Thursday, August 26, 2010

Methods of transfering design to block Part I

My preferred method of committing design to block is to simply draw on the block. I do this either with sumi ink and a brush or with a "magic" permanent marker, depending on the design. Sumi-ink drawings are more fluid and resemble more Chinese or Japanese designs while permanent marker drawings can be more detailed and "Western" looking.

Working out compositional details with pencil first eliminates the fear of committing drawing to ink. Pencil or charcoal on block can be erased easily. Two cautions: heavy application of graphite can leave a greasy film that will not accept marker or ink later, and too much pressure applied with a sharp pencil on soft wood will leave an indentation that may show on light printing.

One drawback with the direct draw method is that the design will be reversed in printing, but with some years of practice it seems I have learned to "flip on my head" and end up drawing exactly a flipped version of what I really wanted.

Another simple method is to draw on tracing paper or any light weight paper. The drawing can thus be more elaborate and "worked" because the drawing and erasing is done off the block and can be tossed and redrawn infinite times before transferring to the woodblock.
Once the drawing is finished, it can be transferred to the block by flipping the paper over the block and using either carbon paper or charcoal rubbing.

In the case of tracing paper, the drawing can simply be pasted down on the block with rice paste and the carving proceeds right through the paper.

One of my favorite types of carbon paper is a red paper sold at that is soft and transfers even the slightest line. I am also the proud owner of a stack of about 400 sheets of old typing carbon paper picked up on eBay for about $2.98. Pressing down too hard when transferring with carbon paper can leave a dent in soft wood blocks.

For transfers which are drawn (or photographs) and printed from a computer, the method I have been using most is printing on a plastic substrate such as transparency film. This is the stuff that was used in overhead projector presentations before the advent of MS PowerPoint.

I use laser transparency film and print on an ink-jet printer. The ink-jet ink remains wet and much care is needed not to drop it on the way from the printer to the studio, since it will invariably fall on its "face" (like the proverbial buttered toast) and will make a mess out of both the transparency and the floor. Not that that's ever happened to me.
In any case, the procedure is simply to work out the drawing or photo on the computer, print on the transparency, place the transparency face down on the block carefully and apply hand pressure to transfer the ink. Excellent detail can be achieved with this method.

Moving right along, this year I'm in an experimenting mood and I acquired some "Studio Paper" a wax coated paper, also from McClain's and a few sheets of iron-on transfer for ink-jets from my nearest office supply store. The last method, and the one I use most often now, is the traditional hanshita from Japan; I purchase prepared paper from the Baren Mall but it is easy enough to make my own.

The illustrated story of those last three methods in the next post, the dreaded sequel: Methods of transfering design to block Part Deux.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One more trick on the eternal quest for perfect registration!

For my last print (previous blog post) I wanted to print through the press and maybe do a reduction or two on some of the blocks. With so many decisions to make along the way, the most flexible approach to registration is to resort to the traditional Japanese kento-cut-on-block method.

My usual M.O. is to cut the key block, kento and all, and print several copies on prepared hanshita paper to simply paste on the color blocks. I have a left handed toh to avoid flipping the block while cutting the kento; I have pretty good transfer and glue skills and getting better all the time at actually cutting the darned things straight and square.

And yet I always have to strive for another tweak that will make my art life less stressful and more efficient. The solution is so simple I don't know why I didn't think of it before.

Roughly, the tools needed, left to right:
-Close-up glasses if you are over 50 (yeah, even barely over 50)
-The block, of course, with freshly pasted hanshita or drawn kento
-A smallish steel square
-Cutting tool of choice, shown a toh and a standard utility knife
-Clamps behind the block, the quick release type
-Cat licking itself (optional to make things interesting)

1. Here we go, step numero uno is to carefully place the square EXACTLY on the kento marks.

You can place the square inside the line or outside the line or right on the line as long as you do it the same way on every block.

The easiest thing is to place it exactly ON the line, then you don't have to remember anything.

2. Once the square is on the line, clamp it down to the block with the quick release clamps firmly on two or (better) three spots.

For this step, the block has to be placed slightly off the edge of the table or work bench.

There is an illustration of clamping down the square. Notice I made some "tick marks" on the hanshita to help me find the beginning and end of the kento.

3. After clamping, just cut along the square keeping the blade perfectly vertical to the square.

I like to make a very "soft" cut at first and dig in gently with subsequent passes. Digging too hard on the first few cuts can result in the knife slipping away from the square.

And yes, I can cut with my left hand, not just faking it for the picture. Teaching the left hand to cut if you are right handed does wonders to avoid fatigue of the joints.

As I mentioned before, I have both a left and right handed toh for cutting kentos. But a simple and much cheaper solution for the initial cuts is to use a standard utility knife. The blade is certainly strong enough for Shina ply and other soft woods and will also work on cherry with some repeated cuts.

I must say there is a world of difference between using the toh and the utility blade! Even my cheapest toh digs into the wood much easier than the soft utility blade. But the utility knife does an amazing good job in a pinch.

Check it out, perfectly squared and straight kentos! Every block, every time, perfect registration to the mil!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My studio smells like HONEY!?

I began experimenting with Akua-Kolor inks with my last two moku-hanga prints of the Valley of Fire. They work exceptionally well for this traditional Japanese method, but I also wanted to try them in the Western roll'em'up'n'press'em method (that is a long technical term requiring more explanation than this blog can possibly get into).

The best part of Akua-Kolor is that my studio smells like honey when I hang up the prints to dry. It is the sweetest smell! Maybe I just like working consistently again.

Anyhow, nothing like a print exchange or seven to get the presses rolling, or the baren sweating, or whatever. So for my Baren Exchange #45 I decided to jump right into the thickener of things and roll out the Akua.
The colors are amazingly impressive, the purity of the transparency is just incredible; I can't think of another word for it. Here are some of the plates:

Oh, forgot, if you are in Exchange #45 and like surprises, read the rest of the blog post with your eyes closed.

The theme was "maps" so I went "flying" over the earth until I found a neat spot (insert credit here to Google Earth). 

Key block on the right printed in violet/purple/umber containing all of the relief and some ancient petroglyph symbols thrown in for good measure.

Blue block on the left with the lake, river and anywhere I wanted blue or green.
So far, so cool...

Hansa Yellow on the right printed all over the areas surrounding the lake to make my brown eyes, to make some of my blue areas green.

The transparent sienna/orange plate was really a second state. After printing the first three plates, I wanted to "kill" the contrast a little and produce two more colors: a light sienna/orange over the cream paper and a slightly more rusty purple/umber over the open areas of the key block.

Next picture is the first three plates combined to make a "State 1" which really makes the blue POP!
And finally, the four plates combined to make "State 2" with the transparent rusty stuff all over. The blue still pops fine and there is more of a SW earth to it. Or something.

I haven't made my mind up which state I like best or which orientation I like best either. Looks good vertically too. Maybe I will sign it in all four directions and let the viewer place as they like it. The original reference is flipped but I liked it this way better.

I have a title this time:
36° 08' 45" N

114° 23' 49" W