02 03 The World in Relief: Adventures in stencils 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Adventures in stencils

My prints are all reductions, meaning that I use only one block and layer colors, one on top of the other.  I create colors this way that I would never have mixed by eye.  But one of the problems with reduction printmaking is that it is very difficult to get contrasting colors on the same print, especially colors in the same tonal range.  Enter the stencil...

I originally learned about stencils from Karen Kunc, a printmaker who also teaches at the University of Nebraska.  She uses stencils cut from brown kraft paper, and strengthened with masking tape.  Holding the stencil over one area of a print, she adds color to specific areas.  Her reduction prints are filled with vibrant colors.  

A large leaf on lino.

My subject was a close-up of a leaf of Ragged Jack Kale.  The scalloped blue-green leaves are punctuated by pink and purple veining.  I knew that with one block it would be very difficult to do each of these colors justice.

A lot of delicate cutting was required.

My strategy was to cut a stencil out of acetate, covering the veins while I printed layers of blues and greens for the leaf cells.   After a background of light blue, I printed a layer of purplish blue, and used one of my test prints to create the stencil.  I tried to leave as much of the acetate connected to strengthen the stencil.

The stencil with the first green layer
Stencil support system.

I taped the stencil to a foam core frame that just fit around the block.  One challenge was to keep the stencil from pulling off the frame as I rolled on the ink.  Some bundles of scrap foam core kept the stencil at the right height.  

Halfway there.
Rolling on the ink was a very delicate process. I had to be very careful to not stress the acetate.  The inky acetate really wanted to cling to the brayer.  Here is a quick snap of the leaf hanging from the drying rack.  The photograph doesn't show the true greens, but you can see that so far the stencil is doing its job.

I think each printing takes about 50% longer to complete with this process.  The success of the print remains to be seen, but my hands are happy they didn't have to carve two blocks.

We'll turn over the completed leaf next post...

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