Color block carving underway

The light gray for the rocks and road is now outlined and somewhat cleared. I am trying to make good use of the whole block, so the big space at the top will also get used. That is why I have the two corner registration slots that you see on the right.

The key lines for the trees and foliage in the background will go into this spot.

By placing the transfer sheet in the second, upper corner kento (circled), I can have those lines far enough away from the light gray color block region to avoid interference while printing.

Where do the colors go?

One of the things that makes me scratch my head for a long time is, how do I do the color separations for a complex print? I’ve taken various approaches, including just starting to carve color blocks and keep adding them until I’m happy at one extreme, and planning them all out from the start and just going with it at the other extreme. The print I am working on now is the most complex so far, and I am being careful. I’m striving to make the best use of the wood, since if I don’t avoid it, I could end up using dozens of blocks. I also expect there will be many revisions to my plans along the way. Here’s how I have approached it so far.

First of all, I made a mockup in a drawing program that attempts to approximate the print. I used the same scan that I used for the keyblock transfer and floated it transparently on top, then made layered vector objects underneath that so I could easily change the fill or transparency, add gradations, change the boundaries etc.

With this, I could make some hypotheses about what colors I would need and how they would combine. I can’t really explain how I did that though! Just experience mixing colors I guess. (To those who are trying this at home: Don’t be paralyzed! Guess-and-test will get you there. Emphasis on the test! 🙂 )

I made a list of the colors I thought would go on each area of the print, combining to make the colors I wanted to be there. Then I did the color testing I mentioned in the last post, overlaying regions of color with a brush to test out those hypotheses.

I made a table listing all the regions of the print as rows, with the pigment to be applied as columns. These are still just guess! Then I made a ton of printouts, and colored these with colored pencil to indicate the regions I thought would be color blocks. These sorts of steps help make sure that all of the regions of the print are considered, and that I don’t end up with a big white spot because I forgot to put color there.

I used these “coloring book pages” to figure out which color regions could be combined on the same piece of wood. Those two on the left can be clearly combined if I flip one of them 180 degrees, and if the wood is long enough and wide enough that the registration cuts don’t interfere.

From when I initially made that table, I changed plans about the outlines of the trees in the distance. Not only the farthest trees, but the two at mid-distance, need to have lighter outlines than the main key lines of the image. On the right-hand image above, the pencil sketch on the right shows that I can put both the light gray of the roadway and rocks, and the key lines of the mid-distance and distance trees on the same block, if I use different sets of registration marks. On the “coloring book page”, the lines that are over-lined in green will go on the block where the light green blobs are on the right half of the shot; the gray of the road and rocks will go at the bottom. The white circles on the very right show the placement of the registration cuts – two corner cuts near the bottom, and straight cuts on the upper right.

I also decided I needed more subtle control over the fill and shading of the trees in the distance. That’s why I isolated each individual background tree twice on this last block. By placing the top two registration marks circled in orange, I can print the small tree where the upper yellow circle is; with the lower two orange-circled registration marks, the larger tree will print where the large yellow circle is. Flip that block around, and I can do the same thing again to print some shading for these trees where the green highlights are. The trick is to position the registration cuts so they won’t interfere with regions that will print.

In all, I think I can get away with 8 more blocks for the basic structure of this print; then I’ll need about three more for the special shadows that reveal the sunbeams.

Next up: How many transfer sheets do I need?

All clear

I’m now ready for the first test-printing of the key block for what I am calling “forest rays.”

This block took some time to carve! Carving is not my full-time job, and indeed I don’t think I spent more than 3 or 4 hours a day working on this block (and usually only an hour or so). I started on January 2, and now am (mostly!) done 3 weeks later. I say “mostly” because test printing will no doubt reveal that some adjustments are in order! Either I forgot to clear a spot, or there is a splinter sticking up, or I need to deepen some of the valleys because they are shallow enough to to let the paper touch, which would risk getting pigment in unwanted areas.

I included the “dramatic lighting” shot on the right to try to further illustrate how deep I’ve carved. The general rule is, the bigger the area of clear space, the deeper the valley needs to be. Paper won’t sag very deeply when the adjacent lines are close together.

Snow day

We don’t get snow in Austin very often. Today there was rain predicted, with a chance of frozen precipitation later in the day. It started snowing midmorning! I took a picture a little later.

In all we got a couple of inches, very slushy. Nice day to stay inside carving!

I also did some thinking about how many blocks I will need. At this point it seems like 10 + the key block.

Finally carving again!

It took me awhile – about a month! – to work out the design for my next print. Here’s a little cartoon preview; the final print probably won’t look anything like this, but I hope to capture the same (or better and more mystical!) mood. I’m satisfied enough, though, to move forward with drawing and cutting key lines.

The path was long – I started with a pencil sketch, then imported into a drawing program and did a few vector versions so I could test out color/shading variations, then traced a couple of times before being happy with the lines. Above is the finished line work, and how it appears after transferring to the block, plus the first day’s carving.

There are lots of lines here! Some of them are not going to be part of the key block, but will be saved as other transfer sheets that I will use later when I carve color blocks for regions that won’t have outlines, such as the areas of light and shadow on the path.

It’s showtime!

I’m very happy to have been selected by the kind folks at PrintAustin to participate this year in PrintExpo! Normally PrintExpo is an in-person affair held in a large hall where printmakers and printing collectives set up booths to show their work over a weekend, including an evening gala with adult beverages and the like. This year of course we can’t do that, so it’s going virtual. There will be a virtual conference on February 6, 2021, with more details to come about registration and content.

In conjunction with PrintExpo, I am working on a video demonstrating most of the steps in producing a print. I started recording content a few days ago! Here’s one setup:

The phone makes pretty decent video, including audio that is clear without too much background noise and hiss. Watching myself on video shows me just how slowly I speak and how infrequently the words come out when I am thinking about something! Unfortunately I’m showing steps that aren’t reversible, so I can’t just do another take. I hope I’m able to edit the clips into a form that won’t drive viewers mad 😉

The video demo will start with making the blocks themselves from parts. This will be a pretty large print, the largest I have made using cherry blocks yet. The blocks are about 8″ x 10″. I used 1/4″ American Black Cherry thin lumber laminated to 1/2″ birch plywood with waterproof wood glue, then I used scrapers to get the surface of each block into shape.

block parts
3 blocks clamped
scraping
pretty smooth!

I’ve made 4 blocks, each double-sided, so I’ve got one for the key block and up to 7 color blocks. If that turns out to be too few, I can make more, or just use shina ply if the color designs are uncomplicated.

Tool boxes

The other day on David Bull’s Twitch live-stream, Dave had a guest who is studying woodblock carving with Motoharu Asaka. The guest had brought his box of carving tools, a nice clear-ish plastic latching container. It was highly organized, with a little slot for every tool, arranged by type and size. Dave showed his, which was an open, beat-up cardboard box with tools jumbled inside, sufficient for keeping the tools from rolling off the carving desk.

To be fair, the nice latching case is almost a necessity for someone who has to carry tools from one location to another. Dave carves on his own bench, and doesn’t need to take them anyplace else, so an open box is all he needs.

I guess I should show mine!

I had the cardboard box for awhile but got tired of it. Plus it was a little too short. If I needed to take tools on a trip, I might put them in a closed cardboard box! This one is probably too fragile for travel, but it makes me happy.

Here are the tools I use the most, ordered approximately by how often I use them.

The one on the left is the knife. I have a larger knife, which I used for a couple of years, but then I got the smaller one which I like better. The one on the right is the kento-nomi, a chisel (nomi) with just one job: making registration marks (kento). I use the U-gouges immediately to its left for clearing large areas of unwanted wood. (I don’t know if the U-gouges are designed for tapping with a mallet, but that is what I do with these, gently. I don’t use a mallet with any of these other tools!) Most of the tools in between are aisuki (間透き), or bullnose chisels. These are used for clearing out areas of wood of varying size between knife cuts.