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.

Paper preparation

Here’s the paper I will use for the current print. I’ve got 25 pieces of Kitaro’s Kizuki, and 5 pieces of a few other kinds I had lying around that I will use for testing. Because this is a really small print, I picked a sheet of the Kizuki that was on the thin side. It’s a completely handmade product, and there’s actually noticeable variation in the thickness.

I’m applying a small dot of clear nail polish to one corner – the corner that will be inserted into the corner kento (registration notch) – of each piece of paper. This is a trick I learned from the printers at Mokuhankan. For a simple print with only one or two impressions it wouldn’t be that important, but reinforcing this corner prevents it from wearing and changing shape with repeated impressions. That way it’s possible to get precise registration every time.

Here’s how the paper is placed when printing. I’m demonstrating with a block for a different print. First the corner is inserted into the corner notch on the right, then it’s placed against the little ledge on the bottom left, then laid flat on the block. It’s not necessary to reinforce the edge on the bottom left, but the corner can easily wear if it’s not strengthened!

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 woodblock-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! If you look closely, you can see the pencil lines I marked to position the gampi. The design for the key lines was drawn by hand with a brush-pen, then scanned so I could clean it up, make the blacks black and whites white, and size it precisely to fit on the blocks. After a few test prints I could be confident where the printer would place the image on the page, hence the pencil marks.

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. To do that, I will use the carved key block, so I will need to trim the transfer sheets so that one corner and edge fits into the registration marks.

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!