The Reduction Printing Technique Of William H. Hays

Color reduction linocut printing is simple process which quickly becomes very complicated. William carves artist's linoleum with wood carving tools. What is carved becomes open and does not print. It is the white of the paper. The remaining surface prints the first and (usually) the lightest color. For each image William tries to print an edition of 100 prints, beginning with 110 sheets of paper to allow for mistakes.

This first color (and every color) is printed on each sheet of paper in the edition (110 times). The second color is usually a darker shade than the first. For the second color the artist carves away all of the surface which is to remain the first color - on the same block. The second color overprints the first except where it is carved away:

As the following colors are printed, more and more of the block is carved away, revealing the previous color as the new (usually darker) color is added on top. This reduces the amount of the original surface remaining, giving the process its name, reduction printing.

When the final impression is made, there is often very little of the original surface remaining on the linoleum block. Since each color requires carving into what made the previous impression, there is no going back to change the image or the color. This makes the edition necessarily limited to the original number planned. No additional prints can be made.

While the traditional Japanese method of color printing (moku hanga) uses water-based inks, William uses oil-based inks. The Japanese apply color to the block with a brush. William uses a brayer (roller). The moku hanga tradition makes each impression by hand rubbing. William uses a hand-turned etching press to make each impression. Below, is the artist in his studio printing the last color on "Summer Moon" using the etching press. The edition of prints hangs from clothes pins drying behind him.

Each time a color is printed, the block and the paper have to be in exactly the same position so that the colors line up properly. William uses a pin registration system to achieve this. Each piece of paper has holes punched in it which align to the steel registration pins. The block is positioned on the bed of the press using a jig which has the pins mounted on it. The slightest variation of either the block or the paper causes the colors to be out of alignment.

The process of creating an edition of prints is very time consuming. From start to finish an edition takes the artist between two weeks and six weeks depending on the complexity of carving and the number of colors printed. Carving in preparation for one color can take between one and five days. Printing one color in an edition takes between half a day and three days. The average time needed to complete an edition is about one month.

Brattleboro, Vermont 05301 USA
Phone: 802-257-5181

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