26 May 2015

For My White Line Woodcut Students

I’m putting this post together for some upcoming classes at Zea Mays Printmaking and Pyramid Atlantic Art Center and in it I’ll be showing a few examples of white line prints to help students prepare images for the workshops.

The white line woodblock method was founded in the early 1900s in Provincetown, Massachusetts, by a group of artists who were interested in Japanese printmaking but grew tired of the tedium of cutting a block of wood for every color as that method demanded. These Provincetown artists, including Blanche Lazzell and Edna Boies Hopkins, developed a way to make a polychrome print from a single block of wood.

Monongahela by Blanche Lazzell

Spotted Dahlia by Edna Boies Hopkins

In the white line method, a simple line drawing is incised on the block with a knife or gouge creating v-shaped cuts, which become white lines when printed.

A white line carving in process

Once the outlines are carved, small areas are hand colored one by one with watercolor paint and brushes and hand printed, usually with a wooden spoon, until the print is complete. Blocks can be re-used to create another print, but every print will be unique because of the variations in paint application.

Printing in process

Below is a gallery of contemporary white line prints showing a range of the kinds of prints that can be made with this method. Note that although white line woodcuts have historically been figurative, since they are drawing-based there is no reason why they cannot be as abstract or expressive as any other form of drawing. Your sketch just needs to be simple enough to transfer to a block by tracing with carbon paper. (Or you can draw directly onto the block.)

Barnstable Harbor Flats by Ray Heus

Still Life – Hard, Soft, Sharp by Joseph Vorgity

Beekeeper with Smoker by Willy Reddick

Four prints from Counterspells by Annie Bissett, all made from the same carved block

Abstract prints by previous workshop participants

Two different inkings of the same block, by Annie Bissett


Celia Hart said...

These are beautiful, I love the fresh colours.
Some reminded me of the work of Eric Slater http://www.ericslater.co.uk I came across one of his seascape prints in an auction last week - I didn't buy it but enjoyed being able to view it up close. Now slightly regretting not bidding.
C x

Celia Hart said...

Of course Slater's work isn't entirely 'white line' he used multiple blocks, but some designs use a 'white line' technique in areas.
C x

Annie B said...

Thanks, Celia. I hadn't heard of Slater before. Beautiful work. It's interesting, the longer I've worked with woodblock printmaking the less concerned I've gotten with "purity" of method. I'm feeling very ready to start mixing techniques, just as you describe – white line mixed with multi-block, brushed-on watercolors mixed with rolled-on printing inks, stencils and pochoir… The possibilities are endless.

Martha Knox said...

Great post for showing the sort of things that can be achieved with white line woodcuts. Thanks.