Hnizdovsky Printmaking Technique
Using an original drawing as a guide, Hnizdovsky begins a series of drawings on tracing paper. Each successive image is refined toward the stylization he wishes the final design to take. Strict attention is paid to details, nuances, balance of masses, black and white distribution. The number of preliminary drawings at this stage may vary between six and twenty (all on tracing paper). Once a drawing is completed to his satisfaction, it is ready to be transferred to the woodblock. For the transfer of the pencil drawing to the woodblock, he prefers to use a simple 8.5" x 11” sheet of carbon paper. The master drawing is placed face down on the carbon paper and the design is carefully traced with a pencil from the back of the tracing vellum. The transferred image will be in the exact reverse on the surface of the woodblock. As Hnizdovsky traces, he continues to refine and strengthen the overall design. Perhaps some lines require thickening while others may need to be lightened. The object at this stage is not only to transfer, but to improve and refine the linear quality of the drawing. When the entire drawing has been traced, the copy paper and tracing vellum are removed, and the carbon lines on the woodblock are intensified with India ink (inking is for permanence). As Hnizdovsky draws onto the woodblock with pen and India ink, he further strengthens the structure of the drawing.
Hnizdovsky’s woodcutting tools are simple instruments: a sharp pointed flat blade and various V and U shaped gouges. The time involved in the actual cutting of the woodblock depends on at least two factors, the size of the design and its complexity. Most of his larger woodcuts entail weeks of cutting, some may take months. The woodblocks are generally of a hardwood such as cherry, pear, beech or apple. While Hnizdovsky favors the hardness of pear wood for his extremely intricate and detailed prints, for prints with larger areas of black and white, he chooses the soft pliable quality of linoleum, and has created many black and white and color linocuts.
Inking, proofing and printing an entire woodcut or linocut edition can consume additional weeks of tedious and painstaking work. Hnizdovsky first prints five to ten trial proofs, correcting and refining each successive image. Once he is satisfied with the image, he proceeds to print the artist’s proofs, an edition of approximately 25, and then prints the limited edition of between 100 and 150 prints. For many years all of Hnizdovsky’s blocks were printed by the hand and spoon method, which was very impractical, since the heat from the spoon would often tear the delicate washi Hnizdovsky used for his prints. An additional problem was the ink drying very quickly. The hand and spoon printing method was extremely time consuming and laborious. After developing bursitis from the pressure needed to print an entire edition, in 1975 Hnizdovsky acquired a manually operated proof press, which greatly facilitated the printing of his much larger prints. Unlike may other artists, who gave their work to be printed, Hnizdovsky printed all his prints in his home studio. The only exceptions were the larger etchings, which were printed in the studio of master printer Emiliano Sorini under Hnizdovsky’s direct supervision (Jacques Hnizdovsky lacked the very large etching press needed to print them). Hnizdovsky’s smaller etchings were all printed at home.