Creating Colorful Woodblock Works


This month, NEG is excited to present a joint show with Naomi Malka Litzenblatt and Reid Coyner. While each artist works in different mediums, they both present their work with beautiful colors and fantastical subject matter. Reid works with woodblock print. NEG sat down with him to explore his practice, working with NEG, and how quarantine has affected his work.

A self portrait of Reid Coyner in his woodblock printing style.

NEG: Tell me about the show at NEG: how many pieces you have, medium, color palettes.
RC: Generally Mariam has about 10 pieces of mine at any time, I can bring more and will bring things she does not have in inventory yet - I am working daily. Although I am a watercolorist and printmaker I usually show just the woodcuts through NEG. 


What I am doing now and will be showing is hand-colored woodcut. It all starts with a brush drawing (typically) on paper or the block itself. If I do not draw directly on the block, I will do several sketches and then take tracing paper to come up with my final. Once I have my drawing I transfer to a block of wood or plywood, depending on size (Momma Nature only  makes trees so big and of course Lowes only has certain pieces). Once transferred, I take a v-gauge and start cutting with a mallet...typically I start with a 1/2" v and then downsize to a ⅛." 


Very occasionally, I will use punches, nails and other cutting tools. Something about the "coarse" just chiseling has always intrigued me; the technique using a skew chisel to precisely outline everything first, has never had the warmth nor the magic of just a gauge. Once the block is carved, then off to be printed. Using professional quality oil based inks, the inked block is ran through a roller press with its paper (think old fashioned laundry wringer - yes I did make my presses). 


I typically work in editions of up to 25 and occasionally 50 on holiday cards. The print is hung up to dry and once dry I go to my watercolor box and just play. Typically the total edition is colored the same or not but is marked accordingly - edition numbers count. The mark of HMP references this is a hand-modified-print as distinguished from just a single/few color where there is no modification (i.e. 1/50 as opposed to HMP 1/50).


NEG: Is there a general theme you follow? What if so, and if not, what inspired this collection?
RC: My life is in my arts - generally I put my life on paper. Having grown up at the beach (down east, not Wilmington), I grew up walking daily year round and always [was] intrigued with the flotsam and jetsam you find. I still have my childhood shell collection started at age 3. Some of the stuff I drug home...or thought I saw swimming!


NEG: Has quarantine affected your work--have you had more time/less time to work?
RC: I have not per-se been affected by the quarantine except in the availability of good wood; my work all begins and lives in my head - it is still working properly. My imagination is far more brilliant and far more active than any picture or camera can capture. I am a synthesis  - every sound has color and every color has sound - quite often I hear the songs of the colors. My dreams are far more vivid than reality - quite often I see dreams that end up being my art...try explaining that to your DN101 teacher!


NEG: What is your visual language?
RC: I see only narration. My visual language is from my life, my fields, my garden, my walks, my dogs, my visions and my dreams. 


NEG: Anything else we should know?
RC: I am constantly learning and exploring; [I] was raised that once you stop learning you die.  After spending 15 years nursing sick and dying parents, I am looking forward to resuming my life. Now concentrating on my art full time, I cannot wait to find what direction and what new avenues my world leads.


NEG would like to thank Reid for chatting with us! You can see his up-coming show, ‘A Return to Jubilee,’ with Naomi Malka Litzenblatt starting March 26th, 2021.

Reid Coyner's Baba Yaga house