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Native Son

 Tom Killion gives local landscapes the Japanese-woodcut treatment.

"My wood, paper, and tools are all from japan. Everything, that is, but the press, which comes from Germany by way of an old type shop in San Francisco."

Tom Killion prepares to turn the crank on his printing press. Each sheet is rolled over a series of detailed color blocks, which the artist carves by hand based on his original sketches. Here, the block is covered with a layer of sky-blue ink for a night scene.

A stark print captures the craggy contours of Yosemite Valley.

Killion bought this press for a few hundred dollars from a San Francisco type shop in 1977.

These hand tools have Damascus-style steel blades, "like samurai swords," he says.

Each block takes anywhere from five hours to several weeks to carve.

Killion's dog, Chica, outside of his studio.

Killion's studio is lined with rolls of paper and leather, woodblocks, and framing materials.

Stacks of used woodblock plates.

A handprinted book made in collaboration with poet Gary Snyder.

Though Point Reyes printmaker Tom Killion is a Fulbright scholar, former professor of African history, and veteran globe-troter, when it comes to his art, he's practically a homebody. The Mill Valley native has been paying homage to his Northern California roots through woodcut prints since the mid-'70s, when he was first introduced to book printing at UC Santa Cruz. Each landscape begins with an onsite sketch, drawn during excursions through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Point Reyes coastline, Big Sur forests, and beyond. Back in the studio, Killion allows his memory to break from reality: Colors are often hyper-saturated and the perspective slightly torqued.

Killion's methods are influenced by both Japanese-qoodcut techniques and European wood engraving. He usually carves images into blocks of shina plywood, a type of linden wood, with traditional hand tools. Then each color is individually printed on handmade Japanese paper, using a hand-cranked press Killion has owned for 35 years. Several shades of ink are layered atop one another--from lightest to darkest--to create the rich hues of his Big Sur canyons or ombre effect of a dusky Mt. Tam sky.

In the Make is an online arts journal featuring studio visits with artists and designers. This is the latest in a monthly series appearing exclusively in San Francisco.