Mental Gymnastics in Printmaking

Subtraction Print Detail

Detail of Subtraction Print by Lily S. May

When I did printmaking I greatly enjoyed the mental gymnastics that were part of the process.  First of all, you have to consider that everything you carve prints in reverse.  This requires particular attention when you include words or numbers in the image.  I recall times when my mind wandered and I found myself carving letters as they are normally written.  I had to begin again, sometimes with curses, because the letters would have printed backwards had I continued.  And yet I still enjoyed the flipped perspective, the element of surprise.

Even more mind bending is a type of multi-coloured printmaking called subtraction or reduction printing.  Using this method, you gradually cut away more and more of the block, inking and printing each colour as you go along.  So, there’s no turning back.  I had to talk to myself regularly when figuring out what colour would print next as the layers progressed and what I had to carve away.  While some people might find this process tedious, I found it added another edge of challenge.

Lino and Print

Lino block and print from Mirrors of the Heart Cards by Lily S. May

Here’s an example of the side to side reversal of a lino block and the printed image.  The linoleum was originally all brown as in the remaining raised areas in this image.  The carved design shows up nicely because the inks I used to print the lino block stained the carved areas.  So you can easily see the word “celebration” spelled out backwards at the bottom.  Another easy to see example of the reversed image is the bird flying on the right side of the lino and on the left side of the printed image.

Subtraction Print

Subtraction colour block print by Lily S. May

I’ve also got an example of a subtraction colour print and block.  This is one of a series of abstract unplanned colour prints I made in 1993. In this print, I began by cutting away the areas that would show the white paper and printing what remained with green ink.  Then I cut away all the areas I wanted to be green in the final print and printed the remaining areas red.  And finally, I cut away everything I wanted to show as red and printed the remaining portions of the block with dark blue ink.  All that’s left of the block that you see here is the portion that I inked in blue.

Subtraction Print Block

Printing block for subtraction print shown above by Lily S. May

The block may seem confusing because it’s green.  But that’s not from the ink.  That’s the actual colour of the block which is some sort of flexible rubber or plastic from Japan.  The cut away parts are the black areas.



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