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.

All clear!

I’m sort of sad, because carving is my most favorite part! I’m all done with clearing the waste wood, and ready to start test printing – after I get rid of the remnants of the transfer sheets.

I’m trying to carve deeply where there are broad open areas, without carving too deeply in narrow areas, because that can trap paste and lead to blobs when printing. Apologies for the focus being a bit selective in the shots below, but this may give you an idea of how deeply I’ve carved.

I’m still not sure of the color scheme … I guess that will get figured out in the test prints! My original thought was monochrome-bluish, so I will begin that way and branch off as seems appropriate.

I’ll close with a Springtime picture. I must confess, this was last weekend, and the plum tree is pretty much done with its blooms by now and moving on into leafing out. There is still some Spring left though, and the bees are out in force!

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.

Back to the forest

Now that Floating (to the left!) is done, it’s time to get back to what I was working on before. My idea was for a path through trees, dappled with light, with sunbeams filtering through the leaves. I wasn’t sure how to accomplish the sunbeams, so in a sense, the work on Floating let me test out an idea. I think it turned out as I expected, so It’s given me the courage to move ahead!

I haven’t posted this snapshot yet because it’s really sloppy, but this is about as far as I got with test printing. Mainly the aim was to test out some colors to see what works. I will probably make some more test prints; I think the bluish green is too blue, and I have since removed the hard line between the ground and the background foliage from the key block, hoping to make that a mistier transition.

It seems like a pretty complicated project so far. Here’s the stack of blocks; one is empty on the back so that’s 9 faces, and I think the test prints have about 15 impressions looking back on my notes.

I’ll give a sense of sunbeams by overlaying shadows that intersect and darken.

Originally, I thought the shadow blocks would be really straighforward, without much detail, and had planned to carve them on shina plywood. However, after making the transfer sheets and seeing the size and shape of some of the areas that need to be preserved, it’s pretty obvious they need to go on cherry. So, today I will make one more block! Because that one little bit of shadow on the upper left goes all the way to the top, neither one will fit on the blank face I’ve got — it’s a tiny bit too short.

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.

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!

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.