Relief Printmaking: a metaphor

In relief printmaking, you carve away what you don’t want to print. Because the original drawing appears at the end of your pencil, your mind is used to making the image appear in this way. If you let your knife cut the same lines as the drawing, your printed image will look like a photo negative. Relief printmaking works best when you carve out the negative space around the lines of your image.

When the Covid 19 pandemic closed down most of our normal activities, my mind immediately wanted to make something familiar and enjoyable to calm my anxieties around what terrible events might happen. It is said that facing your fears will help you disarm them so I found photos of the virus and made a greatly enlarged version of it as a relief print. To put it in perspective, I printed it with positive examples of nature such as leaves, flowers, and birds. The virus is part of nature, our source of life and, in this case, also death.

I made prints and cards that I sent to friends and family reaching out to my closest human connections. I made a linocut mask image to cover the virus for a print I submitted to a print exchange. I also began printing on fabric to include this image in my small quilt projects. Using the virus image made me feel better bringing some relief, as they say.

I made masks on request for family and friends and designed and made several quilts over the course of the year. Now that we are into our second year of the pandemic I have been printing relief images onto fabric and sewing them into quilts. Making is a form of relief to me and one that I will continue to use as our world undergoes changes, both good and bad.

The pandemic, by removing so many activities from our lives, showed us what is truly important to us. In relief printmaking, you carve away what is not important to reveal what is, providing an apt metaphor for our pandemic experience.

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