What did I do in 2022? I finally finished Forest Rays! At least I think I am done. The prints are still in the drying boards and will need a careful look-over before I add them to the store, but here’s a preview. I think I captured the feeling I was looking for – humid forest, light streaming through the branches, leaves caught in sunlight glowing brightly.
7 pieces of wood (6 self-made cherry ply and 1 shina ply from McClain’s), 19 printable areas including the key block, 25 impressions. (I had prepared separate key lines for the trees and foliage in the distance, but decided not to use them – that would have made 26 impressions!)
The paper is Shin Hosho from Woodlike Matsumura. When I started printing, I thought “Excellent, this paper is really tough, and I’ll need it for this print!” but by the end it was quite soft and barely hanging on. I had thrown in a few sheets of Student Kozo as warm-up sheets, but I gave up on them about 18 impressions in because they were fouling the blocks with fibers that kept coming off.
I’m looking forward to the next print! It will be a simple one, and I’ll aim to finish within a month – fingers crossed. Back to the carving bench!
I’ve been busy, making progress on Forest Rays. Here is an animation showing the first 15 impressions.
It’s remarkably hard to do a good job at an animation like this. I tried to set the light up the same for each shot, but I was printing at different times of the day so there were some hard-to-avoid differences that are not solved by a simple white-balance. Also, to make them all the same size I had to stretch and shrink parts of each image to fit the same frame; some frames are stretched in places that others aren’t.
There are another 8 or so impressions to go, at minimum – better get back into the studio!
I’ve had a really productive day doing print-related things! I moistened the paper that I will use for Forest Rays.
I decided to remove part of one of the columns of shadow, since it didn’t really look right overlapping the foliage at the top. I also decided to carve the other side of the shina ply I used for the newest block, to add deepness to that upper foliage while preserving some highlights. So, I made two new transfer sheets.
In the middle above is the current state of my test print inside a plastic bag, with the key lines added. The part of the shadow column I want to remove is about 1/3 of the way from the right edge – the part that crosses the lighter green at the top. Before pasting down the transfer to the shadow block (above right), I lightly cut the gampi with a knife so it would pull away from the backing sheet, then put glue only on that area, and pasted it down. You can see the place it formerly occupied in the transfer sheet remnants on the lower right. On far left is the second transfer sheet marked up for shading the foliage, and (why not, while I am at it!) shadows for the rocks.
Instead of starting in on the new carving, I printed the first impression of Forest Rays. I can carve later, when I have a few minutes, but printing takes a chunk of time, and today I had the time.
I’m printing on some Shin Hosho I got from Woodlike Matsumura a few years back. It’s pretty tough paper! I’m able to rub it without a sheet of baking parchment to protect it. One drawback is the kind of “chiri” in the paper. All handmade kozo paper has bits of junk – bark, dirt, etc. – included in it. This one has tiny rocks! I picked out 4 little rocks (OK, they are sand grains, but large ones) in these 23 pieces of washi before starting the print run. This is important so as not to damage the blocks or the baren. Other than that, I like this paper a lot. It is tough and dimensionally stable. It needs a lot of pressure for a smooth impression, but using that, it is possible to print quite smoothly.
So, I’ve officially started printing Forest Rays! No telling how long it will take; the test print has 27 or so impressions so far and that is not all of them. Also, JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is next week and I really need to study!
I’m nearing the end of this test printing and I think I’ve solved a problem that was bothering me – what to do with the trees that are in the middle distance. I’ll show you in a bit. But first, yes – I carved another block.
I just needed a little more color on those middle trees – this will be a bright color over their whole leaf surface, so that I can have some highlights more in line with the color the shadows will be. I’ll show you most of the stages of the test print so far.
The exposures are all a little different so the colors aren’t showing up exactly the same in each case, and it may be hard to see what changed.
– The first three impressions used two blocks, one for the light gray, and the other to set up a weird gradient, where I have bluish in the middle and yellowish at each end. This used the block I had previously modified to remove the bright green leaves and tree bark, so that I could have some blue for the sky without affecting those areas. – The 4th impression added a pale yellow green to most of the leaves at the top. – You can see what the 5th added! – 6 through 11 added brown on the tree bark, a bokashi with greenish brown to the ground, and separate bark and shadow colors to the tiny trees in the background. – 12 made the upper leaves darker, 13 added darker but still dilute sumi to the road and also trees and rocks. – 14 and 15 added a more intense bright yellow green to most of the leaves, and also some to the ground plane. – Lots happened in the next 8 impressions! A medium green on the tree in the middle distance, darken ALL of the upper leaves, a dark gray bokashi mostly in the foreground, two blocks to add the shadows that bring out the light rays, MORE pigment on the upper leaves, another bokashi on the ground to deepen it, and finally the decision to try a crazy color on the middle tree. – The 24th impression added more dark brown to the upper limbs and rightmost tree in a gradient.
So why the new block? Well, when the pre-modification background block was printed all in yellow, these highlights on the mid-range trees looked ok. But if there’s “sky” in those areas, the highlights just look weird. I think they look weird anyway, and need more “leafy” texture. The new block will cover the whole area of that tree, and I can use it to make the highlights more like a yellow or at least olive. And I can modify the block that printed the gold color here to make the highlights more leafy.
So, I’m nearly there! Just the lines are left, and the new block of course. I’m happy with the use of a contrasting color for the middle trees, because they just looked vague and washed out previously. At this point I think I will dampen the REAL paper and start printing this weekend.
I’m in my 4th round of test printing for the Forest Rays project. It’s been a bit of a struggle, mostly because there are so many areas to print – 11 wood faces, 18 printable areas, 18 sets of registration marks, and lots of areas that overlap so they get printed multiple times.
I recently received some “Student Kozo” paper from Kitaro, and with some hope, am using it for this round of testing. Unfortunately it’s weak and floppy when damp, and seems to shrink and swell more than I’d like. And more frustrating for testing this particular print, when an area gets more than one or two impressions, fibers start to separate from the face of the paper; you can see that below.
I’m plowing forward despite the frustrations, and am succeeding at my aim to get more pigment onto the prints! Pretty soon though, I need to just take the plunge and actually print the things. I have a stack of Shin Hosho from Wood Like Matsumura set aside for this one; that paper is pretty tough!
I wonder if I might be able to add more sizing to this paper to toughen it up and be able to have less trouble testing prints that have lots of overlays. At any rate, it’s pretty nice for the price, so I can use it for simple prints without many overlapping colors.
It’s a roll of 10 sheets of the “student” 100% kozo (mulberry) paper from Kitaro. The top blue line says, 越前手漉き和紙、aka “Echizen tesuki washi”, or Echizen handmade Japanese paper. I’m looking forward to trying it out! It’s quite inexpensive for 100% mulberry paper. I’m not sure what makes it student grade – imperfections, maybe? I won’t really know until I plan some prints, take some out, and slice up a sheet for testing. From first inspection, it seems nice and sturdy, so hopefully the sizing is adequate. Who knows, maybe this paper will be worth more than testing material?
(Image credit to my friend Lou Hurlbut for the little print you can see on the wall!)
Planning new prints. Ahem. I’ve been stuck in that stage for awhile since I returned from Japan. I’ve got two ideas going – I will hint at them in cartoon form. These are purposefully low-res images because the designs are not final and a hi-res digital image just looks quite fake.
This one is taking lots of time to develop and I may not ever get there! But I love the idea.
This one is close! Obviously clouds are a recurring theme in these ideas. This was a real cloud that I saw in Junction, Texas. We wanted rain sooo bad! It was raining over there, 80 miles away where the cloud was, but not where we were. As the sun set, the colors just got more and more dramatic.
You can find it here. I’m pleased with this one; it’s really simple, but the embossing and gradations turned out well.
I have a few printing progress shots:
After the 7th impression shown in the last photo, there were four more: a third gradation on the sky, two to build the medium shadows on the cloud, and one for the darkest cloud shadows.
I ended up with quite a stack of prints! However three were mistakes, and 5 had paper flaws that make them seconds. There were more bark fragments in these sheets than in the last sheets from this batch.
Although I originally imagined this print as done in monochrome – perhaps all in blue, in homage to the aizuri-e tradition – and even mocked it up in blue, I abandoned that plan pretty early in the test printing process.
Here’s the final palette I landed on. I used a fair amount of sumi in the last few impressions! Number 14 was the key lines; the 15th was a bokashi to deepen the shadows on the bushes ahead.
I waited until near the end to print the key lines. Here’s what the print looked like just before, with impression 13 (grayish violet) as the most recent:
After adding the key lines and the deeper shadows, and drying –
I’m now wondering if I can pull off a sunset image with the same blocks! Hmm… might need more/different shadows.
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.