Thursday, May 31, 2012


Well, I printed three or four impressions yesterday and I'm getting close to the critical to deal with the last background.
I have had some pretty clear ideas but as my children, spouse, and pretty much anyone who has seen the prints in the last few days have pulled out my favorite as the immediate discard so I'm wavering about whether to pay attention to my inner voice or heed the growing number of voices that agree with Alex the 14 year-old pragmatist,
"Dad, that's just plain UGLY".
My Beetle and grub prints were pretty "ugly" too (but I like them a lot) so with this print I wanted to do something a little more visually appealing but the yellow version risks being too pretty.

Here is yesterday's test of the last block which I coated lightly with matte acrylic medium proofed on drawing paper. (This is cheap paper so the surface and printing quality is very different from the carefully printed/good paper version from my last post.) I've printed a thin layer of aquamarine/pthalo blu over the yellow background.

The sealed block no longer prints the two vertical seams but gives a pronounced speckling, goma-zuri effect. It would need another impression to deepen/darken the background color.

The next block will be printed multiple times in overlapping colors/unevenly to try to get a little more depth. The colors that come next will greatly affect the overall look and balance; If I push the blue and earth-green pigments it will be more "natural" and there will be a little of the Blue-Orange interaction.
If I print again with violet/mauve it goes towards the brown and gets more moody.
If I print again with a deeper yellow it will stay pretty much as is.

Here are most of the proofs done for color testing/registration over the last few serious printing trials:.

I favor the taupe/brown/purply ones; Alex a dark green background in the bottom row. B likes the blue one at second row down/second from the left (the one shown at the top of the post).
The taupe one at top is the one everyone hates.

I welcome thoughts/opinions before I charge ahead..........

Monday, May 28, 2012

Printing in earnest: Maples again

Barens are covered. Paper has been cut, sized, aged, dampened, and placed in plastic bags to keep damp and printing has begun.
This is a shot in progress: about midway finished--9 impressions so far (and I think I'll need another 6-7).
Japanese Maple--print in progress and detail

Don't know if I am stubborn or just stupid but I keep hoping to get some finished copies of this print--I'm printing on 5 sheets of Magnani incisioni (using these as proofing sheets to confirm registration/color) and 15 of my home-sized Japanese paper (some with heavy size, some with light).
But I'm feeling optimistic as this is looking pretty good so far.....I still have some color decisions to make (the yellow background will mostly disappear) so there is still ample room to screw it up (color isn't my strength).

I've definitely invested more time and energy (and more paper) in this print than anything I've done so far (mostly due to proofing/registration errors) but I'll tally the eventual final "cost" when and if I finish it. All I know is that the stack of bad copies up to now has been getting taller and taller.

But there is hope. Printing is going well. Registration errors are fewer since I started using a carry sheet to carry the thin Hosokawa paper to my block and set it into the kento--this has been crucial as the damp paper is thin and floppy and has to be reliably placed for multiple impressions. It is tolerating lots of impressions and is picking up pigment and not shedding paper/or sticking. My re-carved background block is printing in-register--(although it too has a seam that is printing...(a thin horizontal line is visible on the yellow ground) but this should disappear when I overprint with the old background block.....

One of the reasons this is taking so long is because I am still making decisions as I go along and there are still some unknowns ahead.
That's why it's still fun.

Temporary maple print work station
Paper delivery system is on the left; upper shelf holds paper to be printed; once printed it is moved to lower shelf. I had to improvise to be able to work with a big sheet of damp paper (paper size is 15" x 16" (41cm x 42cm)).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Baren cover(s)

This is a close-up, without the cover, of a Murasaki Baren, the tool with which I print most of my woodblock prints. The Murasaki refers to the purple, knotted, nylon cord that provides the little bumps that transmit the pressure and push the pigment during printing into the damp washi/paper. These are made with a twisted, hard nylon cord instead of the carefully split and braided bamboo knotted cords that would be in a "HON" or real Baren. It is a concession to time and economics. A Hon Baren now takes almost a year to make and costs over $1200. This one being more easily and quickly made runs about $150 and works much better than the inexpensive, $4.00 plastic one I printed from for the first year I made woodblock prints (and which I still sometimes use). These come from the workshop of Mr. Kikuhide Goto who makes these as well as traditional and hybrid barens. They're great tools and I have two: a 12 cm fine for keyblocks and thin paper and a medium for most everything else. With time the bamboo-leaf wrapper, the takenokawa, gets worn and has to be replaced. New ones have to be shipped from Japan and arrive curled up and dried and have to be carefully dampened, opened, stretched, and tied to be of use.

My barens got quite a workout during my last few printing months and although they both have developed wear affecting their performance I had been putting off changing the bamboo-leaf skin/coverings as I had only two left and needed to finish printing my dragon prints before risking to be without--sometimes they'll split putting one on and it can't be used).

Here is the damage; the transparent concentric rings and and holes are defects in the sheath caused by wear. Held to the light one can see the holes in the baren sheath caused by gradual wear of the knotted cord as the pressure thins and then makes holes in the leaf covering. This will both leave marks or possibly damage the damp printing paper as well as allow moisture in and possibly damage the baren.

So I pulled out my two remaining new bamboo skins and changed the skins on the barens. This was now my third or fourth attempt and it is definitely getting easier--or at least--less tricky. I got them tight enough and fairly smooth and for the first time didn't tear or split the skins putting them on. They last less and less as I get better at printing; my first skin lasted more almost 2 years; these just a few months.

Here are the front/printing sides one with the skin off and one replaced:
Here are the backside with one leaf tightly wrapped and twisted to cover the cord and create a handle.
Here are the two barens with their new takenokawa (covers). This is redundant but I'm pretty pleased with myself for having covered both of them without mishap.
This instead shows the mediocre job I did with the handle; it is uneven, the two halves of the twisted handle are different thicknesses and lengths and I did a crappy job with the knot. Still so much to learn or do better.

Many printmakers make their own barens using thumbtacks, bead chains or bolt heads to create the slightly curved bumpy surface needed to print well held in place against a plywood disc with hot glue or epoxy resins. A google search of home-made barens will turn up good ideas for those wanting to make their own.
These Murasaki barens are available in the US thru the McClains printmaking supply website/catalog or from the Baren forum's supplies link (the Baren Mall:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Want to see my dewlap?

Green Anole
2012 Moku Hanga woodcut print
5" x 7"
printed from 6 blocks

We used to wrongly call these lizards, "Florida Chameleons" because the green ones can also turn completely brown--a feature they use for camouflage among the green leaves and brown branches. They are not true chameleons but anoles and are distinguished by their colored dewlap, the extendable flap of skin under the chin. This is the only anole native to Florida although they have been pushed aside by the invasive and more aggressive brown and cuban anoles too. In the suburbs of Miami where I grew up this was NATURE and the closest we could get in our backyards to the wild we'd read about in the nature magazines that would come in the mail.
Many hours were spent trying to catch them and if you handled them too roughly they could bite--a small and harmless but painful pinch. They could also shed their tails and the shortened lizard would scurry away leaving the long green tail, red meaty stub and all, writhing away on the ground like a small snake. The dewlap can be bright red or orange or white, depending on the subspecies.
The male will post himself in some visible location and bob up and down with the brightly colored flap of skin under his neck fanning out to catch the attention to warn away other males or hopefully catch the eye of some svelte green female.
I always liked the habits of this shy small lizard caught between the conflicting urges to be discreet and invisible yet driven to set himself up on some sunlit prominent twig and puff up declaring to all, "HEY, look at ME, Look at ME!"

This was my contribution to the Baren 2012 YEAR of the Dragon print exchange.
It was fun to cut and print and was one of the few prints I've done that printed well on both Japanese and European papers. This one is on Magniani incisioni, an Italian medium-weight etching paper.