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.