You guessed it – another block.

Forest Rays

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.

Proofing paper, perhaps

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Or perhaps more than that, incoming from Japan!

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.

OK back to the studio!

“Desert Cloud” is ready!

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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.

Fitting it all on one block – again!

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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!

Back to the forest

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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.

Finally carving again!

Forest Rays

It took me awhile – about a month! – to work out the design for my next print. Here’s a little cartoon preview; the final print probably won’t look anything like this, but I hope to capture the same (or better and more mystical!) mood. I’m satisfied enough, though, to move forward with drawing and cutting key lines.

The path was long – I started with a pencil sketch, then imported into a drawing program and did a few vector versions so I could test out color/shading variations, then traced a couple of times before being happy with the lines. Above is the finished line work, and how it appears after transferring to the block, plus the first day’s carving.

There are lots of lines here! Some of them are not going to be part of the key block, but will be saved as other transfer sheets that I will use later when I carve color blocks for regions that won’t have outlines, such as the areas of light and shadow on the path.

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.

Goodies from Japan!

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Shipping is (was?) kind of slow because of the reduction in flights, but a few days ago I got a package of goodies from Mokuhankan! Three small prints, and a “cat bus” print party print, possibly printed by Dave (I saw him print some on his Twitch stream!)

(I feel lucky that my shipment was able to get here. It took a long time – like 3 weeks or so. Now Japan Post is not accepting any shipments to the USA, because there are no flights to put them on. This is a real hardship for businesses in Japan whose customers are mostly in other places.)

So what’s in the small packages? Here are the three prints with no wrapping or plastic in the way.

The detail and printing skill of these little prints is really impressive. Here are some closeups:

And check out the beautiful embossing on the heron! The official name for this technique is karazuri, or “empty printing.” I’m in awe of the fine lines and delicate detail of these prints.