Temporary diversion

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Here’s the latest block set, hot off the carving bench!

It’s a bit of a departure. No key block, and carved on shina! I’m working on a quick print on A4 paper, for the Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition. The print needs to be in Japan by July 31, and given how unpredictable mail can be these days, I think I need to allow a month for shipping. There’s NO WAY I can have the complicated Forest Rays print done, and besides, it won’t fit on A4. Hence, a temporary diversion.

Shina is quick to carve, and I had a ton of it laying around so I didn’t have to make new blocks. But shina has definite downsides. I’ve had the top ply come off of thin lines before. This piece was part of a fairly large area, so I am surprised it peeled off. I’m just glad I noticed, and saved the piece! I’ll be able to glue it down when the wood is dry.

Snow day

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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.

It’s showtime!

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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

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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

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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

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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.