02 03 The World in Relief: The curse of the greedy printmaker 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

The curse of the greedy printmaker

Gentle readers, please hear my confession.  I am a greedy printmaker...  Here is my story:

One of the biggest challenges for me in printmaking is getting the block and the paper to line up the same way each time.  Printmakers call it registration.  Even 1/16th of an inch off can make the print look blurry and the edges show the raw colors I have been using rather than the gentle color blends.

Registration has plagued many printmakers, even Picasso.  If you look at his Bust of a Woman (after Cranach, 1958) you can see his problems with registering a six-block linocut.  He nearly abandoned linocuts, but learned from printmaker Amera about the technique of reduction printmaking.  After that, his registration improved.  But it is interesting that his first attempt, even with the misregistration, is highly valued.  Not so for me.

I'm working on a large horizontal block (13 x 28in).  I have tried many techniques to ensure that my prints register.  With 8 to 10 layers for each print, this is essential.  There is nothing worse than printing a run and realizing that you are off, even slightly.  That's where I get greedy.

My current registration jig.

This is my current registration jig.  For each new block I make a template with thick cardboard and cut a hole just the size of the block.  I use a silkscreen pin and tab system, where the metal pins are taped on the template, and the plastic tabs are taped on the back side of the paper.  I make sure to give myself lots of paper on the side with the tabs, so I can tear off the part that was taped.  To register, I put in the block, then click in the tabs and lower the paper.  With smaller prints, this system has been very effective.

Printing the seventh layer.
This is the large block I'm working on.  I have had to tape an "L" shaped ruler to one corner to make sure the cardboard stays stiff.  This is the seventh layer of ink, and today I discovered that there was a mysterious 1/16th of an inch of extra block printing on one side.  The other side of the block registered perfectly.

I was heartbroken, because misregistered prints become the test papers for the next print.  Each time I pull the print off, I hold my breath to see if one of my "babies" will continue, or be relegated to the scrap pile.  I have been trying solve the problem by aligning the block by hand, shaving off a minute part of the offending side, and wiping off the ink slightly.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes not.  It is a mystery that I would love to have solved.

Printmakers don't mean to be greedy, but when all of your papers are hanging before the first color, there is so much potential...

So printmakers...any advice?

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