Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Narcissus, 7.5"x10" moku hanga--woodblock print. 2015

When I was in college, I shared an apartment for some time with a young woman who was working to help pay for her education. She worked in the local florists after school and she would bring home some days bunches and bunches of flowers that were a little too old to sell.  It was a good time in my life and the flowers of New England sat on the windowed kitchen in a Main street walk up.
The shelves would fill with Mason Jars and water glasses full of iris and daisies, tuberose and narcissus and we would enjoy the waning color and scent as the flowers slowly faded from a little tired to past withered.  We were bright and full of promise and so it wasn't very long before we had to leave that place and moment for other places and other things.

Thirty years later, I plant bulbs in patio pots and outside under the trees.  In the fields around us are nearly-wild double daffodils, tulips and nodding onions, narcissus, jonquils and hyacinth that will usually start to bloom in late winter or early spring.  And when they bloom, flags of color against the cold-tired fields of grass and mud, I am reminded of the waning flowers, and the kitchen, books and tea, and the woman I knew, and the distant promises we made, and sometimes kept, when we were flowers too.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Home made Barens revisited (and now on sale on Etsy)

Baren#3; Hemp cord and matte medium. Now on my etsy site.

I've been using my home made barens for a little over a year now and I've had a chance to make some changes and tweaks. Mostly I've found a way to stiffen the cords--white glue and/or matte medium seems to work well.  I've also added paper and glue to the backing disk--this makes it stiffer and just looks cooler.
I just finished Baren #4--a heavy-weight baren made from a marine nylon cord that was hard to twist (I needed 3 tries and 2 helpers).
Baren #4 Nylon cord and Glue 12cm
I have also taken apart the hemp-twine baren that had softened over time (Baren #3) and refurbished it by adding a few paper discs (japanese washi and glue) to stiffen the back and then treated the cord with an white glue and matte medium to fill in the gaps and waterproof and stiffen it.
Now with a new takenokawa (leaf cover) and yellow varnish it's like new and ready for printing.

Hemp twine and matte medium. Baren #3- 11.5cm size
Again my goal is to figure out a way to make decent, inexpensive barens for student and new moku hanga printers...and since many of these are still working with western papers to economize I want to see how they'll print in those situations.
It turns out that these are pretty good as barens go. They are not as strong as my Murasaki professional or a ball-bearing baren.  I need to break both of them in a little bit as the knots are still a little too prominent--I'll be printing later this week and a few impressions of solid color areas will do the trick.  I specifically want to try out the heavy one on a beefy 100+ g/m2 Japanese paper as well as a smooth Italian etching I can try them side by side with my Murasaki. I'm still looking for the perfect cord....I hope to try waxed cotton twine (macrame cord) next.
New leaf cover.

 Pastry cardboard with glue and washi added to try to stiffen it.
I gave an earlier baren, covered with a shelf paper takenokawa, to a colleague in Milan--and she's been using it in her classes and it's holding up well--and since I've gotten several queries from her students about whether I would make these available, I've put one up on Etsy to see if there is indeed, any interest. now has Baren #3 freshly listed.

Cost: 35 Euro plus shipping-New backing paper (a couple of layers of paper and acrylic matte medium), waterproofing and strengthening of the cord with glue.  Freshly wrapped with a zero-km bamboo leaf cover (takenokawa) from my Italian garden--and that's not all; for new printers, I'll also guarantee the cover--I'll replace it for up to 6 months if it tears from normal wear or printing---(since that's a task that new printers seem to universally fear when they start moku hanga printing.  You have to get it to me but I'll rewrap it with a new leaf for free).

I think this is a great deal: it has several hours of labor, has been tested, you can return if it isn't what you want AND if it's still too expensive--you can make your own following the steps I outlined in an earlier post.  Check back as I'll be making a couple of these next month and posting them to Etsy too. And I'll be posting the results of my printing tests next week.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Cabbage Butterfly (relief ink)

Wood engraving, olive wood. Oil relief ink on Japanese paper.
Thanks to the folks over at Intaglio Printmakers in the UK. I got a small package this week of some Japanese papers and a tube of Graphic Chemical Black Relief ink.

As I expected, the difficulties I had printing my little wood engraving were due to the etching ink I was using (too soft) and the poor quality relief ink I had tried that didn't have enough pigment or body.

This rolled out easily and was easy to print with a baren onto a variety of dampened printing and Japanese papers.

I'll print up a few more copies before retiring this little trial block.
I'm sharpening my burins and spitsticker for the next project and ready to try another block.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Class Planning

I'm getting ready for this weekend's woodblock class and that means getting out tool sets and brushes, nonskid mats for carving and leather belts for stropping.
I have several cartons of blocks I brought over specifically for these classes.
They're made of Japanese Linden--called Shina--and are easy to carve and print.

This weekend's class will have two block sizes of Shina plywood available; 8"x10" and 4"x6". The big block can be printed on both sides so 2 blocks will yield 4 surfaces (allowing up to 5 colors). The smaller block will make use of a floating kento--a jig that allows the whole block to be used and you'd be surprised how "big" an impact you can get from smallish blocks-- My "Fulcrum" print was printed from these small 4"x6" blocks.

The bigger blocks are easier--if more time consuming--to carve but allow for more detail since the scale is bigger. The smaller blocks are quicker to carve and allow for more layering/playing with the surfaces.
I'm hoping to teach the traditional method--a "black line" keyblock used to define the color areas of the other blocks--but direct carving and printing are also possible.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November Cypresses

Moku Hanga-color woodblock print. 5.5" x 15.5"
I woke up at 5am and went outside...I wanted to see the morning light and look at the trees again. My print was mostly finished but I still wanted some references before I went back in the studio to print the last block and layers.  The morning sky was misty and light, glowing blue with only a hint of the violet I've portrayed here....

I printed 4 copies.
Two on Tosa Hanga Natural Washi (a 50% Thai Kozo/50% Sulfite) paper that I got from Hiromi Paper in LA. on my last trip to the US.
The other two are on a lightweight mixed kozo, hemp and pulp paper I found in an art store in Santa Cruz. I sized it and it prints reasonably well--certainly good for a proofing paper and if I mount the finished print it will look really nice.

These were quick proofs with almost no priming of the blocks so they're each a bit different with more or less bokashi and more or less layering to the tree shapes.
A little more bokashi (gradation printing to the sky) and a crooked chop.
 It will be a bit before I can get back and print a real edition.
That's ok as I want to think about the colors a bit and try to get it a little less fussy and a little less pretty.
These are supposed to be Winter Cypresses and I want the mood a little more somber.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Field work-Cypress trees

Small 2"x6' doodle
The printed keyblock. This will be used to carve the color blocks.
  I started working on this little print last week, hoping to start and finish it during my 3-day demo at the Japanese festival, but I ended up printing a lot, but carving only a little so I've taken the blocks to my studio to work on them and I'm just about ready to start printing.
 It's based on a little quick doodle of some imaginary trees--but it's not really all invented.
We're surrounded by cypress trees and they are a part of the landscape, both real and symbolic and although they are not native to Italy, they are almost emblematic of the Tuscan countryside.

Today we drove to Panzano in Chianti and I took my sketchbook and camera.
I have three blocks carved and wanted to look at some real trees before I proof the blocks I've cut or carve any more.
This was meant to be a quick study--carved and printed loosely--and I'll have to try to navigate between the competing urges to keep the simplicity of the gesture or to add more detail and complexity through additional blocks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moku Hanga Demo/Lailac Fair 2014

Villa Strozzi, the Limonaia (lemon greenhouse) Firenze.

Tea Ceremony(host)

Tea Ceremony (guest)

My booth as one entered the room.

There was a great turnout at the Japanese festival and I was happy with the interest and flow for most of the weekend.  I was set up next to a large photographic exhibit of Japan, but also next to the stage where the music, dance, and Taiko drumming took place.   The day started with a demonstration of the Japanese tea ceremony (a different version each day), and then there would be music, drums, and a show of how to wear a kimono/yukata/furisode/etc as well as musical performances repeated during the day.

Etagami tables;

There was an Origami section. A calligraphy corner and a whole section dedicated to Etagami.
Like last year they were recruiting people to join the etagami exchange.
 The flow of visitors would pick up quickly so by 11: 30-noon the building would be pretty full. There were couples, children, people with dogs, undeterred by the pouring rain.

I was placed towards the back, but well-visible from the entrance and the I had a striking Ukiyo print of a young beauty (bijin) which was easily visible from across the room.
      I had planned on placing some information
My explanatory sheets tacked to the table where they could be easily read.
 panels behind me and I had prepared some Plywood panels, gluing Japanese paper to them. But I found the tables fairly deep and with the panels behind me the sheets I had prepared were too hard to read. So I changed things around, putting my 10 informational sheets to the front of the tables (tacked down) and setting up my green panels behind me. I added screws to the panels so I could hang my framed work and the Ukiyo-prints I had brought with me.
In the end, this worked out better as when there were performances, I couldn't really speak, but people could watch me carving or printing and there were written explanations of what I was doing in front of me that I could point to and that they could read on their own.
The morning light was perfect for carving so I would get in about 9:30am and set up and start carving. Visitors would start at 11am and I would carve until about 1pm. The Taiko drummers would kick in about 11:30 am which would energize my carving and I can blame some of the cutting errors to the pounding beat of the Taiko drums.
Do you think there's enough to look at?
Morning carving. The "sharkskin" was a great conversation starter.

In the afternoon I would switch to printing and I had a wet pack and a stack of paper to print on in various stages during the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Meanwhile, on the main stage there were tea ceremonies, kimono-dressing demo, Taiko drumming, and a Japanese dance group that was very percussive. Then, music and dance from Mangushaka, a performing group that came from Japan to showcase traditional and contemporary Japanese dance.

As folks strolled by my table, they would usually stop and read some of my pamphlets and watch me work. There were a few artists, a few art students, a collector, some retired lithographers or other practitioners of the print trade.
The printers would all watch me for a long while. The look on their faces showing that something seemed unclear or out of place. We'd chat for a bit and I'd answer one or two questions (usually regarding registration of the paper) and they'd immediately "get it" and then either smile at how elegant and simple it was, or shake their heads at how laborious and complicated.  The Ukiyo-e prints I had up would have entailed 20+ blocks and many more impressions.

In fact the most useful part of my demonstrations was being able to show how the antique prints had been made. Having a printing station right next to old Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblocks really drove the point home. These were/are woodblock prints, and they were printed using these simple techniques that I use for my own art but during the Edo era, pushed by trained artisans to create works of stunning mastery and beauty.

  I had nothing for sale   so I can't judge the success of the weekend by sales figures or promises of future commissions, but I got some great comments, lots of interesting questions, and the satisfaction of getting to share the art of moku hanga/woodblock printing to the Florence community.  I did, however, have many of my work on display, and I handed out business cards and flyers for my upcoming class.