Saturday, February 6, 2016

This is not a pipe.

I posted this teaser photo of my Year of the Monkey print. It's a proof of one of the color blocks and I  immediately started to get understandable comments about the fleshy pink color and suggestive nature of my image.  I just wanted to take a moment to assuage any fears about possible sexual content or phallic imagery.
I want people to know that if I decide to make something look like a penis, there won't be ANY doubt.
Guess which one of these is NOT a penis?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Boston Tiegel A5--a new tool enters the workshop.

Boston Tiegel (although unmarked); a hand-lever operated tabletop platen press.
I wasn't looking for another hobby or money sink but this followed me home a little over a week ago.  I took a letterpress workshop last year (with the charming and talented women of Betterpress Lab in Rome and where I later gave my moku hanga workshop). I had seen something similar to this in their printshop, so I had an idea of what it was when I saw it peeking out from behind an old armoir in the back of a local shop.
There is a business just down the street from my studio that empties out basements and attics in the neighborhood.  The bulk of the items end up for sale in a kind of used-goods shop where old clothes, books, framed posters, and all sorts of bric-a-brac come and go on a daily basis.  Florence is an old city and people might inhabit the same apartment for 50 years so sometimes there are some old and interesting things.  The other day I was walking by and I saw this WAY in the'll have to look hard to see it--look at the blue rungs of the ladder, then down....(sorry about the blurry foto).

I went back the next day and it was still buried but I could get a closer look.  The owner said he'd let me have it for a great price and he threw out a figure that was low enough to be worth investigating. (He knows I'm American, and that usually means higher prices than if I looked or spoke like a local). 
It was clearly a platen press with a curved lever for manual printing of moveable type.  The shopkeeper couldn't say much about it other than it came from a bookbinder's house, that it was working, and "had a german name..".
I made plans to come back the following day with a tape measure and I went online to try to figure out exactly what it was. This listing on Briarpress helped a lot: as it had a very similar press (but with a nameplate) and an asking price 10x greater than this was likely to cost. Further research confirmed that in the US prices for these hard-to-find, and portable machines were similar, and climbing.
So, the NEXT day, I went back (clues already that I was likely to be interested).
We pulled it out to the street and I looked it over. It was intact. The lever works and the rollers were in decent shape. No cracks in the cast iron, and linotype and spacers still locked in the chase from the last printing session.  It did indeed have the words "Boston" on it, but they were written on a piece of masking tape, with a magic marker--no other serial nos. or manufacturers identifications that I could see.  The deal was sealed when I measured the chase. It was a good 7"x10"...still pretty small, this will just print an A4 sheet folded in half, but as big as many of the prints I do and if I use it to add text to my woodblock prints I can print on a larger sheet than the chase would otherwise allow.
He wouldn't haggle, but I had already decided that the price was fair for a used machine, and he agreed to help me get it to my studio, and said he'd look through the other stuff that came out of the house for a quoin key or any type (but "no promises")--so we loaded it into the back of his APE and he drove around the block while I went to open the doors and move things out of the way.
For a tabletop press it was still VERY heavy.It took 3 of us to carry it down the narrow hall and it now sits on my carpenter's bench.
I cleaned off the worst of the dust and oiled the rollers and a few of the moving parts.
I inked the linotype locked in the chase and pulled a couple of rough impressions.
This says,  "Abruzzo--Hiking path from Block house leading to the fountain just before the Cavone cave/grotto. 2100m above sea level.  9 July 1977."

I'm not sure if the date indicates the date of the photo this was a caption to, or represents the date of the last time this was used. 

It has no label anywhere, but from my search of the web and letterpress sites, it's a German-made, Boston Tiegel (Boston refers to the clamshell-type mechanism).  It's a sturdy, well-made, machine and has an A5 chase with an opening about 19cm x 25cm (7"x10").  It's meant to be hand-fed, but has a system for self-inking and was designed for small print runs of items like business cards, postcards and small displays.

Now I need to find a Quoin key (for releasing what's locked in the chase), take it apart for a good cleaning and oiling, find some used letterpress, moveable type and additional spacers and then I have to figure out what I'm going to do with it.

As a friend in Rome said, "can you produce something that will have a value to justify the purchase of the machine and the supplies you'll need to set it up and use it?" Good Question.
I will probably use it to add type to my woodblock prints (which up to now I have been hand carving) and the small artist book I've been thinking about making will now have a greater likelihood of being made.
At the worst, it's a beautiful thing, like many machines of the early industrial age, and I know that once it's been cleaned and oiled, I could resell it and recover my financial investment easily.
But first, I need to find the WD-40 and a rag.
And then, I need to go find some type.
Oh, and while the shopkeeper wouldn't budge on the selling price, he did throw in this charming pair of toast caddies, that are now in my studio and being repurposed as small print displays.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Mandrills mean bright, bold, colors.
I am participating again this year in the 2016 Baren Forum's Chinese Zodiac Artist print exchange. 
2016 is a Monkey year, according to the Chinese calendar and I'm busy thinking about what I can do this year that would be something worth spending time to carve, print, send and receive.  Last year I did a black and white wood engraving so this year I'd like to do another moku hanga, color print.

I'm not into the astrology aspect at all and I don't really spend much time with the supposed traits and attributes that each animal year is supposed to bestow on people born in a given animal year......
But I like drawing and printing animals and as a chronic procrastinator, the fact that the Asian New Year is in February.

So, I'm drawing monkeys and apes.....
I have a bunch of conflicting ideas....and my final choice of subject will have to be translated into a number of blocks and colors once I decide if I want simple and subtle----or bold and dramatic.



Monday, January 4, 2016

End Of Year, Odds and Ends.

 I'm still dealing with some unfinished, 2015 end-of-year odds and ends. I "finished" this print this summer. But I only actually printed a few-- I think I have 5 good copies plus a couple of variants out of a still-to-be-printed edition of 30.   So, over a month ago, I started an actual edition, but I got half way through it and had to leave them so I stashed the partially printed prints, damp pack and all, into the freezer. 
Well, Christmas and New Years have come and gone and my frozen damp pack has been jostled by frozen fish and fowl, tortellini, leftover soup and sweet breads and cakes.

So New Year's Day, my first resolution was to get this thing done so I can move on to the next project(s).

I think there are probably 30-40 in the damp pack. 28 or so on good Japanese Kozo (the same as the first 2 I printed in August), there are a few on Rives Heavyweight and a Few on Magnani or Fabriano (to see how it prints on European papers) and a couple on my home-sized, Japanese papers.....

I've printed this week the shadows (I print them first so that when I print the body color it will flatten them out as I don't want the shadows to be in relief). 
Today I printed the first color pass of the torso/skin color.  It's a yellow/pink and I add a red flush bokashi to the neck and shoulder.  It will need a second pass, to even it out and add another bokashi to the shoulder and neck but not until the rest of the colors go down.

Next up is the strong magenta horizontal stripes to the blouse. This is the strongest color in the print and the final colors will have to go down after, so I can adjust the strength of the background and the skin colors to it....then there's one more hair block......and then the chop. looks like as of tonight, I still have at least 4-5 colors to go on this "Finished" print of 2015.
--Sign and number my Mantis engraving (I've printed 30 of the 100 total I hope to print) so there's that too.
--Sign and number my Chestnut/Autumn Treasures woodblock print.
--Finish making a few portfolio folders for a bunch of loose prints so I can get them organized and put away. 


I've promised myself that I won't start carving or printing anything new (Monkeys, engravings, moku hanga, etc.) until  (most?) of this is done--although I have been busy, I've been fleshing out a few print ideas both for engravings and woodblock works and I feel a collagraph coming on too.....

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Market Price--Setting a price for my art.

Color printing sequence.
"How much does this cost?"
This is one of those subjects that makes artists uncomfortable. "How much should I charge or ask for my work. "
I make a point of not asking people to support my artistic output--I think that would be presumptuous--no one asks me to create what I make but me so it's not fair or just that I "expect" people to support me (and I don't).
However, I'd like to think that I make things that people might want, and assuming willing buyers are interested, I need to be prepared to tell them how much, and why, my works cost what they do.

Ideally, interested buyers would chance upon my work, become enthralled, ask me what it costs, laugh saying, "is that all?!?" and buy it on the spot, with another for a gift.
That doesn't happen often.
In my last local show, I had framed prints that ran from $100.00 for the small animal prints (Beetle/lizard/snake/horse) to just under $500 (for my most expensive--"Maple").  The frames, mats and glass alone cost $45.00-$90 each.  I also had a box of unframed prints--mostly black and white for $20.00 with a few of the color prints at $40.00).  My artist colleagues all remarked that my prices were way too low while the average lay person (non artist) commented instead that they were way too dear (in my guest book at least two people wrote, "Too Expensive!!! with three exclamation points and underlined three times.  They didn't leave a name so I couldn't really explain how much work they are, or how much the wood blocks cost or the paper or the framing.

But I do understand. Salaries here are very low, and the average person might earn less than 1000/Euro/month with professionals often earning 10% of what they'd make in the US. Many people now have lost jobs or have only one wage earner at home, so having money left at the end of the month for essentials is hard for many, and art works remain a luxury that come after many other needed essentials.

Obviously, the art market...people who invest in art or travel specifically to look for and buy art works by contemporary artists-- is made up of a different clientele.  Florence is NOT a location for art buyers (except antiques) so I know that I need to look elsewhere if I'm going to market or have any success in finding homes for my original prints.  But that still begs the question of what is "fair" or "reasonable".
There are two ways to go about it. The market price (what the market will bear) that ignores the work or material costs) and is based on what a reasonable person, who might be disposed to buy artwork as a gift or for themselves, would be willing to pay.
I imagine there is a "price point", a figure where the average person looking at a work might say, "hey, that's great, I really like that" at a number that they'd internally think, "that's a good deal' and buy it without remorse. (There are probably several price points---"fair, but I'll have to think about it", "fair but more than I can spend", "too expensive for what it is" and probably, "are they joking!?"....
These values will vary by location and context. My local craft fair won't move anything that costs more than $25.00 while my work would bring 10X those figures in Santa Fe, NM or San Francisco, where I used to live.
The other way to price is of course from the bottom end--calculating materials and labor and trying to factor in a "fair value" for my labor.....:
For the purposes of transparency and to stimulate the debate I've listed my expenses for my last print below:

"Autumn Treasure",  my 8"x10" 9-block woodblock print based on an etagami watercolor drawing was just finished.  I printed 20 copies (so far).  There are 15 copies with text and 5 without and they are all printed on expensive, handmade Japanese washi.
Woodblocks: 5 blocks: 3 Shina and 2 Okoume, (carved on each side): $5.00 each......$25.00
Paper 2.5+ Sheets Shin Hosho $25.00/Sheet yielding 9 pieces each+2 $24x2.5 .........$62.00
Pigment and rice paste, sandpaper and photocopies and scrap paper:  ............................$8.00
Labor*: Carving 2 days/10 hours total @ $10/Hr--------------------------------------------$100.00
Printing*: 3 half days/ 15 hours @ $10/hr......................................................................$150.00
Total: $345.00
Costs per print at 20 copies: $17.25 (assuming a $10.00/hr minimum wage).

If I print an additional 30 copies, the original carving costs get divided by the larger number of copies, and as I can now print faster now that I'm familiar with this set of blocks. So Adding in the additional costs of paper and labor: 3.5 sheets = $87.00 and two work days printing (12 hours)--$207.00=$550 total.
So now the total cost of production $550 can be divided by 50 prints, so:
Cost per print at 50 copies is now just $11.00
Obviously, I'd like to add in a factor to make all of this worthwhile, not to mention pay for rent, utilities, health care, and food.....and one can quibble about skilled labor vs. unskilled labor, etc.
Which brings me back to the original argument.
How much are these worth?
How much would you spend?
How much can I reasonably charge (with the intention of having them priced low enough that they will sell briskly rather than waiting for the occasional buyer willing to pay a higher price)? 
And if the total market--at any price--isn't big enough to justify printing 50 copies, I'd rather not......).
For the record:
My kids both said $20-25.00 was what they'd pay without thinking.
My wife pretty much said, "Why would anyone pay for that when you can just print a photocopy off your image from the internet...."
I (as the artist and culprit of this particular work) would have set them at $100 based on the labor involved (valuing my labor at much more than $10.00/hour) but I doubt I will sell any at that figure--it's a pretty, but simple piece and I'm not sure "worth" that figure to anyone but me.  So I was going to set them lower,  at $50.00 before I decided to open up this discussion to the internet/public.

* I have left out of the discussion the question of numbering/editioning these prints.
Traditionally, Japanese prints were NOT numbered. They would print as many as they hoped to sell, and if they ran out, they would print more. Prices were always lower because they were not "limited".
Buyers today all want "numbered" prints--and if I close the edition (to 20 or 50 copies) the price should be presumably higher to compensate me for the resulting "scarcity". Getting back to the argument at the top, printmaking was always meant to be a democratic medium....making multiples so that everyone could afford to bring art into their homes and lives. I'd like to find a way so that at least some of my output is priced so that it's not out of reach of someone who really likes it?

**This little print, "Autumn treasure/chestnuts" was meant to be targeted towards a market that had a modest budget and less to spend. For the sake of comparison, My "Narcissus" print (a little larger than this one) is selling at $200 and and my little Espresso Genie continues to sell consistently at $110.....


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chestnuts. Etagami to Woodblock: LAILAC DEMO

I cut the blocks for this woodblock print just in time for my little demo for the LAILAC Japanese festival in Scandicci/Florence this weekend.  I had just one hour for my demo both Saturday and Sunday so there really wasn't much time but I think it went well, although I was talking too fast, forgetting to use the microphone,  and printing too so I didn't get to take any photos during my talk (although I took a bunch of the Etagami section).  I had a good crowd, interested and attentive but lacked a video feed so it was hard for those in back to see what I was doing.

I did manage to do a brief oral explanation of moku hanga and the history of Japanese woodblock and Ukiyo-e, describing the big difference between Western and Japanese woodblock techniques with an emphasis on why I use this method for my own work and then quickly moved to the demo part which is why I was there.

Since a big part of the Japanese festival is the Etagami corner (20 Japanese members of the Etagami society came over and were assisting at the tables showing people how to do etagami), I chose to do one of the Fall postcards I made last year, reworking it as a woodblock print.

I had time just to print the keyblock and text and one-two of the color blocks (I had carved 7) so I ended up with about 10 partially printed pieces of washi.
So now that the fair is over, I retreated to my studio and finished these proofs before the paper could go bad.
The original sumi and watercolor etagami postcard.

Simple version; no text and just one of the background blocks.
Text block added (it also has additional chestnut drawing details).

An additional background color block added.

Here are three of the printed variants. These are all on Shin Hosho (from Woodlike Matsumura in Japan and via Intaglio Printmakers in the UK).
One is without the carved text block (which also had some additional drawing lines)
One is with a faint yellow background/beta ban block.
And one is with a supplementary background green block that added a little more depth and was in keeping with the original watercolor washes.
 The hardest part was the small purple/blue spot on the upright chestnut. It meant a round bokashi on one block with blue, and the careful removal of pigment in the same area on another block and there is quite a bit of variability to how they came out.

I'm pretty happy with this. It's pretty close to the original Sumi and watercolor drawing that was the inspiration and a good printing exercise.  I'm not sure which I like better, the one with or without the text. The former retains better the idea of a watercolor still life while the one with text is still an etagami or "Word Picture".   The text reads, "AUTUMN TREASURE" and is a accurate description about how we feel about finding local chestnuts in the woods.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LAILAC Festival. Demo Dilemma.

The 17th LAILAC Japanese Cultural Association Festival is this weekend and I am going to be demonstrating Japanese woodblock printing again during this year's festival. However, while LAST year I manned a table and carved and printed for almost all of the 3 days of the festival, THIS year I am just doing a brief demo (1 hour), each of the two weekend days so I'm trying to figure out how much I can do in such a short time.
There will be a lot going on, as in addition to Intro to Bonsai, Dogs of the Samurai, Gift wraps, Intro to calligraphy, I will be trying to make sense of Ukiyo-e and moku hanga.  As with last year, I will be competing with TAIKO drumming and Japanese theater and dance.

Since I am not a historian, and didn't fall into moku hanga from the Ukiyo-e direction but from the fine-artist-looking-for-a-portable, non-toxic-medium I am hesitant and unqualified to discuss-other than briefly-the history and importance of Ukiyo-e.  But, I an a decent printer and the thing I do love and find fascinating is still the process of Japanese woodblock printing so that's what I'll be doing.

I will be printing from my blocks copies of one of my woodblock prints while discussing the technique and some of the history.
But in just an hour it needs to be fairly simple, big enough to be seen from more than just the first row, eye-catching or crowd-pleasing in subject.

I was planning on printing up copies of my CYPRESS trees print (It is Florence, after all).
I carved it at last year's festival but didn't print it until a few weeks later and it has a nice November/Winter palette.  It has the advantage that the blocks are carved, it's a big print, and I've printed enough that I know the quirks of these blocks well enough to do a decent demo.

But since I am ALSO helping out at the Etagami tables, I have been thinking about trying to make another print from one of my etagami. (The Japanese Etagami Society is again sending almost 25 memebers (most over 70 years old) to teach and help at the Etagami stand.  I also will be meeting my Etagami pen-pal for the first time.
Here is an Etagami I did last year and that I mailed to my pen pal over a year ago.  It was one of the ones I liked enough to want to make an attempt at revisiting as a woodblock print and now seems like the perfect occasion.

I've enlarged it to twice it's original postcard dimensions and have traced the reversed design onto 6 blocks. I'm not sure I can get them carved in time for Saturday's demo, but I'm going to try.
It will be fun to try to reproduce the watercolor blush of the chestnuts and the background and I like the idea of keeping the calligraphic text,
"Autumn Gift". I'll post the progress as we get closer to Saturday and Sunday.