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Statement and Technique

Of all printmaking techniques, cutting and printing woodcuts has always felt the most natural to me.

Since I find people interesting to look at, Alice Neal, Lucian Freud, Rembrandt, and Vermeer are figurative artists whom I particularly admire. I started with images of my family, friends, and then co-workers, which led to a series of prints of workers. These prints of workers are observations of the men, but are also an attempt to give the viewer a sense of how they feel about themselves and their work.

I take photos in order to make prints and frequently combine several photos in one print. I use an overhead projector to enlarge the photo to get the proportions correct. Then I redraw it on another sheet of paper, working with it until the whole is right. After that, I transfer this line drawing to the block using carbon paper. Before I cut, I do a complete drawing in pencil with full shading so I know where the lights and darks are.

I use electrical tools such as an electric engraving tool and a Dremel, plus the usual hand tools (U- and V-gouges) as well as wire brushes. The drawing takes the longest time, but it makes the cutting comparatively easy. I use quarter-inch finish-grade birch plywood. Nowadays plywood manufacturers cut the veneer with lasers so the surface is much thinner than it used to be, making it harder to get the range of tones since the veneer is easily obliterated. To counteract this, I gesso the board before I draw and put two coats of polyurethane on the drawing before I cut in order to stabilize the veneer. Although many of my prints are black and white, when I do use color, it is to differentiate areas of the print. I want the color to be subtle, not the main focus or the primary means of expression. I am interested primarily in shapes and textures and what they represent.

Needless to say, my process is very labor-intensive. “You must have a lot of patience” is a comment I have heard frequently over the years. At first I thought, “Do they mean it only takes patience?” Then I realized the comment may come from a limited knowledge of art-making in general and woodblock printing in particular. In reality, it takes no more time for me to do a woodblock print than it takes for a painter to produce a painting of a similar size. With a painting, the viewer does not see the individual brush strokes. With a woodblock print, the viewer sees every cut. The essence of a woodcut is the contrast between what is cut away and what is left to take and transfer the ink to the paper. Patience is only one component of the many required to make any piece of art.

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© Linda Lee Boyd 2017