It's December and the days are cold and blustery, so it seems like a good time to stay inside and think over the year's accomplishments and see how much progress I've made towards my artistic goals. There are two things I look for in my artwork to judge its success or failure. Actually, there aren't any failures, because I learn something from every piece, whether it comes out "good" or not. The first and most essential objective: is the print saying something, and do I think that other people will be able to get the message? The second objective is the technique side of printing: is the composition of the piece interesting and pleasing to the eye? How good a job did I do with the carving and inking? What about the ink colors, did I mix and layer them so that they help convey the piece's mood and message accurately?
Looking back at all the prints I made this year, I definitely think I've improved and reached a higher level. I think my message has become a little more complex than it used to be. I have some older prints that are nice, but they were basically saying: "Hi, I'm a cool animal or tree. Isn't Nature rad!" and nothing more. That's all well and good, and Nature IS rad, but there are other things I want to say in addition to that. One of those messages is the duality of creation; the beauty in ugliness, the way life lives and breathes right next to death and decay. Our existence on this blue marble in the sky is surreal and absurd and therefore humorous and amazing. I guess at heart I'm a Buddhist and that view of life can't help but be part of my artwork. I can see this duality and playfulness in this year's prints, along with a sense of strength and wonder.
My technical skills have gotten better this year as well. After years of using disposable blades, I finally bought some better carving tools and taught myself how to sharpen them. That alone has made a noticeable difference in my carving, since I can now cut much finer lines with the new tools. I am kicking myself for being so resistant to learning tool-sharpening! Another area of resistance I crushed in 2016 is reduction printing. I'd done reduction printing in the past but was always put off of it by the small number of prints in the final edition. With multi-block printing, I can decide to have 50 or even 100 prints in the edition. I can make 10 or so prints and then if those sell out, go and make another 10, and on and on, until I've reached the final edition number. (Ethical printmakers don't want to make more prints than they've decided on ahead of time, that would be scumbaggery, since the edition size tells buyers there will only ever be 100 prints, for example). With reduction printing, the block is completely destroyed during the printing process, so I have to decide in advance how many prints there will be in the edition and print them all at once. So, it becomes much more a question of time and studio space: how many days do you want to spend printing each color in the reduction print? How many wet prints do I have room to hang or shelve in my studio? For me the optimal number of reduction prints is 16, with 20 being an absolute maximum. However, thanks to seeing other artists' reduction prints on social media, my interest in reduction printing was again piqued. The magic of reduction printing is the option to have many different colors of ink, all on one block. WIth multi-block printing, I have to carve separate blocks for each color in the print, and that gets expensive and time-consuming. Again, there's pros and cons to each type of printing. I dove in and tried some ambitious reduction prints in 2016, namely "Mixed Nuts" and "Fighting Cats." I'm happy with the final results. For images that call for more color complexity, reduction printing is the way to go, and I'm adding it to my printmaking repertoire. The moral of the story of 2016 is don't stop learning!