I recently had a conversation with another artist about choosing colors. My woodcuts tend to have fairly simple color schemes, (2-5 colors), so the color choice is important. Perhaps surprisingly though, those decisions tend to happen fairly late in the process. For much of the time that I am working on an image, I am treating it as a greyscale image, concentrating on it as a limited set of values. Since I am working with a modified key block approach to constructing my plates, I have the opportunity to do a trial proof (or more than one) to explore the color set once all the plates have been cut.
For the trial proof, I mix a small quantity of all of the ink colors that I am going to use and then print each plate in quick succession, wet in wet. I dust the print with baby powder after each impression to stabilize the ink somewhat so that the following color will trap better. I tap out each color onto a color card and record the inks that I used to mix the color (with the most plentiful color first). When I go print the edition I use this card as a guide to mix the larger quantity of ink that I will need. I find that having the color splotch and the list of colors involved allows me to hit the color pretty accurately. I make the color cards by printing on scraps of editioning paper with a laser printer.
In general, I use a split primary pallet (two of each primary color, a warm and a cool shade) along with a set of secondaries. I also use a couple of whites and tint bases. When I am mixing colors I am concerned about the value (how light/dark) and the degree of transparency as well as the hue. Since I often stack colors the degree of transparency makes a big difference in how the colors are perceived in the finished print.
Here are the color cards for a recent print. These are presented in the order that they are laid down in the final print, running as usual from lightest to darkest. This particular print has a complementary color scheme with cool colors on the extremes of the value spectrum and warm colors in the middle. By the way, all of these are lithographic inks that I will tweak to lower the tack and viscosity before they are printed.
The first color started by mixing a dark blue. Daniel Smith Indanthrone Blue has a mass tone similar to an Ultramarine blue, but the undertone is quite a bit different. I find that it is almost a perfect compliment to Handshy Sun Orange. I slowly add the orange to the blue to pull down the saturation of the blue (make it more grey) and make it darker. When I get it close to where I want it, I pick up some Graphic Chemical Opaque White and add a very small amount of the mixed blue to it to create a tint of approximately the right value. If necessary, I will tweak the tint with tiny additions of the blue or orange to adjust the hue and bring the tint down to the proper value.
Color #2 is also a light tint (actually lighter than #1, but they do not overprint in this image). Again, I start by mixing a hot orange by adding Sun Orange to Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Medium. Then I mix it into the white as before. The addition of Graphic Chemical Laketine lowers the opacity of this color somewhat.
Color #3 is a hot orange using the same Hansa Yellow Medium / Sun Orange combination as before. This time, however, some Laketine is added to the mix, but no white. This results in a lighter color (more transparent) but doesn’t bleed out the saturation as much as white would.
Color #4 is a very warm (almost hot) red. Sun Orange is the base. A very small amount of Indanthrone Blue is added to pull down the saturation. The mix is then pushed to the red side by the addition of a small amount of Handshy Burgundy Red. This is a cool, very transparent red, with an extremely high tinting strength. The result is a bright, fairly transparent color that is used full strength (no white or Laketine)
The final color is a dark, transparent blue. This is actually the same color as the base blue for #1. Because it is so transparent, however, and is printed almost completely on top of #3 & #4, it reads in the final print as a very dark, very cool red.
And the final print.
21 1/4″ x 19 3/8″
Edition of 15
Image Copyright 2010, Dean Russell Thompson
All Rights Reserved