The graphic quality of a wood block print is striking. Strongly defined lines, layered with translucent blocks of vibrant color. These depictions of the California landscape hit particularly close to home. It’s one thing when an artist’s impression takes you to an unknown landscape, it’s another when you recognize those same experiences in a work.
Tom Killion’s wood block print landscapes of California do just that. Raised in Mill Valley, California, Killion grew up in the hills and terrain of Marin County and Northern California’s mountains and shorelines. Many of his works are gathered in his large format books depicting the landscapes he knows best, the California coast, the High Sierras, and Mt. Tamalpais walking trails.
Woodblock prints can have the disadvantage of feeling static. Defined black lines and blocks of color can leave a flat impression. Killion’s landscapes are anything but. His images are built from sketches made on location. The detail he renders in the final print, the texture and breadth of background and atmosphere, make his images dynamic. The subtle gradations of color give the images depth and warmth. Looking at them I feel very much on location with him.
It’s important to me that I start with sketches that I’ve made on site. I also take notes and utilize my memory and impressions. I give myself permission to not completely stick to “reality”— especially with colors. The sketching process is so personal and I think people respond to my work because there’s an intimacy to it— I’m there on site, surrounded by the landscape, soaking in all the details, and not relying on a photograph.
The image is first reversed onto an initial or key block, which is usually the darkest and most detailed of the multiple blocks needed to make a print. The key block contains the outlines and visual information necessary to make all the succeeding blocks print their colors in register on the final print, so it is carved first and its image is then transferred to several more color blocks, which are then carved. The actual printing of the multi-block image begins with the making of a set of proof sheets from the key block, which are then used to insure perfect registration of each succeeding color block. Beginning with the lightest color, the first color block is set in the press and adjusted in relation to the proof sheets. When the color block is perfectly aligned with the key block image, the handmade edition paper is then used, and a number of sheets are pulled equal to the edition number of the print. This process is repeated with each color block, allowing a day or two between each print run for the preceding color to dry.
– Tom Killion
He appeared in the episode “Arts and Crafts in America: Process”