Experiments!

I’m doing a residency at Karuizawa Mokuhanga School and trying some different carving and printing methods. First of all, it’s a wonderful opportunity to focus as much as I want on printmaking – which is turning out to be most of my waking hours! There are others here working, so it’s a great environment to concentrate. If I was at home with this much free time I would no doubt be organizing my sock collection or some other such passtime of questionable value 😉

Often I’ll use the computer to print out a cleaned-up, precise set of transfer sheets for the key block and/or color blocks, and paste them down as a carving guide. This time I traced the key lines directly onto the block.

This block is magnolia wood, something I’ve never carved on before. It’s softer than cherry, but is able to hold a pretty good line. I expect it would not last as long as a cherry block, but since I don’t publish thousands of any design, that’s not such a huge consideration. (I do wonder what will happen to it when I get it home to 50% humidity conditions in Texas!)

When starting with a key block, I usually print the key lines on laminated transfer sheets, as in the first photo below showing transfer sheets (hanshita) for Cedar Path. Gampi is affixed to a more sturdy backing sheet with repositionable spray adhesive, printed with the key block, then pasted down to transfer the lines for carving. This time I printed the transfer sheets directly onto washi – Awagami kozo extra light – and will paste those down directly. With fingers crossed!

Another change from my normal practice:

You’ll see the kento (registration marks) printed directly on the transfer sheets! This is because the transfer sheet is too light to place into registration marks on the color blocks.

Stay tuned for more experimental results!

Fitting it all on one block – again!

My next project is now just about ready for test printing. I have a backlog of pictures to show various bits of the preparation.

I wanted to use a whole sheet of the Kitaro Kizuki without wasting any of it. This drove the paper size, which turned out to be 6-1/4″ x 8-3/4″ (about 160 x 220mm).

This will be a print without key lines. At first I thought I could use shina, but when I worked up the design (which will take 7 color regions), I realized that to get the shapes I wanted, shina would be risky – the top plies might come off of the smaller regions. So cherry it is; time to make a new block!

I cleaned up some aluminum scraps I found to help flatten the glue-up, scrubbing them with soap and water, filing the sharp edges, and checking to make sure there are no nicks or burrs that could damage the surface of the wood.

As usual, I used a card scraper to smooth the surface. I also wet-sanded with 1500 grit and made a final pass with the scraper.

So yes, as you might be wondering, that is a really long block! If I had made 2 double-sided blocks, I would not be able to fit all the color areas; by leaving it in one piece (8″ x 18″), I had more flexibility to position the registration marks and color areas so they would not interfere with each other.

Some carving progress:

Below are some straight shots showing the full blocks, with registration marks circled.

I tried to place the registration marks so that there would not be some weird bump in the middle of the paper that would result in unwanted embossing. The second mark in the top image IS in the middle of the paper for the shape that is approximately in the middle, but I think it is far enough away that I can avoid rubbing it. In the bottom image, two of the shapes are at a little bit of an angle. This places the potentially-interfering registration marks outside the edge of the paper (red lines).

Below are the cleared blocks tilted so they are lit at a low angle. This really emphasizes the texture, but it also shows that I am trying to carve deeply enough from the beginning so that I’m not doing so much cleanup when I get into printing.

That is it for now! Onward to the test-printing!

Fitting it all on one block, part 2

Tada! There it is – two sides of the same hunk of wood.

Actually it did not take that much time to paste down all the transfers.

Those familiar with woodblock printing will notice a whole bunch of registration marks! 4 sets in the left picture, 3 sets on the right. So I’ll be doing MINIMUM 7 impressions (probably more), with ONE PIECE OF WOOD! I think I was able to place all of the pieces so that I have enough distance between color regions and registration marks to avoid unwanted pigment transfers.

In the right-hand image, the key lines are covered up by some copy paper that is taped on, to protect them while I am carving the color regions.

Fitting it all on one piece of wood, part 1

Two posts in one day! Making up for lost time, I suppose.

Here, I’ve got all my color block areas lined up. First, I am working on the sky, which takes up most of the left picture. If you look carefully, you will see the little area in the lower left is labeled “different block” – indeed, I need to preserve it, for use on another block. So before I pasted down the sky block sheet, I taped some plain paper on the sheet itself to mask the parts of the transfer I don’t want to mess up (middle picture). After pasting down, I used the knife to separate the part I want to preserve – and there we go, I have my little “different block” piece, unscathed, to paste down someplace else.

In the views above, the part lined by blue tape are the key lines. I have taped down a protective sheet that will stay there while I carve the color blocks.

Moving on to the other side of the wood! There are two flaws in the wood that I wanted to make sure to avoid. When planning out where the color block pieces would go, I used tracing paper to make sure they would fit on my wood. I used this piece again to verify that the placement I had planned would still be missing the flaws.

For the next transfer, I didn’t have anything I needed to preserve on the transfer sheet, but I wanted to avoid getting glue all over the block since other pieces will get pasted there.

I just taped some paper to the block so I would only get glue where it was needed. I was able to peel up the unneeded part of the transfer, with clean wood underneath.

That’s it for today! One note to end this post: we are moving into the warmer parts of the year, gradually, as evidenced by the Cat Thermometer 😉

Is cat ded?
Nope! cat is not ded.

Another block

Another block? What’s going on?

Nope, not adding a block to the forest rays print! The truth is, I just don’t have the time to start printing that one. I need several continuous days without many other responsibilities; I think I will need to take vacation to do the printing. Carving, however, is something I can spend a couple of hours on here and there. Plus I really love carving! So, motivated by that excitement and a new design idea, I’ve prepared another block. I’ve used a card scraper to smooth the surface – it yields the same kind of surface that can be achieved with a hand plane, but is a lot less expensive and requires less skill to use.

Since the last design was so complicated, for this one, I am aiming for simple simple simple. All the impressions will fit on ONE piece of wood (with two laminated cherry faces). I’m thinking monochrome too!

I got everything ready before starting the carving. I figured out the final size, cut the paper, and planned out where on the wood each impression will go.

A few of the sheets of washi have some flaws. One has a tiny blood stain because I trimmed off the very tip of my thumb cutting them 😦 and others had some bends in the paper. I’ll print them all – the sheets with slight bends might turn out fine after being dampened and printed. The sheets with (possible) flaws got a little line as a corner mark; the others got a dot on the corner that is the squarest, which will go into the corner kento when it’s time to print. 50 sheets in all! My biggest print run yet.

Now to paste down that hanshita and take a knife to the block!

Still in the forest!

Well, I am on round 3 of test printing for the forest rays. I’ll mention a few highlights here.

I got the shadow blocks carved! Here they are, still with the hanshita remnants, and after cleaning them off below.

And I tested those shadows!

There were more test prints; above I show one example of the first two testing rounds. In the first, I used a creamy yellow as the base color for almost all but the road. This worked out well for the ground and the foreground leaves that are caught in sunlight, but the yellow as sky just doesn’t work. In the second, I used a blue base color, but I think that didn’t work out as well for the ground.

Next attempt involved using a couple of gradients on the base color; the left-hand image is early in the test printing process after using a creamy yellow gradient up, and a blue gradient down, plus the light gray on the road and rocks. The righthand image has all the impressions except for the key lines, going at top speed and not trying particularly hard to get an even impression – just trying to quickly get an understanding of how this approach might affect the final colors.

I like the way I was able to recapture some of the intensity and tonal variation in the ground while keeping the blue sky, but the sunlit leaves on the left really suffer. I think I will need to alter the base color block to carve away the sunlit leaves. Alternatively, or maybe in addition, I might isolate the bright green leaves on their own block (they are currently part of the next under-layer) so I can intensify them without affecting the rest.

Fitting two impressions on a block

When I made the plan for how to put the colors on the blocks, it seemed obvious that by rotating one of these 180 degrees, I could fit both of them on the same block:

It turns out it was not that straightforward! When I lined the two transfers up with a light board, to make sure they would both fit on the block without interfering with each other’s registration marks, I ended up with this situation. If I place one of the transfers at the position of the normal corner registration mark (red circle, upper left), the registration corner of the OTHER transfer sheet is hanging out in space (green circle, lower right). So without special provisions, I can’t fit them onto the same piece of cherry.

You can already see the solution (or part of it) in the image above. By gluing the cherry to a larger piece of plywood, and using small pieces of cherry strategically placed, I’m able to move the registration cuts out to locations that will let me place both colors on the same block:

And here are the two transfers, pasted down:

Color block carving underway

The light gray for the rocks and road is now outlined and somewhat cleared. I am trying to make good use of the whole block, so the big space at the top will also get used. That is why I have the two corner registration slots that you see on the right.

The key lines for the trees and foliage in the background will go into this spot.

By placing the transfer sheet in the second, upper corner kento (circled), I can have those lines far enough away from the light gray color block region to avoid interference while printing.

Where do the colors go?

One of the things that makes me scratch my head for a long time is, how do I do the color separations for a complex print? I’ve taken various approaches, including just starting to carve color blocks and keep adding them until I’m happy at one extreme, and planning them all out from the start and just going with it at the other extreme. The print I am working on now is the most complex so far, and I am being careful. I’m striving to make the best use of the wood, since if I don’t avoid it, I could end up using dozens of blocks. I also expect there will be many revisions to my plans along the way. Here’s how I have approached it so far.

First of all, I made a mockup in a drawing program that attempts to approximate the print. I used the same scan that I used for the keyblock transfer and floated it transparently on top, then made layered vector objects underneath that so I could easily change the fill or transparency, add gradations, change the boundaries etc.

With this, I could make some hypotheses about what colors I would need and how they would combine. I can’t really explain how I did that though! Just experience mixing colors I guess. (To those who are trying this at home: Don’t be paralyzed! Guess-and-test will get you there. Emphasis on the test! 🙂 )

I made a list of the colors I thought would go on each area of the print, combining to make the colors I wanted to be there. Then I did the color testing I mentioned in the last post, overlaying regions of color with a brush to test out those hypotheses.

I made a table listing all the regions of the print as rows, with the pigment to be applied as columns. These are still just guess! Then I made a ton of printouts, and colored these with colored pencil to indicate the regions I thought would be color blocks. These sorts of steps help make sure that all of the regions of the print are considered, and that I don’t end up with a big white spot because I forgot to put color there.

I used these “coloring book pages” to figure out which color regions could be combined on the same piece of wood. Those two on the left can be clearly combined if I flip one of them 180 degrees, and if the wood is long enough and wide enough that the registration cuts don’t interfere.

From when I initially made that table, I changed plans about the outlines of the trees in the distance. Not only the farthest trees, but the two at mid-distance, need to have lighter outlines than the main key lines of the image. On the right-hand image above, the pencil sketch on the right shows that I can put both the light gray of the roadway and rocks, and the key lines of the mid-distance and distance trees on the same block, if I use different sets of registration marks. On the “coloring book page”, the lines that are over-lined in green will go on the block where the light green blobs are on the right half of the shot; the gray of the road and rocks will go at the bottom. The white circles on the very right show the placement of the registration cuts – two corner cuts near the bottom, and straight cuts on the upper right.

I also decided I needed more subtle control over the fill and shading of the trees in the distance. That’s why I isolated each individual background tree twice on this last block. By placing the top two registration marks circled in orange, I can print the small tree where the upper yellow circle is; with the lower two orange-circled registration marks, the larger tree will print where the large yellow circle is. Flip that block around, and I can do the same thing again to print some shading for these trees where the green highlights are. The trick is to position the registration cuts so they won’t interfere with regions that will print.

In all, I think I can get away with 8 more blocks for the basic structure of this print; then I’ll need about three more for the special shadows that reveal the sunbeams.

Next up: How many transfer sheets do I need?