28 September 2005

Heaven On Earth Final

 The final version. I'm not sure how many of the 50 I printed are really going to be part of the edition. Right now they're drying under a big pile of books. After that, I'll go through them and weed out the ones that have blemishes I can't live with. All sorts of things can go wrong when printing, and the more impressions you do the more opportunity you have to ruin a print! For example, twice when I was printing the black plate, a hair (dog?) was accidentally inked and it ruined the face. And a couple of knees got blue marks on them. I've learned that these colors will be lighter when they dry.

27 September 2005

Do More Prep?

I printed the sky a third time, this time not so much to make the ink denser, but to adjust the color to be more violet. With all that purple down on the wall, the sky looked too blue. Now I just have the black plate to do...

My friend Tom has suggested that I might do what I know many moku hanga artists do, which is to make very careful test prints to work out all the problems beforehand. While I see the value of this, especially now that I've printed the sky 3 times, I feel some resistance to the idea. In terms of process, I find that I enjoy doing my troubleshooting on the fly. The thrill-seeker part of me likes not knowing exactly how things will turn out.

Heaven knows woodblock printing isn't exactly a sponteaneous process. A lot of planning is necessary, and there are so many stages and steps, so many different factors to consider. What I've been doing is making the first 5 or so pieces of paper in my edition my test pages. For each new block I refine the colors, experiment, and doing any touch-up carving as I work with those first five prints. Then when I'm satisfied, I do the rest of the run while that block is all set up and printing well. I acknowledge that it's a risky way to do it, though, because I don't see the final result until I've printed everything. It could end up being a disaster.

I'd love to hear from any of you woodblock artists who are reading this; would love to know how much pre-printing you do and how you prepare for editioning.

26 September 2005

Goma Zuri

Here I've printed the red sandals and the darker layer of the wall. I've been using a traditional bamboo-covered baren since I started doing woodblock prints, but I've been wanting to try some of the other types that are available, so I bought a disk baren from McClain's and I've been testing it out on this print. I haven't been able to get a good smooth area of wide color with this baren, but it makes a really nice goma zuri, that speckled pattern at the top of the wall. For this second pass on the wall I used the disk baren to get some goma zuri texture and then I picked up my bamboo baren and rubbed just the bottom portion of the wall to make that part smoother.

Now I want to print the sky yet again to make it deeper and more purple.

25 September 2005


Here's a second pass with the skin color, after carving away the tops of the legs. Right now the overlap of skin color and purple on the wall looks like bad registration, but in fact I'm happy with the registration. That overlap will become the shadowed part of the legs after I overprint a darker color on the wall.

An edition of 50 is really taxing for my body. My right tricep is sore and my maybe-sort-of carpal tunnel problem from 20 years of drawing on a computer isn't doing too well either. I posted a question about barens (the device used for hand printing) and pain on the Baren Forum the other day and got some excellent advice, so today I've been working with my posture, chair height, how I hold the baren, etc. and it seems to help. I so appreciate the Baren Forum, a wonderful group of printmakers who are so generous with their knowledge and time.

23 September 2005

My Own Worst Enemy

My inclination toward laziness is my worst enemy in this endeavor. Last night after I printed those two blocks I just knew that I was going to need to print that blue sky again because it wasn't strong enough to make the stars really pop. But I so didn't want to print it twice. I'm really quite impatient with the printing process. Thankfully, Tom's comments yesterday gave me that extra nudge, and tonight I hit the sky again with a deeper blue. It looks way better, I think. And I got the first layer done on the skin tones, too.

One thing I'm really pleased with is that, unlike my previous prints, I haven't had to do any touch-up carving on these blocks so far. Something I'm not so pleased with is the bit of blue ink that bled into the skin color on the hands. I probably should have printed light colors first, then dark.

22 September 2005

Finally Printing!

How could I have forgotten that every September is like a runaway freight train? Between the rigors of domestic life, a new Japanese language class I've started, and a sudden influx of illustration projects I'm afraid that woodblock printing has fallen to the bottom of my to-do list. Today I decided to just do it, so I took the day off and managed to print the first two blocks for the "Heaven On Earth" print. I had tried to start last night, but the paper was too dry, so I had to wait another overnight until the paper was the proper dampness.

Since so many of my friends have told me that this design is their favorite, I decided to do a large edition of 50 prints. I'm using Rives heavyweight again.

10 September 2005

Finest Lines Yet

Here are the remaining two blocks for the "Heaven On Earth" print.

Block 4 will be the flesh tones. I'll print a fairly light color, then cut away the tops of the woman's legs and print a slightly darker color just on the legs to add some depth. Additional shadows on the legs will be created by overprinting the flesh color onto some of the light purple from Block 2.

I saved the carving of this block for a time when I was feeling especially rested and relaxed, because the lines in the woman's face are very fine lines for plywood. These are the finest lines I've attempted so far, and I'm delighted with how they turned out. (Of course, I haven't test printed them yet...) This block will print in black. On the left side of this block, around the kento marks, you can see that I added some mineral oil to make the paper more transparent.

The next step is to remove all the hanshita paper from all the blocks. I do this with water and an old toothbrush. I used to use water and my fingernail, but a fingernail can mar the printing surface of the wood.

08 September 2005

Three Blocks Carved

The design I'm working on now has been titled "Magic" because that was the prompt word from Illustration Friday that it was based on. In its incarnation as a woodblock print, though, I think I'll be renaming it and calling it "Heaven On Earth."

Today I carved three of the five 9" x 12" blocks I'll be using. I decided to show them to you with the hanshita (sketch) still pasted on so you can see a bit more about how the carving happens.

Here on Block 1 you can see that the hanshita, which in this case is a black and white laser printout of the original digital illustration, got a little beat up in the process of carving. There are several tears in the paper, but it's OK because I got everything carved before it ripped! Also note that I've carved the dark blue sky and the red sandals on the same block. Multiple colors can be put on the same block as long as the two elements are far enough apart that they can be inked separately. The two colors are not printed at the same time, but in separate passes.

In this second block you can see that the entire block doesn't have to be carved. lt's only necessary to carve a large enough area around the printing part of the block that it can be easily inked. This block will be printed in a purple-pink color.

Block 3 will be a medium dark blue, overprinting most of the area that will be the wall. Again, the paper ripped when I was clearing some large portions of wood. Carving my "chop" (my signature) was difficult. I had to use some Super Glue to repair it. Two more blocks to go.

05 September 2005

Japanese Washi

Today I ordered supplies from McClain's for my Baren Forum Print Exchange print, including some hand-made Japanese washi (paper). This will be my first time using washi, which everyone says can't be compared to the Rives Heavyweight I've been using because it's tougher than western-made papers and it doesn't weaken when moistened. All I know about washi is what I learned about it in the summer of 2004 when I went on a guided tour of northern rural Japan with Esprit Travel and we visited the Endo family, 12th generation (!) master washi makers. I'll show you a few photos from that visit with the Endos.

Here are two generations of the family, who kindly opened their combination home and business to us:

The Endo's home is a 300-year-old farm house nestled into the middle of what is now a fairly urban setting, in a town called Shiroishi. They grow their own mulberry, shown here in the month of June. Paper made from mulberry is called kozo:

Here is some mulberry from the previous year's harvest, dried and bundled:

The next step is to strip the bark from the mulberry twigs. Endo san demonstrated this process on the machine she uses:

The bark is then pounded and made into a pulp using some kind of glutenous material that I didn't catch the name of. Endo san showed us this sack of pulp ready to be formed into paper:

Endo san was not making any paper that day, but she showed us how the bamboo mould is used for forming paper of any thickness:

Our tour guide told us that Japan's constitution is written on washi made by the Endo family. Endo san also makes a paper that combines the mulberry with silk, a paper which has been used by Issey Miyake to make clothing. Someday I'd like to try a print on some of Endo san's paper.