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!

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 😉

Fun with registration

Looking back at my test prints, I see there are some registration problems with the green block. In the left image, there is green that sticks up too far, onto the top of a rock that should be mostly white. And on the right, there are some areas of green that extend past the border.

To address this, I used some micro-lumber (HO scale 2×4, I believe) I had laying around from a previous life as an architecture student. I tacked it in lightly with water-soluble glue, in case it didn’t work out.

Wellll, this did not work out so well. I don’t have a picture, but in the test after that, it was clear that not only was this change in the kento not enough to fix the problems, it introduced problems elsewhere — a margin of unprinted area just beneath many of the lines that delineate green areas like the trees.

So, the registration needed to be fixed with a knife. This was more successful!

Quick note

It’s definitely Spring here. I have a Mexican Plum in front that is COMPLETELY covered in blooms.

They really aren’t any good to eat, sadly, but I think the birds like them.

I’ve finished carving the final, I hope, block for the rockpile print. It’s not quite done in this shot. Chisels are 1mm and 3mm, for scale.

More test printing soon, then hopefully can start printing in earnest this weekend! Stay tuned.

New shade blocks

When I started working on the rockpile project, I wasn’t sure where the color would go, what blocks I would need, and so on. I drew and carved the key block, then thought about where the lightest colors would go and carved some color blocks for those, using transfer sheets printed from the key block to locate their edges. I started test-printing in earnest earlier this month, when I had blocks for light grayish, light bluish, green and reddish. First I tested some of the colors I though would be good to use, to see how they overlap and combine to make other hues. I kept notes and spots of color to document the saturation of the pigment I used to print.

After the initial testing, the results of which I showed in the last post, I decided to add some darker shading in some areas. Here are my transfer sheets:

Notice there is a thinner paper of the gampi type laminated on a thicker backing sheet. The lines were printed from the key block, then I marked and colored in the areas of the new blocks that are to remain. The blue is for water and sky shading; the yellow is to darken some areas of the rock, and the pink is for some even darker shadows on the rocks.

These transfer sheets get pasted UPSIDE DOWN on the new blocks using the same registration marks I’ll later use for printing, the thicker backing paper gets peeled off, and often part of the gampi gets peeled off along with it, leaving the face of the gampi with the lines and colors against the wood and visible through what’s left of the gampi. If it is still too thick, I can moisten it a little on one edge, and peel off another layer.

This block is one I’ve already test-printed from, but shows what the transferred gampi looks like after it’s pasted down and the excess is peeled off. It’s super-easy to see what to carve!

Here are my newest blocks after some test printing, and the two surviving test prints with their new shading.

I think it is starting to come together! I think I need a little more color on the trees on top of the hill, and more definition of the cliff face. I’ll see what I can do with my current blocks (there are 7!), but I might need to do more carving.

Overdue update!

It’s been awhile. I finished the Fall print, but not soon enough to send as a Fall card. We have a brand new year. And, I have made significant progress on a new print!

I finished carving the initial key block some time ago. There are lots of lines; it took awhile! Here is is before and after I cleaned off the transfer paper.

My hope for this print is that I can move in the direction of the subtlety and detail of some of the shin-hanga prints. This is an open question at this point! I think it is possible that many of the lines of this block may get replaced later by lines on other blocks, and so be carved away. (This is called “mudabori”, or “wasted carving.”)

Here’s an early test print showing the key block lines and a light shading block, printed using neutral tint.

Today I started trying out colors! I’m printing without the key block lines at first, to see which areas work well without them.

One more test print adding some green:

I have one more already-carved block that will add a reddish-brown color. Then I will think about what other blocks are needed, what needs to be trimmed, etc. This one will be long in the making, but I think it will be worth it!

New Fall print progress

After first learning how to make prints with water-based pigments from Annie Bissett (https://anniebissett.com/home.html) in 2017, I went home and made a tiny (~ 2″ x 3″) little print using plywood samples I had received from various sources, and testing out about 5 different paper types. Most of these ended up being sent out to friends and family as Fall greetings.

I decided this year to make another Fall-themed print, which I started working on back in June, when I first made the “frankenblocks” from thin cherry and plywood plus applied chunks of wood for registration marks. Sadly, the set of prints is not going to be ready for the official start of Fall, since other things got in the way. The new goal is to have the first printing ready sometime during Fall. Here’s the key block and my first attempt at making hanshita for the color block transfers:

As you can see from the bleeding and the wrinkling, I used WAY too much liquid to print the hanshita. Try 2 turned out OK! When I used the glue I brought back from Japan (the stuff Dave uses to attach line-work transfers), most of the gampi peeled off with the mounting paper.

The transfer above was for the yellow color, which will cover the leaves entirely. Here are some shots of the carved areas for blue and light orange-ish:

And finally, here are the finished color blocks – 6 of them – cleaned off, before any pigment has been applied (yellow, red; light reddish, blue; dark green, and light green).

I will confess, I have done a small round of test printing! The results of that will need to wait until the next post.

Frankenblocks

So awhile back, I ordered some cherry “thin lumber” from Ocooch hardwoods to experiment with making laminated blocks for carving. I got three pieces of 6″ x 24″, quarter inch thick Black Cherry. The pieces I got are nice looking, no or miniscule imperfections, and flat-sawn. Not wanting to commit to a big print right away, I chopped one of the boards into six approximately 4-inch wide pieces, and grabbed some baltic birch ply from the garage to use as a base. When I glued them up, this is what resulted (on one side; the back side looks similar):

Then I commenced to designin’. Dang, 3.8 x 5.9 is pretty small, and when I take away registration marks and a margin from two of the sides, it gets even smaller. So I thought maybe I could paste on some extra wood to hold the registration cuts. But then it was unsupported, and so that it wouldn’t break off, I pasted on some supporting pieces of basswood under those. Here is the result:

Everything is glued with Titebond III, waterproof and outdoor-rated — except the layers of the plywood. So I can’t submerse the whole thing. But hopefully, the kento extensions will remain stable throughout carving and printing.

Sneak peak

Yesterday I finished the key block design but wasn’t ready to move forward until the blocks were ready. I got all the Frankenblocks and all their prosthetics glued today, and did the key block transfer:

… and started carving:

I think I mentioned this already, but this is American black cherry. It seems to me to be harder than the Japanese mountain cherry I was able to use for the heron project. However, it is kind of fibrous. It will be interesting to see whether the fine lines I am trying to execute in this design will turn out ok. So far, at least, it seems better than shina in that I don’t have to be so paranoid about knocking off the top of a line.