I was pretty excited to make this print when I first sketched it out. If you’ve seen much of my previous prints you’ll notice I don’t venture from one color designs (that one color being black, of course.) I’m slowly trying to change that. Considering most of my other works from other disciplines utilize color pretty well, it never really made the leap to my printmaking works. That could be for a number of reasons.
First, when I started printmaking all so many years ago, I started simple, like all good students in high school. Just managing not to cut yourself on dull tools was challenge enough for this medium which was unlike anything most people at that age were used to. The more I got into it, the more I started to “think in black and white”. I started to consider positive and negative shapes, balancing darks and lights, achieving tonal and textural quality, line, etc. All these aspects kept me pretty enthralled with my work and the fun of wood/linocut. Unfortunately, I rarely ventured beyond that. I got got so used to “thinking in black and white” that my few efforts to do color were not as successful.
Second, I am ashamed to say, I was pretty lazy. Too lazy to be bothered with the time and effort to design, carve and print multiple plates. Too lazy to futz with trying to get multiple plates to register. Too lazy to try and get the ink colors just right. I know, that’s weird, right? Printmaking is one of the most labor-intensive processes in the practice of art, and I was too lazy to do a few extra plates? If printmaking has taught me anything (and oh the lessons it has indeed taught me) it’s that patients is always rewarded. Perhaps that’s what I love most about printmaking. As much as I twist in the wind over having to take my time, I am indeed forced to stop and consider, and I am always rewarded; either by a fantastic series of prints, or some valuable new information about process. Most of the time it’s both.
But seriously. When you see fantastic works like the ones created by the likes of Tugboat Printshop, how could you not want to venture into the multicolored world of printmaking?
I took the dive into a multiple plate design, simple as it may be, with determination and ambition. My sketchbook is currently full of thumbnails of some designs I want to explore using color. I intended to start small and explore shades of gray with an accent color. It was then I had a bright idea that I would try a few experiments exploring the possibility of creating a “transparent black”, in hopes of laying it over other transparent shades of gray to make more shades of gray. All while still using inks that were 1) non-toxic and water-soluble and 2) could be rolled up and applied via a brayer like normal inks for relief printing.
I can already hear some avid printmakers laughing at the idea of turning black relief ink transparent. It really goes to show you how little I ventured from my comfort zone when it came to branching out from my usual “black ink straight from the tube” practices. For those who don’t know, black ink is dense. It’s pretty much the hardest ink to cut. But, I had pie-eyed dreams that I would be able to have my cake and eat it too. If I were doing moku hanga or chine-collé, it would be a very different story. The long and short of it, after playing with two prominent brands of ink, lots of transparent medium and a handful of other modifiers, I wasn’t able to produce the effects I was hoping for. I settled on making a mostly opaque very light gray for the smoke for this current plate, and will be going back to the drawing board on my other designs (which were to utilize the effects of overlapping grayscale transparencies more than this print.)
In the end, though, I learned a lot as usual and got some great results. I used Akua-Kolor for the smoke, and my usual Caligo Safe-Wash Inks for the black and red colors. They’re still hanging out to dry right now but I hope to edition them this weekend (I’m shooting for 30) and will be available in my Etsy store shortly after!