Some Thoughts on New Technology in Printmaking by Sabra Field
Light Suite by Sabra Field
Light Suite by Sabra Field
Like many of the other exhibitors at Frog Hollow, I’ve employed assistants in an atelier system over the years. I’ve had a succession of colleagues who have faithfully replicated my work from the blocks and proofs I created. On the larger more demanding titles we have worked together as a more efficient way of dividing labor. Assistants have done their best to adhere to the proofs and maintain a high standard of accuracy. Of course there were variations in impressions and I expect you have learned, as I did, that there is a huge difference between a slight deviation and a second. I decided long ago not to sell seconds. My goal was that my original thought and my craftsmanship in block cutting and registration be transmitted to the viewer without any distraction. Hand pulled editions vary from impression to impression; it is hard not to rank them by quality.
The atelier system brought me friendships with my assistants which I treasure. But the new technology of giclee allows me to outsource printing and gives me more complete assurance of fidelity to my prototypes. It is a welcome addition to my options. As it now stands, I cut all my blocks and proof them until I get it “right” . That takes about 10 tries. Then I continue until I have about 3 “perfect” proofs. The best one of those becomes the prototype and goes to the giclee printer. At that time we can electronically adjust little glitches that I find distracting. Some of the signs of the woodblock prototypes are interesting to me and I elect to keep those. They proof on their equipment until it is identical to my “B.A.T.” which stands for “bon a tirer” or the French for “good pull” after I sign the giclee B.A.T. the printer makes the rest of the edition in small groups. (giclee is expensive and so I do not order an edition unless it is a commission.)
No, this is not a perfect system. Timing can be tricky, available papers can change, printers can have their own issues. But I have been delighted with the quality of the prints and that is most important to me. The papers are far sturdier and the inks so long lasting that never again will I have to restore faded colors on old impressions. Most of all the collector gets exactly what I envisioned and was able to achieve with my blocks. Once they are signed they are considered as “original” as the hand pulled impressions by museums and international exhibitions.
What about those proofs I pull from the blocks? I may give one to the Sabra Field collection at Middlebury College. I may sell one to a collector or institution. I may save one for myself, give one as a gift. Once under glass the difference is too subtle to distinguish from the giclee but, of course, old technology does appeal to collectors. Rob Hunter (of Frog Hollow) has purchased a number of older hand pulled prints and will be offering them for sale in the near future. I think I understand the fascination some collectors have with the old technology. Something about buying part of an artisans life. But for me the blocks are only tools and the hand pulled proofs a preliminary to a better translation of my thought. It is the giclee which achieves my goals: transmission of my exact thought in a medium that will stand the test of light and time. From my heart to the viewers eyes!