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Reduction block printing - Lake Sevan Church

Before I started the reduction block print I talked about on the previous page I already had a project in mind. The eraser carver’s mailing list was doing a postcard swap about architecture. I had a carving of a local historic house all ready to go, but over the summer I had been very impressed by medieval churches in Armenia. I wanted to do a print of one in particular, and a reduction block print seemed like the way to go.

Here’s the photo I worked from. I referred back to it throughout the carving steps to be sure I had the lights and darks right.

the original photo

My first step was to do a pencil drawing in the size I wanted the print. This was going to be a one-image postcard size print. Naturally I didn’t draw the crane on top of the roof! I guess I could get rid of it in Photoshop, too. Being able to leave out parts of the scene is one big advantage of drawing over photography.

pencil drawing

For the first stage of printing I removed only what I wanted to end up being white. That was essentially just clouds and some of the outline of the building. Printed in black, the first block is hard to read.

first stage, in black so you can see the block

Of course, I was going to print this in my lightest color, a sky blue. I didn’t ink the whole plate, because except for the sky I was going to print over it.

first stage, in black so you can see the block

Next, I carved away the sky and showed the far lake shoreline and more of the building outline. The next color was going to be the lake blue. In retrospect, I could have done OK using the same color for the sky and the lake, and saved one stage of printing. I would have had to have inked more of the plate on the print run for the first color.

second stage block printed in black

In a color scan you can see the difference between the lake and the sky colors.

second stage in color

The hills in the background, grass in the foreground, and the church proper were going to be printed in three shades of brown. I carved away the lake, ranges of hills in the distance, and more outlines on the church, leaving this much:

third stage block

When I printed this block on top of the other two I could finally believe that it was going to end up looking like something!

three stages printed in color

Now I had to start looking closely at the photo to get the shading of different planes of the church right. The fourth stage of the block was really my favorite single block of the set. Maybe it’s just because I was so familiar with the structure of the church by this time, but I thought you could read the whole thing from the lines that were left. I could imagine a very high contrast photo of the building in the snow coming out like this.

fourth stage block, my favorite

When I printed this in color and got many prints with good registration I knew the project was going to work out to my satisfaction.

after printing four colors

I still wanted one more block with the side of the church that was in deepest shadow. Very little printing surface was left for this one. I had originally thought I would print it in black, but decided on a very dark brown. Looking at the photo, I noticed that there were many stone blocks in the middle section of the tower roof that were dark, and some blocks in the shaded section that were lighter. I tried to pay attention to that in carving the last block, instead of just doing the middle section in the middle color. I wish I had done the same kind of thing on the previous block (I mean, left some of the blocks in the first section of roof on the stage 4 block, and cut some blocks out of the middle section so they showed up in the lighter brown).

last (deep shadows) stage of the block

And, ta-dah! here’s the five color print. I’m not quite done yet, though.

final reduction block print, in five colors

Just to make sure you wouldn’t think this was a New England church I carved a stamp saying “Hayastan”, Armenia, in the Armenian alphabet. Whether or not you can read it, that should let you know it’s not around the corner from Boston. Now the project is done. I figure it took about an hour to print about 100 impressions of each stage, and time to carve the blocks in between; so about 10 hours total work, spread over four weeks, for the edition of cards.

The finished card

I hope these pages inspire you to try some reduction prints. Let me know how they work out!

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