The reduction method of block printing to achieve multiple colors from one piece of linoleum is thought to have been pioneered by Picasso. While its origins may be debatable, the fact that it is a very difficult and often frustrating process is not. Each color, starting with the lightest, is achieved by first carving away the areas of the linoleum block from which the previous color has been printed. In most cases the lightest color is white, the color of the paper. So the first step is to carve away from the linoleum all the areas that are to remain white in the finished piece. The next lightest color ink is then rolled onto the entire block and printed. This step is repeated with each color, carving away all those areas of each previous color which are meant to remain in the finished piece. With each color printed, the block must line up perfectly atop all the previous colors before pressing and pulling the print. Each color must dry for several days before the next color is printed. By the time the last color, usually black, is printed, there is very little left of the block. This is why once an edition of reduction prints has been made, it can never be made again. The more colors, the more opportunities for mistakes, and the more time is involved in the creation of each finished piece. Reduction printing forces the artist to constantly think in reverse by always being aware that not only will the printed image be transposed but that the negative space being carved away, is actually positive space on the paper and in the finished image.
No matter how I visualize the final piece, or how carefully I plan the carving and inking processes, I've never had a finished print look the way I intend it to. And that is precisely what I love about making reduction prints. It's endlessly surprising and I learn something new each and every time I make one.