Saturday, March 3, 2018

Chinese Zodiac: 2007-2018-Mokuhanga

With my portrait of Bosco as my "Year of the Dog" print for 2018, I have finished one 12-year cycle  for the Baren Forum's Chinese New Year exchange. Each year I printed enough copies to share with the other printmakers in the exchange, with extras for relatives and colleagues and  a few to give away to collectors or important contacts and usually a few more to sell at occasional print fairs or inquiring visitors to my website. Some years I finished them so late I was too embarrassed to send them out (Tiger) so I have lots. Others are now gone except for a few bad or odd copies.
I should note that the "Year of the Boar" pretty much marks my introduction to woodblock printing as that print and making wine labels were my impetus for starting down this odd path. Here, in chronological order are the prints from this series.
For Baren members thinking, "Hey! I never got one of those!", both Boar and Rat were made with the intention of joining the official exchange, but each time, I procrastinated too much and I missed out on the entry date deadline, and I was a new member and didn't think to ask to still be included so they were not part of the Baren exchange, even though I cut and printed about 60 copies of each....
Note that with the exception of "RAT" which I produced exactly as drawn by my then 8-year-old son Sami, and "Tiger" which is based on a Tibetan Tiger carpet, are of the prints are original designs drawn, carved and printed by me. All are mokuhanga prints except for "Goat/Sheep", which is a wood engraving.
I'd also like to mention, I am not much into astrology, and was happy to illustrate the Chinese zodiac because 1) it gave me artist's license to draw and print some charming creatures in a small, postcard format and as I've mentioned before, 2) a chance to procrastinate until February (and beyond) as the Chinese New Year is a month later than ours and gave me extra time without seeming too late.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

More Dogs--paper trials, part one.

Two variants from my first test printings on BOND paper.
I have acquired some very interesting Japanese papers from a variety of sources and I'll be discussing these in the next several posts as I also show my progress on my YOTD (year of the dog) print. After proofing, a did a small test run of about 20 copies on some of these papers, in anticipation of doing more careful test printings on the papers that looked promising. But before I reveal my sources for some of these wonderful kozo, gampi and mixed fiber papers, I wanted to share some real surprises regarding some cheap but really viable alternatives.

1) Double-weight Bond paper, coated for the inkjet printer.
Those who have taken my workshops already know about this. The double-weight bond paper (160g/m2)that I can get at my local copy shop and stationery store is coated for the inkjet printer--and I discovered that it's perfect for proofing. I use it for checking how the blocks print to see if they need additional clearing and for controlling the registration of multiple blocks or for the first, "waste" printings from the blocks before the brushes and blocks are charged with ink. The paper is pure cellulose, but dampened in my damp pack it is heavy enough to be easy to handle, and is very smooth but not so soft as to dip into the negative spaces. I like to print my keyblock on multiple sheets, and then I can check each color block against the key block to check for alignment.
These copies made it through the whole print sequence and they're a little flat, but at about $8.00 for a ream of paper, who cares.
They are NOT Acid free, they are NOT archival, I don't sell these but I do give them away to those that I know probably throw my prints away after a few weeks...

2) MASA paper 86g/m2 from the Awagami paper factory. The Japanese paper company Awagami has a large inventory of papers for printmaking and they've been actively seeking to expand in Europe and the USA with paper samples, a print exhibition and competition and by sponsoring workshops and teaching centers. I've had some problems with their papers being inconsistently sized.  Some papers that I've carefully tested from their sample packs behaved differently when purchased from paper distributors or when purchased at different times due to the variation from batch to batch of the size (dosa) applied to the papers.
But I keep trying their papers as I keep getting sample packs gifted to me and I recently began using the very inexpensive MASA --a handmade, sulfite paper that is both internally and surface sized. I can get it from Les Papiers de Lucas in France ( with many other good papers--and it's less than €2.00/sheet.
Awagami MASA-
It's a little soft, and if too wet it can dip into the block recesses and pick up ink blotches, but if I print a little drier, and give the paper time to rest, it prints surprisingly well.   This copy was printed from 6 blocks and has 8 layers of color.

In comparison; here's a proof on their Hosho select. This was a paper that performed really well from the sample packs, but when I ordered the paper from a distributor, the paper that arrived was totally different. Superficially similar but it had laid lines instead of none, and NO sizing added to the paper which I discovered during a workshop when I tried to dampen it for students.
However, once I applied a heavy recipe of dosa(rabbit skin glue and alum), it is now behaving like a mokuhanga paper and here is a print on this home-sized version of Awagami's Hosho select.
Awagami Hosho Select with Added Dosa

In my next post, I'll describe some professional grade and student-level papers from some small family-run workshops from Japan and Korea.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Year of the Dog-Work in Progress

Once I finish this print for the "Year of the Dog" I will have completed the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac for the BarenForum's artist exchange I've been participating in since 2007.
I've been working on this for a bit--and had lots of thumbnails and sketches before settling on a sketch of our rescued Segugio Italiano--an Italian Scenthound--that we adopted about 1 1/2 years ago.

He's a handsome and sweet fellow, but he is a dog that was used for hunting, and will disappear for hours if we let him loose, following the lingering scent of the hares and deer and boars that roam our fields at night.

My sketches started as silly cartoons and gradually became more and more representative as I looked at photo references and repeatedly sketched him in the kitchen.  Once I was happy with a  final drawing, it was copied using a xerox machine and these copies then glued down onto multiple blocks for carving to serve as guides for cutting.

There is one cherry plywood block for the key block (black lines).

There are two shina plywood blocks and another 2 Okoume' plywood blocks to mimic the dog's fur and textures.

All the blocks are carved and each print their own portion of this layered mosaic--and now I hope that I can make the sum of each layer better than the individual blocks.

Here are some early proofs; I still need to trim a few edges, adjust 1-2 kentos and decide on the colors.

He's an orange-brown dog, so I'll try to go for a greenish blue background but getting his color right (these are too orange) is going to be the key to getting the print to work as much as getting a background that isn't too aggressive.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dutch travelers, Holland Barens, and the Genius Loci

Aafke and Bastiaan
I'm enjoying the company of two young Dutch artists, Aafke Ytsma and Bastiaan Epker who are traveling from the Netherlands to Cyprus for an artists' residency but they've turned the road trip itself from Holland to the Mediterranean into a separate project and have sponsors and patrons that are supporting their journey.  Aafke and Bastiaan are producing Mokuhanga postcards, one for each stop along the way that they're cutting and printing and then sending back to their sponsors.  Aafke is a painter and Bastiaan an oil-based woodblock artist but they're now using traditional Mokuhanga techniques on these mail-art pieces.

They're now in Florence I'm sharing my studio space with them so they can work out their next prints and hopefully will have enough time to imagine, carve, and print a new image based on their visit here.
The works and trip are based on the concept of the Genius Loci--the spirit or spirits of a particular place--and they're interpreting that individually, with each of them working and producing alternate prints.

I've been communicating with Aafke for a few months after she shared with me some photos of two barens she had made using my blog posts on making twisted-cord barens as a model.

Fine and coarse barens made from twisted, wax cords on a cardboard backing

A good tie-job but they're covered with waxed paper that isn't going to last.....
Finished Barens

She was happy with how well they worked but was having trouble sourcing a material in Holland for covering them. I was so impressed by her work that I sent her a few bamboo leaves from the garden so they could be properly covered and asking that she share with me her comments on how they perform.
And when I heard she'd be passing through Florence on the way to Cyprus we agreed to meet to share some stories and that I'd be able to have them as guests in my studio so they could have a temporary work space.  Today we spent the day in the studio looking at materials and I got to see their completed blocks and a few prints and they were able to get to work on the next ones.
I hope I'll be able to post photos of the finished print/s soon.
Tomorrow, since they're working on the local spirit, I'm going to try to introduce them to the Olive Trees and see if they also like picking Tuscan olives.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sweet Tea. White-line.

 It's a rainy day today. While hurricanes are pounding my old hometown, there are storms here too with dark skies, thunder and lightning and rain. The dog is shaking under the stairs and the kids are reading or doing homework.
Rainy days are good for printing but I wasn't up for anything grandiose.  So I decided to try another quick white-line print.

 It's from a rapid doodle of a few days ago that I quickly cut yesterday afternoon.
And today I snuck back into the studio to see how it would print.
The light one is on some odd Japanese Masa to which I added a little extra size.
The dark one, which sadly got an ink blotch when I wasn't paying attention, is on Italian etching paper.
In honor of my southern upbringing, and the end of the hot days of summer,  I offer this quirky pitcher of Sweet Tea. Anyone from the American South will know what this is. You can never guess how sweet it is by just looking but it's almost always too sweet.

This is on etching paper and is a little too dark and has a yellow splotch.
Both were printed on damp paper, with tube watercolors and with a baren.

Friday, September 8, 2017


 This is my second attempt at a white-line or Provincetown print.  You can just make out the thin white halo around the color areas that are the hallmark of the American variant of tradional moku hanga.

A simple drawing of commas and apostrophes, black shapes on white paper, caught my eye and I played with it, changing the composition.
I liked it enough to draw it a few more times.
Then enough to trace one of those drawings onto a piece of shina, and cut out, with a V-gouge, the outline of my fat apostrophes, heavy and irregularly drawn.

Today I went to the studio and made a couple of color proofs.
Pink, Blue, Violet, Black, Mica, Sumi.

I'm not sure which I like best. The original idea was to make the forms black, on a white chalk ground on tan paper but I didn't print any like that.  But I also thought about the colors of traditional printed text: blue, black, red, blue-black and ended up working with that palette.

You may not notice but the apostrophes get a little bigger as they move to the bottom row and you definitely can't see the effect of the mica powder on the background, which makes the lighter center section slightly opaque and iridescent.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Another smile.

    I'm happy that this little thing found a new home today. 
I have this and the four blocks that I used to print it in the studio window that faces the street and it's designed to catch the eye of people walking by to draw attention to our studio and my work. It's also one of the prints that is priced really's an open edition and I wanted something bright and cheerful that would allow almost anyone, despite their budget, to be able to collect a piece of original art, made with care. It's a simple thing, lighthearted and fun and it's one of the prints I use sometimes when I want to demonstrate Japanese printmaking. 
   Today a Flemish couple stopped by my studio and spent a fair amount of time looking at my work and the work of my studio mates. They asked questions and looked at prints and blocks, my tools and studio setup.   Despite some language issues I was able to show them how the prints are made and how they're different from rubber stamps and letterpress or wood engravings or etchings. I got to meet two lovely people and they left with a small print and one of my business cards. I can't say that they'll ever be back or that I made any real money off this particular sale, but we were all smiling when we parted and I'm glad this is off to a new home and that they'll remember my little studio in Florence, and maybe me too, when they look at it again, another day, in another city, far away.