Sunday, December 13, 2009

First Day Home

My neighbors and friends had a baby this week and he came home two days ago.
I was reminded of the day Sami came home--my wife had had a C-section so it took a few days before they could both leave the hospital together. But when the time came the car was driven close to the door, I helped my wife into the house and pulled the still sleeping newborn infant in his combi car seat/car carrier into the house and set him on the brick floor.
We had two cats in those days; Grillo, a lovely, black, yellow-eyed moron of a feline and Garbanzo, a shelter-rescue, tortoise-shell; cautious, watchful and a great huntress of snakes, hares, and gophers.
I set the baby on the floor and sort of kept bringing stuff into the house and on my next trip in this was the view I had of the three of them. (although in reality, the baby was well hidden in the bundle and not visible above the rim). The two cats, who had never been interested in ANYTHING I had ever brought into the house approached the carrier like it would explode. They crept up, tails twitching, ever so slowly up to the edge to peek/sniff inside. And when something moved, they bolted. Never again to show so much interest as that first moment. ( Though they would later happily keep the baby company whenever they could).
So, in honor of the neighbor's new baby boy, I dug out this little doodle I did in the days after that encounter. Another Steinlein I'm not, so if these don't look like real cats I'm sorry; but the gesture and spirit of the moment is there.
Something new and marvelous and very different has arrived and things won't ever be the same.
Congratulations to Lisa and Karl on the birth of their new son. And thank you Sami and Alexander (and a nod to the cats who are gone) for always providing me with inspiration, content, and great joy.

First Day Home, 6" X 8" Woodblock print. One maple keyblock; Sumi on Rives lightweight paper.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Moka Genie

My minor obsession with coffee has a lot to do with having spent the last 10 years living in Italy. Being but a thinly-veiled socialist society they long ago realized that certain staples; gas, bread, chianti, and espresso prices need to be artificially controlled to maintain social order. So, in almost all the bars in Tuscany an espresso will cost .90 cents (euro) as long as you drink it standing up at the bar. (Much more if you sit down at a table where a different "tourist" price list kicks in.)
So while I was living there, I'd drop the kids off at school and head to the bar on the corner, Bar Petrarca, just outside Porta Romana in Florence and have my morning cappuccino and a brioche. Then again, picking them up at 4pm stop in at the Bar Il Poggio for an espresso. I could have made coffee at home, but the ritual of standing at the bar, chatting with the barista and quickly reading the newspaper coupled with a 15 minute break from the house chores and farmwork was important.
So, Imagine my horror to find on my yearly return to the US that a cappuccino costs $3.00-$3.50 here and an espresso--often badly made and served in a paper cup the size of a medium popcorn at the theater often $2. So, while I loved taking coffee socially in Italy, I retreated to the kitchen and the stovetop moka or french press to make coffee that I could afford and brood about the vagaries of fate.
Fortunately, Santa Cruz has some really good coffee bars and while they are still expensive at least the quality is good. And on one foggy morning as I stopped in to the local coffee place and stared at my little espresso cup with the little spoon and sugar cube wondering about my life and life's choices out of the crema and steam rose this little genie who asked me about the ebbs and tides of my life and then (this being California and a surf capital) about the current surf conditions. Then after a bit of hemming and hawing, chatting about the weather and local politics he finally got to the point and asked what I wanted out of life and said he would grant me a wish. When I asked how come all the other genies I'd ever heard about usually offered at least three wishes he shrugged his shoulders, twisted the hairs of his yellow eyebrows and said, "Hey, I'm the espresso genie" "With me there's just one strong, dense, chocolatey, concentrated wish". Then, with a sly grin he said, "If you wanted three wishes you should have gone with the double-shot, extra-tall soy, non-fat pumpkin latte."
And then, after a pause, "So", he went on, "what's it going to be?....."

"The espresso genie grants just ONE wish..."
3.5"x"9.5" Japanese polychrome wood block print
9 blocks, 13 colors, printed on Kizuki Hanga 135g/m2 Japanese Hosho paper.
open edition/40 printed to date.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Continental Drift and coffee bars.

Wow. It's been five months since my last post. I meant to write, really I did but the the tectonic plate of economic upheaval collided with the quiet but unstable plate of marital politics to force me first off the unproductive and certainly nonprofitable farm/garden and then push me out of the studio and back into the world of American health care. When the tremors stopped and all was quiet I realized what was painfully obvious. I had to go back to work.
And since as I said in my job interview, It was just 8 years since I was working in the emergency room but almost 30 since I last waited tables it was probably better that I go back to sewing up lacerations and saving lives instead of bartending or serving food again. So I'm no longer an "ex-ER physician" but a part-time physician in a local, busy urgent care. It's been stressful going back and I've spent much of the last five months reviewing books, journals, current antibiotic usage and resistance patterns, ECG reviews, etc., etc. so that I'm current and up to speed at work. So, I'm back from Italy; the kids are in school again in Santa Cruz, I'm working again 2-3 shifts a week; reading and studying in my free time and just now beginning to drift back to the studio and to some printmaking. But as I started planning my next print, a narrow long format of 3 X 9 inches, my ambivalence about going back to work was pretty clear.
Here's the first idea:
I've been spattered with all sorts of body fluids during my past life as an ER physician and putting on the shirt and tie again after so many years brought that back. I figured the long format would be perfect for the necktie and that the colorful tie would be fun to print over the white shirt. The working title was "stain". But Alexander, looking over my shoulder was very clear, "Dad, that's the most boring thing you've ever done....why don't you do something interesting! No one would ever buy that!" So, I kept on sketching. (although I still think it was a good idea).
And lots of these kept popping up...

There were all sorts of bound and wrapped bundles in different shapes and sizes. Just looking at them all made me depressed.

So I went back to the sketchbook and while at Coffeetopia, a local coffee/espresso bar I doodled this:

And then this....and this:

Keep an eye out for the little gremlin in the bottom as he's about to become the main attraction.
I liked where this was going and tomorrow I'll post the final preliminary sketch and the keyblock.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Blue Balloon-final version

It seems like it must have been a sad birthday party.

After lots of fits and starts, or in this case wetting, then drying, then re-wetting my cut paper, I finally got into the studio to finish the final version of the nude print, "Balloon". It ended up as an edition varie as I never really settled on a background color and most have a cobalt violet ground, reprinted with a light glaze of quinacradone pink/indanthanthrone blue with a dark blue keyblock.

I'm happy to be done with it as it was meant to be a quick print based on a loose drawing and it has just dragged on and on. I'm envious of all you organized types that manage to work efficiently and get work done on schedule. I can't figure out where the time goes.

Balloon, Japanese Moku Hanga print, edition varie of 30 with several A/Ps with slightly different background tonalities.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wood fired Pizza

I promised all who were following my slow, intermittent mud/cob/adobe oven posts that I would post a photo once the oven was done and we made the first pizza.

Well, the oven isn't technically done; we did add a 2 1/2 inch layer of mud/woodshaving/sawdust insulation but it would really benefit from another layer of insulation and a finish plastering of mud/sand to help make it more weather resistant.

BUT, the working part; the clay shell and 1st layer of insulation is all you need to bake and like the impatient child that I am (and my kids were asking, when are you going to make pizza, Dad?") we lit up the fire.

I built a small starter fire and kept it going for 2 hours adding sticks of hardwood 3-4 times during that span. I made a sourdough dough the day before and used the leftover dough to make 3 10" pizzas. The oven worked great. The pizzas cooked in about 2-3 minutes and the bread cooked in 25 minutes (instead of the hour I usually need in my conventional oven at 450degrees F.) and the only problem was that my dough was too "sourdough" for a real Pizza margherita. Next time I'll mix up a bona fide pizza dough and make them a little thinner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

balloon gets a string

Well, I managed to finish clearing the 3rd block last night and this morning to dampen a few sheets of paper to see how it looks.
Here's the carved block of cherry and heres the proof. I wish the string were thinner but this is as thin as I can go (I can carve thinner lines with the toh/outlining knife but its the clearing chisels that still cause trouble for me and as this line needs to be continuous I didn't want to risk losing any. I need to clean up a few spots of the block where there's some unwanted spotting but I'm pretty happy with the additions.

The background is still a cobalt violet but a bit too dark, the striations are from too much paste and a cheap stencilling brush. The darker lines are still a mix of indanthrone blue and cobalt blue. I'm pretty happy with the composition and the hair is an improvement. When the time comes to print I'll try to better define the two different sets of lines for the hair (It should be enough just to change the order of printing and print the keyblock last instead of first). Now there's just to work out some color choices for the background block and keyblock.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Balloon: hanshita and proofs

Here's my lovely block of cherry. It's the end cut of a large plank of kiln dried
American cherry that at $5.00 board foot was a decent bargain. I cut off the end piece which had a few knots and defects and cut that piece again longitudinally giving me two 9" X 12" boards. These were carefully sanded smooth to an almost glasslike polish. (I'm still saving the good portion of the board for the future when I start making real art).

Next the photocopy of my drawing gets glued face down on the block. This will reverse the image for me so it will print right side up and not backwards once it is carved. This process of drawing or printing a copy of the image is called a hanshita in Japanese and it is used to create the black and white master keyblock as well as for the individual colors (each color usually gets its own block).

Then I carefully dampen the back of the paper once the glue is dry and work off the back fibers of the paper until I can see the black lines of the photocopy through the remaining thin layer of paper. If I am careful I can get almost to the wood but if the paper gets too damp the image comes off. Once I can see the image I apply a thin coating of oil with my finger tip and this makes the paper disappear and the image very visible (and softens the hard cherry a bit). The lines aren't visible in the photo but are very obvious in real life.

Now I carve. With a mix of American and Japanese knives, chisels and gouges I carefully first carve the outline of all the black lines. In relief printing you carve away all the wood that doesn't print leaving just the black lines or shapes which will receive the ink when printing comes. Once I've outlined the lines and shapes I carefully remove all the wood to the outside or inside of my incised lines.
The block on the left is my finished keyblock and the block on the right is the "beta ban" block which will be used to print a solid, pale block of color.

Printing is done with a mix of water based pigments (tube watercolors or pure pigments). These are mixed with a little homemade rice paste. ( I use organic sushi rice and eat the somewhat overcooked rice later for lunch). These are mixed directly on the wooden block and then the dampened sheets of paper are carefully laid on the block and the back burnished with a baren, a specialized burnishing tool made of a bamboo skin over a braided coil.

For this print, I pulled a couple of quick proofs on white paper to check my carving, registration, and get a general idea of how it prints. I pulled proofs on a white paper and there is one impression of a pale cobalt violet for the background and then the keyblock was printed in indathrone blue. (These were leftover colors from my last print and will probably not show up in the finished print.)

Now I regret not drawing in the balloon string. I had meant to have it implied but I think it needs to be there. So I draw one in to check how it would look.

Then, the headless/incomplete/whats-happening-over-the-shoulder? issue that D.M. noticed gets a look over. I always have trouble trying to "fix" drawing problems. They usually look like a feeble attempt to photoshop someone's face onto another foto and attempts to add the eyelashes/brow or nose tip to the turned away head looked pretty bad. So I added the wavy lines of her hair that really did cover her whole head from my angle in the original drawing session.

This helps define the head a bit but may add another point of interest too many.
Any thoughts? I'm leaning towards just adding the string and leaving the head alone.
I've just finished preparing the other cherry block to carve at least the balloon string and the seal.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where do balloons come from?

It's funny that since I started doing woodblock prints, many of the images I've done were mined from old sketchbooks. Lots of drawings, still lives, doodles and life drawings that I kept or always liked have been reemerging as subjects for my prints.

When I was in Italy, I opened an old moving box that was full of art supplies and had three or four old sketchbooks. In one of them as I sat leafing through the pages I found a page cut out from an older sketchbook that I must have pulled out when I packed.

While they say the olfactory sense is our most primitive link to memory I find these scribbles and sketches to be amazing memory triggers that can pull me back from over 30 years in this instance to a dusty studio in Gainesville, Florida and a life drawing class that I frequented in what seems must have been a previous life.

I still remember the model. She showed up late to the class and was dressed in a leopard skin leotard that was several sizes too small. She had boots and a feather boa/scarf and a big leather belt. This is the drawing I did of her. I remember as she walked around during a break that she hated it. I had added probably 20 lbs. to her frame and she didn't appreciate it and wanted to know why I had made her look so fat. I don't remember what I said but I do remember thinking that as badly dressed as she was when she came in I thought she was beautiful naked. I know I didn't say that though; I was as shy then as I was circumspect.

But that image of her walking in persists and in the cut out drawing I preserved there's a funny shape to the upper right. But when I started pulling it out and making copies and putting a border around the drawing it became a balloon. In case there was any doubt I also wrote in cursive, "Balloon".

In my next post I'll show how "balloon" becomes a print.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Inside the Red Shed

Well, it's been cleaned so if you still think it's cluttered you should have been here yesterday.
I managed to get back into a partially carved block of cherry I left unfinished last month that will be next in my "shapes and postures" series of figurative prints.

I do most of the work at my desk and all the ancillary horizontal surfaces. Two little tables, a couple of stools and a bench all gradually accumulate notebooks,sketchbooks,newsprint,rolls of paper, coffee mugs and cups, etc.

I keep a small tupperware container to the right where the sharpening stones are kept handy and As I sit with the door to my immediate right, the leather belt I nailed to the door jamb is in perfect position for me to lean over and strop vertically my tools as I carve.

I have some small built in shelves where I store the brushes and Ink. I keep the valuable barens and knives mostly in the house and use my tackle box to carry them back and forth when I work outside. I gradually hang up the working proofs from the rafters or the walls as I work so I can keep track of what I'm doing and I always keep a strip of test colors on the wall to carefully record how I got such a muddy brown from such lovely clean pigments.

On the desk you'll notice my neanderthal club that serves as my wooden hammer for helping with my clearing chisels and my upright work platform that I use when I outline with the Toh knife.

Little Red Studio

When we moved to Santa Cruz in June much of our belongings had been stored in the garage.
In the back yard however, was a small children's play shed that the previous owners said they'd found on the property. It was now full of boxes and toys but the first thing I did was claim it as my little studio. It's far enough from the house that I can pretend I'm in my own world and as our yard butts against a small creek (on the other side of the fence) I can hear if not see the babbling of running water.

It's a small space barely 5'X 10' and the overall volume is very small so printing can be problematic when the humidity is too low but its fine for carving and thinking and most of my woodblock prints have been created in it.

Today, now that the class project is over, I spent the day cleaning out the studio. That meant clearing off the table, throwing away lots of trash. Putting aside newsprint than can probably be reused for dampening paper and hanging lots of 2" to 4" wide strips of Washi, Japanese handmade papers that I cut off my paper sheets when I cut them to size. I'll use some for hinges and the others to decorate the edges of boxes or folders for my prints.

Tomorrow, I go back to work on a new print. I'm carving the end piece of a plank of cherry and I'm happy to be getting back to work. I'll take some photos of the inside of the shed too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nn for nest

This is the final version of the collaborative print done with Sami's 3rd grade class.
I cut a color block for the background but kept it simple and deliberately left the squares of the children's drawings white. My creative contribution is the purple letters to the top Left and the choice of blue for the background. I found a nice dark blue mat and frame at the local art store and will drop it off tomorrow.

Printing a big, damp sheet of Washi was much harder than I expected and there is some spotting of ink to the print that is the result of it just being harder to manipulate and print a big sheet of paper.

I printed a total of 7 copies. Three on Shin Torinoko ( a machine made paper made of linen and acid-free pine pulp and 4 on Masa Dosa, a handmade Japanese paper that is a very bright white and rougher in texture. There are 2-3 less-than perfect impressions and one that I printed on the wrong side of the paper leaving 3 pretty good copies.
Hopefully they'll find homes soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nest Egg

The local elementary school is holding an "arts" auction to benefit the arts program for the school. I was asked to volunteer to help the class work on a group project that could then be auctioned (ransomed?) off to the parents at the upcoming evening event. Some classes have done some pottery work, another is working on a tiled fountain, others, refrigerator magnets.
As the class is working extensively on birds as a topic I had the children do drawings of something about the bird they had chosen to study and to do some preparatory sketches to collage together. The idea was to collage them together in an interesting way leaving me to carve the drawing out in the calm of my studio and then print them together in the classroom.

I got lots and lots of neat drawings. But in the end I had to do two collages. One with a drawing from each student. It turned out much more varied and lively, but very cluttered and I feared would be very hard and time consuming to carve.
The other pulled out all the larger drawings that coincidentally (mostly drawn by the girls) were of the nests. Those that included tree branches/trunks I was able to link visually and I collaged them all together in a more spare and open composition. To add a little Male energy I included a small drawing of a raptor carrying a fresh kill to its young done by one of the boys. Still, it took a long time to carve all the kids' energetic and swirling pencil lines.

Today we printed the proofs in class. I managed in teams to get the class of 21 together to brush out rice paste and Sumi on the board and pull a few prints using all the barens I have ( there were a few moments that seemed more like air hockey than printing with two kids on each side of the board printing burnishing away. But, they got a good idea of the process and as I brought in the original collage, a xerox copy and then the printed image they were able to compare the level of fidelity or loss inherent in the process.

The Shina plywood board is 22" X 28" and the paper size of the proof I pulled in class today is 19 "X28" This is the key block and it will have a background color block cut and trialed this weekend. Surprisingly, the whole class liked all the horizontal lines that I left by incompletely clearing the block before printing and voted to leave them in.

At the end of the class one child innocently asked, "but what happens if no one wants to buy it?" I suppose we'll just donate it to the local hospital children's ward or maternity wing.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pizza Oven taking form

Well, I haven't been printmaking much because my simple "2 weekend" project has stretched on and on.

Mostly my part for making it bigger than we probably need for a home "test" oven. It finished out at 27-28" in interior diameter which seems small but requires a lot of material. Last weekend we gathered sand from the beach and from a friend's creekbed (13 five-gallon buckets total) and I dug another 4 of mud/soil/dirt from the yard.
We built a little test dome of wet sand to see if it held, I made a few test bricks of my mud and when all looked good we charged ahead.

First day of round III: I got up early and layered a 1/2" layer of sand over the dense mud base. Then I carefully placed my firebrick hearth on the sand getting them tight together and all flat (I needed two tries).

Then I mixed a bit of mud to "mortar in place the brick floor of the opening. Then, once I got a few neighborhood kids together we built the sand hemisphere which serves as the form for the clay shell. It took a lot of sand and a lot longer than I imagined. 6 Buckets of sand later we had a nice smooth sand dome.

Day 2 of round III: Get a tarp. Put out 4 buckets of sand in a circle, 2 buckets of soil/clay in the middle, add a bit of water from the hose and mix. We mixed with our shoed/booted feet (some sharp stones in the sand). It took about an hour to mix up half of the mix for the shell. Jumping and grinding the sand into the clayey/dirt. We started building the clay shell packing it carefully around the dome of wet sand (which we had covered with wet newspaper to keep it separate from the mud.

We should have finished the dome the same day. But we were too slow and my helpers all abandoned me to play outside.

Day 3 of round III: We finished the clay shell once the kids got out of school. We built up and in and over the top of the dome trying to get 4 inches thick layer over the sand. We finished just before dark and I evened it all out with a wooden board.
Now it looked a bit like Jabba the Hut in Star Wars.

Day 4 of round III:
Now the hard part. I need to carefully scoop out the wet sand from the doorway and not have the clay oven collapse. I waited a bit too long and a big crack opened up as the walls of the dome slumped a bit over the rigid sand form. It closed once I dug out the sand and shouldn't be a problem. But it didn't collapse! Now, with the sand out it will dry faster.

While not finished (I need to add an insulating layer around the clay and smooth it all out so it looks nice) but it will be useable once it dries for pizza at least. Tomorrow we'll light a little fire in it to help dry out the clay.

No pizza tonight. From building the sand dome to finishing the clay shell should all have been done on the same day but it took us 4 days. It would go faster if I have to do it again but the real key is to get help and do it as a group project.

Monday, March 30, 2009


My last self-portrait was done in college 25 years ago. It was a large format watercolor in a crouching position boxed in by the borders of the paper--a full sheet but still cramped at 22X30 inches. My skill at portraiture is sketchy at best so when people asked "is that supposed to be you" I wasn't totally unhappy. As it was also a nude portrait, if it seemed more comfortable for all involved I didn't always reply truthfully.

When the printmakers' exchange I am participating in chose a "self portrait as/with/ or including a tree" as a theme I was initially enthused but as I began to think of how I view myself--almost 30 years later, I didn't see myself particularly treelike. I'm short, I have bony knees; I know I don't suck up ozone-depleting CO2 or generate oxygen and I doubt if even on a good day that I'm good for the environment (that will have to wait until I enter the decay cycle).

I started drawing pictures of a generic male figure holding a topiary or a standard ( a standard is a horticultural term for a bushy plant or flowering shrub artificially pruned to a tree form). But I didn't like the idea of "American Standard" as a print with me in it. But moving along I remembered the bonsai...the Japanese form of miniature tree pruning and as I print using a Japanese technique I thought that it might make a decent metaphor for my other Japanese hobby. I'm still a dilettante and the idea of the Westerner who adopts a foreign/Eastern art form as a means of expression and practices it badly has some resonance. The drawings started out fully clothed, then partially clothed, then just underwear but I wanted the print to convey the sense of exposure and vulnerability that I feel when I display any of my works.

So my latest print is a nude self-portrait holding a Bonsai.

I tried to juxtapose the art of Bonsai--the attempt to create the illusion of a centuries-old tree and a model of Nature perfected (but achieved through the patient and deliberate stunting of its growth through root and branch pruning and nutrient starvation) with the image of this middle-aged, somewhat grotesque and inappropriately naked figure. Surrounded by tools woefully inadequate for the task he proudly offers up an example of his modest, Japanese hobby. As Sami, aged 8, the true artist of the family asked, "Dad, if he's naked does that make it Art?" or more pointedly my wife, "God, how long are we going to have to look at this!?). It sounds better (or worse) than it came out. The tree didn't come out pretty enough and there are some problems with the figure (the palsied and too-short left arm isn't a metaphor, just bad drawing) that somehow didn't just go away by carving it in wood and printing it 40 times in color.

It was a great exercise for me technically: 13 colors, a Maple keyblock, a big edition (35) and an attempt at an image requiring careful registration and printing.

The image above is a detail of the finished print. You can see the entire print if you are not offended by adult themes, frontal nudity or badly drawn or printed images. Go here:

Bonsai, 2009 Japanese Woodblock print; edition size 35 for the Baren Exchange #39 and another 5 on different paper/background colors or APs.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pizza Oven next day

Well we got the outer perimeter of insulating mud in today and then mixed up some dense mud and river sand to serve as the dense layer below the firebrick hearth. This will increase the mass below the oven floor to help hold the heat and make the oven stay hot longer. Today I had helpers.

Here's the layer of insulating mud inside the brick outer border. The "citadel" of center bricks are just to give a form with which to fill/pack the sticky, clay-like mud.

The last photo shows the finished base, now filled with the dense mud and sand mix. This all needs to dry a bit so it will hold the weight of the firebrick and oven layers without squishing out or deforming.

Once again. No Pizza Tonight.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pizza Oven

We've been gone from Italy now for 8 months and I miss the farm, the food and our house.
But I've been filling my time with some little projects and started to build an outdoor woodfired pizza and bread oven so I'll be able to make those thin crust pizzas and Tuscan bread.

It started when I dug a hole in the backyard to root out some invasive bamboo and found in one corner of the yard some pure white clay. That started me thinking about clay tiles....then adobe bricks....then I remembered seeing a book about earth ovens.

So work has begun. Since I couldn't decide on a permanent site and I wanted to build a smaller test oven to see if I really use it, I built a semi portable base using leftover 4X4's, 4X6's and 2X4's. I put it on casters (each rated to 350 lbs.) and built a top of leftover planks and plywood. On top of that went one layer of 12" X 12" Cement pavers. Next a ring of firebrick to enclose a layer of insulation. To keep the hot oven from eventually burning out the base I insulated the top with a mixture of subsoil and clay (the dirt that came out of my yard) that I mixed with water until I had a thick, clay-slip consistency.
I folded in half a bag of perlite (volcanic puffed rock from the building supply store ($14.00) to end up with a 4" thick layer of light insulation. It looks like and behaves like a mineral version of the RIce Krispy treat!

It's still wet but the next step will be to add a layer of dense clay/dirt over the insulation to act as a heat sink over which will go the hearth bricks and the real oven per se. I'll post more photographs as they happen.
No pizza tonight.

NOTE: Much of my information come from the book "Building your own Earth Oven" by Kiko Denzer and Hannah Field. I highly recommend it as it includes a wealth of information on ovens, building (on the cheap) with scavenged or recycled materials, has bread recipes and photos of lots of different ovens big and small for ideas.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Adding Color

In woodblock prints, the prints can either be hand-colored with watercolor one by one or a separate block needs to be carved for each color printed (although overlapping colors will creat secondary hues).

Some of my prints begin as black and white images. Some stay that way as they are graphically more interesting.
Sometimes, however, I pull some proofs and start to think....It'd be nice to add some blue to the background...and so on.
That happened with my earthworm print, which began as a little carving on a piece of maple and later became a color print once I had carved new blocks to add color.
The little scooter/chocolate kiss print was one of those doodles that started out sketched in felt tip pen. I recopied it out directly on a small piece of 4"X6" Shina plywood (a japanese linden that doesn't splinter too badly when carved) and carved it out. I was happy with the result and printed a small run using Sumi ink on white paper.

I hand-colored several of them and chose the best ones to give as wedding presents for some special cousins. I had painted in a multicolored background that I have never tried to do in woodcut.

So with that little challenge I decided to go ahead and carve the color blocks to try and reproduce the watercolor version.
I carved 5 color blocks to go with the black and white key block.
Two for the metal coloring of the scooter (one lighter and one for the shadows) and two for the orange handles(again one lighter and one darker for shading). On the latter block I included a little spot of red that I could print at the same time. The last block was the background. To get the rainbow effect it was printed three times. Once, with a yellow bokashi or graded wash to the middle bottom of the background. Water was placed at the top and bottom of the board and the yellow color brushed in the middle-- smoothing out with a clean brush the areas to either side to get the fading. After this was printed, I brushed blue to the top of the plate and water to the bottom 2/3s of it and printed that. Where the blue overlapped the yellow I got a nice green and green-blue. Lastly I printed the bottom by brushing water over all but the bottom strip and brushing in a little red color. The black and white key block or line drawing was printed last, to tie it all together.

It came out with a decidedly different "look" with the color printed compared to those that had been hand-colored. The watercolor stays on the surface and more color variation is possible--each one is more "unique". But with the Japanese-style printing the pigment gets pushed into the paper fibers and becomes deeper and in the hands of a better printer, more uniform if one is printing multiple copies. I think I'll keep to this overall strategy however, using watercolor to test color ideas and combinations but carving separate blocks once I'm ready to start printing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

something frivolous

After all the pompousness of my last post I thought I better come clean. Another sketchbook doodle that has become a little print. No deep meaning. Not "ART" . The print version at 4" X 6" is about 8X larger than the original drawing done from memory.
Both my children use their scooters everyday so it's an object of daily life for us. The chocolate kiss on the other hand is from my memory. I've moved on to better chocolate. Although, if there's a bowl of them at the doctor's office or the bank I will still eat them without shame.
The title was added when I carved the block. I think I might remove it. Or just print it on the little white label.

Scooter Kiss
Japanese woodblock print in Sumi ink on S. Torinoko paper

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Strunk and White in Blue

In High School, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White was a required text every year to assist us in learning to write in a concise and clear manner. I still use it, often subconciously, to edit letters, my children's homework essays and works I translate.
The chief concept of eliminating all the unnecessary wordage that doesn't contribute to the content is still sound.
Not everything written is poetry and often everyday communication is full of extra detail that contributes little other than bulk. I don't have any training in graphic art but I admire the work of others who have the gift to convey a complete and powerful thought or concept with a minimum of detail or line. If road signs and logos would be on the one end of the spectrum then the beautiful, concise draftmanship in the simple sketches of Rodin or Schiele or Matisse might be on the other end. (I'm partial to nudes).
This came to mind as I was printing, over and over again the copies of my Ox print.
Working light to dark, I printed the yellow plate first, the numbers in 2009 clearly legible the rest an odd assortment of circles and shapes.
Next, the red plate in a nice transparant, clear pigment. This overlapped the yellow a bit making a nice orange and filling in what would become the red yoke.
But before I printed the proofs of the blue block, I pulled a few copies on clean paper to see if the ink was printing clearly and I had to pause.

This block, printed all by itself, was already complete.

Without the keyblock and without the two other colors everything I wanted to include was already here: the bull, the strong contrast of horns against sky, the year. While I did lose the idea of the Italian Chianina breed and the "details" of the chain of the nose ring or the shadows of the neck, and the nice contrast the black nose and horns made against the white body, this was all "extra detail" that added bulk but not much content to what I had hoped to produce.
The nagging voice in my head reminds me that I could not have produced this blue block in isolation. I don't have that economic, bold skill in composition and draftmanship that I admire so much in the work of others. I can get there, often laboriously (rather than effortlessly) by producing in bulk, and then through the editing process, working to eliminate what is nonessential. In times like these, I need the help of a good, disinterested editor who with a red pen can slash through the irrelevant or needlessly showy, or just plain badly done. Or I need just the clarity to do it alone.
But, I went ahead and printed the blue block over the others. And then on top went the keyblock in sumi ink mixed with a sepia tube watercolor. It was only partly because I didn't want to waste all that paper already cut and printed to start over. The other reason was I wasn't really able (willing?) to discard the original idea and all the work I did to get there.
So the finished, four-block, four-color image I spent a month working is the one that will go out in the mail next week.

I kept a few of the blue ones. One to file in the small folder I keep of the works I consider successful and the other to post on the corkboard over my workbench in my studio as a visual reminder and reprimand of what I want to accomplish and what I'll have to do to get there.

Friday, February 6, 2009

La Chianina

One of the most ancient breeds of cattle still alive is the Chianina. It had been depicted on Roman sarcophagi and ancient painted scrolls from antiquity. It is an enormous beast, easily surpassing 2200lbs live weight and was the beast of burden of choice for the ancient Romans as well as for the prudent contadini (peasants) for its rustic and thrifty nature. It is a beautiful pure white color with black mucous membranes and horns that are black when young and lighten on ageing.
When the tractor began to replace animal traction in the 1950's it survived due to it's popularity as a source of meat and the Florentine beefsteak still eaten in trattoria all over Italy usually comes from this breed raised in the region of Maremma in southern Tuscany.
It has been imported all over the world and in the USA, in the Northeast where small pockets of stubborn small farmers keep working the land via animal power the Chianina can also be found harnessed to the plow and cart.

2009 is the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese Zodiac and out of respect for the thousands of years that this beast has worked the fields of Italy and abroad he/she is the subject of my annual, late-to-go-out greeting cards.

Anyone interested in Animal traction in the modern age should check out or The Small Farmers Journal for information on the economics and ethics of small farming with draft animals.

Year of the Ox
Japanese woodblock print in four colors.