Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Two of four

Cutting the puzzle pieces

What is it with the cryptic numeric blog post titles?!
Anyway! After yesterday's, er, preparations I proceeded to have a much more successful day cutting out two of the four blocks. 46 puzzle pieces await their destinations and tomorrow they will be joined by 46 of their friends.

Here are the photos and, if you are into videos that resemble watching grass grow (albeit noisily), I posted an unedited video to my YouTube channel here:
Tomorrow I will edit and narrate the rest of the footage.

After a failed attempt to obtain either a new battery or a new charger for my cordless saber-saw, I gave up and purchased one with a power cord. Cheap! It has variable speeds and an oscillating blade which leaves hardly a rough edge on the blocks.

Still photos for those who cherish quiet evenings.
As I was saying yesterday, the advantage of the CORDED  tool
  is that it never runs out of power, sigh.


The block is cut, the needle nose pliers are used
to retrieve embedded saber saw blades after they break

The aforementioned broken blade, but only one!
Holes in the block await my fellow printmakers' creations

Two "holy" blocks and 46 puzzle pieces, sanded, marked and
awaiting their destinations

Only 3 days to funding day!

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Monday, April 29, 2013

Three up, two down

Ever been hiking and decide to go off trail for a bit? Then you see that hilltop and you have to see what's up there? Then you realize that the nice slope wasn't really all that nice at all and you are actually going up a 45+ degree shale covered mother of all slippery piles of loose gravel? Three steps up two steps down, three steps up four steps down, three steps up, slip, slide on your b--

Well, THAT is just about how my day went today. First thing in the morning we had a slight plumbing problem (need I say more?) which was thankfully-partially-functionally resolved by about noon. Sigh. Unfortunately by noon we are breaking heat records and it was already low nineties with the sun beating down, not a teensy breeze blowing. Why is this relevant?

Today was supposed to be my first chopping day! The blocks have been waiting eagerly, my trusty (a bit more on this coming up) saber saw fitted with new blades, new bit on the drill, maps ready, me ready...so I plowed ahead ignoring the heat and set up my work area in the semi-shade of the trees.

There it is, I had to find the foam support which had been stashed in the by now very hot garage and gather the rest of the tools required for the task.

Being a bit too hot to have the camera outside, I decided to snap a couple of quick pictures and perhaps shoot the upcoming video tomorrow when I begin anew in the cool of the early morning. If you have ever visited the Southwest and know about our dry heat then you know that the concept of a cool breeze does not exist here. When the temperature is hot, the air is hot and any breeze is hot and today the air ain't moving.

Foam insulation resting on pallet resting on hand-cart, perfect work table!
For reasons upcoming, I am resigned to explain what I was going to do and how. First, the working table is a 3 inch thick piece of insulation foam, resting on an old wooden pallet, which in turn rests on a convertible hand-cart that can either stand up or lie on all four wheels. Easy down, easy up, easy moving around, easy transport.
The foam insulation allows me to work without clamps. The block of wood just rests on the foam and the blade of the saber-saw goes right through the wood and right through the foam, allowing me to cut curves as tight as I dare without slipping or bouncing.
The pallet underneath just supports the foam insulation off the ground so I can work at the right height, for me anyways.

Next are the tools of the trade, a cordless saber-saw with two batteries so I can (allegedly) keep working, a cordless drill, a map of the block with puzzle-piece numbers pre-marked, permanent marker, dust mask and shade cap.
Marker, map, blades, and stupid saber-saw with stupid battery attached
As I cut each piece, I mark the back with an arrow indicating the top or sky of our garden, and the code number for the block so I can replace it once returned. The drill is fitted with a drill bit just slightly larger than the scroll-saw fine blade. When a piece of the puzzle is on the edge of the block, I simply cut it out. However when the piece is "land-locked" I drill a hole off to the edge of the piece, insert blade and cut. The drill bit holes are later disguised as empty spaces surrounding the puzzle piece.

Back to the hiking analogy. After digging out the foam insulation from the depths of the man-garage out back (three steps up), I had to dust it out and remove the black-widow spiders that had made neat little nests on it (two steps down). A good hosing and it was clean and ready to go; no spiders were harmed during this procedure although they are very clean spiders now. I gathered my tools, noting that I was so clever to have cordless tools so I did not need a power cord and could work in the shade of the trees, and prepared the camera (three steps up).
Then I slapped the rechargeable batteries onto the drill and saber-saw and...andddd....click click click...nothing happened (four steps down). Sigh. No problem, because I AM clever-er than my saber-saw and have a spare battery, still on the charger, showing green light, wait, blinking green light? How can that be! It should be charged by now?! Green? No? Maybe half-charged? Click click click...silence. My battery checker tells me it's dead, or as my friends from the Midwest like to say: "the batt'ry is ru'ned".

By now it is 2:30 PM and I'm frankly out of patience, out of energy and the temperature has climbed to a balmy 99.8 degrees, fortunately Fahrenheit, not Celsius if you are the glass-half-full kind of person. But this ol' gal ain't used to these temperatures so early in the year and is going inside under the fan. Then I'm going to have to take a trip to the home-supply store and splurge for a new battery and hope that the second one charges properly.
I gathered all the above back in the studio and listened to the birds for a while. Tomorrow will be another day.

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

8 Days to go! Blocks ready to be chopped into smithereens

Only 8 days to funding day!

Eight more days until the Fantastic Garden's official funding period ends. Please send this to a friend, we can still make the stretch goal and reward everyone with a shower of garden-sy gifts!

Also, as soon as the project funding ends, I will immediately send a survey to all participants and backers requesting mailing information. Don't send me your address before because Kickstarter makes a nice spreadsheet with all the information so I don't have to manually enter anything.
Here is the deal for participants, the faster you respond, the faster you get your block! Which brings me to...

Blocks are ready to be cut!

Permanent marker over the charcoal lines
I've been busy and today I put the final touches on the drawings on the big wood blocks. I had to make a few adjustments to accommodate all the participants (translation: I miscounted ;-) and finalize the drawing with permanent marker. I used marker because after the drawing was complete it has to withstand preparation and cutting; the blocks have to be treated as follows.


The charcoal dust, eraser goobers and general moving around in the studio tends to make the wood not so smooth so I corrected by giving them a healthy sanding with 320, then 400 grit sandpaper to make them luxuriously smooth. After the dust settles (literally!) I use soft towels to remove the dry dust residue and then follow with a lightly dampened soft towel to remove every dust particle. Incidentally, they say if you aren't
2 Blocks done making sure the lines flow from block to block
allergic to cherry wood when you begin working with it, you will be after a while. I wear a dust mask, er, most of the time.

Walnut Ink

After the sanding and cleaning, the blocks get a bath of sorts. To aid in cutting I darken my blocks with walnut ink. If everyone did that with their individual blocks after they are cut I would get back a bunch of tiny bowed blocks. But if the entire block, before cutting, gets treated with a nice coating of walnut ink, then the wood dries properly and there is much less chance an individual block will warp.

Since last project some people protested that their block was too dark and gloomy, this time I thinned the
Walnut ink "bath" front and back
ink a bit to make it more warm and welcoming. Both front and back of each block get a very light coating of thinned walnut ink to distribute the dampness. Here in the desert they dry within minutes and that is good because the wood doesn't even have time to think warping.

In order to get both front and back covered at the same time, I use tiny blocks of wood to prop up the block. I cover the back with ink, turn the block over onto the tiny blocks and then cover the front. I use a large sponge brush to get a very light coat over the entire block very quickly.

And the Map

For those of you who will "try this at home", that is, engage in directing your own puzzle print project, at this point it is a good idea to make a map of the design. This crucial organization tool will later make easier the task of matching participants to blocks.
My own procedure goes something like this:

  • Take a digital picture of the final drawing on the blocks prior to cutting
  • Import into Photoshop, eliminate color and lighten so the background is about white
  • Print out map for each large block and number the pieces
  • As I cut out each puzzle piece, I write down the piece number on the back of the puzzle piece
  • Later when I mail, I write down the puzzle piece number by each participant's name on the spreadsheet
In this case I named each large block FA (Fluttering Above), TB (Tree and a Bee), AP (About the Pond) and UC (Under the Canopy). Then I just number the puzzle pieces left to right or whatever 1-23. So the puzzle pieces will get named FA-1, FA-2, FA-3 and so on. Last time I used roman numerals for the large block but I like this better.

Did I mention ONLY 8 days to go until I can mail these tiny jewels out? YAY!!!

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's EARTH DAY! I drew a garden, did you make art today?

Celebrating Earth Day

It's Earth Day, friends! All day, all week for me, month, whatever...I love nature. What better day to get motivated to draw our garden in the real blocks!

While you were all having a wonderful weekend, I enlisted my favorite accomplice to fire up the table saw and cut our blocks to size. I could have cut them by hand but I believe in the proper tool for the proper job and the table saw makes perfectly straight and smooth cuts when properly outfitted with a fine tooth blade.

Besides, in early celebration of Earth Day, I had to transplant some tiny trees that will soon to give our front porch natural shade and privacy, so I needed the time and power tools save time. After the weekend was done, I had four perfectly sized cherry plywood blocks sanded smooth and eagerly awaiting my charcoal stick.

The Garden Is Planted

There is really no mystery about how the drawing gets done, I grab a willow charcoal stick so I can erase at will and reproduce the earlier drawing on the blocks. I use the old tried and true method of subdividing each block into smaller rectangles to guide my lines.

I lightly block out the main shapes first, changing position of the elements as needed for good fit. Later I strengthen the elements gradually when I am satisfied with the overall design and placement. The drawing changes a bit because there are some considerations unique to the puzzle project.

First, each potential piece has to be determined and I have to make sure that the pieces are adequate for a small image. This means pieces should be roughly 5 inches or 13 centimeters in diameter and have adequate "real estate" to draw an image, no elongated pieces, no strangely shaped pieces.  Well, they are all a bit strange, roughly. And that means that caterpillars get fatter, mushrooms get rounder, fish and birds get plump and flowers petals get big while their stems get smaller.

Second, there has to be at least as many puzzle pieces as there are participants. A bit of experience has taught me that one 22 x 30 inch (56 x 76 cm) wood block will yield about 20-24 adequate puzzle pieces. As I draw, I make sure that this actually happens. The charcoal stick is very soft and gets erased with the palm of my hand as I arrange, rearrange, draw, erase, enlarge, adjust and pretty much make a dusty mess of myself, the blocks and any cats that happen to walk about.

Finally, the puzzle pieces have to "fit" into the overall design and the background needs to be de-emphasized so that the individual images will shine. However, enough of the background has to remain so that the overall design does not disappear and leave the pieces too incoherent. A balance has to be struck!
Also, at this point I line up the blocks against each other so that the design flows from one block to the next. The tiny "cheat sheet" laying on the block above is a replica of the large design folded in fourths so that I can focus on each block's elements.

At this point, our garden doesn't look like much because it is missing the crucial ingredient: YOU! Although the general design is still very much there, the little pieces is what will bring our garden to life. 
Four blocks all together with the garden "planted"

Will you be a mushroom cap? A tree knot?
A happy river rock? A chunky caterpillar?

Tomorrow, I will make final adjustments and strengthen the lines with ink. While the blocks are still in one piece, I give them a final sanding which both smooths them and gets rid of the remaining charcoal dust and I cover front and back with a light wash of walnut ink.
Then the jig-saw (saber saw) gets fired up with a brand new set of scroll blades and the cutting begins. But that may be another day yet.

Our garden is planted!

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Transferring key block to color blocks

As promised, I made a little video on easy transferring of key block to color blocks.
Determining the number of color blocks is the hard part, I tend to just think through it and usually end up with more blocks than I need. I guess that's better than being short a block.

Everything needed to transfer key block, foamboard registration jig,
transparent sheet, blank blocks, ink, printing instrument

For loose designs such as the Fantastic Garden doodle rewards, the color blocks are easy to transfer and carve. If I want more precision, I usually use a variation of the traditional Japanese method: transfer key block to tracing paper, glue tracing paper onto color blocks with registration marks included.

But for Western relief color prints and a simple design, I save my precious hanshita (backed tracing) paper and transfer the design right from one block to another. For this, I use a registration board made with foamboard that fits the height of the block perfectly. This allows me to place the corner of the printing block against the registration board, place the paper against the registration guides and print away.

Nice transfers onto several color blocks and some proofs
I will use the registration board for the actual print and in order to adapt it to transfer the key block to the color blocks, I simply add a sheet of any non-stretchable, see-through, and non-absorbent material. This can be Mylar, any transparent plastic sheet such as overhead transparency, glassine (although I like to see completely through), or any similar material.

The sheet needs to be slightly larger than the block but not so large that it becomes unwieldy to handle. I tack the edge of the sheet onto the foamboard registration board and flip aside to allow me to ink the block. Here is the procedure:

  1. Pin or tape the transparent transfer sheet to the registration board and flip aside
  2. Ink the block
  3. Register the corner of the block on the registration board
  4. Flip the sheet onto the block
  5. Print the transparent sheet as any other sheet, with hand or press pressure
  6. Flip the sheet aside and remove key block
  7. Place blank block in the registration board
  8. Flip sheet onto the blank block
  9. Print the sheet onto the block using hand or press pressure
  10. Repeat for each color block needed

The whole procedure in video, enjoy!

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Doodles 1 and 2 key blocks

Not really earth shattering stuff, just the carving progression on two of the doodle-sketches, About the Pond and Tree and a Bee.
Tomorrow I will decide on color blocks and transfer the key blocks to the color blocks. For these simple
designs, I usually transfer directly from key block to color blocks rather than using the traditional Japanese method of printing on thin tracing paper and gluing to the color blocks. But more on that tomorrow.

Block ready to carve
Basically, after printing out the doodles on Studio Paper (wax paper) and transferring the printout onto the block, as shown on last post, I go over the design with magic marker to strengthen the lines. Otherwise, they blur when carving.

Next I tint the block with walnut ink, a little diluted. This allows me to see exactly where I am carving because the  wood is much lighter than the stain.
Walnut stain makes it easy to see where I have carved

After the stain, a nice bath of linseed oil so that my chisels glide through the top layer like a knife through butter. Smells good too!

Design gone over with permanent marker

After staining and linseed oil bath, ready to carve
The progression in a quick slide show:

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Monday, April 15, 2013

Enlarging the Fantastic Garden sketch

As usual, I'm ahead on the project and behind on reporting!
Fantastic Garden reference sketch at 1/4 scale
The large woodblocks for our Fantastic Garden will be here this week; I'm so excited about that!
Since we got enough participants so fast, this means I can get ahead of the game a little bit and start transferring the drawing to the larger blocks. "Transferring" is a misnomer in this case because I actually re-draw the sketch on the blocks. Why? you ask? Well, the sketch is all good and charming but when creating the actual drawing I have to make sure that the "puzzle pieces" that each participant will receive is a block that can be designed and carved. This means no skinny blocks, no tiny blocks, in general, no "difficult" blocks.
So I adjust the design as I go along to make sure that:
1. I can actually jig-saw into doable pieces and,
2. All the pieces are roughly 5-6 inches in diameter and of a shape that is welcoming to unique designs for my friends

I made a slide show/video about how to make your own enlargements from a standard printer. Basically, I start out by going to my favorite imaging program, Adobe Photoshop, and dividing the sketch into printable chunks. My image was 22 x 30 inches so I divided into 8 sheets, each printable on my standard printer at 8.5 x 11 inches. Just select an area print size, and then use the "print selection" command to print just that area. Overlapping the image is necessary because later I will glue together and need to know how to align it. Repeat 8 times!

Here is a slide show and video of the rest of the process:

On another front, I have now finished carving the About the Pond doodle key block and tomorrow will make a slide show of the progress, transfer the key to the color blocks and make a little video of that process.

Onward and upward!

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Working on the Doodles

First, the Stretch Goal

Thank you backers and participant-backers alike! Since we met the initial goal so quickly, let's shoot for the moon! New stretch goal set at $5900. What is a stretch goal? Well, a goal above the goal, a new horizon, raising the bar, most importantly a way to give extra rewards to everyone involved for spreading the word. The project is funded regardless of making the stretch goal BUT!
Let's keep sharing the art-venture and every pledge above $40 will get a bonus PRINTED BOOK: Growing the Garden. If you have already paid for an extra book, you will be refunded, of course. And everyone, every man, woman and child (who pledges, that is!) will get a commemorative Greeting Card panel. 
But we have to make our stretch goal first. Let all your friends know, keep spreading the word and thank you for supporting and believing in our Fantastic Garden!

Working on the Doodles

I have officially begun work on the Doodle Rewards. A couple of people emailed me expressing interest in a set of the color doodle woodcuts, okay so one is my Mom (but whatever!). And so I thought while I wait for the big blocks of wood to arrive I would start working on the little darlings. Here is a silly video to illustrate the beginning of a woodcut print:

At the end of the video you can see a printout of the Fantastic Garden sketch on one of my work tables, I printed over 8 standard pieces of paper, about one-quarter scale of the real thing. I usually draw right on the blocks and adjust the design as I go to make sure the puzzle pieces are suitable for tiny woodcut images. I am so ready for my big blocks to get here!

Meanwhile, I'll keep working on the doodles...

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Monday, April 8, 2013

Updates! Participants and finances online

Bit of Record Keeping

A project like this has a lot of behind the scenes busy work that, unfortunately, does not involve drawing, carving or printing. But it is very necessary to be meticulous about keeping the books or herding, er, I mean directing 80 printmakers can quickly become overwhelming.

First thing was to build the participant list from the Kickstarter list of backers. FYI Kickstarter does not give me any information aside from names, about the project backers or participants. After the funding period is done (May 3) then I will send a survey to everyone and get addresses for mailing the blocks. The faster you answer, the faster you get your goodies!

But for now, as I await my big box of cherry ply, I put up a participant list on this blog. Many names are repeat participants so I grabbed their location from previous projects, in case you wonder about that. Just click on the Participant List link in the main menu under the blog header.

Finally, I set up the accounting/ accountability page so everyone knows how time and money are spent. Now when someone asks, "where does the time go?", you will know the answer!
Exciting stuff, huh?

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 6, 2013

OMG 26 days to go and we funded the project!

Thank you all! We did it!

Success! We have ALREADY reached the funding goal! That is so awesome, this means all rewards will be awarded and, most importantly, we get to play!!! YAY!

Okay, I am very excited about this. Anytime you embark on any art-venture the doubts are big and ugly and constantly nagging. But we go forth anyways into the world of art-ventures and most times we rejoice in the glory of a successful art project.

So now we actually get to play. We will end up with around 89 participants or so. No problem! In Spain we like to say "donde comen seis, comen siete" or "(a table) where six can eat, seven can eat". After the last participant spots are taken I will start a waiting list and if the project continues to be funded well, we may be able to chop another block!

Now what?

1. Well, you can rejoice and, more practically, PARTICIPANTS please be sure to read the INSTRUCTIONS FOR PARTICIPANTS in advance of getting your blocks. Available from my website:


2. Also very important, everyone keep an eye on this blog and/or on the Kickstarter updates for regular updates:

3. The Kickstarter funding period continues until May 3rd, there is no way to stop the presses! So tell a friend! SHARE this success! I have some "stretch goals" in mind, mostly rewards for all participants and backers but in order to do that, we need to continue to fund the project. You know how it goes, never rest on your laurels...

Thank you again and again! Let's grow this garden!!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Finally! Fantastic Garden is launched

Sheesh! Whew! Tons of work but well worth it, the Fantastic Garden Puzzle Print Project has been officially launched. After weeks of tweaking I just looooved pushing the bright green Launch Button.

Anyhow, we will now detour news of the project to:

The Official Project Headquarters

The Information and Sign Up Page on Kickstarter.com

Join us! And thank you for your support!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Making a PuzzlePrint: a very short slide show

Spring and Puzzle Prints are in the Air...

Ah yes, my printmaking friends and I are in the process of making our next puzzle print. A big one...a monumental one!

Briefly, a Monumental Puzzle Print is a large design composed of "puzzle pieces", each of which is designed and carved by a unique artist under a common theme. The project director designs and cuts the wood  block into puzzle-like pieces, then sends the pieces to participant artists; they carve their own little design and send the tiny piece back. Then the director assembles the carved pieces. The entire design is printed as a woodcut print after the puzzle is reassembled and finally each participant receives a huge print encompassing the entire design.
Here is a short slide show of the steps in making a puzzle print:

How to make a puzzle print in many easy (not easy) steps

For much more on the process, and to follow the making of the next one, the official Puzzle Print Headquarters:  


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sign up is open for the Fantastic Garden!

It's on!

How to sign up:

1. GO TO the project page:

or the full URL

2. FIND the Participant Level on the column of REWARDS, scroll down, right side of the page

3. CLICK ON the Participant Level Reward
Click on the PARTICIPANT LEVEL to sign up
4. FINALIZE payment of the Participation Fee and THAT'S IT!!! After you see the confirmation page, you are now confirmed as a participant.

Let’s do this!!! Invite someone to participate that has never done this before, let’s get some new printmakers to play too.

Don't forget to share so that we can get the project funded, even after all the participants are signed up the project will remain open for 30 days.

The Jig-Saw-Bandit-Action-Figure is awaiting patiently to chop up your little blocks...

Fantastic Garden Headquarters: http://puzzleprints.blogspot.com (right here!)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Update...SO CLOSE!!!

Countdown to Sign up in a few days!

The video for the Fantastic Garden Puzzle Print project on Kickstarter.com is now edited and complete. This allowed me to finalize sketches for OUR garden, revise, review, revise again, complete the reward list, illustrate the scale of the projects and about forty-six (exactly) other tasks necessary to complete the submission.

I don't know if I have explained this already: Kickstarter is a platform that allows creative artists to fund their projects through the old fashioned strategy of requesting "backers" (like the nobles and the kings of old). Backers pledge a certain amount and they receive creative rewards in exchange. 
After the project goes live and my fellow participants go to sign up, you will also see the rewards. I hope everyone shares the project page with art loving friends so that we can go ahead with our growing of the Fantastic Garden!
Our Garden-to-BEE, oh I'm so funny...
What happens now is the Kickstarter folks review our project, say: "wow, that's truly awesome!!!" and then we are free to launch the sign-up page. If there are no delays cuz I messed something up, probably in about three, four days! READY??? I am so excited I'm shaking...

While we wait, my dear fellow co-conspirators, there are fun things we can do. For example, take a peek at the almost final sketch to scale above; they always change a little when transposed to the larger blocks. Those of you who have done this before can expect to receive a butterfly wing or a mushroom head or a jumping gold fish, a leaf, a flower petal, a swirl of water, a knot in a tree...

Official Rules

And of course everyone can now review the official "rules" now available for download from my website:

There are a few new little things this time, mostly that the participant number will be limited to 80 and the deadline is shortened to four months. Of course, the sign up page will be the Participant Level at the project page on Kickstarter.com with the exact page to be announced in three...two...just as soon as I know, you'll know.

Doodles of Fun!

And just for fun and to offer more rewards to our backers I decided to make each doodle panel into a woodcut, both in black and white and in color! Aside from the excruciating task of putting all the details of the project together (four weeks in the making!), I did have fun doodling and came up with a brand new style for me. Here are a black and white and a color doodle-sketch-soon-to-be-rewards for our sponsors.
Tree and a Bee, one of four doodle-sketches

Under the Canopy, one of four doodle-sketches

I am exhausted! I'm so ready! I have toon-birds fluttering in my head. So close...