Sunday, October 12, 2014

Driving in Florence: Right of Way

Right of Way, moku hanga woodblock print;
18"x20", e.v. of 10 on various Japanese papers.

During one of my longer sojourns in Italy (lasting 8 years), I became officially an Italian resident and that meant that I had to get an Italian driver's license.
But in Italy, that is more complicated than it is in the US where one used to be able to just show up and take the test.
For despite my maturity and long history of safe, cautious driving--I had to go to back to driving school.

  It's a month-long class, twice a week, and the instructors will accompany you to the exam and then again later during the actual driving test. The school will also facilitate the medical exam and subsequent documentation needed to obtain an license.  There is a written, multiple choice exam; followed by a driving test and I'd learned that most people go to a driving school to prepare and aide them with the test. The teachers are usually chain smokers and the school is full of an odd collection of people who you'd hate to see actually driving. And not surprisingly,  the things you learn in Italian driving school bear little resemblance to the daily habits of real Florentine drivers. Getting to school,  I'd be one of four cars abreast, crammed into one lane, but then sit in class listening to how many cars are supposed to be in each lane (One).

 I had an acquaintance, another artist and an American, who thought that if he just got the book, read it and studied--he'd be able to pass both the written and oral exams.
He was wrong.
When he got to the exam they asked him where he had taken his driving classes. When he replied he had studied at home alone from the book, they would scowl, ask him an odd or unusual question-- and fail him. After two tries he ended up enrolling in a driving school--and had no trouble passing both the written and practical exams.

So when it was my turn, I just signed up for a class at a driving school in my neighborhood. I'd learned enough Italian by then to be nearly fluent so I elected to take the written exam (the one used for Italians), rather than the oral exam for foreigners where I knew I'd be at risk of anti-American bias....besides, I'd also gone to medical multiple-choice questions-- even badly written--were a breeze for me.

In my class there were 3 Filipino nuns, the aide who rode my son's school bus to elementary school, a handful of nervous 20-year olds who had already taken, and failed,  the exam a couple of times, and 2-3 middle aged folks who had never gotten a license out of fear of test-taking, or just of driving.

I spent time learning how many axles are allowed on trucks while driving on secondary roads both in and outside the city limits, how potent a motor was allowed on mopeds and motorcycles, at what age one can drive a car, a tractor, a bus, or an "APE"--those odd, three-wheeled, small motored carts that putter all over town.
Meanwhile, the really important questions  (whether or not you can park illegally in front of the coffee bar, next to the three police cars that are parked on the sidewalk, or whether I have to wait till they leave or why there is ALWAYS a car parked under the sign that says "NO Parking anytime-tow away zone"?) were not discussed.

So this print is based on the driving exam one has to take in Italy.  It comes directly from the handbook of signs and rules that they give you when you sign up for the class. There are about a dozen of these diagrams illustrating the right-of-way, some obvious, others less so.

This one was the question they'd ask foreigners who said they'd studied at home:
"Who has the right of way when four cars arrive simultaneously at an intersection--and how do you proceed?"
What do you think?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Red Frame (cars again)

Right of Way, working proof, moku hanga

I'm near the end and that's a good thing as with each new block and layer, I like this less and less.

Yesterday, I  got rid of the chop and added the letters---a pthalo-blue/indanthrone mix, diluted with rice paste. Today, after a lot of misgiving, I added the red border (two passes: first a magenta, followed by a more amaranth-red).

As I expected, the bold red changes everything. Now I'm not so sure about the green....but if I darken the green, I'll need to deepen the gray.....and if I deepen the gray, it will cover the letters.
So I stared at it for a long while and then  just put them back in the damp pack, deciding to mull it over until tomorrow.

I need to finish as it's time to move on and these have been sitting in a damp pack for almost a week and I don't want them to go moldy on me. ( I added a little formalin to the damp pack since these are too big for the fridge).

Sunday, October 5, 2014


I planted edamame (green soybeans) in the garden before I left Italy this Summer because we like to eat them and they're hard to find here.  But we were delayed coming back, so instead of finding 4 long rows of plump, green pods, the beans were already too mature--turning tan and rough. I crawled about at the bases as a few plants in the shade hid a few green pods--and these we ate that night, steamed and salted--a simple treat made exotic by the local scarcity.  But the rest I let dry in the field...and these will hold until next summer. Since these are organic, non-GMO soybeans specifically bred for edamame production.... the seeds are more valuable as next year's crop than as this week's dinner.

Studio traffic (more cars)

This is moving along, but it's getting a little chaotic.

Right of Way-work in progress
I printed all four cars at once so that meant four brushes and four pots of color. One car (and sometimes, two) had to be printed twice so I'd lift that corner, rebrush pigment and print again without moving the whole sheet.

Since I'm using different papers with different thicknesses and fiber contents, some sized professionally and some by me, some on both sides of the paper and some just on the printing side....there are a lot of variables and printing this is rather complicated with both tube and bottle colors, brushes, multiple barens, a very large damp pack, carry and printing sheets.....

It's also a big sheet: 18" x 20", so I'm using a carry sheet of acetate to carry the damp paper to the inked plate; then replacing that with a thinner sheet of oiled paper to allow me to burnish vigorously without damaging the backs of some of the more delicate papers.
On the really thick papers (85-110g/m2), I'm using the ball-bearing baren to start with the protective sheet. Then taking that off and hitting spots with the heavy Murasaki baren.
But on the thinner papers (39g/m2), I'm using just the medium baren. I'm definitely getting a work-out and I'll need to change the baren covers on a few of these once I finish with this print run.

I've two more blocks and maybe 2-3 more impressions to go. One is a big colored border around the whole image...I've been putting it off as I'm not sure it's going to work.
Tomorrow will tell.
But first, I need to mix up a new batch of paste.

Monday, September 22, 2014


"Right of Way", work in progress/proof state. (moku hanga)

Well, I'm back at work in the studio for the first time in almost three months.

I started working on this print last April and I had hoped to finish it before the Summer arrived and I left for the USA.  But it's bigger than I usually work (about 20" x 22") and just dealing with the paper-- using a carry sheet to move the damp paper safely to and from the damp pack to the block combined with the process of carefully inking and printing from the big blocks just takes longer and I didn't want to be rushed.
Detail of one of the blocks: arrows and grass
I pulled just a quick proof before leaving, and saw that I had a fair amount of work still to do with the blocks, so I put them away for later.
But I'm finally back.

While I can't say I'm totally free to jump right back into the studio full-time, I did manage to dampen some paper and work a few hours each of the last few days to pull some proper proofs on student-grade washi.
As is typical for my working style, I'm still making decisions as I go along and I'm glad now that I left the printing for when I came back.  There are still some decisions to make and some changes the blocks will need to get this where I want it to go and make sure they're printing cleanly before I use my good paper. Hopefully in the next week or so I'll be able to focus and concentrate on making it right, instead of just "done".

"Right of Way", proof state. Moku hanga woodblock print.
This still needs about 3-4 passes of color and I have to tweak the registration a bit....and there's a big colored border that will change the look a lot.

I'll explain more about what I'm up to when this is finished.......

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Beetle trouble

Capnodis cariosa, Flat-head, Mediterranean Borer Beetle

This thing, or one of his relatives showed up for the first time last Fall. It had just finished munching all of the new flower/leaf buds of a small plum tree that we had just planted.

This is a borer beetle and while it's the grub that does the most damage (and is really, really nasty to look at),  I'd never seen an adult on the property.....and once I saw one, and started looking around...there were dozens. On all of the plums and many of the pears and as they strip off all of the cambium and new bark of the new shoots skeletonizing the newer growth and branches.....and on smallish trees that means no flowers and no fruit.
So I squashed him.
Sorry, I know that that's probably not cool or morally sound in the "BIG" picture but on our little farm I won't use insecticides on my organic fruit trees but I'm not above basic control methods (hunt and eliminate) when the balance tips too far in favor of the lower orders. (If we still had chickens, they'd help keep them in check).

"Beetle Trouble" Sumi ink and watercolor etagami
 on Japanese paper.

This is my September Etagami for my Japanese Etagami exchange. You can see the kind of damage they do in the eroded tip of the branch.

It reads, "Beetle Trouble" in Japanese.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stumps and flowers

Cardinal Creeper, wood engraving and watercolor; 8"x8".
About a year ago, I was walking home from the clinic on one of my last shifts of the Summer. I noted a neighbor had almost finished taking out a boxwood hedge. The tops had been sawn off and they were trying to dig and pry out the stumps and roots. My first thought was whether any could be salvaged for Bonsai....Boxwood takes forever to grow and an abandoned plant would be perfect....but these had been too badly damaged. But I asked the owner if I could grab a few pieces.....I heard boxwood was ideally suited for wood engraving....and I'd never tried it as it's become too hard to find endgrain blocks and too expensive to have them made....but I could saw off the end of a stump and these would cost only my labor.

I came back with a box, threw in the fattest trunks and took them home. I didn't have time to properly treat them; but I put half in my mildly damp studio and the others I put under the Pizza oven/which was covered with a tarp. I hoped in my year away that they would dry....and not crack too badly.

This Summer, I've been too busy with house works and other health issues to really do any artwork. But I did have time to pull out the stumps and survey the wood.  Most of the big pieces had checked (cracked) rather badly.....but I sawed off a few rounds........I sanded a couple smooth; and took the ugliest, most suited to a test carving, and continued sanding until it was glass smooth.

I drew a sketch of a plant I've been meaning to do a print of for a couple of years....
Cardinal climber or creeper (the name changes and they're not exactly the same....but it's a cross of a wild and domestic climbing morning glory). It's a great humming bird attractor and I've planted it a couple of times with little success, but last Summer my housemate Sandy got some to grow; and I took a few sketches/photos.

So armed with a subject; a sketch; a wood round; and a few engraving tools I decided to give it a go.
Since this will be only one block and the registration will not be an issue. I just redrew my sketch onto the smooth end. I tinted the block with a little greenish wash to help show the future cuts.
It was a bit of a mess; I didn't really know how to hold or use the tint--the sharp pointed tool used to outline my shapes. Nor did the scorpers---clearing tools seem to want to obey my clumsy hands.  But by the second day, I resharpened the tools,  tried holding them at a shallower angle and things started to go better. And by the time I decided I was done (parts were shaggy and ragged, others clean and well-defined). This was meant to be a test and I didn't want to expend too much time and energy on an experiment.

After one day of hacking and stuttering....

A few days later; the tools are sharper, and I'm going about it from a shallower angle.

Cardinal Climber, 8"x8" on Echizen Kozo; Akua Carbon Black Intaglio ink.
And here is the result.

These were printed by hand using a baren. I printed a few onto a Japanese paper (echizen kozo--here) and two papers better suited for engravings and etchings.

The back of the block was still uneven stump so printing was a bit of a disaster...I ended up making a clay base to hold the block, I'd lay the damp paper in place, set it with a light pressure of the baren, then pick the whole thing up and supported with one hand from behind, rub the surface with the baren hard....I got the hang of it after about 4-5.......

The few good, even impressions I'll leave alone.
The few weak impressions I'll go over as above with some watercolor.......
It was fun to try and the results, although crude, are appealing--I like the crisp effects the crosshatching yields, and I'm not really used to working in black and white--but I'll try to pick out a few ideas that will work well in this format and technique.  I like close hand work and detail, so it's a technique I might be able to use to my advantage, once I get better at it.

I'll let the stumps dry for another year (they'll carve better). But I'll take a few rounds with me when I head back to Italy this September.  It's a totally different technique than moku hanga, and I'll have to work really small......but I want to try another one......