Monday, April 14, 2014

Enamel metaphor

I finished, and mailed off, the small 5" x 7" print to the 2014 sketchbook project's "Print Exchange 2014". This year's theme was "waiting for a sign" and I took it fairly literally.

"enamel metaphor", 5" x 7" moku hanga print;
This was printed from 5 blocks and has 8 separate color impressions.
Edition of 12 in this color scheme with 3 artist proofs.

I tend to "collect" road signs. I often stop and photograph old ones as well as ones that just strike me as odd or amusing. I also find them full of metaphoric content. "STOP" and "YIELD" are particularly strong--I guess I'm not used to the Imperative tense........Others are mere suggestions; recommendations on actions to follow....
I appreciated the friendly hint here to avoid this marble monument by going Right......

So my little print is both quite concrete: "Keep Left, Avoid Wall" but I also intended a more subtle, deeper meaning but it's one that you'll have to ponder on your own as I think it will mean different things to different viewers.
I've a few more road-sign/driving-themed prints in the "still-in-the-sketchbook phase" but there are a couple that I hope to do soon.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Paper Storage

I'm finally the proud owner of a new (but used) flat file. All it took was patience, an internet connection, and a car big enough to haul the thing home.....

This has been typical of my paper storage system up to now. I've kept my rolls of good paper in Large diameter PVC pipes up in the rafters of my small Santa Cruz art shed but when I came to Italy the paper I brought with me ended up in Cardboard tubes or boxes. I've gotten the really good paper out of the cardboard--it's too acidic and will damage the paper if it lives there too long so most of the rolls have been placed in an outer sheet of cotton rag/artist paper.

The obvious problem is it's hard to keep track of what I have and where it is and as I need to cut sheets down to size for printing--the heavier papers don't like being unrolled and have to be weighted down.

So, I've been looking for a used flat file for ages.  In Italy, new, they're frightfully expensive but I couldn't rationalize or justify spending that much for my little "hobby" I've been regularly trawling and Kijiji ( a kind of Italian craigslist) hoping to find a used one.

And this week not one but TWO showed up on Ebay; One was in nearby Lucca (1 hr away). I put in a low bid but I had no competition and finally and for a little more than $150 I now have a big, steel, flat file. I did have to take the back seats out of my car; drive there and back, load the thing into the car and then haul it back and put it together again....but it took just a few hours...

I didn't think to ask the dimensions so I was a bit chagrined to learn it is one of the big ones....
140cm long, 95 cm deep and 55 cm tall.....that's 55"x 37".....more than big enough!

I still have to go through my tubes and label the drawers, and get the paper stored away.

I feel more organized already.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wrinkles and Paste

Mitsumata Washi; wrinkled with drying.
I printed up another smaller batch of my Chess/Horse prints but I ended up with some badly wrinkled prints so I got to finally try my hand at wet-mounting thin Japanese paper onto backing sheets.
The ones that wrinkled were all printed on a beautiful new paper that I was trying out--a 100% mitsumata paper that I got from New York Central Art Supply in NYC.
Not only do they have a great selection of European and Japanese papers but they are also arranged so that you can see and touch the various papers and compare the weights/surfaces/opacity/etc of papers that I've read about but never seen/touched.  They have a great selection of Japanese washi but also Thai and Korean papers in addition to Western printmaking papers. Many of their papers come from the Japanese Paper Place and there were a bunch of papers that I had never heard of.
I bought a bunch of stuff--Kozo, gampi, mitsumata and pulp papers--mostly artist grade but a few student papers to try out and test for future classes.
I also bought 15 small sheets of this shimmery, 100% Mitsumata paper ("Mitsumata letter-size") that was about 30g/m2. It has a lovely feel/hand and since I've had some luck with sizing and printing on thinner papers I thought it would probably work well.  I sized it during one of my sizing sessions with the same recipe I use for heavier papers (14g animal skin glue and 5g alum).

It printed beautifully. It really gave crisp, lively, sharp colors and the added body from the glue made handling and printing on it fairly straightforward. (It actually printed nicely unsized too) The only problem I've noted (on three separate printing sessions) is that when it dries it puckers very badly. I think it may be from uneven stress during printing but it's happened when the papers have dried pressed between books or under weights.

So I wasn't happy with the idea of pitching the 5-6 excellent copies of my little Horse print just because of wrinkling.  (And I still have 13 sheets left).
So after about 30" cruising the web and youtube for tutorials on wet-mounting prints I was ready to give it a try.
(Henry Li's Blue Heron Arts site has excellent tutorials/youtube videos of how to wet mount washi onto other papers. (

Using a blend of 1/4 cup flour, a pinch of alum, and about 3-4 cups of hot water I made a glue-soup about the thickness of whole milk. This was brushed onto the back of the prints (face down on a waterproof surface across the entire print and off the edges...the moisture in the glue helps "float" the paper on the surface. A sheet of thinner-grade Japanese paper was then laid across the back and burnished in place with a stiff brush and then my softer baren.  The edges of this sheet were then brushed with the same paste and the sheet was lifted and pressed onto a drying board to dry/shrink tight. The print is now face up, glued to the backing sheet; and the backing sheet is pasted along the perimeter only onto the drying board.

Once dry I cut them off and now they just await trimming.

They're flat, thicker and heavier now that they've been backed with good paper and they dried without the puckering or wrinkling.  In my haste I used organic flour that wasn't perfectly white and I had to fish out some bran flakes while I was gluing....and I used my regular printing brushes so got a tad of toning to the paper that makes them look vintage.  But it worked pretty well and even the copy I glued to heavier etching paper came out totally flat and looking good.
Finished print now mounted on a base sheet of Japanese paper.
Wrinkles are gone.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Etagami

"Aluminum Afternoon Companion"

I sent off and received back my second installment in the Italian/Japanese Etagami exchange.
My latest attempt reads, in Japanese, "Aluminum Afternoon Companion".

In return I got from my Japanese penpal/Etagami-pal this little postcard drawing with the phrase:
"It's already Spring!"

As I wrote last month, there is a very active Japanese association of Etagami enthusiasts that create and exchange small sumi and watercolor drawings....Etagami are small, brush-painted images of daily life married to a short, written comment or poem and they are meant to be sent, or shared with others. This year (and for the first time) they've opened up to an Etagami exchange here in Florence through LAILAC, the local Japanese Cultural association that is acting locally to collect and then send off our cards and distribute them when the returns arrive from Japan. I signed up as of January and will try to draw and exchange a monthly Etagami with this group.

As I mentioned in my earlier post the somewhat childlike drawing quality is due to the technique. A calligraphy brush is used, but held vertically from the very end so just the tip of the brush touches the paper and the brush is hard to strictly control.
They are drawn on washi and the slight bleed of the uncontrolled ink and paint add to the magic and spontaneity.

Regular readers will know of my fondness for coffee and espresso (see my moka genie post: and I've two coffee-themed prints in the not-quite-past the initial stages. But this was fun to draw and I'm already looking forward to my next try. It's also a treat to be getting a new one in the mail every month as it feels like I'm receiving a little gift. Which I guess is exactly the idea.?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Unexpected Treasures (Truffle)

This Saturday, while I was up in the trees pruning.  Sami called out...from afar......"Dad, I think we found a truffle....".

Clip, clip, clip. I kept on pruning but called back over the trees.
"I don't think so Sami. They grow underground and you need dogs or pigs to find them." I replied.
"Oh." he answered. "Well there's this thing with scales peeking out of the ground....I'll just dig it out.
He was out playing with our neighbor and I didn't hear anything for a bit.

A few minutes later he comes up to the base of the ladder (I'm up in the tree).
"Here. Look."

So I glanced down.
 It took about one second.

"Yes. OK. You're right.  That's definitely a Truffle." Then after a pause,
"Can you show me where you found it?"
So much for hounds. This is next to our driveway!

This is a staged photo; The truffle was put back where they dug it out to show me.

And sure enough. They had found, just peeking out of the wet/clay soil the tip of a black truffle.
Now there are HUNDREDs of varieties of truffles. Some are really good. Some are not. This smelled of earth/a bit of mushroom but did not have the really strong truffle smell of the highly prized white ones. But it didn't have the inky or phenolic smell of the bad ones either.  Tan inside. Edible. A Truffle.

I think I'll try to have someone with a truffle hound come over in the next few weeks.
Maybe there are more.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Proofing "Signs"

5" x 7" Woodblock print (Moku hanga).
I decided to try pulling some proofs from the 5 blocks I have carved so far on this little print.
These are for the Sketchbook Project Print exchange that I wrote about last week.  I will need to send in an edition of 12 copies ready for the end of April. I am definitely (and quite unusually for me) on time/target.
I wanted to see if I can accomplish through overprinting from these blocks for the effects I want (instead of carving the other 3 blocks I was planning on using).
These are getting pretty close to what I have in mind although the lighter one is much brighter and subtle than my scanner will pick up. The "sky" goes from a very pale blue to a light white/gray and looks great in person but is nearly invisible on the scanned image.

I'll mull over these for a few days, probably clean up a few blocks and then have another go.  These were printed on Magnani incisioni (etching paper) and there's a good chance they'll print cleaner/register a bit tighter and look nicer on Japanese paper.

There is a light blue to pale cream bokashi to the right side that isn't picking up on the monitor. Looks nice in person though.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sumi Doodle. (Andrew printing)

I'm printing another small batch of horses and as I was finishing the color run of black squares I had a sumi-laden brush (for dabbing onto the blocks) that was dripping with ink.
It seemed a waste to just wash it out.

So I just dashed this off on a nearby piece of bond paper.
Andrew printing.

Then I washed out all my brushes, wrapped my unfinished prints to put them in the freezer and, after sweeping up the studio,  I went home for the day.