The Magnificent Linocut Adventure, Part Four

Well, we've reached the end of our relief-printing journey, so let's wrap up with the most recent addition to the block-printing pantheon, the white-line linocut, or Provincetown print.

B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Fisherman's Family, 1916, white-line color woodcut.
I've talked about white-line relief prints before, but here's a quick review. It was developed in the Provincetown art colony, Massachusetts, by B.J.O. Nordfeldt and his fellow artists during the early twentieth century as an alternative to making color woodcuts. Instead of carving a separate block for each color, you carve the outlines of the work along, and then hand-color the different colors in between those outlines. The advantage is that you do very little carving, but you also spend a lot more time inking because all the colors are used on the same block. A Provincetown print is essentially a hybrid between a monotype and a block print.

Anyway, here's the one I made. Once again, I used my sketch of San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos. First, I carved my white outline:

Before printing, I first had to secure my paper and block, in order to maintain registration. I started by taping down the linoleum block to a piece of Plexiglas, in order to keep any paint from getting on the table.

Then I taped down one side of the paper to the Plexiglas. This would allow me to flip the paper back and forth like a book cover, while I added new colors, and not lose my registration in the process.

So here's what my working surface looked like, with everything taped down and secure.

As mentioned earlier, you have to paint Provincetown prints by hand, in order to keep the different colors separated from one another. Historically the Provincetown printers used watercolors, but I'm not a watercolorist, so I employ other materials. Usually I use my Akua monotype inks, but this time around I played with some water soluble oil paints that have been sitting in storage for the past couple of years. May as well use them, right?

I started with the sky...

...then I rubbed the paper by hand to transfer the paint...

...and flipped the paper back see the transposed paint. 

To finish the print, I repeated the same steps for the remaining three colors, as you can see below.

And voila! We have a white-line linocut of an iconic building in Taos. The brush application wasn't entirely even, but considering the textured adobe surface of the real San Francisco de Asis, I thought it was compatible with the subject.

From my experience, Provincetown prints are among the most time-consuming to complete. While you may not do much carving, the fact that you have to essentially paint in the print by hand does slow you down significantly, so if you're looking to churn out an edition in a hurry, I wouldn't recommend it. Personally, I think this is the best kind of project to do on the side when you need a break from another work, turning out a few at a time instead of the whole edition in one go. The main strength of this approach is its individuality. Since you're hand-coloring each print, the potential for variety in terms of texture and color is infinite, so if you don't like uniformity within your prints, this is a great option. Frankly, I'm surprised I haven't seen more of these made out in this region, as I think the white outlines lend themselves perfectly to evoking the light of New Mexico.

Well, that concludes out tour of relief printmaking techniques. It's certainly been an illuminating experience to be try out all these different approaches on the same image and see their individual merits, and if I've learned anything, it's that relief printing is as versatile as you make it, and that it all depends on what effect you want to achieve. Want a bold, fearless work with assertive colors? Use a brayer to print a multi-block then. Do you prefer a more painterly, delicate work? Use a brush to paint you plates. Relief printmaking is what you make of it, and while it may be more structured than painting or drawing, it can also be surprisingly spontaneous.

Thank you for joining my on this adventure. I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as I have, and that you'll be inspired to make your own prints.