28 May 2008

Lumbini - Final Print


Lumbini (Buddha)
Image size: 11" x 28.5" (28 x 72 cm)
3 shina plywood blocks
7 hand-rubbed impressions
Paper: Rives Heavyweight
Edition: 24

Every block has a unique way of printing, and this last layer, the border and top, was the most difficult of the 7 different impressions to print. The dark top area needed paste to print smoothly, but I discovered that if I didn't use too much paste I could get a nice grain pattern, which I really liked. Through the whole print run I was constantly trying to judge exactly how little paste I could get away with.


The other issue was the paper stretching when I printed the border. This had been an occasional problem on the other two prints as well, but it was really bad with this block. The paper really moved around, as you can see from this photo:


I had to experiment quite a bit before I found a satisfactory method of getting everything to line up. I ended up printing the top area first, then moving my baren down one side, returning to the top and barening down the other side, then ending with the bottom. As I barened down each long side, the paper would begin to buckle and stretch, so there was no going back over anything. I had to just let the paper move the way it wanted to and sort of "walk" it down the length of the print. Hard to describe in words, but it worked.

I'm happy with this print and thrilled that I've finally finished this triptych!

27 May 2008

Lumbini Print - Maroon Land


I'm planning a maroon border as well as this maroon patch of land inside the garden area. Although all the maroon is on one block, I decided to print this area first and do the border separately, as the two areas have different printing requirements. This little area wanted a delicate baren touch, so I used my traditional Murasaki baren. Tomorrow I'll be printing the border area and will probably use the ball-bearing baren.


26 May 2008

Lumbini Print - Gold Layer


This is two different yellows printed one on top of the other. My first "gold" was too orange, so I overprinted a bright yellow which brought it more in line with the image I have in my mind. Next (and last) color will be a maroon, like the robes that Tibetan Buddhist monks wear.

22 May 2008

Printing Lumbini (Buddha) Block 2


I love to print. Yet there's always an anxiety I have to overcome in order to get into the studio to start on it, especially if I haven't been working for a while. I experience the same thing when starting a new illustration project, too, so I guess a little anxiety is par for the course.

At any rate, this afternoon I managed to get into the studio and print block 2 of the Lumbini print. I used a pale red oxide pigment as I wanted to include the pinkish tones in the earth that I saw in the original satellite photo I'm referencing:


The prints took on a bit too much moisture this round, so I'm letting them air dry a bit before I wrap them back up.


21 May 2008

I Did It!


Tonight I sharpened my own hangi-to when the point broke off! This is a major victory, as I've been so sharpening-phobic. This time it was my little 3 mm knife that lost its point. The secret for me was simply taking my time. I started with the coarsest water stone I have and I looked at the knife under a magnifier every few minutes to check my progress. Once the knife had a point again, I moved to the regular "red" stone until the edge looked really smooth. Then I finished up with the fine grade stone. Not too bad - it took about 15 minutes, I think.

And now, finally, I have 3 blocks carved. Tomorrow I can start printing the Lumbini/Buddha print.

20 May 2008

Hack Job

Last week I was crazy busy with illustration work, so I missed my self-imposed deadline of having the Lumbini print finished by Buddha's birthday (May 12). Meanwhile, whenever I've had a few minutes to spare, I've been slowly working on the border block. I don't like working in short bursts because I often make mistakes that way and, sure enough, the other day I accidentally cut deeply into part of the border with a u-gouge. I used Super Glue and some chunks of wood to make a very unprofessional-looking repair:


See??! Obviously this will never grace the pages of Fine Woodworking magazine, but I think I can make it print OK. (And maybe someday I can take a woodworking class.)

12 May 2008

Symbol for Buddha/Lumbini Print


Choosing a symbol for the top of the Buddha / Lumbini print was difficult. I was very taken with the story about the baby Buddha walking immediately after he was born and lotus flowers blooming under his feet. I wanted to do his footprints, but I couldn't come up with a design for footprints that matched the tone and sophistication of the symbols on the other two prints in this series. I found out that in the Buddhist tradition, the swastika symbolizes the feet or footprints of the Buddha, but I didn't want to fight the associations we now have of the swastika with Nazi Germany.

I finally settled on the "Endless Knot." The Endless Knot or Eternal Knot (Sanskrit "Shrivatsa"; Tibetan "Dpal be'u") is a symbolic knot used in Tibetan Buddhism, and it is also found in Chinese art as one of the Eight auspicious symbols. Like Celtic knots, the Endless Knot is a closed graphic ornament composed of intertwined lines that overlap without a beginning or an end. The Endless Knot symbolizes the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion and indicates continuity as the underlying reality of existence.

11 May 2008

More About the Hangi Toh (Knife)

There was quite a bit of discussion in the comments area of the previous post about the merits and drawbacks of sending my knife out to be reshaped vs. doing it myself. Although I know that I need to be able to do it myself, this particular job got the best of me. In the discussions it became clear that I may have an unusual hangi toh. My knife has a double bevel**, a large flat bevel plus a small steeper bevel at the very edge of the knife. It was this second bevel that I couldn't reshape after I lost the point of the knife.


**ADDED 12 May 08: It turns out that Eli was correct in his comments on the previous post that my knife in fact does NOT have a secondary bevel. The difference in color toward the tip of the blade is actually the difference in the two types of steel that are laminated together in Japanese tools. This knife has one bevel. The good new is, that means I can sharpen it myself next time the point breaks!

The knife is back from the shop now and although it was apparent that they used a pretty coarse grit, I'm happy with the way it's performing. I've honed it more with my water stones and so far it's working great. I thought I'd show you how I'm using the hangi toh on the blocks for this Buddha print:


With the toh I outline all of the areas of the design that will print, removing thin slices of wood so that when I follow along afterwards with clearing tools there will be some space around all of the printing areas. While it would be theoretically possible to accomplish the same thing using a small u-gouge, I find that a u-gouge is not nearly as precise as a hangi toh. A u-gouge is pushed through the wood, compressing the wood fibers and tearing through them rather than cutting the fibers as the toh does. For a more free-form design and for expressive carving, u-gouges are great but this "map" design is tighter.

Here's how the block looks after some clearing has begun:


Some moku hanga artists use a flat bull-nose chisel to clear up against the wood that's been removed by the toh, but I like to use a u-gouge for that purpose.

07 May 2008

The Knife Hospital


This is a Japanese hangi-to, the carving knife that's used most often in traditional moku hanga. The hangi-to, pronounced hahn _ gee (hard g) _ toe, is used to closely outline the design on a block. Then larger areas are cleared away from these outlines using gouges and chisels. The hangi-to is essential for carving the beautiful thin black lines that are always found in ukiyo-e prints. Although I rarely use such linework in my own prints, I do use the hangi-to quite often, so I was pretty upset when I dropped mine on a hard floor and the point broke!

Interestingly, even though I'm using these woodworking tools on a daily basis, I'm not really a tool kind of person. I've tried to learn the subtleties of sharpening, but it all makes my eyes glaze over a little bit -- maybe it's a girl thing. I have managed to learn to use a leather honing block and some small water stones to keep the edges sharp on my little tool set, but the broken point was too much for me and my attempts to reshape the knife just made matters worse. I briefly thought about getting a motorized sharpener, but found it to be cost prohibitive.

When in doubt, consult the Yellow Pages. I found a local precision tool sharpening company with the welcome words "No Job Too Small" on its advertisement. For a mere $5.00 they were happy to reshape my knife for me. I'm hoping to pick it up tomorrow, as good as new.

04 May 2008

One Block Down, Two to Go


This weekend I finished carving one of the three blocks I'll be using for the Lumbini / Buddha print. About half way through this block, in a fit of frustration and impatience, I told my partner Lynn "I'm never doing a print like this again!" She laughed. She knows, and so do I, that if I get another idea that requires this kind of intricate carving I most certainly WILL do this again!

Two more blocks to carve.