Step 1: DRAW.
This should be the most important part of any artists routine. Getting your composition down onto your block can be as time consuming as you make it. For mine I wanted to go complex. I decided to recreate a scene I have become familiar with here in the bayou. The flocks of wintering pelicans!
I didn't think ahead to take a picture before I started carving, so here is a crop of the drawing, and the beginning of the carving process. I drew with a ballpoint pen on a piece of plywood. The tools shown here are specific for carving wood. You can get them at most art stores or online.
Step 2: Plan.
I used a red pen to plan out all the areas that were to remain white. For a reduction print, this will always be the first set of cuts you make. You are going to print your color from light to dark. This means that you are planning for 2 things here. 1) the white areas, & 2) the first color. In the case of the pelicans I was planning the orange of the beaks. As you can see I ditched the hand cutters for this one because this particular plywood was very hard, and it tended to want to splinter, disrupting the drawing in unfavorable ways.
For the majority of the work I used these cutter/router bits for my rotary tools. I have pictures of them here: These are for the smaller Black Hawk tool, with a 1/4 inch shaft. My Ridgid router tool uses bits with a 1/2 inch shaft. It's important to check your tools and get the right ones for the tool. I switched from a rounded pit to a flat one to get a more even cut, and I used the pointed one for details.
Slight color distortion asside; this is how the first layer turned out. The white of the birds and the orange of the beaks will remain for the rest of the print.
The set up and how the image looks once printed.
What you see here is listed as follows, clockwise from the very top left:
Newsprint - as padding between the paper being printed on, and the roller
Inks - I use water soluble inks at home, and oil based inks when I have access to a printing press
Plexiglass, to roll out the ink
Palette knife to mix the color
Brayer to roll out the ink
Wood block - in the center
Phone - not needed, but it was in the shot.
Rolling pin, wooden spoon, and baren - these are used to apply pressure to the back of a paper, layed on top of the inked up block to absorb and take on the ink.
BONUS - Fox socks ;D
The end result of layer one, layed out to dry. When I am at a printing press I would put them in the drying racks, however when printing at home; a spare bed works just as well.
Step 3 - Plan out your next cut.
I know that I want the orange on the beaks, so I am cutting those away so that future roll ups wont cover those areas. I am going to run the next color over the remaining raised areas, which will do 2 things: 1)cover the rest of the orange, and 2) give me the color I want for the water (A greenish). I lost my red pen, so I used a sharpie to black out the areas I was going to cut.
The results of layer 2. Here we can see the white, the orange, and the green. With the green on top of the orange we can see the feet and beaks of the pelicans, and they are starting to separate from the water they swim in.
Step 4 - You guessed it! More PLANNING! I wanted the water to have 2 tones to give it some movement, so I cut away some ripples and ran the block in a brown color.
Step 5: Time for the last layer, or the Key Layer - black! Here is a close up of the block, with the brown and green cut away. I outlined the birds with a sharpie to give myself a guide for cutting.
And voila! This is a close up of the print with all the layers: White (of the paper), orange, green, brown, and black.
Here is what my block looks like now. As you can tell, there is no way to run any other color other than the black on this block. That is what is meant by "Reduction" you're reducing the block as you go, thus creating a limited number of prints.
Here I have printed the block as it is today. I may decide to run a small edition of just the key layer prints, then I will run the while block through a planar and start another one.
Odds and Ends: Some things that I found useful for the home-printing process.
My faithfull rotary tool by Blue Hawk
This pointed v-troth bit
My power horse! Ridgid makes a good router for this kind of work. Very powerful, and it has a little LED light so you can really see what you're doing. My Black Hawk lacks that feature.
My wood cutting tools.
The aforementioned tools: Rolling pin, wooden spoon, assorted soft rubber brayers, and my baren
Last: CLEAN UP!
An assortment of colors