Fitting it all on one piece of wood, part 1

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Two posts in one day! Making up for lost time, I suppose.

Here, I’ve got all my color block areas lined up. First, I am working on the sky, which takes up most of the left picture. If you look carefully, you will see the little area in the lower left is labeled “different block” – indeed, I need to preserve it, for use on another block. So before I pasted down the sky block sheet, I taped some plain paper on the sheet itself to mask the parts of the transfer I don’t want to mess up (middle picture). After pasting down, I used the knife to separate the part I want to preserve – and there we go, I have my little “different block” piece, unscathed, to paste down someplace else.

In the views above, the part lined by blue tape are the key lines. I have taped down a protective sheet that will stay there while I carve the color blocks.

Moving on to the other side of the wood! There are two flaws in the wood that I wanted to make sure to avoid. When planning out where the color block pieces would go, I used tracing paper to make sure they would fit on my wood. I used this piece again to verify that the placement I had planned would still be missing the flaws.

For the next transfer, I didn’t have anything I needed to preserve on the transfer sheet, but I wanted to avoid getting glue all over the block since other pieces will get pasted there.

I just taped some paper to the block so I would only get glue where it was needed. I was able to peel up the unneeded part of the transfer, with clean wood underneath.

That’s it for today! One note to end this post: we are moving into the warmer parts of the year, gradually, as evidenced by the Cat Thermometer 😉

Is cat ded?
Nope! cat is not ded.

Another block

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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!

Still in the forest!

Forest Rays

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.

Temporary diversion

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Here’s the latest block set, hot off the carving bench!

It’s a bit of a departure. No key block, and carved on shina! I’m working on a quick print on A4 paper, for the Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition. The print needs to be in Japan by July 31, and given how unpredictable mail can be these days, I think I need to allow a month for shipping. There’s NO WAY I can have the complicated Forest Rays print done, and besides, it won’t fit on A4. Hence, a temporary diversion.

Shina is quick to carve, and I had a ton of it laying around so I didn’t have to make new blocks. But shina has definite downsides. I’ve had the top ply come off of thin lines before. This piece was part of a fairly large area, so I am surprised it peeled off. I’m just glad I noticed, and saved the piece! I’ll be able to glue it down when the wood is dry.

Where do the colors go?

Forest Rays

One of the things that makes me scratch my head for a long time is, how do I do the color separations for a complex print? I’ve taken various approaches, including just starting to carve color blocks and keep adding them until I’m happy at one extreme, and planning them all out from the start and just going with it at the other extreme. The print I am working on now is the most complex so far, and I am being careful. I’m striving to make the best use of the wood, since if I don’t avoid it, I could end up using dozens of blocks. I also expect there will be many revisions to my plans along the way. Here’s how I have approached it so far.

First of all, I made a mockup in a drawing program that attempts to approximate the print. I used the same scan that I used for the keyblock transfer and floated it transparently on top, then made layered vector objects underneath that so I could easily change the fill or transparency, add gradations, change the boundaries etc.

With this, I could make some hypotheses about what colors I would need and how they would combine. I can’t really explain how I did that though! Just experience mixing colors I guess. (To those who are trying this at home: Don’t be paralyzed! Guess-and-test will get you there. Emphasis on the test! 🙂 )

I made a list of the colors I thought would go on each area of the print, combining to make the colors I wanted to be there. Then I did the color testing I mentioned in the last post, overlaying regions of color with a brush to test out those hypotheses.

I made a table listing all the regions of the print as rows, with the pigment to be applied as columns. These are still just guess! Then I made a ton of printouts, and colored these with colored pencil to indicate the regions I thought would be color blocks. These sorts of steps help make sure that all of the regions of the print are considered, and that I don’t end up with a big white spot because I forgot to put color there.

I used these “coloring book pages” to figure out which color regions could be combined on the same piece of wood. Those two on the left can be clearly combined if I flip one of them 180 degrees, and if the wood is long enough and wide enough that the registration cuts don’t interfere.

From when I initially made that table, I changed plans about the outlines of the trees in the distance. Not only the farthest trees, but the two at mid-distance, need to have lighter outlines than the main key lines of the image. On the right-hand image above, the pencil sketch on the right shows that I can put both the light gray of the roadway and rocks, and the key lines of the mid-distance and distance trees on the same block, if I use different sets of registration marks. On the “coloring book page”, the lines that are over-lined in green will go on the block where the light green blobs are on the right half of the shot; the gray of the road and rocks will go at the bottom. The white circles on the very right show the placement of the registration cuts – two corner cuts near the bottom, and straight cuts on the upper right.

I also decided I needed more subtle control over the fill and shading of the trees in the distance. That’s why I isolated each individual background tree twice on this last block. By placing the top two registration marks circled in orange, I can print the small tree where the upper yellow circle is; with the lower two orange-circled registration marks, the larger tree will print where the large yellow circle is. Flip that block around, and I can do the same thing again to print some shading for these trees where the green highlights are. The trick is to position the registration cuts so they won’t interfere with regions that will print.

In all, I think I can get away with 8 more blocks for the basic structure of this print; then I’ll need about three more for the special shadows that reveal the sunbeams.

Next up: How many transfer sheets do I need?

Balcones Canyonlands – first run finished!

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I apologize for not posting much in the way of in-progress notes about this print. There are some things I’d like to talk about, and I might get to them eventually. But in the mean time, I’m done! Here are some shots of the prints drying.

This print run included 30 prints – 4 on Shin Torinoko as practice prints, 20 on Kitaro’s (https://www.washi-kitaro.com/) Kizuki, and 6 on the Shin Hosho I ordered from Matsumura-san. There’s some variation in thickness in each of these washi batches. One of the sheets from Kitaro was noticeably thicker than the others; this didn’t seem to affect the printing very much, though. The Shin Hosho sheet I used was thinner than any of the sheets I used for the Naoshima Coast print, and I really liked printing on it! It was easy to get a smooth, intense impression. You might remember I struggled with smooth impressions on the Naoshima print. I think if all the sheets had been like this one, printing would have been a piece of cake!

Here’s an example of the finished print, held so the embossing can be seen. This is one of the Shin Hosho sheets, but the Kizuki prints also turned out quite nicely; the paper color is a little creamier on those.

I’m pretty happy with how these turned out.

More Balcones testing

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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!