Test prints for “By Starlight”

I’m getting ready to print another round of “By Starlight,” this time on the excellent washi I received from my friends at Mokuhankan, for sale in their shop. When I printed the first batch, I didn’t take notes. So I did a small run on Shin Torinoko (machine made washi) to test out colors.

First I cleaned up the blocks. They were carved mostly with v-gouges and u-gouges, so were quite rough.

After the first few impressions, things are looking really saturated and bright:

I did my best to tame the saturated color with Payne’s Gray. Here is a comparison with one of the original prints, which is on the bottom.

There’s too much yellow in the center, I believe, and the water near the horizon is too green. The upper part of the sky and the lower part of the water look pretty good though! I will do another test before the official printing. But I am happy with how smooth I was able to get the printing in the test prints.

Reprinting “Frustration”

That’s actually the title of the heron print, not any mood I’m in from doing another round of prints! Poor heron, he would love a nice steak, but only has fish at hand. Too bad he wasn’t at the 4th of July gathering I attended recently!

So yes, I am now printing “Frustration” on A4 washi for the Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition (http://miniprint.awagami.jp/index.html). I’ve thrown a variety of papers into this run, in addition to the Echizen Kozo I hope to submit on, some of them from the sample pack that the Awagami Factory sent to the first applicants to the show. Hakuho Select: This paper is super thick, and even with strong pressure still I can’t overcome the texture on the smooth side to get an even impression. Maybe if I was printing with a steamroller… Bamboo Select: Wow, every impression has resulted in a smooth color distribution. The fiber content is really non-traditional, though. Kozo Natural Select and Kozo Extra Thick Natural: It’s not clear whether these papers are sized. The info sheet in the sample pack lists sizing as 0, but they don’t really behave as unsized papers. They are really thin, and printing on the Kozo Natural Select is like printing on tissue paper! But it may actually yield a real print.

The other papers I’m using are my go-to Shin Torinoko machine made paper from McClain’s, and the aforementioned Echizen Kozo. The Echizen Kozo is a fluffy, luminous paper with a large capacity for pigment. Check out the nice embossing of the current state of the new heron print:

As you might recall, I carved the blocks for this print without registration marks, and used an outside kento. This time, because there is such a huge margin between the printed surface and paper edge, I’ve had to get creative with the registration jig:

One final update … I splurged and got a real baren!

I ordered it from Woodlike Matsumura (https://wx30.wadax.ne.jp/~woodlike-co-jp/zen4/) and it showed up in 4 days, despite the month lead time. It came from http://www.scn-net.ne.jp/~kikuhide according to included literature. So far, it has served me well. It seems more predictable and reliable than the last couple of cheaper baren I have used.

Fireflies and cherry

Yesterday I started printing the next run of the fireflies. I’m doing 20 total, 6 on shin torinoko more or less as practice prints, and 14 on the nice paper made by Iwano san for Mokuhankan. I really wish there was more of the latter; I feel like I’ve barely warmed up and I’m done, time to move on to the next impression.

Still, it takes me about 2 hours to do 20 at this stage, and my arm is sore today. The first block is solid yellow, and it is a pretty big expanse to cover with solid, even pressure. I think they are looking pretty smooth, if I do say so myself:

No time this evening after scheduled activities for more printing. Instead, I have cherry woodblock news.

My first relief printing used materials other than cherry. Linoleum, some random plywood, even lacquered particle board. The early water-based pigment prints used shina plywood. It carves easily, but is kind of spongy and is hard to carve fine detail into. Or, you can carve it, but it might well slough off and make you sad. Also, I hear from people who make more than a few tens of prints, shina wears out.

Japanese mountain cherry is one of the few preferred woods for carving wood blocks in the Japanese printmaking tradition. I got a chance to use it for the heron print. It’s hard, but not difficult to carve. It’s easy to do what you intend, carving cherry. Bad things seem to happen less often. Plus, it is very durable, and tens of thousands of impressions can be made with a block carved into cherry. So, I have been looking for ways to get more of this good wood, or wood like it, to carve blocks with.

This weekend, when I dropped off some kitchen knives to @irontoadamant (https://www.irontoadamant.com) for sharpening, I also got a double sided cherry faced woodblock. He doesn’t have a lot of these available yet, but is working on making them more widely available. It’s a very pretty piece of wood –

Both faces are hand-planed (with tricksy Japanese planes!) and quite smooth and flat. My fingers can’t feel any changes over the small places where there is some discoloration. The top layer is good thick cherry, more or less rift-sawn but shallowly, and if I were to guess the center is nice flat baltic birch. It’s pretty big – 7.25 x 8.5 “.

Attempting to be able to take matters into my own hands last week, I had ordered some cherry thin lumber from Ocooch Hardwoods. It arrived today. I gave them some special instructions: The harder, the better, and flat-sawn is best (I heard from Dave Bull at Mokuhankan that flat-sawn wood is better for woodblocks). Here’s todays’ shipment guarded by the shop supervisor.

Each is 6″ x 24″ and 1/4″ thick, pretty much on the nose. Looks fairly flat-sawn to me. No warping or cupping. Any hardness assessment will have to wait until I formulate a plan, laminate some blocks to the planned dimensions, and commence carving! Who knows when such a plan will form.

Carving project

I’ve been saying I wanted a carving project. I’m really happiest with a knife in my hand!

Thanks to some pressure from Dave Bull on the twitch stream the other day, I am advancing the importance of re-printing the firefly scene. Consequently, now that I have some nice aisuki (bullnose chisels) I’m going back to the blocks to clean them up, improve some lines, and flatten out the valleys.

Playing with colors is fun though! I’m almost finished with the block-cleanup; I will have to see what my schedule looks like (I have until 7/31 to do a small run of the heron print on A4 for the Miniprint show), but the next print could well be this one.

Heron Project 4

I’m done with the first series of prints! I started out with 14 on Shin Torinoko (sized, Manila linen and acid free pine pulp, machine made) and 9 on Echizen Kozo (sized, kozo with “a small % of acid free pulp”, handmade) and of course I had some attrition. Only one bone-headed move printing a sheet 180 degrees from the correct angle; some places where the paper contacted a part of the block that was too high; and a few “too crude” impressions with some movement or just too much pigment and goo. I think I have ended up with 10 + 6 prints I can be happy with (perhaps after cleaning up a few spots around the edge that I wish were not there). Aside from the bone-headedness, I can solve most of the errors by deepening my carving.

The Shin Torinoko held up much better under the pressure and friction of the baren than the Echizen Kozo did. I mostly didn’t use protecting sheets (baking parchment) until the end, because I have found that it’s easier to feel what is going on without them. Consequently there were places on the handmade paper that had a lot of wear.

Back-side condition of one of the Echizen Kozo prints
Echizen Kozo on the left, Shin Torinoko on the right.

The Shin Torinoko held up comparatively well. It is just as thick and cushy to print on, but I guess some are suspicious of its pulp content and fear it won’t last as long. Here is a square-on shot of both back-sides, handmade paper on the left:

So you probably want to see what the final prints look like. First, here are a few of the Shin Torinoko prints, followed by a set of their brothers on handmade, Echizen Kozo paper. I was aiming for uniformity, and I think the bottom row was more successful than the top.

…. and a few details:

The left is on the handmade paper, and the right is on the machine-made. Both reveal a problem in my printing: I printed the key block last, and I used some pretty serious pressure in the earliest impressions — like the first one, in yellow. See how the yellow intrudes on the bottom line of the steak, and interrupts the upper right corner? This is not because there is a flaw in the key block — it’s because the paper is soft and squishy, and the yellow compressed it so much that the key block can’t get a complete impression! There are signs of this on the left, too, in the unevenness of the outline of the leg, and in the intrusion of the deep blue green into the mostly vertical outline of the rightmost stone. I almost want to blame the paper — I feel like strong pressure is needed to get a smooth, complete impression, so maybe a paper that is less yielding would give a better result.

Here are the impressions, in order. There are 6 blocks total:

  1. Yellow Ochre (block 1)
  2. Permanent red deep (block 2)
  3. Emerald green (block 2)
  4. Dark gray 1 (dilute sumi) (block 3)
  5. Light gray (neutral tint) (block 4)
  6. Cobalt turquoise (block 5)
  7. Brown + sumi + a little permanent red on the waterline and the rocks immediately above and their reflection (block 5)
  8. Another round of dark gray (dilute sumi) on the handmade paper and some of the others, because they were too pale (block 3)
  9. Olive green (bokashi on the water, complete impression on vegetation) (block 2)
  10. Key block (block 6)
  11. Mystery pale brown bokashi on top and bottom (block 4)

I want to enter this print in the upcoming Awagami Mini Print 2019 Exhibition, so now I need to do it all again on A4 paper.

Heron project 2

A few test prints!

This heron is pretty tired of having fish every day.

I’m actually printing the first few colors now, but will need to do some more testing of the final layers. The steak looks best in the one on the left, after I got rid of the line defining the front edge of the upper surface. The yellow is too saturated on the rightmost image and too light on the third; the water looks best on the second; and I like the like brown bokashi in the third image on the topmost and foreground rocks. The blue is required for the water but not working for the rock shadows in the foreground, at the water line and under the bridge. That’s the main experiment that needs to be done!