30 September 2017

Candle In Wind

Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 6 blocks, 10 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 10 on Yukimi paper

This print was created with shapes derived from four selected video stills of a candle burning in a windy place. A steady flame is lovely, but more often than not the wind blows. I used to smoke, and I remember lighting a cigarette outdoors was like this. Or keeping a candle lit at an outdoor vigil, or trying to light a campfire on a damp windy night. Or candlelight on a porch, or near an open window.

The bokashi glow appears quite strong in this photo. It's a little less so in real life.

Here are a couple of shots of the print in progress.
After four impressions of color
Five color impressions

23 September 2017

Steady Flame

Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 11 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 15 on Yukimi paper

This image is again based on shapes derived from video stills, this time a video of a candle burning. Even a very steady flame has some movement. Fire always moves.

In the tradition that my meditation practice comes from, the image of a steady flame is used to signify the light of consciousness, the self or center of one's being, which is constant and cannot be perturbed. Making contact with that part of oneself is one of the goals of meditation. A candle flame is evocative of other things, too — religious ceremonies, holidays, winter, romantic dinners, a small beacon of hope or home. There's something comforting in it, I think.

For you print nerds, let me talk about that little smudge at the base of the flame. It's another kind of bokashi, called atenashi-bokashi (gradation without definition), which is used to make rosy cheeks or other circular shapes. An uncarved area of a block is dampened with a wet cloth or brush to define the border where the fade is to occur and then pigment is applied with a small brush. It's difficult to get a consistent effect.

A circle of water has been applied first and then brown pigment added to the center and allowed to spread on its own.
A light rub with the baren transfers the circular smudge to the print.

21 September 2017

Pulling Some Grain

I've added a few more color layers to this flame image, bringing the total number of color passes to eight. You can see that I've just begun to build a circular bokashi (color blend) to make the flame glow. More layers to come. You can also see some wood grain in the print. Wood grain is another of the Mysteries of Mokuhanga.

I'm using shina plywood, which I almost always use, and shina doesn't have much in the way of wood grain, but every so often there's a piece that prints a pretty strong grain and I saved this block for the last impression because its grain looked promising. Sure enough the grain is printing. I may not be able to keep it as I add bokashi, though. Printing shina grain requires a somewhat dry block and a great deal of baren pressure. You can use a wire brush on the surface to try to enhance the grain, and I've even heard of folks using a blowtorch before the wire brush. The idea is that the torch and/or brush takes away the softer parts of the grain and leaves the harder parts. I'm not planning to go to those extents for grain, though. Just trying to see if I can do it with pressure and careful registration. It very well might not work!

A closeup of the block itself. The grain mirrors the flame shapes.
A closeup of the printed grain pattern.

15 September 2017

Hand Made Washi

Here's the print in process with two more colors (two more blocks) added. This makes a total of five impressions so far, and the paper is holding up much better than it did for the previous print, when I noticed some paper fibers lifting during the printing.

Paper is another Mystery of Mokuhanga, another of the variables that can make or break your print. I mostly use Japanese hand made washi, a strong type of paper made from long fibers of kozo or gampi. The fibers are hand pounded, mixed with some stuff, and then hand molded using screens. (See this blog post about a paper-making family I visited in Japan in 2004.) The paper I'm using for this series of prints came from Woodlike Matsumura in Japan and is called Yukimi. To be honest, the main reason I chose this paper is because of its name — yukimi means "snow viewing" and I liked the idea of making fire prints on paper named for snow. I was able to take a chance on an untried paper because I almost always like whatever paper I buy from Matsumura-san.

Anyway, just as my bokashi vary from print to print because I'm not a machine, had made washi varies from batch to batch and sheet to sheet because it's made by human hands. So it's quite possible that the paper I'm using for this print is literally different than the paper I used for the Strike a Match print, even though it's the "same" paper.

For the record, I like Yukimi — it's strong and fairly thick, bright white, and colors don't dull on it.

14 September 2017

More Than One Way to Make a Bokashi

In a quest to keep my printing momentum going in spite of the fact that I have other work plus an "active" puppy, I'm moving right along to the next print. For this one I'm basically scaling up the candle flame print that I made in December for a small print exchange with some of my mokuhanga tribe members. That little print turns out to have been the test run for this whole series.

Fire glows, so for this series of fire images I'll be using a lot of "bokashi" — graduated color blends. There are a number of ways to create bokashi, and I began this print using a wiping method to create a gradation. First I covered an uncarved block with a yellow pigment, then I used a rag to wipe away a small circle of the pigment where I want to keep the white of the paper. Here's the printed result:

I then overprinted the yellow with a pale orange using a second block with a flame shape carved away:

13 September 2017

Strike A Match

Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 14 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 12 on Yukimi paper

Fourteen applications of color is as far as the paper would let me go, so this print is finished. I have some more circular bokashi ahead of me, so I'll be a pro by the time I've got this series (Playing with Fire) completed, but my technique still needs work.

A friend on Facebook noted the other day that limitations are an excellent fuel for creativity, which made me aware of how I often establish rules for myself prior to making a series of prints in order to keep things manageable. The limits/rules I set up for this series are:
- all images come from video stills of fire

- same color palette for all
- I will show only the flames, not the fuel being burned

First I selected some shapes from a slow-motion video of a match being struck:

I transferred individual shapes from this sketch onto five different blocks and then carved them. Then I tested how the shapes looked when printed and played around with different ways of doing the printing. I often regret showing this kind of background work because invariably someone says that they like the proofs better than the final, but I feel strong enough to take it, so here are some of the proofs I made:

The shapes are really interesting and look like a kind of flower, but I wasn't happy with how "solid" they looked. Not at all like fire. I wanted it to look more ethereal and very bright at the center, so that's how I ended up printing 14 layers of bokashi instead of these more solid shapes.

One of my bokashi in the final was more like a rainbow roll (below). Except with water and a brush instead of ink and a roller. And round instead of straight across. And yes, that's a shoe brush. Not the highest quality brush I own, but just the right size.

Above is a shot of the full edition all laid out on my kitchen floor so you can see how consistent (inconsistent) my bokashi is from print to print. Not bad, but they're definitely not all exactly the same. That's OK with me.

12 September 2017

Circular Bokashi

As I mentioned in my last post, making a circular bokashi (color blend) is tough. I don't feel accomplished at it yet, so I don't really have any tips. I can tell you what to watch out for, but not how to do it correctly. Too much water will give you speckles (you can see speckles in the top photo), which isn't necessarily wrong but it's wrong if you're trying to make a bokashi without speckles. On the other hand, not enough water and/or too much rice paste will give you distinct lines between your color shifts (see bottom photo). What's exactly the right amount of water? You've got me.

Here's the printing I did over the weekend.

This photo was taken after two applications of color on Block #4. Hard pressure and not too much paste gave me some nice grain. Too bad it will be covered up with subsequent layers.
And two more applications of color from the 5th block. I still want to heavy up the background to make the glow stronger.
This is a somewhat strange way to build a print, because the pigment is being added to the background rather than to the central image. The central image is formed by shapes carved away from the background, so those shapes are never relief; only the background areas are relief. It's difficult to anticipate how the pigments will build up, and it's also hard on the paper to build the layers up on top of each other like this. I've now put 10 layers of pigment on this paper, and some of the paper fibers are beginning to lift. (The paper is Yukimi from Woodlike Matsumura in Japan.) We'll see if it can take more layers or if I've reached a limit here.

07 September 2017

Make It Work

Even if you do a lot of proofing beforehand, printing mokuhanga style is full of adventure because there are so many variables. The final result depends on the composition of the wood, how much water you use, how much pigment, how much rice paste, how you swirl the brush around on the block, how hard or softly you push with the baren, the type of paper, how damp or dry the paper is… you get the idea.

Today I printed a couple more blocks, two passes on each block. I'm slowly building a circular bokashi (fade or blend) so that in the final print the flame will seem to glow. Any bokashi is difficult to do consistently and a circular one is wicked. Nevertheless I persisted.

Two passes of a pale orange using Block #2

Block #2 was pretty straightforward to print, but block #3 got interesting. About three pieces of paper into the edition I noticed that I was consistently getting "baren suji" — marks in the print made by the baren. I got panicky, which is usually my first reaction to making what I perceive to be a mistake, but then I took a breath and walked away. When I returned I knew just what to do. USE the baren suji! So I intentionally made baren marks moving around the bokashi like rays of light.

Baren suji around the glow.

This may not even show up in the final print after more layers are added, but I needed to treat it as if it would be visible, just in case.

These prints are taking on a lot of moisture with all the water for the bokashi glow, so I'm letting the paper dry out now. I'll re-wet it tonight for tomorrow's printing session.

You can see that the bokashi glow is a little bit different on each print. That's because I'm not a machine. The more layers I print the more varied the prints will become. That's just the way it is.

06 September 2017

A Small Explosion

Because of its characteristic layering of transparent colors, I've often thought that mokuhanga (watercolor woodblock printing) could lend itself to representing movement over time. Movement being an essential quality of fire, this series seemed like a good opportunity to test that idea. I decided to use video stills of fire to derive the shapes for each of these designs, and I hope to see some movement in the resulting images.

Archaeologists estimate that human beings started using fire, which they probably harvested from spontaneous grass fires or lightning strikes, a million years ago or so. Fire usually starts with some kind of explosion, as the heat that's applied reaches a high enough temperature for the fuel to ignite, so I begin the series with the lighting of a match — a small controlled explosion. I was surprised to learn that the first friction match was invented quite recently in the long history of humans using fire:  1826.

Here is block #1 and the print that resulted after two pale applications of color from this block.

All of these images will be 11 x 17 inches

A circular bokashi (fade) is really difficult to do consistently.

05 September 2017

Poised To Print

Hello September! Long time no blog. I think blogging is sort of over, but I do love this blog, both as a record of my studio practice over the years and also as a way to connect with other folks, so I'm going to try to revive it.

In my last post back in March I introduced a new print topic: FIRE. I've been slowly working my way through a series of images on that topic and it's been an interesting process for me in that I've done way more test printing than I've ever done before. Usually I just carve the blocks and then barrel through the printing, letting myself learn how the blocks print as I go. But for some reason I decided to proof these images before editioning. I think that's actually how most (or many) printmakers do it, but I've always found it more exciting to just cut and print.

Above is the stack of carved plates (double-sided) that I've accumulated since January, and I'm finally ready to print them in earnest. (You can see some of the test proofs hanging on my wall.) I'll be blogging each print as I go, so stay tuned.

Oh, and I should also tell you that I have a new studio assistant. Her name is Zuzu. She likes to work with paper.