Quick update

It’s been awhile! I was derailed a bit by the deep freeze we suffered in mid-February. Here’s what it looked like before it got messed up. Really beautiful, but really cold without any heat!

I kept carving through it all, but got out of the habit of updating here. I’ll try to fill in the details!

In the last post, I was showing how I used a second kento (registration slot) to separate the line block for the little trees and background foliage from the light gray block for colors that will show on the road and rocks. Here’s what it looks like pasted down and part of it carved.

I need these little lines for some of the other color blocks! But I didn’t use them right away, and plowed ahead with other color block carving. Below, the rightmost block is for dark grey. The one on the left has two corner kentos (see the lower left), and will be used for two colors – a shadow greenish color for the ground, and a lighter greenish color for some foliage.

There’s more to catch up on, but I will leave that for another post.

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?

Finally carving again!

It took me awhile – about a month! – to work out the design for my next print. Here’s a little cartoon preview; the final print probably won’t look anything like this, but I hope to capture the same (or better and more mystical!) mood. I’m satisfied enough, though, to move forward with drawing and cutting key lines.

The path was long – I started with a pencil sketch, then imported into a drawing program and did a few vector versions so I could test out color/shading variations, then traced a couple of times before being happy with the lines. Above is the finished line work, and how it appears after transferring to the block, plus the first day’s carving.

There are lots of lines here! Some of them are not going to be part of the key block, but will be saved as other transfer sheets that I will use later when I carve color blocks for regions that won’t have outlines, such as the areas of light and shadow on the path.

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!

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!

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 😉

Short Tuesday note

I had planned to print last night, applying maybe the last impression – the dark lines with sumi – on the fireflies, but when I looked at the block, I saw that some lines were missing. Blasted shina plywood again! You can see pretty clearly below that I filled in some places where the top ply went missing. Before printing, I’ll need to let the glue cure and then trim the patches to match the lines they are patching.

I’ve learned before that I need to let the glue cure really well before trying to use a block I’ve repaired this way. The next time I’ll have a chunk of time for printing is Thursday. There are 25 sheets in my stack – 19 of them on the Echizen Kozo – and it has been taking me about 3 hours to get through the stack, clean up my tools, and get the paper packed for the freezer, and I have that kind of time only 4 days a week.

I hope everyone is staying safe out there, and thanks for reading!