Editor’s note: Molly Brown, one of John Brown’s daughters, created many of the key illustrations that appear in “Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown.”
She is offering limited editions of the 12 prints featured in the book. Customers in the U.K. and Europe can order the prints from her website; Lost Art Press is offering these prints to the U.S. market. The deadline to order is May 15.
We asked Molly to share her process; you can read about it below.
It was an honor and a challenge to be asked to make some prints for “Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown” – the subject is personal and the specs a little unusual, and maybe more technical than I’m used to. The chairs and tools have turned out to be wonderful subjects for study, and with help from the two Chrises (Schwarz, Williams), I’m really proud of my small part in the book.
Original linocuts carved, inked and printed by hand using an Albion press. Editions are limited to 75 or 50, printed on Japon Simili paper using oil-based relief printing inks.
The majority of my prints are made using relief printing, in this case linocut. Relief printmaking is the process of taking a surface and altering the height to leave relief areas that take up ink from a roller. Paper is placed on top and pressure applied to transfer the image. Anything carved or cut away will print white. Working in reverse and positive/negative is something to get your head around at first, but I hope it will keep Alzheimer’s at bay in the long run.
All the prints for “Good Work” went through a process of looking and drawing, transferring the sketch to a lino block in reverse using tracing paper, carving away the white areas and leaving a relief image ready to take the ink.
I also dabble with intaglio processes (etching), and planographic printing (stone lithography) but find I return again and again to linocut and woodcut because I love the carving process. The original drawing is often very minimal when transferred to the block and I “draw” the rest with my set of gouges. The best way I can describe it is that there is a resistance to the gouge that is just enough to accommodate the intention of the line you wish to create. Think too much about it or let your mind wander and you will lose it. It is a wonderful test of focus as falling out in your mind often means a mistake that has you starting the whole plate a second time.
The plates used for “Good Work” are a mixture of grey hessian-backed lino (sometimes called battleship lino), and Japanese Vinyl, a two-sided synthetic rubber plate with a very smooth surface. Lino is made from pressed linseed set on a hessian backing to hold it together; it carves beautifully and can also be etched with a mixture of caustic soda (several of the images have this effect – it allows tone to be built up in addition to carved marks). I much prefer the grey lino but ended up using the vinyl for the larger chairs mainly because of the ease of cleaning and durability. However well you clean a lino block (I use plain vegetable oil which also helps condition the surface), the vinyl will stand up better to repeat printings and larger editions.
I use gouges made by a Swiss company, Pfeil, and 90 percent of my carving is done with the finest No. 12 V-gouge. These little wooden-handled tools fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and are incredibly good.
I help run a small printmaking organisation in the seaside town of Aberystwyth. Despite it’s small stature, Aberystwyth boast a university, the National Library of Wales and a strong group of printmakers. The workshop is member run and open to all styles and levels of printmaker. We run classes and exhibit regularly as a group, and talk a lot about process and equipment in the same way I suspect woodworkers do.
We’re lucky enough to have a cast iron Albion press dating from the 1850s, and the majority of the book plates were printed using this wonderful machine. Albions were used for commercial book printing until the middle of the 19th century, and afterward by private presses and artists.
The inked plate is placed face up on the press bed, paper is carefully placed over it and the toggle mechanism draws the flat metal platen down in one steady press to transfer the image.
The paper I used for this set of prints is the machine-made Japon Simili (made in Holland, not Japan). It has a warm tone and its fine, smooth surface makes it ideal for relief printing as it reproduces fine detail beautifully. For relief printing I also use Somerset rag papers and the occasional piece of fancy Japanese paper (mantra whilst printing: don’t f*ck it up!).
These prints are printed using oil-based printmaking ink from Intaglio Printmakers, London. I have tried many inks and find these are the best for my work in terms of texture and coverage: less flat than the water-based equivalents and more durable. The only disadvantage is drying time; this mid-Wales coastal area is extremely humid (we even have Welsh “rainforest”) and drying times can be a week or even more, depending on the season.