Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Italianism: October 10th Rome, Italy: Moku hanga demo

I'm thrilled and  quite excited to have been invited to participate in Italianism http://www.italianism.it/en/  a one-day conference, investigation and display of the current state of the arts in Italy and abroad (by Italians). Set in the larger, month-long, OUTDOOR festival and housed in the mammoth ex-weapons factory and military base in the Flaminio neighborhood of Rome.  I'll be there as one of the participating artists demonstrating Japanese woodblock printing.

Italianism is the project of Renato Fontana and produced by Nu company and Outdoor Festival; There are more than 100 artists participating. There will be Illustrators, Designers, Musicians, Web Designers, Tattoo and Graffiti artists and the general focus is on modern and cutting-edge art and design and the emerging synergy and cross-pollination happening by artists working across media and geographic boundaries.  Housed in a large industrial complex that was once a military barracks and weapons factory the space is enormous with areas dedicated for the music and video stages and the large installation works that fill the many big rooms of the now abandoned factory. There is a section showing the works of 50 contemporary Italian illustrators and a photographic exhibit. 

Connecting two of the large hangars is a long, covered corridor housing the section the organizer has titled: ANALOG 2.0.  20 modern artists who have decided to work in fields that hark from another age and work in decidedly hands-on,  labor-intensive crafts. There is a pinhole and colloid photographer, a silkscreen artist, bookbinders and hand typesetters of artist books, tattoo artists, a  felt illustrator,  a cut-paper artist, a few independent small book publishers, and one, not-so-young, not-so Italian, moku hanga. Japanese woodblock printer (me).

I'll have a table set up with my work, both sample blocks and prints.   I will demonstrate the traditional technique of moku hanga printing, using dry pigment, rice paste and printing with a baren.  I plan on printing most of the day with frequent breaks to discuss the differences between Japanese and traditional western printing techniques and with a session in the afternoon on how how to make a simple but effective, home made baren and to man a printing station for those who'd like to try printing with a baren.
I'll also have some framed and unframed works on display (and on sale) but this will mostly be a chance for me to meet 100 amazing Italian artists and illustrators and to make myself known in this community.  Tickets are 20 Euro and allow entrance to the entire event including Outdoor Festival.
From 10 am to 4AM. See program at the above link.

I should have a more definite program for the day posted here in the next few days.
I hope to see lots of curious and friendly faces in Rome, October 10th at Italianism.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Show and Tell: 10 Years of Woodblock prints--Caffe` Petrarca Exhibit and Demo.

I'm exhibiting a good selection of my moku hanga wood block prints for the next three weeks in Florence.

The local bar and caffe`,  Caffe` Petrarca has two large rooms and hosts regular exhibits by local artists.  There is a brisk morning crowd. (Coffee and Pastries) and a very busy lunch crowd...it's popular with the businessmen and women from the local banks and offices as well as students from the Art School across the street.

Visitors are welcome.
Caffe` Petrarca is closed Saturdays, but open other days from 6am-8pm.

I opted in the end to hang prints by theme and subject rather than chronologically. The nudes and figures are in the far end, the botanical prints at the entrance and I put all the bugs, reptiles and odd creatures in a mosaic on the longest wall......and here and there are the prints that defied categorization.....hardware? (Toggle Bolt and Spring), Road signs and movement (Zig Zag and Right of Way) and poor little Scooter Kiss.....which is untranslatable without a fair amount of explanation:
"It's sort of like a Bacio Perugina, only without the hazelnut, and made with inferior chocolate, but it has a similar foil wrapper and the little paper poem or phrase.  They're very popular and often found in offices and school candy jars all over the US. The scooter? Well, no there is no real reason it's riding a scooter other than silly foolishness....." 
Try saying all that in a foreign language.......
Try explaining this to an Italian...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Home-made Honing Disc. Getting tools sharp enough for moku hanga.

I don't know if the WorkSharp (TM), an American-made, motorized, disc sharpener for woodblock tools comes in a 220V version, but I was worried that the size and bulk made buying and bringing one to Italy in a suitcase impractical (especially since I was already 20kg overweight with blocks and paper).

But since TWO of our neighbors design shoes and handbags (another odd perk of living in Italy), we get the occasional leather remnant and I have a few pieces lying around. AND one of the cardboard pastry discs I use for my barens was way too big to use for a baren. AND I have 8 sets of Powergrip tools that I need to sharpen after my last moku hanga class for a workshop I'm giving this weekend.
So the odd juxtaposition of need, on-hand supplies, a model to use as a starting point, and the imminent need for 8 sets of sharpened tools got me motivated to try something I'd been thinking about.

 I took the cardboard disc and drilled a 8mm hole dead-center.
Then I glued the thin leather to one side with PVA glue (thinned a bit with water). To the other side I glued a 1500 grit wet sandpaper and pressed them both beneath some books overnight to dry.

Today, I loaded the leather side with honing compound (from McClains) and then threaded a long, 8mm bolt through the hole with washers on either side, and nuts to hold the disc tightly when it spins. I placed it into a handheld portable drill that I clamped to my table and by sitting just right (with safety glasses), I could hold the drill power switch with one hand to control the speed while looking  down the edge of the spinning honing disc and carefully place my U-gouges against it at just the right angle, turning them as I did so to finely hone the outside edge of the tool. By looking down the edge of the spinning disc I can hone on the top side with the leather wheel or hold the tool on the underside to lightly grind with the 1500 grit. I used a tightly rolled up piece of 1000grit sandpaper to remove any burr from the inside of the curve and looked at it with a 10X loop. Nice and polished. It took the hairs off the back of my arm with just a light touch. 
And just to be sure, the leftover piece of Okoume plywood that was tearing with the same tool yesterday, now cut cleanly and smoothly with no shredding.
We're in business.
Next, I tried the 1500 grit side of the disc on the Hangi Toh, I have to be careful not to get the tool hot or I'll lose the temper of the steel so I never held it for more than a few seconds at a time on the wheel and even the 1500grit takes metal off faster than I'd like so I do have to be careful.  But I put a new bevel on the Toh in less than a minute (on/off, on/off) and then buffed it on the leather side.

I made another disc (this time with a pressed-wood disc that came pre-drilled with a 8mm hole) it was for a decoupage clock face (3 Euro at the craft shop) and I glued a 600 grit and 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper sheet to either side.
These will be used only for changing bevels and really dull tools.
The drill is held in a vice so I can power it with one hand while I can gaze down the spinning wheel and hold the tool against it. There is leather and honing compound on the top, a 1500 grit paper on the bottom half.

The stiffer disc was definitely an improvement though as there is no wobble so it's easier to keep the bevels even and true.  (And I think I'll try to convert my leather one to the stiffer disc as it's a little easier to control). But first:
Tomorrow I'm going to hone the 8 sets of Powergrip tools for my class.
While I do this regularly by hand (using waters stones of 1000/6000 grit) on my good knives but with this many tools, I think the honing disc will get them all sharp enough for the students in about a 1/2 hour.
More importantly, they'll be sharp enough that they'll carve the plywoods easily, and that will make the work easier for beginners.

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 McClains...it 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.