Wednesday, August 5, 2015


"Boteh" (paisley) 8.25 x 11. 7"

This is the version of my pleated hair/braid print that I completed for the 2015 Awagami International Mini Print Exhibit.  It's pretty close to what I had in mind when I started which is unusual for me and I also finished it with a few days to spare.
I'm working on a variant now, as I also committed to a printmaking exchange and I'll be using this print for that too.
But the colors are different and I'm almost done with those as they need to get out the door by the weekend.

The title is "boteh" which is the leaf or fig-shaped motif seen on the fabric of the dress.  While traditionally the boteh is felt to represent a leaf, it also has been described as a fig or wing or cypress tree.
I wanted to suggest a different origin for this ancient Persian motif and the braided hair of a young woman was created to suggest that idea. The shape of the head and braid mimics the pattern repeating on the blouse and again the shape made by the sleeve slipping off the shoulder to reveal another boteh-like shape. I'm not sure the carpet or textile historians will concur but I think the boteh looks a lot more like a woman's braided hair than a cypress tree or Griffin's wing.

This was printed from 10 of the 11 blocks I carved and there are about 15 impressions in each print.
One cherry block and 9 shina plywood and one birch ply.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

More Hair

The proof of the keyblock reveals that it prints oddly. The cherry is resisting a bit the ink and printed lightly it prints weakly despite the density of the Sumi I'm using. If I print firmly (really hard) I get an almost lithographic-like effect from the wood. The problem is the wavy hair is on the same block as my keyblock and they really should have been on separate blocks as the key block wants lighter pressure for the finer lines that might be damaged by the amount of pressure I'm using to print the hair.  I can sort of cheat using a weak baren to print the block and then go back with a stronger baren to print just the central part where the head and braid are.
It's hard to believe this is woodblock.

The new problem is that it looks great--it's a great tangled mess of hair--very like my wife's actual hair--but the braid definition is now hard to read as there is too much of the same black value where there should be more range.  I thought about it for a while and finally cut another block...the back of the cherry plywood that I got from McClains has a birch plywood veneer to the back side and while it was much harder to carve than the Shina it was more than adequate for the simple block I needed to cut (although there were some knots and voids under the veneer...
So printing this new block in a value darker than the braid yields something closer to my original drawing.

I also cut from a separate Shina block a plate with a simple solid braid/head shape by cutting out just the shape of the braid and head as a solid form.
This will serve to give the head and hair their base color--like a griseille painting the value will come from the black and white keyblock while the color will come from a brown glaze.

Now I just have to decide if I like this better than the way it was without it.
The tangled mass of hair is energetic and plays well against the flat colors of the torso and background....but I still have plans for those.

Here they are with color added:
To the left (orange blouse) is just the keyblock with the added brown base block.
Below (yellow blouse), is the same but with the addition of the braid outline block added last.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Braiding wood, paper and hair.

Early Proof state--the image is about 7.5 x 10".

I'm working to try to get a new print done for this year's AIMPE Awagami's International Mini Print Competition 2015 for works on Japanese washi (paper) and the deadline is nearing (July 30th).  I also committed to the Baren forum's quarterly print exchange and that too is due July 30th. The paper sizes are different,  with the former a standard A4 (8.25 x 11.5") while the latter is a bigger 10 x 15"....but after playing with half a dozen designs I settled on one I've been working on off and on for a few years that I knew would work well with both formats.

It's based on a drawing I did a few year's ago when my wife still had waist length hair that she would wear in a tangled braid.  I did an etching similar to this also a few years back but was never happy with that.

The basic concept is simple and fairly formal...a woman's head and back with the picture plane divided by the dark braid....but the variations are endless....and I've doodled simple, idealized, literal, and exaggerated backs and braids in many of the sketchbooks I've filled.
In this case these sketches were drawn from memory done to scale to fit an A4 sheet knowing that I could adjust the block to fit both paper sizes.

I settled on the bottom sketch which ,while not perfect,  gave me a little more room to play with the braid and blouse. I especially like the wispy hairs of the nape of the neck and the cloud of stray hairs that surround the head and braid.   It will be challenge to carve the hair and while I know how to cut the wispy ones, I haven't really figured out yet how to cut the head and braid themselves..nor how many blocks to dedicate to them.
I ordered a block of Cherry plywood for the keyblock from has a good 1/8th inch layer of good cherry veneer and a 9 x 12 inch block should allow me to print both paper sizes.

I glued down the laser copy I made of the drawing and once the paste was dry I peeled back the outer layer of paper to reveal the image. With a thin coating of olive oil,  the remaining paper became translucent and I could follow the drawing to guide the cutting.
I'm using a 4.5 Hangi toh to outline all the hairs.
This particular piece of cherry was pretty dense. Carving was pretty straightforward--if slow-- but clearing the cut bits was harder than usual often requiring 4-5 passes with the toh and back cuts to get the pieces to finally separate from the block. The final carving of the mass of hair of the head and braids was cut with a V-gouge instead of the toh.

I proofed this block yesterday onto thin paper and glued 4 copies down to Shin blocks to start the color plates.  I lost a lot of the detail above and the braid is now a tangled mess. I like it but will need to tease out the definition of the braid better than it printed in the top photo.
But now I think I'll need an additional cherry block to resolve the hair.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Peace Puzzle. Population control.

We are too many.
Conflicts arising from the scarcity of food and water, arable land, housing and jobs are all partly caused by the competition among us for the same resources.  
Peace won't likely be in our future or that of our planet unless we can stem the growth of our species. At 7 billion humans and counting,  the human population continues to rise and the increasing pressure for dwindling resources and the effects of rising temperatures, air and water pollution and habitat loss are the driving forces of the mass plant and animal extinctions that have already begun. (and Peace must embrace the lives of all of the world's living things--not just humans). 

Population control starts with family planning and birth control.
Sex education and the encouragement within communities for members to have small families can all help stem or reverse the problem of human overpopulation.
Birth control is one solution and contraception (the prevention of unwanted pregnancies) is one way to reduce our numbers and is better than the alternatives of
War, Famine and epidemic Disease.

So add my small piece to the bigger puzzle.
Encourage smaller families.
Make sure women (and men) around the world have access to safe and just reproductive care.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Puzzle Piece

 I'm participating in a collaborative print conceived, organized and heroically managed by Maria Arango-Diener.(

This is a "puzzle print".  A larger block has been cut into many pieces and the participating artists,
almost 160(!) of us, each received a single piece, and we now need to carve it and ship it back to be reassembled and then printed.

This particular print has the theme of "PEACE" but there are no restrictions on how we interpret it and all we are asked is to get the block back by the deadline, and to avoid proofing the block (to prevent warping it)--as Maria will also compile a detailed colophon, we'll need to include at least a few words or explanation too.

The due date is July 31st and I brought the block in my carry-on as I flew last week from Florence, Italy to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, where I'll be staying for the next six weeks.

Here's my portion of the whole.
I got a leaf or tear-drop shaped block of cherry plywood.
I've been staring at it off and on for a few days. Looking at the shape and grain.

I'm not feeling it.
The vibrations I'm getting are the buses rumbling past, and the chattering windows as the beer glasses and patrons jostle each other in the bar down the street. And later, the garbage trucks at 5am, picking up the accumulated trash of this small city.
A young girl goes by holding hands with another while down the street another couple are pulling a stroller out of a car trunk and an infant and toddler spill out of the car itself, laughing and cooing.
I have now a half a dozen thumbnail sketches in my sketchbook.
I've even traced my wooden block to see if the shape will move me and it does, or something does.
I redraw an idea to scale and hold it backwards against the window, to see the reversed image.
it needs work, and maybe a different emphasis. But it's a start. Even if, from the shot below, you can't fairly guess yet where this is going.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Moku Hanga a Roma



 Last weekend's woodblock print class went by in a fast and busy that I only once tried to document the workshop with photos but my camera died and I never did get a chance to recharge. Thanks to Francesca and Giulia instead who took lots of photos and forwarded them to me.

It was a great group. Five energetic, really enthusiastic and dauntless artists happy to spend 3 full days learning something new.

This was designed as a 3-Day class: We talked a little bit about the history of moku hanga, looked at slides and I did a general printing demo followed by an introduction to tools and methods.
We went over the drawings and transferred them to the blocks and the group got carving.
Day one ended with the keyblocks carved.....
I forget sometimes how difficult it is for new carvers to learn how to hold the knives and work without fatiguing. 

Day 2 was devoted to looking at some beautiful antique prints; I demonstrated color printing and multi block registration. Color blocks were carved.

Day 3: we looked at slides of contemporary moku hanga artists;  I did a demo of bokashi gradation printing and and printing tips. And we discussed traditional and non-traditional barens.
PRINTING for the better part of the day.
We finished reviewing each persons works and ended the day, late, with a demonstration of how
 to tie the bamboo skin/leaf on the baren.

As I said before it was a great group.
The artists and graphic designers all had a good grasp of color separations and image manipulation.
The one beginner had a strong art history background (but had never carved either lino or wood) had some challenges with carving but was persistent, careful, and determined and managed to pull off a three-block image with a bokashi background and a cute character that everyone but me recognized as "SPANK"?

Registration was pretty good all around and the only real issues were the loss of some of the keyblock lines..from carving issues with the toh and gouges on the first afternoon....but that gets better with practice and by the second day all were already clearly more in control with the toh and chisels.  Each participant definitely got a sense of how the process works and what to work on for their next prints.

Claudia's "Spank". They say it's a dog?

 I had a great time; it was fun to teach and a great group to be a part of.
Thank you Betterpress lab for the invitation and a big thank you to the participants themselves for their effort and energy.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Takenokawa----that time of year again

This is a new bamboo cane and it's growing almost 1' a day.
Ah Spring, when the lusty thoughts of young men everywhere turn to takenokawa.
The bamboo is growing at the rate of a foot a day and that means about once a day, the thin, tough culm that surrounds the growing segment is dropping off too.
I noticed new bamboo shoots in the garden last week and knew it was time to go hunting.
I have a large paper bag as I won't need anything else.

Thank you spring; you have replenished my supply of baren-leaf covers (barengawa) for the year.
(This stand of bamboo has canes that range from 1" to almost 3.5" in diameter....the largest will easily open to 14-15cm when dampened and stretched and a great many of the smaller ones will stretch to 12-14cm...enough to cover my home-made barens).  It rained yesterday so I'll let these sit outside today as there is a drying wind and I'll put them away later before it gets damp in the evening.  I'll check again in a few days as there will be as many again littering the ground.
I recommend you go visit your botanical garden soon with a shopping bag.