The Printmaking Lab on the fourth floor of 2 W 13th St invited Paul Roden of Tugboat Printshop into the lab to answer questions regarding relief printing and the work that he does. Tugboat is based in Pittsburgh, PA. Paul brought it a variety of their work and a few examples of the woodcut blocks they use to produce their prints. He talked to us about the process of producing hand-crafted woodcut art. His wife and him are artists, printmakers and business partners. He mentioned that they do split the work pretty evenly between the two of them. His wife does more of the actual printing and he does more of the carving and they split the rest of the work evenly between then. Since he does more of the carving of the wood blocks, the talked more about the details of that.
Ideally, for their work a piece of 5-7 birch plywood is used (too many plies would not work). They would draw directly onto the woodblock with a pencil, then fill it in with a black marker. This allows them to see if the design would be feasible. A design could be scraped in either the pencil drawing or marker drawing stage. Once they have verified the design would work, then carving would begin. Depending on the number of colors required for the print, duplicates of the woodblocks would have to be made. In order to make a duplicate, black ink would be applied to the original and a stamped on to a piece of paper. With the paper still wet, that would then be stamped onto another wood block (to keep them in the same direction) then that would be drawn on and carved. When printing, the lightest color is applied to the paper first and layer the rest from lightest to darkest.
The wood they use is just from a lumber in their neighborhood and no treatments are necessary to prep the woodblocks. Sanding is the only thing they do occasionally. He has tried shellac treatments before but it isn’t necessary. They prefer woodblock printing over linoleum because linoleum stretches. He keeps all the blocks he’s carved and drawn (but never used) and generally do not reuse carved versions with different colors to create a second edition of the same one.
Some more examples of their work: