Linda Mahoney | woodblock printer
Linda Mahoney of Northfield holds a wood block that she used in the creation of one of her color landscape prints, several of which are currently hanging at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Linda Mahoney of Northfield holds up a preliminary watercolor sketch she made for one of her color wood block prints, several of which are currently hanging at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Linda Mahoney of Northfield holds up a preliminary watercolor sketch she made for one of her color wood block prints, several of which are currently hanging at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.
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Linda Mahoney had been painting landscapes for about 25 years when, in 2007, she took a three-day workshop in moku hanga, or Japanese color woodblock printing. She’d been looking for a new artistic challenge, and she’d always enjoyed this kind of artwork.
“I liked the aesthetic, the sensibility, the colors,” says Mahoney, of Northfield. “I’d looked at a few other kinds of printing, but they required all this equipment I didn’t have. With woodblocks, you don’t need that much. I could do it all in my studio.”
What began as an experiment has turned into a passion for Mahoney. In the last few years she’s turned almost exclusively to woodblock printing to produce images of the outdoors — from woods to marshes to the seashore. Except for making initial watercolor sketches of the scenes she plans to reproduce as prints, she’s largely put her traditional painting aside.
Woodblock prints are a much more labor-intensive process, she notes, but that’s part of the appeal. Figuring out how to reproduce an initial sketch as a print “is really a case of trial and error and experimenting. How many blocks do I need? How do I do the carvings? How do I get the mix of colors I want? How do I simplify the sketch and focus on what’s essential?”
In the most basic terms, the process consists of using Japanese carving knives to remove the parts of a wood block that won’t be used to print. This can be a complicated procedure, particularly for more detailed prints like Mahoney’s “Boreal Forest,” with its highly detailed trees and heavy undergrowth.
Mahoney typically carves four to six blocks — sometimes more — for her prints, depending on how many colors she wants. She mixes water-based paint with rice paste and brushes it onto the appropriate raised section of a block; then she presses dampened paper to the block and rubs the paper with a baren, a thin disk made of wood, cork or other firm material, with a flat surface on one side and a handle on the other.
She makes initial proofs and, by refining the blocks and colors, eventually arrives at a final print.
At their best, her prints convey a sense of serenity and quiet beauty, with soft colors and deceptively simple lines of form and movement. Prints like “Thumbnail Moon,” with its silhouettes of pitch pines set against a nighttime sky lightly touched by stars and a tiny white crescent, speak to something elemental and eternal about the natural world.
Mahoney, who teaches art at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, spends lots of time outdoors, whether hiking, cross-country skiing, or taking in the scenery; she ranges across Massachusetts, to coastal Maine and Canada, and to Vermont and New Hampshire to find locales to portray.
She’s been working up to larger prints, such as ones that measure 12 inches by 12 inches, which can take a month or more to make. Most are smaller, but she says the size is consistent with what she’s trying to convey in her art: “I want to show the kind of feeling I get when I’m part of the natural environment.”
— Steve Pfarrer
An exhibition of Mahoney’s prints can be seen through Oct. 30 in the New Gallery at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.