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Fox Moon at 500

Posted by Dave Bull at 11:12 AM, February 12, 2013 [Permalink]

The 'final' (for now) batch of Fox Moons is flying off to Jed today. This will finally clear the Kickstarter orders as well as orders received through his web shop since the end of the campaign. There are also enough prints in this batch to give us a 'pad' that should last around a month or so, based on the rate that new orders are still coming in.

No matter how many times we do this, I still get a kick out of these stacks!

This brings the total number of Foxes we have printed to 504 (more actually, if you were to count all the test proofing, etc.) and this is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to people the fallacy that 'woodblock prints have to be limited editions, because the wood will break down quickly,' or one that I heard from a gallery owner 'Only the first few dozen copies of an edition of woodblock prints are worthwhile, as the wood soon wears down. You have to get a _low_ number!'

This sort of thing is a total myth. What is surprising to a great many people is that (good) woodblocks are far more long-lasting than many metal printing plates. Mezzotints and etchings can have a burr on the plate that abrades very quickly, and for this type of print a 'low number' may indeed have some meaning. Traditional copperplates too, wear quite quickly, and there can be a substantial difference between early and late copies of an image.

But a good hard piece of cherrywood is far stronger than that, and - if treated carefully - will produce many thousands of clean clear copies of the image. 'Treated carefully' in this case means not printing too many copies at one time, as the combination of stiff brush on wood softened by long exposure to water can indeed create heavy block wear. A hundred or so at a time, with good long rests in between batches to let the block thoroughly dry out, is a good policy to follow, and of course that is what we are doing (even if means that making this many of the Foxes has taken a bit longer than we originally promised to the Kickstarter backers).

Another factor is the pigment. If this is not ground finely enough, then the small rough particles will act as an abrasive on the block as they are pushed around by the brush. We use a machine-ground 'bokuju' (liquid sumi) rather than try to do it ourselves. And of course, we constantly work our brushes over dry sharkskin, in order to keep the tips of the hairs nice and soft.

Let's have a look then, at this print after 500 copies have been taken. Here are two places with delicate lines, the Fox face, and the bow string of the rabbit.

I can't claim that there has been absolutely no wear, because when I look at the blocks through a microscope we have here, I can detect a slight rounding of the tops of the lines. But there is yet nothing that would show in a print.

So just how many will we be able to make from this block set? I have no idea. For as long as there is interest in this design, we will continue to pull prints. At some point, if we can detect enough wear and tear that it would adversely affect the prints, we will either have to retire the design, or cut fresh blocks. But that point is clearly a very very long way off. We'll take it as it comes ...




Added by: Jeremy Pearse on February 14, 2013 12:52 AM

Dave, when we are presented with close-up images like this, we can clearly see the wonderful lines you have carved and the excellent (and often subtle) printing done on these woodblocks - stunning work!

Added by: Margaret Maloney on February 17, 2013 1:32 PM

Yes, I agree. I watched your video for "The Hero Rests" earlier this evening, and I was struck by how beautiful the keyblock was when you displayed it before inking and thought, "That's so stunning; it should be displayed as a piece of art on its own!" but then my thoughts quickly did an about face as I thought, "But if an unpainted block is kept pristine, and no prints are ever made, that's a tragedy!"

It made me wonder what other arts have tools or midpoints that are so exquisite as to be art in and of themselves.


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