27 February 2007

Letting It Rest

Thanks for all the comments on my "Melting" print. I think I'm going to experiment with adding one more layer, maybe some linework on the water, flow lines to add more of a sense of movement. I've also just started to carve a small companion piece for this, an 8" x 10" print of an iceberg. I'll show both as they progress, but for the next few days I need to focus on some paying illustration projects (much needed!) that have come my way.

25 February 2007

"Melting" Final


11 x 16.5 inches (28 x 42 cm)
2 wood blocks, 11 impressions
echizen kozo paper

I finished this print over the weekend. It feels not quite right to me, not so much as to whether it's an attractive print or not, but I don't feel that I got to the crux of my own thoughts and feelings about climate change. I feel like I'm going to need to revisit the topic, perhaps many times. For now, it expresses the ambiguity I feel -- the sense that I can't quite grasp what's happening, that the places that are being affected are far-away places I'm not acquainted with, and the questions about what am I personally willing to sacrifice (not air travel!) to help avert the possible disaster we face. Artist/scientist Kris Shank's prior comment about jet contrails actually reflecting sunlight (helpful) as well as dumping tons of carbon for every trip (harmful) sums up beautifully the paradoxes and complexities of this mess we're in.

Ah well, let me show you how I got to the final. The yellow particles were done the same way as the others, with a stencil, as was the jet. But before I applied the black for the jet, I created the contrail with pure water on the block and white paint applied with a small brush and feathered out with a maru bake:

(gloves in a cold studio)

And here's a view of the multiples. Even prints I don't like look great in a group!


22 February 2007

Chemistry Experiment

Today I wanted to add some blue shapes to the print. I wanted an artificial sort of blue to contrast with the blue of the ocean. To my dismay, when I opened the can of Akua white intaglio ink I had ordered from Daniel Smith I discovered that it wasn't white ink at all, but "oil converter," used to stiffen ink that's too thin. So rather than wait the 1-2 weeks it would take for me to order and receive a new can of ink, I decided to work with what I had. I started with some pthalo blue intaglio ink. Pthalo blue is about the strongest blue on the planet and I wanted to tone it down to something like robin's egg blue so I started pouring in white pigment suspended in water. It worked color-wise, but the texture was all wrong -- kind of thick and lumpy and when I tried it on a print it was too opaque. So I started all over using just watercolors and no intaglio ink. It dried too fast for my stenciling technique. So I went back to my intaglio ink glop and worked on thinning it. I tried adding glygerine, which made it more transparent and smooth but also too sticky -- paper fibers lifted up on my test print. Tried thinning with water. That changed the color, but got me the right consistency. A few more adjustments and I finally had an acceptable ink.


Above is the second stencil placed on the board and inked. I put dots on the stencil where it should line up with the kento marks so I wouldn't accidently flip the stencil around the wrong way. Here's the print with the blue particles added:


21 February 2007

More Fun With Xacto Blades

I want to somehow show "particles" in the air above this landscape. I don't want to get all technical about it, like trying to show carbon and oxygen and how it all interacts with each other -- that's beyond me. But I want to suggest several different kinds of particles, maybe interacting with each other, flying around in the air.

Because the blue I already printed is pretty deep (see previous post), I've decided to use water-based intaglio inks for their opacity. Rather than cut blocks for the particles, I'm attempting to create them with stencils on a plain block. So I got some acetate and took out my trusty xacto knife to make some stencils.


Here's the stencil positioned on the block:


It seemed to me that rolling ink onto the stencil would be too messy; all I could picture was the stencil lifting up as the roller went over it and having to hold it down and getting my hands all inky and then getting fingerprints on the paper. Yuck. So I decided to brush the ink on. Didn't want to use my moku hanga brushes with intaglio ink, though, so I got a craft store stencil brush to try for the inking.


Here's the block with the stencil removed, ready to receive the first piece of paper:


And here's a stack of printed sheets. More "particles" to come...


20 February 2007

The Blues


I've added two more layers of blue and, because I have some other elements I want to layer on top of this, I think this blue is rich enough. I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the underprinting shows through.

Doing many impressions with a single block is challenging because no matter how careful I am, the paper inevitably begins to stretch and deform. This is particularly true when part of the image area remains white as it does here. The baren pressure flattens the paper fibers on all the printed area while the white unprinted paper remains fluffy and thick. This causes some buckling to happen.

The other issue with many overprints is keeping the paper evenly moist throughout the print run. Each pass adds a lot of moisture to the print, so I've been drying the paper completely and re-wetting it after every one or two passes. Moku hanga is teaching me patience. That's a lesson I've needed.

18 February 2007


I've carved an "icebergs" block and wanted to experiment with laying down some light undercolors before I print a dense blue for ocean. Here's how the print looked after three colors were printed, yellow, green and red:


Then I added the first layer of blue on top:


Here's a closeup.


I expect to go much denser with the blue in subsequent overprintings, and I'm curious to find out how much these undercolors will show through.

14 February 2007

The Uncertainty of Climate Change

In March of 2004 I was invited to attend a conference at Aspen Global Change Institute called Climate Scenarios and Projections: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable as Applied to California. This three day workshop, attended by scientists and policymakers, focused on California as a regional case study to examine uncertainties in scientific climate models and how this uncertainty affects policymaking. I was invited to attend as a sort of graphic scribe, to listen to the presentations and see if I could visually represent some of what was being discussed. It was a revelation to me to find out what a huge role uncertainty plays in the science of global warming, the making of policy, and the interpretation of scientific understanding by the media and the general public. I created this diagram to show how discussion about climate change between scientists, the media, policymakers and the public could be improved:

click image for larger view

Climate change is a complex issue and I didn't always understand the details that the scientists were presenting in Aspen, but in spite of all the unknown factors in climate change science, I walked away from the workshop absolutely certain that climate change is real and it's serious.

12 February 2007

Testing Inferior Equipment


I'm crazy about x-acto knives. I'm a veteran graphic artist, after all, and I learned the trade before the computer revolutionized publishing. Before the Mouse there was the Blade. We used x-acto blades to do almost everything. If we made an inking mistake, the blade erased it. All typography was waxed and then cut by hand to fit into the layout. If we wanted our type to curve, we would wax the back of the type, cut out a single line, carefully slice between each letter and then spread it on the layout board in the desired shape. For color separations, we used the knife to cut rubylith or amberlith shapes to indicate where the colors should go. I always had my x-acto knife on my drawing board, right next to my pencil.

Make no mistake about it, I love my Japanese woodblock tools. They're beautiful, precise and long-lasting. But they're also hard to keep sharpened and sometimes I miss the comfortable familiarity and the un-anxious relationship I have with my x-acto knife. So on this latest print, I tried using a #5 x-acto knife with a sturdy #24 blade instead of the hangi-to. I have to admit, it worked pretty well. I'm not saying that I'm going to give up the hangi-to, but having another possibility in my toolkit feels fine.

11 February 2007

Carbon Emissions On High

Time Magazine reports that carbon emissions from jet travel are uniquely polluting, as the carbon that jets emit at high levels appears to have a greater warming effect than the same amount of carbon released on the ground. Unfortunately, there also isn't much that can be done to improve fuel efficiency in jets and it's likely that the technology won't change for decades. Although right now airline contribution to greenhouse gases is just 1.6%, the annual number of airline passengers is increasing rapidly and will double by 2025.

One of my favorite round-trip flights, New York to Tokyo, a trip I've taken twice and hope to take many times more, emits 5,200 pounds of carbon per passenger. What's an environment-loving eastcoast American Japanophile to do?

Yanks In Yukata2
me (left) and Lynn at Naruko Onsen, Japan

It's possible to pay for carbon offsets, services which either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon absorption in another area. The most commonly known service is tree planting. This offset creates a mental image of restoring natural forests, but critics say it can actually include planting trees in tree farms meant for logging, or in places where the effect is negligible. Other types of offsets include funding renewable energy.

I'm not sure how I feel about offsets. The cynical side of me thinks it's just a way for citizens of industrialized societies to assuage our guilt while we continue our high-consumption ways of life. But next time I fly to Japan I'd rather give carbon offsetting a try than do nothing at all.

Added 2/12: Ru Hartwell from treeflights.com left a comment on this post with a link to the Treeflights web site. This small company in Wales which plants trees for air travelers takes a long (and realistic) view about tree planting as a carbon offset. The FAQ page of the site is well worth reading for a clear overview of the tree planting process and the issues involved.

08 February 2007

New Inspiration

I'm still looking at satellite images and still finding them awesome and amazing. Although satellite imagery has been in use for many years and has helped specialists do everything from predicting the weather to spying on neighboring countries, the sudden availability of satellite images to everyone and anyone on sites like GoogleMaps or maps.yahoo.com is surely changing how we see and think about our world. Of course there's a Big Brother side to this. On a personal level, I found my enthusiasm for this imagery suddenly dampened when one day I decided to look at my elderly mother's house on YahooMaps and I could see her white car parked in the driveway. Granted the data is not in real time, and nobody really cares whether or not my mother is home, but it was unsettling.

With this particular technology, though, my fascination definitely outweighs my fear. After reading about the Ward Ice Shelf, an Arctic ice shelf that recently broke into two pieces, I examined some satellite maps of Greenland. Unfortunately, imagery of the Ward Ice Shelf isn't available at high resolutions, but I found some images of large chunks of ice further down the coast from the site:


I'll be using these views as a starting point for a new print.