The Grand Linocut Adventure, Part Two

Welcome to part two of our grand linocut tour! Today we'll start looking at color prints.

After having gone through the economic simplicity of last week's black-and-white linocut, I decided to go to the opposite extreme in terms of relief prints and create a multi-block color print. When I think of color prints, Gustave Baumann is the first master to come to mind. His bold, crisp images of landscapes and adobe buildings have become iconic representations of New Mexico, and is a perennial favorite among art lovers in the region.

I wasn't going to attempt anything close to the scale and complexity of his work, but I won't deny he was an inspiration.

Gustave Baumann, Old Santa Fe, 1931, color woodblock print. Image courtesy of

While I've made color relief prints before, I typically use the reduction process because of its economy. I'd only attempted one multi-block print previously, and that was made several years ago:

Jenny Lake, 2011, color linocut on paper.
 Needless to say, it had been a while, but I was up for the challenge.

First, I took the composition and broke it down into three basic colors: blue sky, tan church, and brown shadows. From there, I carved my three colors on three separate blocks.

Once all the blocks had been carved, I printed them individually, building up the completed print. As with my black-and-white print, I used a brayer to roll the colors out onto the blocks, resulting in uniform colors throughout the edition.

Finally, I made a few touch-ups.

As a technique, multi-block printing certainly has its advantages. With a technique like reduction carving, you're basically constrained to a single outline, making it more difficult to superimpose different shapes. If you take a look at a reduction print of gourds I did a couple of months ago, for instance, you'll notice that all of the colors are contained within the basic outline of the gourds. With the Jenny Lake print shown above, by contrast, it was much easier to carve out the trees as a separate block and superimpose them on top of the rest of the scene rather than try to carve them out on the same block. For flexibility in composition then, using multiple blocks allows for more wiggle room than reduction prints.

Nonetheless, there are drawbacks as well. Overall, there's more carving to do because of the number of blocks. Another stumbling block was that the blocks I used were not all cut to the same size, varying as much as 1/8". This made registration challenging, and required substantial touch-ups afterwards. This was largely my doing because I went with a cheaper piece of linoleum instead of getting one mounted to a piece of cork, but it did aggravate the situation somewhat. With a reduction piece, I know the work will register properly if I pay attention, because I use the one block through the whole process.

In the end, it all depends on the kind of print you're making. For a scene like Jenny Lake, the multi-block method is ideal, but for a work like San Francisco de Asis, where the shadows are already embedded within the overall church form itself, a reduction would work just as well.

The only way to find out, though, is to make a reduction interpretation of the church, so stay tuned for next week's installment.