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!

Shadows, and patch.

I’ve planned some shadows for the foliage. While I was at it, I also planned some for the branches too! Here are the transfer sheets –

Carving on these new shadow blocks is all finished at this point. On the way, I encountered a little mistake, circled in orange in the upper left image below. The missing bit of wood is long gone, sadly – if I still had it, I might try to glue it on with waterproof glue, even though it is a really tiny piece. I decided to try this time to make a non-janky, properly installed repair. It is still a tiny tiny piece of wood! I cut a sliver of cherry about as wide as the missing part, then chopped it to be about 1/4″ long. I used my knife to hollow out a similarly-shaped hole in the block to hold it.

Just above on the left, it’s glued in, then on the right it’s been trimmed. It is not perfect, but I think it will work well to avoid a gap in the tree-shadows.

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!

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.

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!

Color block modification

In the last post, I talked about removing the leaves that should be sunlit from the base color block, so that I could use it for a blue sky without having the sunlit leaves go dull. I decided also to remove the trunks and limbs of the trees from that block, so I could have more control over their final color. Here’s the plan:

Wow, gluing this transfer down onto an already carved block was a bit of a mess. Glue collected in the depressions and refused to spread where I wanted it. I ended up with a really rough paste job and no good peel at all, as you see on the left. But the registration seems to be good at least – it is lining up with the previously carved areas!

The one on the right is after the new areas have been carved and cleared. I had to be very thorough in washing it, and in scraping out the excess transfer glue with a toothpick.

Next, I’ll need to verify the registration of the new carving, but after that NO EXCUSES, time to start printing on real paper.