Unlike the multi-block polychrome woodblock prints you see in my blog, a white line print is a polychrome print made with a single block. The outlines of the drawing are v-grooves carved with a knife, v-gouge or narrow chisel and then watercolors are carefully applied to each area one by one and printed. It's a little bit like coloring in a coloring book, except the lines end up white, not black. The method was developed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the early 20th century and is best exemplified by the artist Blanche Lazzell. Basically, a white line print is a monoprint; that is, it's a one-of-a-kind print rather than a print made in an edition. (Although you can make as many prints as you want from a white line block, each print will be different by nature of the process.) The white line print has a painterly quality, but the line drawing remains a strong element in the design.
If you've been following my blog since its early days, you may remember this design:
It was originally a digital illustration I did back in 2004, and in 2005 I used the drawing to make one of my first moku hanga woodblock prints. You can see it here. I called it The Power of Tea. Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to do the design again as my first ever white line print. The photo above shows the carving in progress. I used a v-gouge to cut the floral lines in the background and a knife to cut the foreground elements. The v-gouge gives a thin and consistent line, while the knife can make a more variable line of any width.
Right away there's a huge difference between carving multiple blocks as one does in moku hanga and carving just the lines on a single block. Where the multiple blocks might have taken a couple of days to complete, this block took me just a couple of hours.
Tomorrow I'll show you the printing.