Reduction block printing is one of the world's oldest graphic art forms. Woodblock prints by Chinese and Japanese masters are known from the second century. In block printing, as in any art form, the process begins with conceptualization of an image. The image is then transferred onto the flat surface of the bock. The regions of color that form the image are delineated. Typically the colors lightest in value are printed first onto handmade Japanese paper. The back of the paper is repeatedly rubbed with wooden tool know as a baren to ensure that the ink transfers. The area of the block that printed the initial color is then carved away with hand tools. The carved surface that results is lower than the remaining flat surface and will not print again thus the term "reduction" printing. Whereas in Japanese block printing a series of blocks are used, in reduction-block printing a single block is used. A second color is inked onto the block and then pressed onto the developing print. Again the surface is carved away. Through an intricate series of steps each color is applied until the final image is revealed.
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Above you see the essential components of classic printmaking. You start with a smooth block, carve it with tools, ink it with a roller, and then transfer the ink to your paper by carefully handrubbing the paper. On the carved block above the only surface that would print are the remaining flat surfaces (black).