Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blocks arriving, work continues

Blocks arriving!

Background carving begins
The garden welcomed three blocks already and two more are on the way. I have also heard that blocks have arrived at the farthest point from Las Vegas, all the way around the globe. I am very pleased with the mail system this time.

Once they get here, they need to rest right in their little boxes for just a bit. Las Vegas is very dry and this particular spring, one of our driest on record. When wood travels to humid places (which is just about anywhere compared to here!) it swells just a bit with the ambient moisture. After it returns, I leave it in the box, getting accustomed very slowly to the dry air. Once a couple of weeks have gone by, it is generally safe to open the little packages and peek inside.
Until then, you will just have to wait and see what everyone else is doing.

And that brings me to...

First skeleton block!

I had a couple of distractions like, er, LIFE and things! But I am now firmly planted in my studio and just finished one of the skeleton blocks. Basically, I remove the background leaving only the matrix for the wonderful images that everyone will bring. I have to strike a balance between a design that brings all the blocks together so they "make sense" and not put in so much detail that the overall design dominates the puzzle pieces.

Here it is, awaiting your pieces!

Print Information, don't forget!

Once you are sure of the design, remember we are writing a book! Well, okay, I am putting together a book but your words are needed to make it interesting, otherwise it's just me talking.
Please fill in the information for your print, exactly as you would like it to appear online and in the book Growing the Garden.
Here is the page to do that, right from this blog:

On to block number two...

Fantastic Garden Headquarters:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

YouTube Videos and Housekeeping


A short post to introduce a few YouTube videos on my own channel. I also follow some other woodcut channels that post interesting information from time to time. It's the video generation, I guess, although I still enjoy a good solid book I have become more and more accustomed to getting information from videos because that seems where the future is going.

My video skills will improve in time I suppose, and undoubtedly I will sometime get an HD Camcorder. For now, the HD webcam and the Canon Powershot Pro are doing all the heavy lifting. I edit with Photoshop Premiere Elements and I'm learning a bunch with every step!


Nothing like the spring to instill a desire to clean house, or is it just me?! Anyhow, I go through these moods where I look at stuff in my studio and say: "What was I thinking?" Subsequently, my alter ego cleanedmystudio (EBay ID) helps me out in such conundrums and pretty soon I have shelf space again!
Usually my cleaning sprees last about two or three weeks, few items daily, all printmaking/art relatged, all at bargain prices...some woodcut prints too!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Moving right along...

All quiet?

Now that all is quiet, you are probably wondering if I'm sitting in my studio with my feet up on a high stool pondering my next project...
Well yes and no!

I am pondering my next project alright but I have enough self restraint to wait a while before I take on another. But my feet are planted firmly on the ground, scurrying about my carving bench making wood chips.
The task at hand while I await everyone's wonderful creations is to carve the overall design.

Garden appears!
First I had to clean up the "skeleton" blocks just as I cleaned up each small puzzle piece. Edges get sanded, sharp corners get smoothed, drill holes are camouflaged and everything is cleaned and dusted.

Then I proceed to carve the large blocks much the same as I would any background. Fish tails and frog legs, tree trunks and lily pads all take shape. The overall design needs to be recognizable, although subtle enough so as to not overpower the puzzle pieces.

I will post additional progress photos in the next few days. Some parts are fairly easy to clear, some others not so much but it all gets done in time.

FAQs Answered

And while I eagerly await more blocks so I can start posting them online, I have answered some questions from my eager co-conspirators. Some seem to be asked more than once so I will post them here.

Q: Can you tell me where is my block located in the Fantastic Garden?
A: Heresy! Blasphemy! NO!! No no no no no!!! The key to the fantastic puzzle is precisely that the images in the pieces are wonderfully random. Imagine how boring to have scales in the fish and petals in the flowers...but now imagine that birds have potted plants in them and mushrooms grow trees and lively children play inside a butterfly's THAT is a Fantastic Garden!

Q: What type of oil should I use if I want to soften the block?
A: Mineral oil (baby oil), lemon oil (as for furniture), light vegetable oil, even a very light coating of linseed oil is fine.
Mineral is best because it is completely non-hardening.

Q: Can I still get a printed book even if I missed the pre-order?
A: But of course! Printed books will be available after the prints are done, probably in December 2013 or January 2014. I will have them for sale on my website and on this blog. To get the pre-order price of $18, you can send a note and check, cash or some exotic red wine with your carved block. 
NOTE: All participants will have access to download the E-Book free for a limited time after the project is done, just like the last project.
I will update the list of participants and the list of those who pre-ordered books very soon.

The Accountability page has been updated with the latest income and expenses.
And don't forget to fill out the Image Information in the Artist Info page when your image blossoms!

That's about it for now! More to come as it happens. 

Fantastic Garden Headquarters:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Madness revisited

Sometimes you just have to take a step back and kick yourself. A little while back I experimented with adding a blog for Studio Notes only. I figured I would keep these Updates and the Method of printmaking separate...I don't know why anymore. Sounded good at the time.

In any case, I can't keep up with myself! Add to that the fact that nearly everything I update my faithful followers necessarily has to do with art and printmaking and--well, let's just say compartmentalizing was a bad idea. So the experiment is over and I now am back to just having two blogs, this one and the puzzle prints dedicated blog. I think that is still a good idea. Time will tell.

The upshot is that my method posts are now here again in my beloved long running 1000 Woodcuts blog, the one, the only, the almost only. I will try to keep up the categories so everything is easy to find.

Sigh. Carry on...

Blocks arriving at destinations!

Mailing done!

Today I mailed the last of the stragglers and now all the blocks are either en route or already arriving at participant's homes and studios. Please continue to let me know when your block arrives by blog comment, email, ping or however. This helps later with tracing any missing blocks.

Blocks, mailer, tape gun, instructions, newspapers

As usual when confronting a long repetitive task,
remember that one and one and one is three!
As I had mentioned, the mailing process is nothing worthy of making an interesting video (who wants to see me scream with frustration or crying with boredom?!). But for those of you who will follow in the puzzle footsteps and organize one of these mad-feats, I will outline how I approach the task.

First the necessary tools of the mailing room, for maximizing efficiency.

  • 92 tiny blocks all clean and sanded and ready for their long trips.
  • Cardboard mailers from, I picked the size that was both appropriate and on sale at the time of purchasing!
  • Instructions printed for each participant just in case anyone misplaced the webpage that clearly outlines the instructions that everyone will read...twice, right?
  • Tape gun, doesn't every girl own one? Well, everyone that does any type of bulk mailing should own one. I believe I may have acquired this particular one from my days working as a box handler at UPS way back when.
  • Newspaper or other suitable padding to protect the tiny blocks.
  • Scale for weighing each package.
  • Box to haul the loot to the Postal Office.
  • Not pictured, MUSIC! to make the task of wrapping 92 blocks and taping 92 boxes somewhat bearable.
Basically, each block gets wrapped in newspaper and stuck in a box with a set of instructions. 
The name of the block (that funny code on the back) is written on the outside of the box, this way I know later what block goes to whom.
Each box is weighed and weight recorded on the outside of the box, then I tape the box. I keep all the 8 ouncers and 9 ouncers separate so I can batch labels a bit later.

Once all blocks are in boxes (read: two days later) I go to the computer, fire up my mailing program ( and import the addresses about 10-12 at a time to prevent goof-ups and label jams. 
By this time, I have no idea what the blocks look like so the process of assigning blocks is completely blind. As I slap a printed label on each box, I write the block code by the participant's name on my spreadsheet and the date of mailing.
Repeat 92 times, another two days go by, and, all done! A trip or five to the postal office and the dirty deed is completed. 
What a fun time I had!!! Ugh. I spent the next day outside in the garden caressing all the new blooms from my desert hardy plants, all awakening and bursting with pollen in the first few warm days.

Accounting updated

With the mailing costs in the books, I updated the hours and money spreadsheet and subsequently the web pages. The Amazon Payments came through in a few days and now we're in the black! As costs come up I will keep updating the finances so everyone sees where each precious penny goes.

Is everyone carving yet?

As I write this, I am looking at a strange little package that looks suspiciously just like the ones I just mailed out, how could this be? Could it be the first block returned!??? I haven't opened the box yet, but Robert Simola definitely gets the early bird grand prize. Thanks Robert!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Caring for Tiny Blocks

Post Sawing Block Care

The exciting sawing process is finished and now everyone probably wonders what next? Very quickly, I will just outline what happens to the tiny blocks next.

Immediately after sawing, the blocks are dusty, with ragged edges and some have some dangerous points and other flaws. All that gets corrected with a little individual attention. Although each block just takes a few minutes, after repeating 92 times an entire day has passed!

Basically, each block gets a dust off with a soft brush and an inspection, just like a cat at the vet but not so fussy. After I determine the gender of the kitten...ooops! wrong story...after I determine what needs to be done, I get to work on each block.
Ragged edges get sanded with 150 grit sandpaper. 
Sharp corners and unsightly drilling holes or saw slips are also sanded down.

Lastly, a final sanding with 400 grit sandpaper on the face of the block, the blank side to be carved, and a wipe with a very slightly dampened towel to eliminate any remaining sanding dust. Happy purring blocks get re-stacked and are ready for packing and mailing.

Here are some Before and After pictures of the blocks:
Blocks as they come off the saw, ragged edges, dusty and crying for attention

After a few minutes, the edges are clean, the dust is gone
Block is beautiful and ready for an eager printmaker!

Sharp points need  taming

After sanding, the point is no longer dangerous
When drilling to "start" the saw, an ugly hole is created

A bit of sanding and the ugly disappears
not really functionally different but a lot prettier

Mailing is next! Very boring pictures coming up...

Fantastic Garden Headquarters:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ready for seeding!

Done cutting

Last pictures of the cutting process. First, one of the cats seemed interested in the project until the noise started; this is where the expression "high tailed it out of there" came from? So much for making herself useful.

Next, just wanted to point out a couple of things for the budding wood cutters out there. When cutting puzzle pieces, it is good practice to leave the cut pieces in the puzzle while cutting the next ones. This way the saber-saw has something to rest on.

There isn't much skill to operating a saber-saw. The blade moves up and down (and oscillates a little in the new ones). You stop pushing, it stops cutting. Nothing can really go terribly wrong for more than a quarter inch or so. Curves are a matter of keeping the "foot" of the saw down flat against the block and moving forward slightly while simultaneously following the curve. Tight curves are very possible and blade chatter (or breakage) will let you know when you either pushed to fast or too hard. As usual, let the tool do the work. After they are all cut out, a simple lift liberates them from their prison and they are free to fly.

And now the garden is nothing but grass, eagerly awaiting the creative seeds of all my fellow gardeners so it can grow into something absolutely beautiful!

That's a cool picture, huh?
36 hours to go!

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: