A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Art

A Singer’s Notes 73: Michael Phillips’ Reproduction of a Blake Print

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Michael Phillips and Douglas Paisley, after Wm. Blake. Songs of Innocence, Frontispiece.
Michael Phillips and Douglas Paisley, after Wm. Blake. Songs of Innocence, Frontispiece.

Dear Reader,

I want to share one of my treasures with you. You will find below a plate from William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” which gets as close to the real thing as can be. It was made by Michael Phillips and hand painted my admired friend, Doug Paisley. I am no expert on how this is done, but I can tell you that Mr. Phillips is. Here is his description of how the plate is made:

“In general terms, to re-create the plates exact-size photo negatives of original monochrome impressions have been used. The negatives are then modified to eliminate printing flaws in the original impressions – such as poor inking, smudging and splattering – in order to establish the clearest and most complete example. The amended negative is then transferred to the copper plate using one of two modern photographic transfer methods, where further refinements are made, either by scraping out unwanted details using an etching needle, or adding missing ones using a fine pencil brush and stop-out varnish, for example, to repair an incomplete letter form or tiny element of a design. Each plate is then etched in two stages — stopping between the first and second stage to protect any vulnerable areas with stop-out varnish … exactly following Blake’s method and practice.”

I then bring the splendid uncolored plate to painter Douglas and suggest a couple of colorations, taken from the Princeton facsimiles (relatively inexpensive, in book form). Doug always finds a way to make his coloring of the plate individual, just as William and Catherine Blake did. Many of the Songs exist in several different colorations. I try to get my family to bless me with one of these at Christmas. The one I got this Christmas still stands on exhibit as I write this. I feel like there is something genuinely Blakean in these beautiful objects. Perhaps it is the exquisite and painstaking workmanship that went into their making. But most of all, it is the open-endedness I love about Blake — a poet-painter at once profound and child-like. His greatest visions have a way of combining simple honesty with a world around it that vibrates with possibility and mystery. The closer I get to Blake’s working process — his wife Catherine being always involved — the closer I get to him. For this, I thank Michael and Doug sincerely.

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