Cedar Path test prints

When I first conceived of this print, I imagined doing it all in monochrome, probably in Prussian blue. So I started doing test prints on card stock, and I tried having it damp like normal washi for printing, hoping that that would keep it from wrinkling so I could do multiple impressions. Right away I realized that the Prussian blue I was trying to use was NOT the right hue, so I printed over that pretty quickly with some Payne’s gray on the sky and some olive and Payne’s on the foliage. That’s the test on the left. Some of the Prussian blue is sort of preserved on the little hill on the far left – it was much more turquoise than I expected.

Another thing I noticed is just how much the card stock changes size with variation in moisture content! The leftmost try is registered pretty well because I did it all in one go and the paper did not dry much. But the others are horribly registered, especially on the right of the image, because these tiny pieces of paper shrank almost an eighth of an inch in width! Finally, something weird was going on with those vertical lines in the sky. Was it the paper or the block? I’m afraid it might be the block because it’s got some rough areas due to crazy grain in that area. I actually took a very fine, 1500 grit, piece of sandpaper to it, to try to reduce the roughness. I was really careful to avoid rounding the edges or hollowing out a hole. That seems to have helped a little – the top-most try was printed last of these three, and the lines seem less prominent. So I sanded a little more.

The next few test prints were done using Shin Torinoko, an economical Japanese paper that is sized, machine made, and with a fiber content of linen and pine pulp. It’s pretty different from what I will ultimately print on, but it is dimensionally stable and can take multiple impressions. I would really like to find a better paper for test-printing, but haven’t found one yet that is inexpensive enough, adequately sized, and tough.

Anyway, here I am really moving away from the monochrome idea! I like the brown key lines, as opposed to blue. I tested whether it would be better to have shadows in the valleys between the hills on the left of the image, or mist; I prefer the mist. I like the greenish hills of the upper right image better than the gold-ish ones on the left image. I’m trying to use a bokashi to add shadows to the foliage, and that sort of works for the trees, but given where I want the shadows in the background foliage, it’s hard to control.

So, kicking and screaming a little (but not really, because it means I get to carve some more), I started thinking about another block to add shadows in a more controlled way. I made a few more transfer sheets and printed the key block. Because I didn’t make any key lines to delineate the path, but I really needed to know where its edge lay, I also printed that part on one of my transfers – that’s the green you see through the tracing paper below. I made a bunch of shadow sketches on tracing paper, before deciding how to approach it.

I can just barely see the outlines of the trace-paper shadow areas through the transfer sheet with the light table turned all the way up!

I think these areas will all go into the same impression (using a single set of registration marks).

So, getting closer to actually printing! The test prints are still damp, still in the freezer, and ready for testing the shadows when this next block is ready.

New test prints

I’ve done a few test prints of my current diversion, mainly to test out color combinations.

These colors are a bit pale, but they are on machine-made paper which is a little harder to coax color onto than the mulberry paper I’ll be using.

Next task is to fix a few registration near-misses.

Fireflies have flown

The fireflies are done and are now winging their way to Tokyo. It was hard to part ways with them, but I hope they will find good homes. I ended up with 12 good prints on the good paper; here they are:

I have more prints on the machine-made paper, but I am not sure what I am going to do with them. I told @the_ungawa that I would post a comparison:

The nice, handmade paper from Iwano san is on the left, and the Shin Torinoko is on the right. The tone of the right-side paper itself is cooler, and this shows in the print. As impressions stacked up, it seemed like the machine-made paper was a little more reluctant to accept the pigment. (I did use a lot of paste, especially in early impressions, trying to achieve a smooth texture. Maybe I could have gotten away with less paste early on to keep the paper from “filling up.”) It’s actually pretty hard to tell with my less-than-stellar photography but the version on the left is warmer and more luminous.

The back side of the print is kind of interesting. Lots of lines are visible in the handmade paper below, but the impressions are much less visible on the Shin Torinoko.

It took me 2 weeks for this run. I wasn’t able to print every day because of work, travel and evening duties. 10 blocks, 12 impressions total:

  1. Cadmium yellow pale (Cotman) 2019-05-27
  2. Quinacridone gold (Turner) 2019-05-29
  3. Olive green (Windsor Newton) & phthalo yellow green (Grumbacher Academy), 3:1 – 2019-05-30
  4. Hooker’s green 2019-05-31
  5. Phthalo green and Payne’s gray, 1:2 – 2019-06-01
  6. Phthalo turquoise and Payne’s gray, 1:4 – 2019-06-02
  7. Phthalo turquoise and indanthrene blue, 1:1? – 2019-06-02
  8. Indanthrene blue 2019-06-03
  9. Indanthrene blue 2019-06-05 to darken impression #8
  10. Phthalo blue red shade 2019-06-06
  11. Phthalo blue red shade + Magenta + sumi 2019-06-09 to adjust color and darken impression 10
  12. Sumi (dilute) 2019-06-10 for the key block.

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.

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.