of the press or hung on the rack.  Do not leave the blankets in the press.
- Leave the press bed centered in the press.  It will sag over time if left extended.
- Put your registration template in a safe place.  You will re-use the same one at every step.

- Put any damp blotters in the drying rack.  

- Clean up your plate, ink, and rollers. Use phonebook pages, cooking oil, mineral spirits, and Simple Green on the glass topped tables.  Do not use soap, water, or Simple Green on your plate or on the rollers.

From this point on, the ink will be laid over previous layers.  This means the ink cannot soak into the paper.  This affects drying time and the ink's ability to adhere and cover.  You want the ink thick enough to cover the previous colors but not so thick that it will not dry.  Proceed methodically as there there are more variables to contend with at this point.  You want to get it dialed in before you move on to your good prints.
- Carve away all of the spaces that should remain your second color.
- Make sure the first layer of ink on your print is dry.
- Mix and roll out your next color.
- Use the same registration template you used before.
- Pull at least three new proofs on clean newsprint to get your ink and registration dialed in.
- Print over your proofs from the previous step to carefully re-adjust your registration and ink coverage.  Start with the worst proofs.
- Print on your good paper.  Again, begin with worst prints from the previous layer just in case any thing happens to go wrong.

Artist's Statements:
A revised artist's statement will be turned in with your prints.  By this point you should have moved beyond broad themes and your statement should reflect some deeper thoughts or research about your interest.  Be more specific. 

On critique day, you will have ten minutes to get ready before we begin. 
- Make sure you have identified your prints in pencil.  Make your best print number one and the print you are least satisfied with last. 
- Hang number one from your edition of prints at about sixty inches on center above the floor. Use a loop of tape on the back; don't ruin that beautiful clean margin by putting tape on the front of your print.   Hang your print with your group's.
- After critique place your prints and artist's statement on the table outside my studio.

This assignment will be scored based on three criteria.  These criteria will be weighted and assessed as follows:
1. Concept: 5 Points. 
Interpretation and application of your own ideas to the assignment using expressive, emotive, and aesthetic elements.  Ask yourself “What am I trying to say with this image?” “How can I visually convey my idea?”
2. Participation: 5 Points. 
Attendance, involvement with your group, putting in time in the shop, proper shop etiquette, participation in discussions and critiques. 
3. Process: 10 Points. 
Display an understanding of the process, making an edition of consistent prints, registration, and general neatness of the work. 

- The complete assignment is an edition of prints and an artist's statement.  Incomplete assignments will continue to loose points for lateness until everything is turned in.

Additionally, the following will cost you a letter grade:
- Fingerprints or smudges on your prints. 
- Failure to properly identify your prints. 
- Failure to turn in an artist's statement with your prints.
- Prints hung after critique begins will be considered one day late.