Saturday, March 30, 2013

Doodles to prints

I am fully engaged now in the creation of the next collaborative puzzle print, which as some of you know, I am launching as a project so that we get funded properly this time.
Once I launch I will update that project on my alter-blog
but we're not there yet although so close I'm starting to shake a little.

While awaiting for the final approval process and the final touches on my part, I continued to work on the image which will be the awesome Fantastic Garden with the help of 80 printmaking friends. My creative assignment is to come up with something simple, puzzle-like, to be divided into as many pieces as there will be participants for them to give the image life.

The design has to be simple so I started by looking at my collection of royalty-free clip art and came up with some doodles. I felt like I had stepped into a toon-world of some sort with images of fat-funny bees and rounded flowers floating in my head.

But I couldn't stop there! No, once fully engaged I had to keep doodling. For that, I use Photoshop and my Bamboo tablet with a very responsive pen! I took the birds and flipped them, scaled the tree, added more pond, and some critters under the tree roots. I don't know about anyone else, but those "doodles" take a bit of your life away. I think artists live so long because we turn half an hour into seven, or more accurately, we shrink seven hours of doodling into what seems like 30 minutes, thus "living" 6 and a half free hours during which we don't age at all. It's a theory, no?!

Anyhow, one thing led to another and I came up with the final image, to be modified several more times of course. Here it is, the soon to be Fantastic Garden. Imagine it larger than life 60 x 44 inches in four panels! And all those empty spaces will be filled with my fellow artists' contributions! How awesome is this going to be?!

But of course I couldn't stop there! Not now with all the creative juices flowing like I thought wouldn't it be super-cool to make some woodcuts from the design with more detail and stuff?! Why not, I have to wait for the participants to cut their blocks anyway, might as well be making art.

So I took the next step and kept on drawing and coloring. I have to say that I don't usually work this way at all but this is a lot of fun. My usual modus operandis is to draw right on the block and take it from there. But this time I'm planning everything ahead.
So here we are after two days of working, the evolution of a little panel which is likely to become one of the rewards for the future backers of the project!

The creative process is kind of cool, I think, things just happen and we artists seem to step out of our mind and body while "something" takes over and doodles away.
This one is called "Tree and a Bee". Should make a cool woodcut.

I better keep working!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Project in the Works: Fantastic Garden

Ready or not, here we go again! (Insert William Tell Overture here!)

I started doodling!
We are just ready to launch sign up for the Fantastic Garden starting the first week of April. This exciting new monumental collaboration will (hopefully) receive additional funding from the Kickstarter project by the same name, to go live in early April.

Participant artists, please read the new and improved agreement in the page on this blog called 2013 Fantastic Garden. The instructions will remain in place through sign up. This blog, along with the Kickstarter page will be the headquarters of the project.

For those of you not familiar with go peruse some projects! The platform allows for creative project funding through rewards given to backers of each project. This allows us artists to play together in exchange for giving the gift of art, how cool is that!

More to come in a couple of days. I just shot a video for the project main page and should be receiving the results very soon.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More puzzle pages updated!

I am slowly but surely updating more projects, both previous puzzle prints are now all dressed up in new web dresses. Here is the main projects page, the first five links are now live:

On a related note, the next monumental puzzle print is just around the corner, finalizing some details in Kickstarter. The platform is designed for funding creative projects and it should be perfect to make sure that we have enough money to complete the project without going broke. I personally am very excited about that.

Participation will be limited to the first 80 to sign up, this way the beast print remains manageable and I don't lose my, allegedly.
Projected sign up will open in two weeks and will remain open for thirty days. Soon, now, very soon!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New (Old) Projects Published on Website

Website Update Alert

I have been working hard to update my "deprecated" website and now have new galleries and some projects updated! It is slow going but that just shows how long it has been since I polished up my web skills. Grumbling and growling, I'm learning as I go. Deprecated, I have learned, is a word that web design techies use to make us web-amateurs totally miserable. Deprecated sounds scary but really just means that some codes are no longer in use...which is a total lie fabricated in order to preserve the job security of aforementioned web design techies, because old websites still "look" fine on 98% of browsers. But anyhow, I am slowly seeing the beauty of efficient web design, sort of.

Quest 100

One of the first areas that I upgraded was my Quest for 1000 Woodcuts. In the process I seemed to have lost a few woodcuts, but who's counting? Oh wait, I am!
I found a nifty program that makes me efficiently designed galleries so, for now, that's the format I'm going with. I figured in about 20 years deprecation will catch up with me again. Deprecated...hmph...
Anyhow, my website: and a direct link to The Quest Galleries:

Updating all those pages reminded me how much I worked in past years and makes me wonder if I will ever pick up the pace again. Sigh. So much to do, so little time.

Projects: The Cairn

And of course, my other "love" are the projects that keep me driving and driven all at once. Some of the projects that continue to tickle my fancy are the Puzzle Prints. I upgraded the second project: The Great Baren Cairn for no good reason except that the old pages seemed better organized and I felt like tackling them just now.

Direct link to the new home of the Cairn:

Next puzzle project in the horizon, I have set a secret date to begin already. Meantime, enjoy the new dress on the webpages!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Redesigned website! How earthy is that?!

Redesigned my website and blogs!
Oh boy! Not done yet, much tweaking to do but it has been fun learning the new ways of the web. My website really is leaner and up to date.
Let me know what you think and enjoy!

Cork, linoleum and everything else!

There is life after wood in relief printmaking!
Last Leaf, 3 block lino-cut


Aside from wood, any surface that is fairly easy to cut and takes ink is suitable for relief printmaking. In experimenting, I wouldn't (and haven't!) discount anything that's laying about and looks interesting. I think almost everyone that starts printing "woodcuts" does so on linoleum. Lino, as it is familiarly called, is very easy to cut and somehow less intimidating than wood. There are various grades and types, battleship linoleum (called battleship because of its gray color, not because it comes with anti-aircraft cannons) being the most commonly found in art supply stores.

After paying for mounted linoleum I decided unmounted, by the roll, is much more economical in the long run and allows for more flexibility of block height. Linoleum has gritty stuff that will dull delicate wood carving tools so I either use the lino-designed tougher tools or use my cheaper sets when cutting linoleum. Really easy to cut, fast prints are possible so it is very suitable for working in series and with larger prints.


And then there's cork! One of my favorite surfaces because it just yields results that are quirky and unexpected. Cork is readily available as tiles or rolls in craft stores and home improvement supply stores.

Cork is tough to cut, not because it is hard but because it crumbles and woodcut tools really aren't any use. The tools of choice are X-acto knives, craft knives or even box cutters or utility knives.

I use cork to add a sort of an irregular "shimmer" to the color blocks in some of my newest prints. I must say that it is frustrating to use and unpredictable at first, tough to carve, impossible to keep together and...well, that's enough bad rap!

I do like the results which is why I continue to use it. I get cork squares online or locally at craft stores and roll cork from fine woodworking stores; I think it's used for backing and dampening vibration.
I transfer key block to cork block using stiff transparency such as for projector presentations (well, before PowerPoint).
I print the key block onto the transparency sheet usually with water-based ink. The transparent sheet is pinned down.
Then lift transparency, remove key block, slip the cork block into the registration jig, and transfer carved image to cork block.

I usually transfer to several blank cork blocks even though I will only use one.
This is because the cork is fragile and prone to crumbling and carving/cutting errors. Or I may just make two prints with different color schemes such as shown here.

Puzzle Prints

The cork blocks are easy to cut with x-acto or craft knives and therefore very suitable for "puzzle" color blocks, where each piece of the puzzle is inked separately and assembled prior to giving it a once-through the press. The cork blocks are not easy to carve. If the cork is thin, I glue to a foam-core backing board to give it stiffness and the right height for printing--the same height, ideally, as the key block. If the cork is thick enough as in the tiles shown above, then I usually roll a thin layer of PVA glue all over the back to aid in holding together during carving and printing. I assume a layer of acrylic would work equally well.
The above block kept losing little pieces as I printed. The second block shows a big hunk missing after printing the edition of 46 or so. This print taught me to  not try to cut such thin pieces because they tend to crumble away from being taken apart and put together so many times. Cork is really more suitable for large areas.

Printing Cork

Exciting things happen when printing cork
This picture shows three variations of what happens during printing. When printing, cork acts like a sponge, whether using water or oil inks, and collects ink between the grains. This ink tends to accumulate and then squeeze  out when pressure is applied so it gives very interesting effects. This also means that the cork block has to be completely cleaned off every ten prints or more often, otherwise the grain fills up completely and the grainy effect is gone.
You can also spritz the cork block or the paper (if using water-based inks) with water and get an effect much like watercolor. After a few practice prints, the effect is actually quite consistent and controllable throughout the edition.

Puesta de Luna, Cork Print by Maria Arango
(detail below)

After going to a Nature Printing Society workshop, I really learned that ANYTHING can be printed! Various surfaces give different results and many unusual daily objects can give some awesome prints. Don't forget to have a blast.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Websites and such other annoying technothings

If you are into art festivals...

I hinted a while back on my Printmakingstudio Notes blog that I was redoing things a bit on the web side of this artist's life. In the meantime I got a bill for another art related website that I was NOT maintaining and so I killed it. I know, kind of radical but that's the way I do things. Since I had my regret-bone removed a long time ago, I just keep going forward wide eyed through life enjoying every new moment and leaving the past where it belongs, waaaaaaaaaaaaay back there.

So I'm now kind of enjoying this not having to relearn web technology every time the "industry" decides to upgrade the xhtml level or make yet another thing I learned obsolete. Now mobile devices make old website cringe and I'm not revising thousands of pages yet again.
So there, now I'm letting Blogger keep up with all that and I will better concentrate on writing stuff and making art.

So here it is, the new and improved Art Festival Guide!

I will be uploading excerpts from the book as I revise and make a new edition. I will also add links and books pertinent to the art festival world, something I firmly believe every artist should try once or ten times if only to appreciate the value of making a dollar solely as an artist.
Should be fun, something else to do in the evenings and one less website to maintain! Win win!

Wood primer for printmakers

Wood is a magical and wonderful material. Seemingly mysterious at first, once you begin working with wood an addiction takes over. You will want to carve it and stain it and sand it and plane it and collect different species. Here is a brief wood primer for the woodcut printmaker.

A couple of reference books on wood species and suitability of wood for various crafts (I have added these and others to my BookStore page on this blog):
 The Encyclopedia Of Wood: A Tree-By-Tree Guide To The World's Most Versatile Resource
 Understanding Wood: A Craftsman's Guide to Wood Technology

About Wood Sources and Resources 

You can get wood for printmakers from:

The expensive but tried and true, most printmaking suppliers will have some sort of wood designed and milled specifically for woodcuts. You can get wood that is ready to cut out of the box but I still go through my ritual outlined below.
Check the Links Page on this blog for these and other resources.

The less expensive for the adventurous, your friendly local home-supply store and, of course any lumberyard or building supplies warehouse in your town. The best woods for printmakers can be found in their Hobby or Woodcraft sections.

Dedicated wood suppliers on the web make up the third bunch. They usually supply cabinet makers, wood carving enthusiasts and other assorted wood hobbiers. Others are simply online lumberyards that retail sell and ship small quantities of wood.

Search the web for "lumber." This by far is the cheapest way to go if you can buy quantities. On any of the three above, remember that wood is heavy and sometimes the shipping will be quite expensive so I always buy bulk and store in my desert studio at a comfy 6% humidity or less.

How I prepare wood for woodcuts

Regardless of what wood I'm about to lay my hands on, I follow pretty much the same procedures. Caring and preparing the blocks helps me get to know that particular block ahead of time, and helps me in the thinking process for that particular print. For woodcuts:

I start by cleaning the block, many times they come dirty from the lumberyard. A dusting with a soft nylon brush does the trick.

Inspection follows, I am particularly looking for out of plane blocks, warped blocks, low spots, cracks and knots. I've never met a piece of wood I couldn't use, just takes adjusting the print sometimes.

A good sanding helps irregularities and fills in the grain of birch and pine. I begin with 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper (100 if the block shows saw marks or is very irregular). I use a sanding block, the hard rubber kind and change my paper often, keeping a graphics brush handy to get rid of the surface dust.

320, 400, 600 and sometimes 1200 follow in sequence. Skim on a grit and you get nasty marks. By the time you get to the finest grits, your woodblock is shining and slick like glass. Most times I stop at 400 to allow some of the grain to show in the print.

If I will draw right on the block, I usually coat the block with walnut colored ink (sometimes medium gray). Otherwise, it is ready to accept a tracing.

For wood engravings the process is easier because the blocks come nearly ready from the supplier. I place a piece of 400 grit sandpaper on my inking slab, grit up. Then I rub the block on the sandpaper in circles. To know when enough is enough, I draw lightly on the block with a pencil. When the pencil lines are gone, the block is ready to engrave!

I coat all my engraving blocks with walnut or gray ink (diluted sumi) to make my carving easier to see as it progresses.

Wood for woodcuts

Birch plywood

I started with birch plywood due to its availability at any home supply store. Similar to Shina, the best qualities of birch plywood are that it is readily available and inexpensive, comes in as many sizes and thicknesses as you would wish. It is a soft and light colored wood with tight grain that can be sanded to a glass-smooth surface. I finish with 1200 grit. Very soft and easy to cut. Must have sharp knives or you will end up with splintering which can ruin a design. I don't seal mine with varnish but it is probably advised to do so to firm up the surface. Tough to get grain print with birch, although a wire brush brings the grain out.


By far in my experience, the best choice for woodcuts, either moku-hanga or oil. Sometimes tough to get especially in large sizes, which is a drag for people like me who think large! It is a rich colored wood, picture shows a mixture of two kinds, darker and lighter. I've heard it say the darker is the best for detail. Very tight grain, but surprisingly easy to print, if grain is what you're after. I have successfully joined boards tightly enough without leaving a gap. Comes in various thicknesses and if you sand it fine enough (or plane it for the purists) you can ice-skate on it. Cherry holds a very fine detail, be sure to get finer quality cherry and don't let it dry out too much, although it must season for a while. It is harder to cut so sharp tools and a handy strop nearby are an absolute must. Clearing larger areas is hard work. Cherry is truly magic wood, don't know exactly why.

End Grain Maple

This is the easier wood for wood engravers (as opposed to boxwood). As you can see from the picture, it is made up of small blocks joined together. Only place to get it from is printmaking suppliers, even then you better sit your credit card down because it will get scared (5" x 7" block = $16.00; 12" x 9" block = $100). It is light colored and extremely tight grain, very hard wood. Wood engraving requires special tools like your metal engraving burins and similar. If you use your woodcut tools with this stuff, you will surely ruin the blades. It is useful for inserts to achieve a high degree of fine detail.

Plank Maple

Maple is a light colored hard wood available in hobby/craft sections of your corner lumberyard. Very tight grained and available up to 12" widths, which is a plus. More expensive than birch and pine, comes in various widths. Boards join very well without gaps. Frankly, I'm sold on maple. It is harder to cut than cherry and working through the occasional knot is like engraving metal. Clearing larger areas takes patience, a very large very sharp knife with a mallet and frequent resharpening. It holds a very fine detail and does not splinter.


A hardwood, readily available with very open and pronounced grain. Readily available as plywood, somewhat expensive, especially in its plank form. Very hard and dense. Not really the choice for woodcuts, although some successful and very interesting prints have come from those wonderful grain patterns. It splinters very easily, and you probably shouldn't wipe the wood shavings with the back of your hand unless you have tweezers nearby. 
You can't fill the grain nor sand it smooth, so don't try; the grain is there to stay. Check out some Edvard Munch woodcuts for a wonderful usage of this grain. It can also be inlaid in smoother woods to achieve very exciting prints. Needless to say, I love oak prints.


Okay, okay, I picked a piece for the picture that has been sitting out a while. Pine is soft wood, easily available, cheap, very easy to cut. I call pine "practice wood" although some of the finer quality pine yields very nice work. I would say that it is not suitable for detail if I had not seen the work of James Mundie, who cuts pine blocks with a single edge razor blade to achieve astounding effects. 
For the rest of us, pine splinters under the attack of woodcut knives and chisels and yields similar results as birch. Grain is more open than birch and gets fuzzy with time, so wood-like effects are possible. Seal it with varnish.

Shina Plywood

This is a popular wood with hanga printmakers, also good for oil-based ink printmaking. Shina is a plywood, comes in several grades and thicknesses and it is precut to your particular taste. The all-plywood type is more expensive but assures that there are less gaps and knots lying in wait under the top layers.

Most printmakers I know that use shina have to seal it with varnish or similar to prevent it from splintering. It is a soft wood, very easy to cut but, in my opinion, is not as suitable for very fine detail as cherry. For quick prints and for prints that require many blocks, it is the choice.


Hey, no piece of wood is safe around me. Walnut is available in plank form at hobby/craft/lumber stores. It is a rich, dark...walnut! colored wood and becoming rare. Very hard, dense and tight grained wood but with unexpected pores, cracks and other wonderful features. Doubtful for hanga work, pores fill easily with oil ink. A friend of mine put together a block of end-grain walnut and I found it very nice to engrave on. I cut a small plank and seems to cut very nicely, similar to cherry, not quite as hard as maple. The grain is also similar to cherry but tends to show more, so that tells me that it is probably more open grained.

Other Species

I confess I have printed from purple heart, cocobolo, curly maple, bubinga and some unknown found woods. Experimenting with wood is part of the process and how I got to know what works, what doesn't and the effects possible with alternate materials. 
Also favored by printmakers are the various types of MDF (medium density fiberboard) due to its availability and affordability. Cork adds nice effects to some prints, as a stand-alone or in conjunction with other woods.

Go for it, get to know wood, don't discount anything you find for cheap and jot down all the qualities of different species for future use.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bookstore and Links Pages

Just updated the Bookstore and Links pages on this blog!

Direct Link to Bookstore:

Direct Link to Links Page:

These were rescued from my website and will be updated frequently.

Books will be added as I mention them in my upcoming posts but if there is a favorite that you have, please mention it and I will check it out (let's face it, I'll probably buy it!). Link recommendations also welcomed but please make sure they are relevant to printmaking, woodcut, woodblock only as my last links page became a monster that ate the entire web. Well, it was big anyway.

You can reach the Bookstore and the Links pages by clicking on the top navigation tabs below the title of this blog, above this post. I am also in the process of redesigning my blog and website so those links will become more prominent as I make progress on that "little" side project. Sigh.

Enjoy the new pages! Bookmark and share them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Keeping Records Part II

As promised, database details to make you dizzy:

Database vs. Spreadsheet

The advantage of a database over a spreadsheet, as I said last time, is the "relational" feature that links all your data and the eternal flexibility for manipulating data. The software packages that I pointed out last time are really databases that have been fancied up to make data entry and retrieval easy for everyone.

But if you don't want to fork out any bucks, have a little time on your hands and like doing your own thing, a database is really simple to set up. Most of them come with templates that can be tweaked to taste for art record keeping.

The main advantage of doing your own thing is that it suits you perfectly and you can change things over the years as you evolve or devolve or whatever.

What can you do for me?

One example of features you gain by creating a database is the ability to "query" or ask it questions like:
-How many works did I sell to NEW customers on last year's Flagstaff Festival? (should I mail postcards or are my customers mostly tourists coming to the show for the first time?)
-Who has all my "Mountain Sunrise" prints and where have they been exhibited? (provenance)
-How many contacts did I gain on my Museum Show in 2004? How many are still receiving my emails and how many have bought something since then? (is it worth doing the show again?)
-Who of my Arizona customers has not bought anything in the last 5 years? (I can clean up my database that way)

You get the picture. Invaluable information if you are in the business of selling or exhibiting artworks.

Spreadsheet data, if you recall, is flat (see the link to a sample spreadsheet last post), although for just keeping artwork records making up a simple spreadsheet is exactly what I would do.

Guts of a database (or software) 

Database data is based on table-like-spreadsheets BUT the tables are "linked" or related to each other by one of the variables. Here is what my old database looks like:

I have three main tables: WORKS, CONTACTS, and SHOWS
There are other tables in there but they are auto-generated by the BIG 3 for various reports

Notice all those joining lines that go from one table to another, they link together works through the ID field with customers through the ID field. So at any point I can get a full report of where ALL my prints are, everyone of them, sold, given away, shown in a gallery, whatever. Also, when I enter a new customer, I just have a pull-down field with all my works so I don't have to write the print's name. And when I enter that work, the database automatically subtracts one print from my "prints on hand" field. Nifty huh? A lot of tricks like that are possible that make keeping track of everything and everyone related to the art business a snap.

The main way to input and keep data in a database is through tables, although with one click you can create a fancy input form to make the task more bearable:
Here you can see an entire record for a work called 1000 Years including where it was exhibited, how big the frame should be and whether I've taken slides (how OLD is this thing?) and uploaded to my website

The other two main features of a database is the ability to query (ask complex questions) as I mentioned before and the ability to export reports, fancy or not, to other programs like Microsoft Word (to send a mailing), spreadsheet (like an inventory of prints on hand) or your favorite mail program (to send an email to your customers) or to make a print info sheet or web page, pictures and all.

Anyhow, one point of this post is that, whatever method of keeping track of works, sales and contacts one chooses, the important thing is to put in good information so that good information can be reported. Accurate data entry is crucial, whether a ready-made software program, a simple spreadsheet or any other fancy way to keep records.

I happen to like tweaking my database endlessly, I have reports, resumes, lists of galleries, who sold what to whom in what event and so on. I enjoy the brain work of querying, making my database spit out fancy reports and formatted letters and so on. And I have now tailored my database to fit my business model perfectly.

This all sounds complicated when writing it down but really databases are just like the software described in the previous post. The advantage, to me, is that I can change things as I see fit.

Any questions? quiz at 11:00!