Friday, November 5, 2010

The Block

I printed a few more monoprints from this block this week, hoping to produce an image as successful as this version. Unfortunately, nothing really caught my eye.

Also this week two of my artist friends who are not printmakers made the same comment. A comment that every printmaker hears (at least every woodblock printmaker), but few want to hear. That comment, of course, is "The block is so cool looking! You should show/sell that." Or in its worst form: "The block is more interesting/beautiful than your prints!"

Yes, a wood block that has been painstakingly carved with some thoughtful image then stained with different colors of ink on various sections inevitably becomes an interesting and beautiful object in its own right. So why not slap a frame on that baby and hang it on a gallery wall?

Certainly many printmakers have given into these comments and do show and sell their blocks. Typically they do so with some additional thought or intention behind what they are doing. For instance, some black and white woodcut printmakers retire a block by painting it white, then inking up the raised sections in black one last time. Others might simply cover the surface with a sealant.

Almost all of my prints are reductions. this means that I print several times with different colors onto the same piece of paper. In between colors I carve the block a little more so those newly carved away sections will be whatever color I printed last. The end result is a limited edition of colorful, complex prints -- and a totally mutilated wood block.

There is some deep satisfaction I find in destroying the block. The block, after all, is a tool, just like a paint brush. If in the end it is quite beautiful, that is still merely a byproduct of the art making process, not part of my artist's intention. So while I find myself enjoying the subtle color contrasts between the foreground and background and color changes in the carved outlines in this block, I don't feel I can take full ownership of that. Much of the beauty in the block is mere happenstance, and while there's nothing inherently wrong this art that comes about in this manner, it bugs me.

I started this print with the intention to only do monoprints. However, not only am I dissatisfied with most of the results, but while printing, I could not escape the thought that this print, too, would be much better as a reduction. I'd like to create a pattern on the surface the baby is laying on, some carved texture and layers of colors on the cat's fur and the baby's outfit.

Yup, there's no getting around it: The block must die.


  1. By all means kill the block if it is part of your process. But there is no denying the reality of beautiful blocks produced by monoprints. Dad and I went to see Mabel Hewit's prints at the Cleveland Art Museum, and they were beautiful. But the blocks were also displayed and were beautiful as well, but in a different way. Both were the product of the artist's process. Serendipity, maybe, that the block becomes a thing of beauty and interest. But don't artists always create within a process and change direction sometimes because of where the process takes them? Use the block as a tool as long as it is one and serves your artist's purpose. But when the print is done and the block is still beautiful, why not own it for the beauty you created?

  2. P.S. I like your print of Cat and Baby much more than this block. But they are both beautiful.