Next project

I’ll let you in on a secret – the first run of this print is already finished! I can’t show it here though, because I want it to be a surprise to some folks who will be getting it as a holiday gift. But I’ll show a bit of the preparation process.

It’s going to be a small print. You might remember seeing my post about the “frankenblocks“. I only used one face of those 3 blocks for the leaf print, so I decided to use the rest for this one. Because one of the faces already had the lines for the leaf print (Finally Fall), I protected it by taping a piece of paper over that face. You might see the tape on the bottom of the rightmost block in the picture on the left. I made another pass over the remaining faces with a thin scraper, taking care to also scrape down the little pieces I glued on to make an external kento (set of registration notches). If those pieces stick out more than the rest of the block, then the parts of the block adjacent to them will print faintly, which would be maddening!

I made up a handful of transfer sheets. These are gampi paper laminated with reposition-able spray adhesive onto card stock. (Card stock is not the best backing paper to use if you plan to print key lines on it (which I eventually will do), because it changes size quite a bit when hit with moisture. It’s what I have, though, so it will have to do.) Laminated with a thicker paper, one of these will go through a printer just fine! And that is what I’ll do, to transfer the line work to the first block. After transferring, peeling off the backing paper (card stock) and excess layers of gampi, I can get to carving!

The rest of the transfer sheets will get used eventually, to transfer the lines of the key block to other blocks that will print regions of color.

Re-covering

I need to re-do the takenokawa on this one.

well-used baren

Really, it’s time to take care of this.

I was able to watch a very useful video by Terry McKenna that shows all the steps, and I have the needed supplies, so there’s no excuse! I will present notes on my experience and some pictures, but this won’t be a “how-to” because I didn’t capture enough details. If you need more complete information, please watch Terry’s video.

Awhile back I had ordered some replacement “bamboo skins” from McClain’s in Portland. I have three; I just pulled the first one out and went with it. I kind of expect to ruin the first one, so why be picky?

The back side of the new takenokawa, next to the baren that will be re-covered.
The front surface

Lots more spots on this one, compared to the old cover! Also, it looks gigantic.

First order of business: Disassemble the old cover.

This was a useful exercise, because I could tell how the string was positioned to start, and how it was tied off. If you do this at home, DON’T CUT THE STRING! You will need it to tie off the new cover.

I’ve seen videos and pictures of other baren disassembled, and the inner coil was removable. I wanted to remove the coil in mine and place a paper disk or two underneath it, to make it less flat and slightly dome-shaped. But this one appears to be glued in. I pried a little, but didn’t want to do damage so did not force it.

Next task is wetting the new skin, and rubbing it to make it more pliable.

Traditionally, one would use a smooth black rock to rub the skin while supporting it on a plank of yamazakura wood. I thought a tablespoon would work pretty well! I rubbed at 90 degrees over most of the surface, on back and front, and periodically wiped parts of the skin with a wet paper towel when they were drying out.

After cutting part of the widest end away, and tearing off the curled edges on the sides (about 1/4″ or so) , I started wrapping the skin.

At this point, both hands were pretty occupied, so I don’t have any shots until I had it wrapped and tied!

Looks pretty rough. I’ll do some trimming…

Here’s the business end:

It’s good and flat, and reasonably tight. Here’s a comparison to the old cover:

So, success? The proof will be in the printing. The new cover is obviously made from much thicker material than the old cover was made from. The coil on this baren is “fine”, and intended to be able to reveal fine details, but the cover is so thick that it might prevent the thin ridges on the inner coil from making themselves known to the print. I will have to try printing with it and see how things go. If it works well, the thickness might be a good thing – it will probably last longer than the old one!

I have two takenokawa left; one of them seems to be a little more delicate in consistency, but not by much. If I have trouble with the new cover, I can try using the thinner skin, but I might need to find a different supplier.

Re-boot of an old bird

A couple of years back I started work on a print of this sly character relaxing in a lake, perhaps thinking about his next snack. I made a few test prints and didn’t go any further because they just weren’t turning out well.

This was the first print I made where I used the hanshita method to transfer a print’s lines in order to carve color blocks. In this method, the key block is printed on transfer sheets made by laminating a thin sheet of paper, usually gampi, to stronger paper with removable spray adhesive. This post shows some prepared transfer sheets for a different print, which are then glued face down onto the clean color-blocks-to-be using the same registration marks that will be used for printing later. The stronger paper is peeled off, then the surface layers of the gampi are peeled off to yield a clearly visible guide showing what needs to be carved. After carving, the rest of the paper is washed off, and voila — the color block is ready to print.

In a dumb, rookie mistake I used the wood glue in my drawer – Titebond III – to affix the transfer sheets to the blocks. Oops! Titebond III is “proven waterproof” and “offers superior bond strength” – really not characteristics suited to my task! As a result, I couldn’t ever completely get it off the surface of the color blocks, and they basically refused to hold and transfer pigment evenly. That’s why the blue is so patchy and uneven.

I still have a bunch of shina plywood that I don’t see myself using for a new project anytime soon, so I think I will carve some new color blocks for this print. I’ll use the original key block.

It needs a bit of cleanup. I carved it back when I was using u-gouges and v-gouges, so the valleys are really rough. Some of the lines could use refining.

Another thing I did was to introduce some discontinuities in the lines of the hills that are supposed to be reflected in the water. I am hopeful that these will help the reflections look more like reflections. These changes on the key block mean the location of the gaps will be transferred to the new color blocks, so those blocks can have aligned openings that produce white lines in the finished print.

I don’t envision doing a huge run of this design, but I would like to do it justice with some well-executed prints!

Balcones Canyonlands – first run finished!

I apologize for not posting much in the way of in-progress notes about this print. There are some things I’d like to talk about, and I might get to them eventually. But in the mean time, I’m done! Here are some shots of the prints drying.

This print run included 30 prints – 4 on Shin Torinoko as practice prints, 20 on Kitaro’s (https://www.washi-kitaro.com/) Kizuki, and 6 on the Shin Hosho I ordered from Matsumura-san. There’s some variation in thickness in each of these washi batches. One of the sheets from Kitaro was noticeably thicker than the others; this didn’t seem to affect the printing very much, though. The Shin Hosho sheet I used was thinner than any of the sheets I used for the Naoshima Coast print, and I really liked printing on it! It was easy to get a smooth, intense impression. You might remember I struggled with smooth impressions on the Naoshima print. I think if all the sheets had been like this one, printing would have been a piece of cake!

Here’s an example of the finished print, held so the embossing can be seen. This is one of the Shin Hosho sheets, but the Kizuki prints also turned out quite nicely; the paper color is a little creamier on those.

I’m pretty happy with how these turned out.

More Balcones testing

I’m into a second small round of test printing on the Balcones Canyonlands print. This round is mostly focused on reproducibility, but I am also trying out a few variations.

The first print on a block can be quite light, and then the color deepens over the next few impressions. I think I got the rock color a bit too dark on the bottom left one, in the image on the right.

Not the best photos, but this gives you an idea how the colors combine.

I’m a bit unsatisfied about how dark the shadows are on the clouds in the final image, and am considering moving them to another block. Or really editing this one, or maybe just carving away the cloud part from the shadow block entirely.

One of the variations is the darker rock detail in the final image. The lower prints use a redder color for those areas than the upper prints do.

Another experiment was the pinkish cloud color. I went from a light egg-yolk-yellow on the first, adding a bit mor red as I went, to an almost pink with just a hint of orange on the fourth. I think the version I like the best is the second one, which is the image on the left above.

The final experiment is these leaves. I think I like them, and I think I like the darker ones

You can maybe see a bit of a registration issue with the shadows, which peek over the edge of the ledge in front of the stalks. The next thing I will do is test a correction; I’ve shaved down some thin pieces of scale lumber even thinner, and have tacked them in place on the registration marks to move the paper up a bit.

I went back to the place that inspired this image today. It’s the middle of July, after a couple of weeks of really hot days, many over 100 degrees F. There wasn’t a lot of water before, but now there’s only a trickle over the rocks, and the pool below is almost completely dry. I’m looking forward to some rain!

Test printing begins; tweaks ensue!

I’ve started testing the Balcones Canyonlands blocks. I’m trying a variety of pigments, in various combinations, to decide what to use for the final design. I don’t think I’ve gotten them right yet — for example, I think the base color of the hill should be something a little more gray. Also, these test prints are pretty rough, and are missing some impressions.

When I carved the clouds, I changed the shapes from the original sketch to make them rounder. I knew they wouldn’t look right with the key block outlines, as you can tell from the two test prints on top that I printed the key block on. So here goes, I’m removing them!

The next little round of tweaks will involve using a small part of one block that I left un-carved earlier to carve some faint shadows and outlines of rocks under the water. Here I have sketched them out:

This is part of the one block I’m using that consists of 1/4″ American holly laminated on plywood. I decided to give holly a try because the wood seems very homogenous and the grain is inconspicuous. Plus, it is shrubby, and boxwood (used for very fine detail by some wood block carvers) is shrubby. It turns out the plants are not related at all (except that they are both Angiosperms…), and holly is only marginally harder than cherry (American holly: Janka 1020; American black cherry: Janka 950). Still, it cuts very smoothly and is not at all splintery. The main use of this block is the base color for the hill; even though I was hopeful holly would be good for carving detail, I didn’t want to rely on it straight away for that purpose and chose a large color region as its first trial. Carving these fine outlines and small shadows will let me test out whether it suffices for small details.

Balcones Canyonlands: Mostly Carved

Just a quick update: I’m mostly done with carving the current block set. There are 4 blocks with two sides, so eight printable faces. Seven of them are carved. The upper left block on the second image hasn’t been carved yet, but I’m holding off because I won’t be sure what else I might want to put on that block until I’ve done some test printing.

The blocks have been cleaned off (except for the un-carved one). Here are a few close-ups!

I hope the ripples on the water turn out OK; I pretty much winged that part.

And in news of international shipping, I am pleased to announce that the glue I ordered on April 11 from Amazon, finally arrived on June 16! Yes, all the way from Japan. In the before-times, this sort of shipment would take about a week, maybe two. I feel sorry for the seller, because they have gotten some unkind comments about something that is NOT under their control. Anyway, I’m happy it finally arrived!

Now, time for test printing!

Almost oops!

Some time ago, before the plague times, I ordered and received some very nice washi from a papermaker in Echizen. It’s really lovely, smooth, good weight, 100% kozo, and ALREADY SIZED! I am looking forward to EMS shipping starting up from Japan again so I can order some more. What I received was a very high quality product, clean and uniform in texture and sizing.

My coworker, Corax the black cat, really enjoyed playing in the box. He’d get in, and scratch scratch tap tap. Hours of entertainment. I finally got around to flattening the box and putting it in recycling. But wait — what’s that? There was something taped to the bottom with that typical Japanese brown fabric-reinforced tape, wrapped in brown paper the same color as the surrounding cardboard. I’m glad I noticed! It was a sample book.

This is a pretty fancy sample book.

The paper on the cover has some really interesting iridescent patterning, and when you let light shine through it, it looks like the fibers that provide the pattern are denser than the rest.

At the end of the booklet was another price list (same prices), on a paper that has another interesting pattern of iridescence. And that’s the back of the booklet, with their contact info.

I’m looking forward to getting some more of this paper!

Balcones Canyonlands progress

The next print I am working on is a stylized interpretation of a hill and a creek near the Doeskin Ranch trailhead of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife refuge. I sketched in pencil, then scanned it and moved some elements around in photochop to compress the empty space and emphasize the parts I found interesting – so the final line-work is pretty far from the photo!

Some time ago I finished carving the key block, printed transfer sheets, and spent about a week in a drawing program experimenting with color overlays enough to satisfy myself that I could make a block set work. Since then, I’ve applied the transfer sheets and started carving the color blocks. Here you see the transfer sheets, marked up with the color regions they will be used to print (not the actual colors, of course!)

This is pretty different from my approach to the Naoshima Coast print, where I was strongly driven by a photo, and tested printing after each color block to decide the shapes and pigment for the next color block. That process took a long time!

In this case, I’ll be using 4 double-sided laminated blocks, resulting in 8 carve-able faces. The key block counts for one, so I have seven faces left, and so far nine color regions. I’ve been able to combine two of those regions with others, so they fit on the seven block faces, and I still have a little leeway to add detail in parts of the color blocks that aren’t spoken for yet. Here are the transfer sheets, applied, with the excess transfer paper peeled away.

What’s going on the second photo? It looks a bit different, right?

The key block is on the upper right. I’ve protected it with a taped-on sheet of paper so that when I carve the other side, I won’t damage the lines.

In the block on the upper left, I’ve only peeled the excess gampi paper from the part of the block I have plans for so far. Not sure why I did that, but I know I might use some of the lower part of the block to add detail later.

And the block face on the lower right is a different kind of wood! It’s American Holly (Ilex opaca), which is a fairly dense, fairly hard, very white, tight-grained wood. It’s a little harder than American Black Cherry. I decided to try it out because I wondered if it would be similar to boxwood, which is sometimes used for key blocks. Not being brave enough to use it for a key block I used it for the simplest color block. This may backfire on me if it turns out that it doesn’t moisten properly for printing. It does moisten, which I demonstrated to myself when I wet-sanded it in the final smoothing.

Carving wise, it’s fairly easy and smooth to carve – at least for the simple shape I was carving. When clearing large amounts of waste, the resulting surface is very smooth and tight, as you can see with the 4.5mm knife on the left. However, the piece I used had some grain surprises!

On the right is an area where the grain dove down, and so when I tried to clear, I got a hole with lots of tear-out. The region did not seem to interfere with the adjacent shape though!

I will finish carving all the so-far-planned color blocks before printing anything, I think. Two down and one started, so far. See you in a few weeks 😉