30 August 2005

The Next Step

In July I signed up for a Baren Forum print exchange. In these exchanges, which are open only to members of the forum, groups of thirty participants make editions of thirty prints each and exchange them with each other. It's a neat way to collect prints and also to learn by seeing up close what other printmakers do. You can see work from past exchanges here. The exchange I'm participating in has no theme and a required paper size of 10" x 15". The final prints are due by November 1.

I've been thinking that I'd like to do one more print for myself before I start working on my exchange print, mostly because I need the practice. Since many of my fellow exchange participants are very accomplished woodblock artists, I want to do my very best. This will be a large print for me to handle and although I have done an edition of over 30 (the "Breathing Buddha" print), it was a small print and had only 3 colors.

I have a concept and a working title for my exchange print, and I know it will be a night scene, but I haven't actually sketched it out yet. I need to order some supplies, so while I'm waiting for those to arrive I'm hoping to do a print of the illustration below. It's another digital piece I did for Illustration Friday and I've always wanted to see it as a woodblock print.

After the "Power of Tea" print I had decided that never again would I try to duplicate a digital illustration in woodblock, but I know myself well enough now to know that never never means never. I've had a lot of illustration work on my desk lately, so it's possible that I won't have time to do this, but it's my plan. Thanks for checking in...

19 August 2005

The Power of Tea - Final

I could go on and on with this print, trying to get it just so. I'm ready to start all over yet again, because now I think it's overworked and lacks vibrancy. But you know what? I can't even see this print any more. And you know what else? It's stopped being fun. I mean, those Buddha prints were a blast! They were fun because I was just flowing with the inspiration to do them and I was letting them develop as I went along.

This one, because it was a repeat, has been much more difficult and I just need to quit messing with it. Probably if I had done the first version on proper paper I could have let it be as it was, but the way the pigments blobbed was unacceptable to me.

So this is my final version. Tonight I'll set the prints up to dry and I'll probably end up with an edition of about 25 prints.

Now I need to clean my studio! Thanks for following along and for all your comments.

18 August 2005

Tea Print - Almost Done

Here are two more impressions, a brown to define the fingers and the tea and black on the teapot. I think the linework on the hands is improved from the first print. It's more delicate. It's hard to make really thin lines on shina plywood.

Printing the black was intense. This is a color from Guerra Paint called "carbon black" and it's blacker than any black I've ever seen. It was sucking the light right out of the room! I watered it down a bit to make it blend better with the rest of the print.

17 August 2005

The Power of Tea - 4 More Impressions

Today I was able to print four more impressions:
1. the red teapot
2. an overprint of purple-red on the teapot
3. a light blue on the cup and teapot handle
4. the hands and stream of tea

It's hard to see on this scan, but the block I printed the hands from has a pretty strong woodgrain that shows up a bit. It's the same kind of wood as all the other blocks, shina plywood, but for some reason the grain comes through. I'm happy that it's the hands block; I think the grain works OK there.

Looking ahead, I think I may have to heavy up the blue background some more to make the "steam" work. We'll see.

14 August 2005

The Power of Tea - First Two Blocks

I finally found some time to start printing today and I printed the first two blocks. I spent the first hour adjusting my ideas about what colors I wanted to use. The original design (above left) was one I had developed digitally and, although Adobe Photoshop produces lovely "transparencies," real transparent pigments behave completely differently. In my "failed" version of this print (above right) I had used one block/one color for both the background pattern and the hands. I did that to save on blocks and also because I assumed that overprinting with blue would work like the computer. But it didn't.

Today I first tried a green color for the wallpaper pattern and a blue overprint. I didn't like it and finally I decided that I would simply use the same blue twice and allow the overprinting of Block 2 to darken Block 1. It's different than what I had imagined and different from the "original," but I like it. Here's today's printing:

13 August 2005

Pigments for Moku Hanga

Moku hanga by definition is woodblock printing with water-based pigments. The pigments I'm using are pigment dispersions, that is, pure pigments suspended in water, from Guerra Paint & Pigments in NYC. I bought a small palette of just 8 basic colors, including black and white, to start with. So far I've been able to mix any color I want from these 8 colors. These dispersions are very pure and intense colors so a little bit goes a long way. Because they're watercolors they're also quite transparent. Many moku hanga printers who use pigment dipersions also add gum arabic as a binder to make the paint more viscous. I haven't tried that yet; I like just using water to adjust the intensity of the colors and using rice paste on the block to control smoothness.

I've had too much illustration work on my desk to get started printing "The Power of Tea" yet. But my nice soft paper is in the fridge and today I mixed some colors and planned out the order of printing. It looks like I'll be pulling at least 11 impressions from 8 blocks.

11 August 2005

Preparing the Paper

The blocks for the "tea" print are carved and it looks like I'll have some time in the next few days to do some printing, so I'm preparing the paper today. I'll be using Rives Heavyweight again because I still have a lot of it from my last order. I cut down nine 19" x 26" sheets to make thirty six 7" x 10" sheets for the prints. I figure I'll lose 5 or 6 prints just from experiments and probably a few more from errors (I'm still awfully green at this) so I'm looking for an edition of about 25 prints.

Once the paper is cut to size, I get out some plastic and some distilled water and wet the papers. I lay a sheet down and wet it well using the wide soft brush pictured above, which is not a Japanese brush but a Chinese brush I found at my local art store. I put two dry sheets on top of the one I just wet, and then wet the new top one, building the stack with one wet and one dry sheet. Then a damp towel and a sheet of plastic go over the stack. After several hours the stack is re-moistened, restacked, covered and left overnight so the moisture can spread evenly through the papers.

Experienced moku hanga printmakers say that the best adjective to describe paper that is properly moistened and ready for printing is not "wet" or even "damp," but "soft."

Hopefully, tomorrow my paper will be properly soft, and I'll be ready to mix pigment colors and do some test printing.

NOTE on Aug 13 - I wasn't able to find the time to print as planned, but I have nice wet paper all set to go. In a case like this, especially in hot humid weather, the damp paper can be put in the refrigerator to keep it from getting moldy!

09 August 2005

Sharpening the Tools

The first time I printed my "Tea" print I used 5 blocks. This time I'll be using 8 blocks because I want more control over the color. I've been cutting these blocks over the past few days, and cutting blocks means sharpening tools!

The tools I'm using are Japanese tools and in the Japanese tradition all sharpening is done with water stones rather than oil stones. I've been using two basic stones, a medium and a fine, which sit on my carving table soaking in water as I carve. When the tool begins to get harder to use (that is, when my hand or arm starts to hurt!) I remember to sharpen the tool. Sharpening the straight edges has been easy to learn, but I'm also using a lot of curved u-gouges and I'm finding these very challenging to sharpen. I watched Matt Brown do it once at the workshop I took last Spring, but now that I've handled the tools more, I need a real sharpening lesson.

I recently made contact with a terrific moku hanga artist who lives close to me, Lynita Shimizu, so perhaps I can visit with her sometime soon and get a proper education in sharpening. (I haven't asked her yet, but her prints are so beautiful she must know how to sharpen a blade!) For now, I'm just happy if the tool cuts better after my clumsy attempts to hone the blade.

04 August 2005

Azechi Umetaro

One of my favorite Japanese moku hanga artists is Azechi Umetaro. I love the simplicity and boldness of the colors and the shapes and the quirky characters he invents. You can read about his life here.

02 August 2005

The Hanshita On the Block

There are many methods of transferring the image to the block, some quite complex. The method I've been using to transfer my design to the block is to print out the design on my laser printer (see previous post), then to dampen the printouts and paste them face down onto blocks using wheat paste. I wait at least 20 minutes for the paste to dry, then begin carefully rubbing with moistened fingers to remove the top layers of paper, leaving a thin 'face' layer holding the image. I then add a little mineral oil to make the remaining hanshita paper completely transparent.

I imagine that as I get better at moku hanga I will begin to use other methods to design. I can imagine drawing right on the block, or using cumulative prints of multiple blocks to create hanshitas for additional blocks. For now, though, I feel more comfortable having a design worked out completely beforehand.