Monday, October 27, 2008

Book of Life: Page One


I am very excited to post about the first page of the Book of Life! This is just a proof and there are things that happened during proofing that I need to go back and fix but as a printer, these are the moments I live for. I hope no one thinks I am boasting but when I pulled the first impression off the block it felt like I was instantly whisked back in time to old Europe in a print shop where I could see through Albrecht Dürer's eyes. You spend all this time breathing life into a woodblock and then during printing, in an instant, it breaths life into you! Very rewarding.
The few fixes I will make that catch my eye are the shallow scuffing that prints up in the sun's rays, the errant scuffing in the border, and rework the shadow of the storm on the water so that the transition is not so blunt and heavy. Other than that, I am in love! And it only gets better as I figure out which color blocks I would like to make!
And now for a lesson in give and take. There will be two editions from this series. I love black and white prints but I also love color prints. One of the effects I wish to imbue to the reader of this book is the feeling of time and the ancient feeling associated with woodblocks while at the same time having the subject matter being relative to today's present knowledge and maybe even relevant to the future. I am making two editions: 1. an Alchemist's Edition and 2. a regular (color) edition. The Alchemist's edition will have the black and white imagery and maybe the edition of dark red symbols. This being said, when I went to carve the boarder of the first page I had real trouble. Either I was physically too tired (I wear magnifying specs when I carve and the proximity of it was starting to catch up to me after a few weeks) or the wood was not going to cooperate (there were some areas of grain in the poplar that were too gapped for my delicate cuts). At any rate, I was tired of fighting but more importantly I had a deadline to reach. I had been thinking about the border anyway and my previous design of water molecules felt uncreative even though I labored over the task. I finally decided that I would do a design with an 8 pointed star with two split diamond shapes snugged into its sides to represent water molecules. I carved out a stamp and set the design into the border (I had done this too for the other design with failed results). After initial niddling, it just wasn't happening and I decided to simply carve out the border and approach the stars again from a color block aspect. I am hoping to carve the red color block for the Alchemist's edition in such a way that I have the option of printing the border in black if I wish. I'm telling myself that I will like it better this way anyway. I hope I am right!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Baren Wrapping


Initially, I thought this was going to be a blog about how to avoid everything I did wrong but I don't think my first try at rewrapping my baren came out all that bad! As you can see in the image above, my baren was WAY overdue for rewrapping. The knots that were most prominent wore through the takenokawa sheath first. I really should have worked to replace the sheath sooner (it was 3 years old after all!) but laziness and procrastination took me over. At any rate, I promised myself that I could not pull the first proof for the Book of Life until I had replaced the sheath. If my reading was correct, I theorized, I could flip any damaged areas of the shin over as it should be loose inside the backing disk.
I purchased 3 replacement sheaths from our dear friends McClain's Printmaking Supply. I wanted 3 in case I screwed the first one up badly. As I carefully unfolded the shipping packaging, 3 crisp flattened takenokawa stared up at me. Now, I must say that I am a religious person but I do not attend church. When you attend church anyway, the first thing the preacher, priest, monk, or witchdoctor will tell you is that God wants you to find spirituality in the everyday. For me, printmaking can offer this up in many way. I touched the surfaces of the sheaths and was blessed by the reality that something so fragile and thin has the ability to lay under the constant pressure of elbow grease and be abraded against a block of wood for at least three years before finally wearing thin. The other epiphany for me was the size of the sheaths. We have red bamboo in our back yard and it often sheds minute sheaths that are about 3 to 4 inches long. I am supposing that the plant that shed these sheaths was very old indeed. I had a soft old piece of fabric from a ripped t-shirt that I wrapped a single sheath in after I misted it with water.

Up front, I own a Murasaki Baren and there is a universe of difference between it and the standard 7.00 baren. Think Pinto vs. Rolls Royce. I can only imagine what a Hon Baren must be like. This being said, when I (painfully) unwrapped my baren I was horrified to find that the shin was GLUED to the back of the ategawa! Someone has hobbled my baren! Well, gone were any hopes of mine to flip the shin if there was fiber damage. I'm positive there must have been fraying at some point but when I run out of traditional ategami paper I use deli wax paper and the wax must've sealed the frays shut. The crack you see in the old sheath was created when I took it off and it resisted taking any other shape other than the one it had dried and molded itself too. I HATED taking the old sheath off because the original wrapping was so elegant and graceful and I knew mine would be rude. I kept the old sheath though so that I might learn from it. I have to note that the inside of the sheath was soft and you could see where the knots in the shin made their indentions.
Preparing the takenokawa was also a very spiritual experience. I am in the basement of the art center and sometimes I got a whole day without seeing another soul. It was very quiet and I could go about my work as I please without much disturbance. I enjoy visitors but preparing a bamboo sheath is not something Charlottesvillians do everyday. To soften the sheath enough to be manipulated into shape you must use your own breath to raise its humidity and temperature. When wet, the takenokawa will curl back up into its original shape and you wrap a damp cloth with it and then blow into the root end until you have heated the entire cloth bundle with your breath. I rinsed my mouth out with water well before I started this. God knows I didn't want a peanut butter and jelly smelling baren for the next few years. So, I paced around my studio blowing into this little damp tube of cloth that looked like a giant dark blue joint. Printmaking really roots me with my heritage I feel because being brought up in the country, we're really a lot of do-it-yourself-ers and there is real value in knowing an learning a craft. If you take the easy way out in sheath softening, (with a blow dryer) you end up with a soggy sheath that will tear like a wet cracker. If you do not take the time to dampen it correctly, it will tear because it is too dry. Breathing life back into the sheath from the root end feels like shamanism because you are breathing your own breath back into it and reanimating the being so that it will work with you if you take the time and patience. Finally, after a bit of pacing and breathing, my takenokawa had come back to life!

I was amazed at how tough the thin plant was as I made my folds and it didn't crack and twisted the handle end as hard as I could and it did not fray. Alas, I did not achieve delicate folds like the master that wrapped my original Murasaki takenokawa but I had wrapped it and I had not wasted a valuable takenokawa! I was rewarded even more when I returned to the studio the next day and the baren had dried and shrunk even tighter! Now I am ready for printing the first proof for the Book of Life!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rain Soaked Mountains


I'm so close to finishing the first key block for the first page in the Book of Life I can almost taste it! I'm frustrated with my camera as a took full shots of the block and the auto focus was just not kicking in. The resulting images were just blurry. I settled for this close up. At least the new carving came out in the shot. Pretty much everything is done for this key block except the border. I remeasured the borders with calipers because I want to stay as close as possible to my original perimeters.
I decided that rather than draw teeny tiny water molecules around the border (the creep of the graphite transfer paper wouldn't catch all the detail anyway with any accuracy) I would cut out a rubber stamp and stamp the designs where I needed them. All the best laid plans, right? Yeah, number one, in an effort to quit obsessing and start doing I settled with this molecule design to begin with. Number two, the rubber will hold no more detail at the current size and I don't feel like burning out my retinas to create a smaller stamp and THEN have to do it fifty MORE times in the wood. My goal is to finish carving this coming weekend and to at least pull a proof. Since the original design felt hackneyed anyway I'm ditching it and am going to try to find something else. I know that the pattern will stay the same. What ever design I choose to make will still compact over the mountains and expand over the sun and sea in representation of water's changing states. I DID make my first attempt to change the bamboo sheath on my baren. That's another story for another day.......

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Farm People


I still haven't given up on the idea of festivals and mail art. One of the things I think might work for doing festivals is pedestrian type products that don't cost much and are easy to reproduce. Yay, printmaking! We are so applicable to such things! When I was a teenager, I LOVED comic books. My mom thought it was a waste of money but we didn't have life drawing in my rural area and those books really helped teach me anatomy. Anyways, fan art in popular comic zines came in the form of mail art. People would draw images on the flat side of a business envelope and write the address and postage on the seal flap. It was really neat to see what people would come up with. I began thinking that maybe customers would enjoy sending block prints like that through the post and that a series on prints on the envelopes would work well. I have a boat load of colored envelopes already and I began thinking of subject material that would be popular. Everybody loves animals and old engravings of animals are being ripped as public domain ALL the time. At first, I thought I would just do portraits of farm animals because it would work well in my conservative based market. Then, the idea of dressing the farm animals up in period clothing popped into my head. "Nah, don't do that. Just plain animals will sell better." I heard myself think. Well, screw that! I'm tired of ditching fun ideas over that. So, I went ahead with my idea for "Farm People" for my first series of mail art. I picked 10 of my favorite farm animals and will be dressing them up in 1920's attire. I'll be carving them onto blocks for a series of black ink open edition mail art envelopes. I will produce a limited edition of fine art prints as well for those who want something more archival (me included!).
My first specimen is the Work Horse. I just love his suspenders and hat! I armed myself with the Ultimate Horse book years ago and one of my favorite breeds is the Italian Heavy Draft. I like his conformation and the colors of the specimen in the book are very unique. Below is a scan of the image in the book. Not the best scan but it will do. :) Can't wait to start carving!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Billowing Clouds and Fluttering Waves


The key block is one of the most exciting yet scary blocks to carve. I feel like I'm moving a bit slow on this but I want everything to be perfect and that includes the concrete decisions I have to make, AH! The motto I'm sticking with is when in doubt leave in, reduction can always happen later if it is undesirable. I've been busy carving swirling waves and billowing clouds and have thoroughly enjoyed myself! Niddling away with my small u-gouge, the texture achieved in the clouds makes them feel like burgeoning puffs of whipped cream. (Can you tell I'm a foodie?)

This shot shows the mincing pattern I used with the waves. I also used the u-gouge for this. I hope that the uniformity of line with this tool will not detract from the over all design. This block will be used in two different editions. One will feature only one other color (red symbols) and the other will be a multi-block color version of the print. I know that there will most likely not be an issue with the multicolor edition but it nags at me for the black and white version. We'll see.

On the subject of nag, this job is KILLING my back!!! Obviously, the table is too low or the chair too high. Currently, this is the best place in the studio to carve right now. I have a lower chair but then my elbows are at level with my chin and that doesn't do anybody any good. I can't complain too much. At least I have a studio. :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Here Comes the Sun!


Yay! My shining sun came out better than I thought! I was going to free hand rays coming out of the sun orb but some how my original drawing left me with a lacking feeling. I had an old hemisphere ruler laying around and decided to get all technical. I hope it prints up as well as it appears to me. The precision almost gives me the feeling of a pattern for money but I think that the clouds, rain, and mountain will balance everything out and the technicality of it will not appear cold. Originally, I was going to have little "hooks" (thumbs) attached to the ends of the rays to mimic Egyptian mythology but I think I would be the only one who would get what was going on and, in this case, that was not my goal.

I got a little happy with the camera but "fly by" shots of one's woodblock are fun and the topography of the block give the impression of a planetary surface sometimes.

I've been informed by my sister's husband (who happens to be a cabinet maker) that poplar just so happens to be one of the worst woods for warping in VA and that it will even absorb moisture out of the air on a rainy day. These things I know to be true. Once, I did a large tree print and I did not put my block away properly. I left it on the printing table with no weight. It curled into an elbow macaroni shape! Yikes! I soaked it for five minutes in a bathtub for 5 or 10 minutes and then laid a towel beneath and above it. Then I piled a stack of flat wood on top of it and left it for a week. It did return to its original shape and retains it to this day. This little story was brought about because this block is made up of two separate planks of poplar glued and hammered together with nails. Even so, one end lines up flat and the other end has one of the planks bucking up about a sixteenth of an inch. I'm hoping that I can get around that but only proofing day will tell.
Lastly, when I first carved the opening in the middle the contrast between the two planks is striking. I like to think of it as my yin and yang showing up! It should be noted that these two planks were cut from the same board. Ah, variety!