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 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 😉