30 March 2006

Final Serenity Prayer Print


I wanted these last two layers to be transparent enough so that the words were still pretty legible. The red is hard to read through, but it was too pink when I watered it down more than this, so I went for a strong red. I enjoyed this make-it-up-as-you-go process a lot more than the fully-preplanned method, although I did have to do more problem-solving this way. Overprinting the white bones, for example. Another example of where I became overly constrained by my early choices: I'd like to have a dark blue bokashi on the bird's tail, but I'm afraid it would obscure the word "cannot" that's behind it, and one of the "cannots" is already obscured behind the red umbrella. The word "cannot" is one of the most important words to me in my re-write of the prayer, so I'm choosing legibility over a bokashi. If I had pre-planned I would have put that critical line of type a couple of lines further down. Printmaking is a very strange art form, one of the most indirect ways of making an image I can imagine and so full of constraints. But I like it!

29 March 2006

Printing White

Wow, overprinting white with water-based pigments is possible! I tried three types of pigment: white tempera paint, china white gouache, and titanium white pigment dispersion from Guerra Paint and Pigment (see sidebar for web link). I got the best coverage using the pigment dispersion from Guerra straight out of the bottle, no paste and no water. This opens up some new possibilities for the future, like printing white on dark paper.

28 March 2006

Overprinting The Lettering

The lettering is printed (click to enlarge)! It took a few attempts before I got the color the way it looked in my head, but I'm pleased with this outcome. As I suspected, the wood grain underneath doesn't show very much. Oh well, eventually I'll learn when and where to use it. Another thing I'm experimenting with is edition size. I feel like I need a run of at least 10 sheets to get the blocks warmed up well. Up until now I've been doing about 20 to 24 sheets of paper for each print, but this has caused me to focus a lot on "production," which I don't like. So I'm working with a small edition of 12 for this print, which is helping me relax and take my time. My lack of pre-planning has created a new conundrum, though, which is that there's a design element I want to be white. White should be created by leaving the paper its natural color, but it's too late for that, so I need to find a white water-based pigment that's opaque enough to overprint as white. I'm going out to look at the art store. Maybe gouache will work, or even tempera paint. (The Saito prints I saw at Smith College appeared to include some tempera paint.)

27 March 2006

A Little Progress

Today I printed another piece of this design - stems for some flowers that will appear in the lower right corner. Right now I'm re-drying the prints, because I wasn't very careful the last time I dried them and they got wrinkled.

The next layer to print is the first block I carved, the text of the prayer. I doubt now that the wood grain effect will show through the lettering, but in fact I have no idea and I won't know until I try printing it. This is what I've set myself up for: lots of trial and error!

I'm nervous about finding the right color for the lettering overprint. It needs to be light enough so that I can print several colors on top of it, but dark enough for the words to be legible. Mixing so many colors makes the potential for muddiness very high. Muddy won't do, as I want the print to have a very appealing golden tone - the golden glow of wine, of whisky, the yellow-brown of nicotine, the seductive promise of light and warmth that every addict thinks is waiting in their drug of choice. Wish me luck finding the right color!

24 March 2006

Going for the Grain

The way I carved the lettering for the "Serenity Prayer" print -- digging the letters out of the background rather than carving the background away to leave the letters remaining -- has dictated a lot of what will follow. I don't want the letters to be white, so I need to overprint the lettering block on a field of color. But the color can't be too deep, because I'll be printing a number of layers over it. Above is a thin piece of cheap craft-grade lauan plywood that I got from Dick Blick. I really like the circular grain, so I decided to use it as the base for this print. I tried using a wire brush to bring out the grain even more. Here's how it printed (click for enlargement): 

I have a design sketched out, but now I have carving to do, so I'll dry out these prints until I have a couple of blocks ready for the next round of printing.

20 March 2006

Viewing Sosaku Hanga Prints

Today I went back to the Cunningham Print Center at The Smith College Museum of Art to see more prints, this time with a focus on sosaku (creative) hanga. I looked at 12 prints by 4 artists. Six of the prints were by Kiyoshi Saito, whose work I've always liked when I've seen it in books or online. Seeing his work in person was very exciting. I was surprised and actually really pleased to see that he didn't seem to fuss too much about perfect registration. He left a lot of overlap between colors so that there was often quite a large area of overprint and some of the pigments he used for overprinting were so opaque that I suspected they were gouache or even some kind of poster paint. The range of textures he achieved is stunning.

Three more prints were by american-born artist Ansei Uchima. Here are two of them:

I don't know a lot about Uchima, only that he taught for many years at Sarah Lawrence College and that in the 1950s he translated for Oliver Statler as Statler conducted interviews in preparation for a book about Japanese printmakers.

Two works were by Toshi Yoshida, who did beautiful traditional prints as well as some very interesting abstracts. The two prints I saw were abstract, with overprinted wavy lines that created some very psychedelic moire patterns and amazing bokashis that I couldn't deconstruct.

The final print was one by Toshi Yoshida's daughter-in-law Chizuko Yoshida. Four generations of the Yoshida family have been very influential printmakers. Chizuko's print at the top of this post, called "Windows," was both delicate and strong, very beautiful up close.

All of the prints were much larger than I had expected, between 20 and 30 inches in their largest dimension. It was an exciting visit for me. I almost cried when I first walked in.

17 March 2006

Copying Hiratsuka

Sosaku hanga artist Un'ichi Hiratsuka (1895-1997) developed a technique for achieving a distinctive jagged-edged line by poking sideways along the line with a square-end chisel (above). I wanted the words on my "Serenity Prayer" woodblock to have a similar feeling - choppy and jagged with lots of movement - so I decided to copy Hiratsuka's technique. Here's a closeup of a rough proof I pulled from my block. 

It feels right, given the content of these words, to literally be picking and poking the letters out of the wood. I'm enjoyed the process.

15 March 2006

Writing Backwards

I have a couple of very small rough sketches for this "Serenity Prayer" piece, but the one thing I know I want to include is the actual words of the prayer, so I thought I'd start there. The Serenity Prayer as it stands is somewhat trite, but the way it's used by people who are recovering from addiction is anything but trite. People in recovery most often recite the Serenity Prayer in times of great stress and agitation, so I wanted to write the prayer in a way that would reflect this. I let myself randomly mix up and repeat the words so they would become more ambiguous and express some of the doubts and fears that a recovering alcoholic or addict faces in extreme moments. I also wanted to work directly on the block, so I wrote the prayer backwards with a soft pencil, which was really exciting. Excitement is what I'm looking for. I can't imagine I'll ever be doing pure improvisation in woodblock, but I'm trying to adjust my process of working so that I'm engaged with the work at each step. I want to be constantly reevaluating as I go, constantly getting feedback from the work in progress and constantly readjusting my decisions based on what's happening in each step. As Tom said in an earlier comment, it might turn out to be a good print and it might not! What I want to do is pull myself away from my fear of making a bad print. I want to be willing to make a bad print, willing to start over or throw a block away if it doesn't satisfy me, willing to not know where I'm going, willing to "waste my time." Mostly I want to experiment, to play, to find my own voice in this medium.

13 March 2006

No Hanshita


In my quest for a looser process, I've decided to go without a hanshita (paper sketch) on my next print. I feel drawn to working large, so I'm using the largest blocks I have in my studio, which are 12" x 16" (approximately 30 x 40 cm). Since I have no hanshita, I drew guidelines for my kento marks and my image area, then carved those. I don't know yet how many blocks I'll be using. All I know right now is my topic for this print, which is The Serenity Prayer. I expect this to be the first in a series of prints about prayers.

09 March 2006

Find The Wood

I've learned so much about moku hanga in just a few short months. I'm happy about that, but I'm also feeling really restless and dissatisfied with the prints I've made.

Part of the problem is that I could just as easily... no, way more easily... have done most of them digitally. Here's the problem in a nutshell:

Looking at it this way, choosing a medium is kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?

Yet, it's not just about the picture or the time involved. It's also about the wood, the pigments, the beautiful paper. I like using my hands, I like the resistance of the wood, I enjoy wrestling with it, I love the bright pigments and I adore the Japanese paper. But there's something missing in the process for me. I've been doing all my creating in the first few hours, and then just reproducing what I created in the sketch phase. It's the process I've learned to follow as a commercial illustrator - do a loose sketch, do a tight sketch, get it approved, then color it. So I'm "doing moku hanga," but I'm not making pictures that could only be made with a block of wood. And I'm not really experiencing the wood as I work. I'm not really interacting with it; instead I'm trying to subdue it or master it.

What I want to do is find the wood. I want to make pictures that can only come from wood and I want the whole process to be alive and interactive and full of surprises and energy. I have no idea where to start.

No, wait, of course I know where to start! Start with the wood! You want to find the wood, start with the wood.

OK. Off I go. I'll get back to you soon...

P.S. - I'll happily take suggestions if you have any thoughts. Thanks.

08 March 2006

Bee Print

A print for Illustration Friday: Humming with Bees. Here's how it was made, from 6 blocks. (Note that I forgot to take a picture of the stage in the progression when the blue wings were added.)


07 March 2006

Barens and Speckles

Working on my "bee" print today, I printed a light/bright yellow background and then decided that I wanted it to have more texture (goma zuri) and to be a more golden color. I've found goma zuri to be easier to achieve on fresh paper than on an already-inked area, but I had an idea for how I might be able to get a good goma on this overprint. It hinged on which baren I would use. Here are the three types of baren I have:  

The first baren I got was the Murasaki baren. It's wonderful and very versatile, but because I have some repetitive stress injury in my wrist I sometimes find it too strenuous to use, especially for large areas. A ball-bearing baren was recommended to me, and that's now the one I use the most. It's smooth and requires very little pressure to get a good impression. I also tried an inexpensive plastic disk baren, which I've been very dissatisfied with. It feels good, but it doesn't deliver enough pressure for the large areas of color I generally print and no matter what I do, I always get very speckled results. But I realized that for this situation, trying to get goma zuri on an overprint, the disk baren might be perfect. So I used a deeper yellow-gold and the plastic disk baren to get this result: 

Nice speckles that allow the lighter yellow to shine through. Now on to the bees.

06 March 2006

A Day's Work


The prompt word for Illustration Friday this week is insect, so I decided to do a woodblock of my favorite insect, the bee. It turned out more complicated than I first envisioned, because I wanted the wings of the bees to look kind of transparent. That meant I had to cut blocks for the colors that will appear "under" the wings. It ended up needing 6 blocks, so I spent one long day carving them. Tomorrow I hope to have time to print. I'll do a short run, maybe 10 - just enough to get the blocks "warmed up" so I'll be able to get a few good prints.

05 March 2006

Hold On


This weekend I completed another in the 36 Views of Meditation series, this one called "Hold On." A companion piece called "Let Go" will be next. Holding on when the inner journey gets rough is definitely necessary, but so is letting go at the right moment. This print was created very simply from two blocks. Here's the build:


03 March 2006

Lockwood Dennis

I just stumbled upon the wonderfully retro woodcuts of Lockwood Dennis. I can't find much information about him, other than the fact that he was born in 1937 and lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. I love his palette, his use of intense color, and the nostalgic deco styling of his cityscapes.

Update, January 24, 2013: Sadly, Lockwood Dennis passed away in late 2012. His family has put together a web site of all of his work, some 800 images spanning a 45-year career. The site is www.lockwooddennis.com.