Fletcher - Woodblock Printing : Chapter VIII

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Wood-Block Printing

F. Morley Fletcher


Co-operative Printing

A print is shown at the end of this book (Appendix) as an example of a first experiment in co-operative printing. An actual print was needed to illustrate the method of block printing, and the number required was too great for a single printer to undertake. So the work was divided between four printers (of whom the writer was one), working together. Each of us had been accustomed to print our own prints in small batches of a dozen or two at a time, giving individual care to each print. The printing of 2000 prints to a fixed type was a very different matter, and proved an instructive and valuable experience. It was found that the printing of a large number of successive impressions gave one an increasingly delicate control of a block, and a high percentage of perfect impressions. After the initial experiments and practice, the failures in the later batches of the print were reduced to only 4 or 5 per cent of the completed prints. The work was done in batches of 250 prints, each print receiving eight impressions, as shown in the Appendix. Each of the four printers took charge of a particular series of the blocks, which were printed in a regular order. It was found most convenient to print the keyblock last of all, as the heavy blacks in it were inclined to offset under the pressure of the baren and slightly soil the colour-blocks, if the key-block was printed first, as is usually the practice.

The colour-blocks were printed in the order in which they are placed in the Appendix.

The best quality of work was done on nearly dry paper. The damping sheets were placed among the new paper at the end of the day's work and removed after ten or fifteen minutes, the printing paper then was left standing over night between boards, ready for work in the morning, and was not damped again until after receiving several impressions. Then it was very slightly damped again by means of a damping sheet to every ten or twelve prints placed there for a very few minutes.

As one printer finished the impressions from one of his blocks, the batch of papers was passed on to the others, each in turn. In this way three batches of 250 were printed without haste in one week, working eight hours a day for five and a half days.

The chief difficulty experienced was in keeping to the exact colour and quality of the type print, each printer being inclined to vary according to individual preferences. To counteract this tendency, it is necessary for one individual to watch and control the others in these respects.

Otherwise the work proceeded easily and made very clear the possibilities of the craft for the printing of large numbers of prints for special purposes where the qualities required are not obtainable by machine printing. Obviously the best results will always be obtained by the individual printing of his own work by an artist. This can only be done, however, in comparatively small numbers, yet the blocks are capable of printing very large quantities without deterioration. The set of blocks used for the example given here showed very little deterioration after 4000 impressions had been taken. The key-block was less worn than any, the pressure being very slight for this block, and the ink perfectly smooth. The impression of which a reproduction is given in the Appendix (eighth printing) was taken after 4000 had been printed from the keyblock. Block No. 2 was much more worn by the gritty nature of the burnt sienna used in its printing. It would be an easy matter, however, to replace any particular colour-block that might show signs of wear in a long course of printing.

Plate 6 is the key impression of a Japanese print in which an admirable variety of resource is shown by its design; the character of each kind of form being rendered by such simple yet so expressive indications. It is instructive to study the means by which this is done, and to notice how interior form is sometimes suggested by groups of spots or black marks of varied shape while the indication of the external form is left entirely to the shape of the colour block subsequently to be printed.



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