Carol Summers Biography

Carol Summers

American

1925-2016

Biography

Carol Summers was born on 26 December 1925 in Kingston New York, a small town near Woodstock where Summers was raised. His parents were both artists who had met in art school in St. Louis. During the Great Depression, when Carol was growing up, his father supported the family as a medical illustrator until he could return to painting. His mother was a watercolorist and also quite knowledgeable about the different kinds of papers used for various kinds of painting. Many years later, Summers would paint or print on thinly textured paper originally collected by his mother.

From 1948 to 1951, Carol Summers trained in the classical fine and studio arts at Bard College and at the Art Students League of New York. He studied painting with Steven Hirsh and printmaking with Louis Schanker.

In 1954, Summers received a grant from the Italian government to study for a year in Italy. Woodcuts completed soon after his arrival there were almost all editions of only 8 to 25 prints, small in size, architectural in content and black and white in color. 

Around this same time, along with fellow artist Leonard Baskin, Summers pioneered what is now referred to as the “monumental” woodcut. This term was coined in the early 1960s to denote woodcuts that were dramatically bigger than those previously created in earlier years, ones that were limited in size mostly by the size of small hand presses. Summers ultimately refined a relief printmaking process, which would eventually be called the “Carol Summers Method” or the “ Carol Summers Technique.”

Summers creates his woodcuts by hand, usually from one or more blocks of quarter-inch pine, using oil-based printing inks and porous mulberry papers.  His woodcuts reveal a sensitivity to wood, especially its absorptive qualities and the subtleties of the grain. In several of his woodcuts throughout his career he has used the undulating, grainy patterns of a large wood plank to portray a flowing river or tumbling waterfall. 

In the majority of his woodcuts, Summers makes the blocks slightly larger than the paper so the image and color will bleed off the edge. Before printing, he centers a dry sheet of paper over the top of the cut wood block or blocks, securing it with giant clips. Then he rolls the ink directly on the front of the sheet of paper and pressing down onto the dry wood block or reassembled group of blocks.

Summers is technically very proficient; the inks are thoroughly saturated onto the surface of the paper but they do not run into each other. Summers refers to his own printing technique as “rubbing.” In traditional woodcut printing, including the Japanese method, the ink is applied directly onto the block. However, by following his own method, Summers has avoided the mirror-reversed image of a conventional print and it has given him the control over the precise amount of ink that he wants on the paper.

After the ink is applied to the front of the paper, Summers sprays it with mineral spirits, which act as a thinning agent. The absorptive fibers of the paper draw the thinned ink away from the surface softening the shapes and diffusing and muting the colors. This produces a unique glow that is a hallmark of the Summers printmaking technique. By the 1960s, Summers had developed a personal way of coloring and printing and was not afraid of hard work, doing the cutting, inking and pulling himself.

Carol Summers died at home in Santa Cruz, California on 27 October 2016.