When I am decomposing an image for a woodcut, I usually cut one plate per color.  There are exceptions to this of course.  I will occasionally print one plate more than once with different inks, but the one-per-color approach dominates.

It doesn’t have to be done that way, however.

One approach to multiple colors from a plate is to go to a reduction print.  In it’s simplest form, you start by carving away the areas you want to preserve as white.  You then print the entire edition with your first color.  You then carve away the areas you want to remain that color.  Print again with a new color and repeat.

The other approach is to do everything at once and selectively ink your plate.  I recently finished a small print where I used this technique.

Here is the setup:

This was a fairly straight forward, two color print. As usual I restrain the plate with a pair of  L-shaped pieces cut from 1/4″ MDF and taped to the bed of the press with double stick carpet tape.  In this case, since the paper is only going through the press once, I didn’t bother with registration pins.  I did add an L-shaped piece of mat board to register my paper against.  This helps me easily maintain my margins.  I then cut a sheet of Tyvek (spun polyolefin) and cut a window that would expose the areas that I wanted to ink with red.  It is taped to the registration L in the proper postion and folded back out of the way.  I also put a couple of small pieces of tape on the opposite edge to hold the mask down when I am rolling on the ink.  You could also use Mylar or acetate for this template.  The key is to make sure that it doesn’t become saturated with ink.

From there the process is pretty straight forward.  Fold the mask over into position and carefully roll on the first color.  The idea is to protect the areas that will be the second color.  The tack of the ink will want to lift the mask (hence the tape opposite the hinge) so I try not to roll over it, but rather use it to protect against an error.

Next, fold back the template (you might want to tape another piece of Tyvek or paper down to the bed to keep ink off of it) and carefully roll on the second color. Here you are working without a net, so don’t rush.

After all the colors are down, position your paper and print normally. This masking technique works best with two colors as the face of the mask would disturb the ink layer if you try to go to three or more.

Color Woodcut – 2011
Dean Russell Thompson
6 1/8″ x 8 1/8″
Copyright 2011, Dean Russell Thompson