Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Carving again

Enough baking.
Time to do some more work.

I've put off any more of my road sign pieces until I can get some plain white/fine mica. I wanted a shift in color anyway.
I had planned on moving into a bigger piece for one of my sign works but a small outdoor sketch of the one Japanese Maple we have in the fields came out looking very
Secession-like and I prepped it for a small print but when I went to xerox it to make my hanshita the copier was set at 100% and it doubled the image.

Hmmm. That would be MUCH easier to carve I thought (as I was wondering if my eyes/hands/skill and cherry would tolerate the thin lines) but scaled up it would probably fit a piece of Shina plywood I've been saving.

So, work has begun.
I'm carving the keyblock for what should be a 14" x 14" print.
I'm happy to be carving again and can't wait to try printing something this size again too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

English Muffins

Home-made, Sourdough English Muffins

Certain things are just hard to find over here.
While I hesitate to actually complain, the food and variety here is still quite amazing, but certain comfort foods just aren't on the local shelves.

English muffins for example.
Used to be I had to bring in 2-3 packages in my suitcase; I hear they show up from time to time in the supermarket/specialty stores but I shy away from the supermarket these days. While the home oven isn't great ( I miss the wood oven I built in Santa Cruz) I still make bread and cookies and have been keeping a sourdough starter alive since we moved back to Florence.
So time to pull out the sourdough starter from the fridge and cruise the internet for food blogs.

Sure enough; "Wild Yeast" ( some great photos and a recipe for sourdough English muffins.
While the taste wasn't quite "Thomason's" it was close enough to satisfy the homesick-for-trash-food-void while being infinitely more tasty and nutritious.
And since they're made with local eggs; organic flour (a mix of semolina, soft wheat, and kamut) and my sourdough starter I know that they're real food.

Fork split and toasted with fresh butter and fig jam for me.
The boys instead went for my version of the fast-food breakfast muffin.

While we haven't stepped foot in a McDonalds or BurgerKing for years, I did enjoy making my own version of the Egg McMuffin:

Free range egg, romaine lettuce, home-made English Muffin and Lonzo di Maiale (truffle-infused pork loin from our foray to San Miniato last weekend that B smuggled into the house).

Four muffins went to the American Aunt who lives down the lane, and the remaining 8 vanished quickly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Way (Left) Ahead

"One Way" 4" x 8.5" Moku Hanga color woodblock print.

Another go at a finished version.
Hand carved stamp for the little seal.
Still too silver but acceptable.
Still a test print.
Hope to do something bigger so I can really play with the wood texture/imperfections and play with the bigger brushes and looser printing.

I suppose I could play with the metaphorical/political implications and print bunches of these pointing either Left or Right but I'm not feeling very political these days despite the feeling of impending doom.
The Italian government is falling; the Eurozone looks doomed/imperiled;there's a health crisis looming and I'm still making woodblock prints of beetles and road signs?

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I printed a few more proofs/test prints of my little, One-Way arrow sign.
I printed several copies on Shin Torinoko--a machine-made Japanese pulp and linen paper and about 7-8 on Nishinouchi. The latter is a tan, strong mulberry paper but it tends to vary in thickness across the sheet as well as in sizing--it turns out--and I had trouble again in getting it to print evenly and to not have some paper fibers pull up; if I pressed firmly enough to get a good even impression it seemed to want to pull up the paper fibers more often.

I printed the white arrow first using Zinc white and some rice paste and I did 2-3 impressions to get the white to look opaque and dense enough.
Then I printed the blue block. Again it seemed to require many reprints to get it even halfway dark. I started with Ultramarine pigment dispersion and a bit of paste and gum arabic and eventually after 2-4 impressions added a touch of pthalo blue to get it dark/covering enough. The wood grain is still pretty visible (which is fine) but I still think the blue should have been deeper; and the paper would have been happier with a few fewer impressions.

Next I printed the white block again, but this time with a mixture of zinc white and gum arabic and pressed very lightly with the baren to transfer this to the arrow shape. Then I lightly dusted brushed on some "mother-of-pearl" mica powder using a very soft, squirrel-hair mop brush. Then I brushed off the excess with another brush.
This mica turned out much too silver in color so I had to go back and print a light coating of white thinned with paste again to beat it back a bit so I lost much of the sheen I was after but I didn't want it to look like a silver arrow.

I think it looks pretty good if the lighting is right.
As a test print it has definitely been worthwhile.
I'm going to try a few copies on good, well-sized paper and see if I can have another go at printing--hope I can find some plain or white/uncolored mica.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One Way

A little temporary diversion.
I've been threatening for years to do a series of prints based on my favorite Italian road signs inspired by my forced attendance at Italian driving school. (There's an oxymoron for you). ((Forced due to residency requirements not any traffic infringements)).

Two small blocks of Beech (Faggio). These are leftover cuts of one of my beetle blocks and are about 4"x 9" in size.
A little too short to faithfully represent the actual road sign this is inspired by.
While not actually one of my favorite signs it will do as a test print.
I wanted to see if my locally-sourced, Japanese paper (unsized) would work--it didn't.
And whether I could get a decent opaque white printed on tan paper....fair but not convincing. I'll need to do multiple impressions to get the deep blue and the opaque sparkly white I want. Third, it will give me a chance to print with mica powder now that I found a local source of mica today (the ever-helpful folks at Zecchi Fine Arts) so I can now forge ahead once I finish cleaning up the blocks.

Not worth showing the results this round as the blocks are still more interesting than the prints.
Need to clean out the hollow areas--they seemed deeper before washing off my hanshita/drawing paper.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Prionus Californicus (Cherry Root Borer Beetle) Larva; EV 200.
Moku hanga, 2.5" x 3.5" ACEO print.

I wasn't sure when or if to post the grub version of my beetle print.
This is the pair to the beetle print of several posts ago and is 1/2 of my contribution to the Baren printmaking forum's 50th anniversary exchange. My print(s) are a portrait of a common, New-World parasite of cherry and other hardwoods.
In the larval form, the grub eats the roots of cherry trees and burrows into the trunk making circular burrows and holes, often killing the trees and rendering the wood useless. I had wanted to do the much more attractive Asian Tiger beetle (currently destroying thousands of acres of hardwood trees since arriving in the USA from China in packing material) but despite that beetles taste for ornamental hardwoods it doesn't seem to eat Cherry. And I really wanted a beetle that turns perfectly good cherry lumber into useless frass, woodshavings, and damaged timber.
(I had just been rejected from yet another printmaking association.....)

As the beetle and grub were printed off the same blocks using the same colors I did something not just a tad repulsive but also a bit unorthodox.
I decided to number the prints sequentially. So the first print became grub (E.V. 1/200) and the beetle E.V. 2/200. All the grubs bear odd numbers and in theory pair up with the even numbered Beetle prints.
I sent in 51 of each and the 100 participants will receive a print titled:
Prionus Californicus, but will get Either a beetle or a grub.

Calling this an edition varie E.V. is technically not correct--an Edition Varie (EV) can have variants in printing or paper or color--but the carving of separate--but related images makes them two distinct prints. But I'm totally fine with breaking the numbering/editioning rules.

Since I'm giving these away, the idea that they have to be numbered and editioned rationally so that "collectors" and dealers "know what they are getting" is rather moot. (except for a few 11 year-old bug collectors there has been surprisingly little demand). Besides, if anyone is miffed or feels slighted I can always say that I sent out all grubs but that, during shipping and customs clearance, there must have been some that metamorphosized.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Olive Oil

I haven't been printing or carving recently as I've spent most of the last two weeks climbing trees. We've been picking olives on my wife's family's fields. While it has been gloriously beautiful--blue skies, warm days, no rain and really nice olives this year it has been pretty exhausting.
It is completely uneconomic.....if you factor in tilling the fields/pruning the trees twice a year/mowing the grass/Removing the suckers/new growth from the trees twice a year; spraying to keep the fungal diseases at bay (at least 2-3 times/year with copper sulfate--still allowed even in organic production due to it's "natural origins" and historic use-not to mention the lack of a decent alternative). Then there is the whole project of picking by hand, tree by tree and pretty much, olive by olive and getting the olives to the press and then processed into oil.

But as you can imagine from the photos above, that the non-economic benefits are priceless. There is something magical about being able to grow and produce your own oil. We're lucky to live in the country and have the amazing great fortune of being able to be outdoors and doing something that would be an unimaginable dream for so many.

We can BUY decent Italian olive oil for as little as 4 Euro a bottle for inferior (but still pretty good) oil from Sicily or Puglia in the South, and "local" Tuscan oil for more like 10-11 Euro/liter. But the "cost" of producing it--the picking, pruning, socializing and participating in a task/process that has been going on for thousands of years is also one of the major non-economic benefits. I'd have to PAY someone 10-15 euro/hour to pick olives but I can do it for nothing except my time.
And I'd rather spend the day up a tree in the countryside than a lot of other jobs I've done in my life.

Today was spent at the press. After dropping the kids at school, We drove the rented van three times to the nearest small press as 1000kg was about the safest it could carry. We joined our olives with those of our neighbors (also relatives) to cut on transport and press charges.
We picked 6.4 Quintale (640kg) of olives from which we obtained about 90 Kg of oil.
(a little more than 90 Liters). We left about 1/3 of the trees unpicked--it did finally rain and we'll have to consider going back into the fields and back to the press next week.

The frantoio was an amazing place--with the misty air of aerosolized olive oil.
A forklift dumps the picked olives into the waiting bins.
A conveyer belt will take them up a steep ramp from which they will fall into a washing tank, but not before dropping in front of a large fan that will blow/suck off most of the leaves. The olives are then washed, then gravity fed to the next machine where they will be crushed/minced/macerated into a paste. This will then again be washed then centrifuged to spin off the lighter oil from the water and pit debris. The oil emerges one building away from the spout of the centrifuge. It is unfiltered as we choose to keep it freshly pressed and alive. The machines stay cool and this remains cold-pressed, "extra-virgin" olive oil.

The oil emerges a green that seems to be too unreal to be a color that could exist in nature and everywhere there are olives and containers and tractors and men smoking and shuffling about.
The color will last a few weeks to months if the oil is kept dark, but a bottle left on the counter will change color in just a few hours.
The spicy, slightly bitter and biting flavor of new oil will also last just a few days to weeks and will then mellow. The oil will keep for several years without spoiling but we will try to consume it within 1-2 years--we try to keep enough for two as we don't get decent oil every year and like to have some on hand if next year is a bust.
We will distribute oil to all who helped pick as well as friends and relatives who don't have trees or the possibility of picking.

Tonight it's pane, olio, ed aglio;
Toasted bread, rubbed with raw garlic and then generously doused with the piquant new oil and salt.