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Feeling worn down? Prematurely old?

Posted by Dave Bull on November 28, 2015 [Permalink]

One of the most common questions we get asked here is about block wear ... "How many prints can you make from a block before it gets worn out?"

We hear this all the time, and really have no single clear answer. "It depends." We ourselves are very careful with the blocks, treat them gently, and of course try to maximize their life. And until very recently, we (I) simply had no experience with well-worn blocks. I myself usually only made around 200 copies or so of each of the prints I published - not because of a 'Limited Edition' consideration, but simply because I got on with making the next print each time.

But now that we are in a whole new level of popularity, some of our prints are selling very well, and block wear has become a reality for us. Our current Ukiyoe Heroes prints are nowhere near that point yet - blocks typically last for many hundreds of copies, and usually well into the thousands - but the blocks in our Print Party room are in trouble. Take a look at this ...

... and a closeup:

This is the 'red' block for the print we have been using in the Print Parties for nearly a year. It has been clear for some weeks that it has reached the end of life. It has become so worn that the carved areas no longer reach to the black outlines, and people have been thinking that their registration is off.

This block has worn so badly because of a few factors: one is that red is a particularly abrasive pigment, and red (and) brown blocks always wear first. The second is that this is the first block in the sequence, and the beginners who use it to make prints almost invariably rub the brush over the surface too strongly. We of course tell them "Lightly ... lightly!" ... but what can you do! :-) And adding to this is that the brush is frequently a bit too hard, because it 'waits' between visitors and sometimes dries out a bit too much.

This combination of factors has just killed that block stone dead. But no problem - it's just a matter of a couple of hours work (on the back side of the same piece!) to recut it:


Here's another 'before/after' pair for comparison:


And another ...


The one I'm dreading is of course the day when the key block for our Great Wave print becomes unusable. We're a long way off that day yet, but given how long it will take to get a fresh set up and running, we had better start planning soon!




Added by: Jakub Makalowski on November 30, 2015, 4:06 pm

David, that circle in the last photo is looking awfully hexagonal...

Really I always struggle with small circles, especially if its an interior cut rather than an exterior cut.

BEsides you'll just mention how those blocks use thick outlines that cover that up anyway.


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