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F. Morley Fletcher

This little book gives an account of one of the primitive crafts, in the practice of which only the simplest tools and materials are used. Their method of use may serve as a means of expression for artist-craftsmen, or may be studied in preparation for, or as a guide towards, more elaborate work in printing, of which the main principles may be seen most clearly in their application in the primitive craft.

The cutting of a line block needs patience and care and skill, but it is not the most difficult part of print making, nor is it so hopeless an enterprise as it seems at first to one who has not tried to use the block-cutter's knife.

In Japan this work is a highly specialised craft, never undertaken by the artist himself, but carried out by skilled craftsmen who only do this part of the work of making colour prints. Even the clearing of the spaces between the cut lines is done by assistant craftsmen or craftswomen.

Next in importance is the preparation of the ink for printing the key-block or any black or grey parts of a design. As a rule the key-block is printed black, more or less diluted with paste; indeed the key-block is often printed very faintly by means of paste only just tinged with a trace of black.

Until one has become quite familiar with the craft of wood-block printing it is not possible to make a satisfactory design for a print, or to understand either the full resources that are available or the limits that are fixed.

The few wood-block prints shown from time to time by the Society of Graver Printers in Colour, and the occasional appearance of a wood-block print in the Graver Section of the International Society's Exhibitions, or in those of the Society of Arts and Crafts, are the outcome of the experiments of a small group of English artists in making prints by the Japanese method, or by methods based on the Japanese practice.

A set of blocks consists of a key-block and several colour blocks. The block that must be cut first is that which prints the line or "key" of the design. By means of impressions from this key-block the various other blocks for printing the coloured portions of the design are cut. The key-block is the most important of the set of blocks and contains the essential part of the design.

Any colour that can be obtained in a fine dry powder may be used in wood-block printing. Some artists have succeeded in using ordinary water colours sold in tubes, by mixing the colour with the rice paste before printing; but the best results are obtained by the use of pure, finely ground dry colour mixed only with water, the rice paste being added actually on the block.

A print is shown at the end of this book (page 95) as an example of a first experiment in co-operative printing. An actual print was needed to illustrate the method of block printing, and the number required was too great for a single printer to undertake. So the work was divided between four printers (of whom the writer was one), working together. Each of us had been accustomed to print our own prints in small batches of a dozen or two at a time, giving individual care to each print.

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