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Old 01-22-2020, 01:36 PM
RCH RCH is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2015
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How to separate colors in an image, for blocks, to produce layered colors?

I'm not new to printing, but I have a question that I'm hoping some here might be able to help me with, or perhaps point me in the direction of a helpful resource.

I want to make a relief print using multiple blocks for multiple colors, using inks mixed with some translucent medium, so that where the colors overlap, they will produce the combination of those colors. This will differ from most of the multi-block color prints I've tried in the past, in two ways:

1. There won't be a key-block separating the areas of color.

2. Because this project is for portraits, I want to avoid hard transitions between colors, and produce more subtle contours, shading, etc., by how I overlap layers of ink.

In the past, my prints have been fairly "schematic", in that there were seldom more than 3 colors, and they weren't intended to produce subtle gradations or contours, such as one might want for a face. But I'm having a difficult time grasping how to separate-out the colors, to be able to determine how each block should be carved, for the finished print to take advantage of that layering.

That may not make sense, so perhaps I can illustrate what I mean using this example:




Let's say I want to take this portrait by Bronzino and "deconstruct" it so that each of the main colors can be reduced to a block, and the places where two colors overlap can produce intermediate colors. If I wanted to accomplish this with 7 blocks, this is what it seems could be done:
  • slightly warm white for the brightly-lit areas of her skin, as well as the sky and the lighter areas of the hills
  • umber for the shadowed areas of her skin
  • red for the lower-left corner, her lips and cheeks
  • green for the hills, a bit of it in her scarf, her eyes and her skin (mostly on the right side)
  • blue for the distant mountains, the sky, and in the lower-left corner
  • light brown for her hair
  • darker brown for her hair, her eyebrows, in and under her eyes, and the scarf
The blue layer is relatively straightforward, since it's almost entirely in the mountains and sky, and the lower-left corner.

The white would be printed for her entire face, her scalp where hair is parted, her scarf, the sky and the lighter areas of the hills.

For the red and pink areas, I would carve a block to leave the red area in the lower-left, the shape of her lips, and the blushed areas of her chin, cheeks and eyelids, un-carved. Where the white and red are layered, I could get the blush in her skin and lips

To produce the shadowed skin on right side of her face (from the viewer's perspective) the blocks for white, umber and green could be layered.
her hair could be light brown and dark brown layers, with possibly some umber for the shadows. For the darkest areas of shadow on the right of her face, it could be printed with dark brown and umber blocks, and so forth.

The difficulty I'm having is in conceptualizing how to look at a picture like this and reduce it to layers that could be translated to blocks -- not just for the shapes of the areas that will only be printed in a single color, but the areas where they overlap to produce those intermediate colors. (I have a mental condition called "aphantasia" which means I don't have a functioning "mind's eye"; I can't close my eyes and imagine how something would look. This impairs my ability to work out visual problems in my head.)

The way I've done multiple-block prints in the past was to trace the image onto tracing paper and try to draw lines where the boundaries of each color are relative to the neighboring colors, make lots of photocopies of this, indicate on each copy what color (or blend of colors) is needed, and then transfer each of these to a block using carbon paper. That's a ridiculously kludgy way to do it!

Is there another way to take an image like this and be able to effectively reduce it to those constituent colors -- both overlapped and not overlapped -- from which to produce the necessary blocks, or is it always done just by examining the image, mixing inks to try to achieve those colors, and lots of trial-and-error?

How do the effects differ when printing dark over light, or vice-versa (assuming that all inks are cut with a translucent medium to the same degree)? Is there a rule of thumb for which order colors should be printed in, to achieve the best optical mixing of layers? Just intuitively, it seems like the white for the skin should be printed before the umber for the shadowed areas of her skin should be printed, but that may not actually be true.

My thanks in advance for any guidance!
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Old 01-22-2020, 02:48 PM
blackandwhite blackandwhite is offline
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Re: How to separate colors in an image, for blocks, to produce layered colors?

If you use Japanese woodblock printing style, the color gradations can be done by selectively applying ink on the plate and then brushing it in a way that creates the gradations. This and other related techniques have been discussed in David Bull's videos https://www.youtube.com/user/seseragistudio/videos

In both Japanese style and western oil-ink block printmaking style the easiest way to do color separation is to use Photoshop, Procreate (on iPad) or similar drawing software, where you trace the different color layers from the original image and then merge those in a realistic way that lets you test that how the combination would look like. I haven't done it personally so I cannot recommend any tips and tricks, but I know lot of professionals do their color separation that way.
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Old 01-22-2020, 05:57 PM
RCH RCH is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2015
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Re: How to separate colors in an image, for blocks, to produce layered colors?

Thanks for the input, blackandwhite!

I'm pretty familiar with the bokashi technique you (and David Bull) describe. It's not applicable to this particular project, but it's a good idea nonetheless.

That's interesting about using Photoshop as a tool for this; I'd never heard of that as a possibility. I don't know my way around Photoshop but I do have and use PaintShop Pro, which is sort of a low-budget equivalent to it. I wonder if it could be used for this process, and if so, how...

Quote:
Originally Posted by blackandwhite
If you use Japanese woodblock printing style, the color gradations can be done by selectively applying ink on the plate and then brushing it in a way that creates the gradations. This and other related techniques have been discussed in David Bull's videos https://www.youtube.com/user/seseragistudio/videos

In both Japanese style and western oil-ink block printmaking style the easiest way to do color separation is to use Photoshop, Procreate (on iPad) or similar drawing software, where you trace the different color layers from the original image and then merge those in a realistic way that lets you test that how the combination would look like. I haven't done it personally so I cannot recommend any tips and tricks, but I know lot of professionals do their color separation that way.
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