Thursday, June 21, 2012

moku hanga woodblock prints

Scooter Kiss, colorWithering MapleFlorida Green Anole woodblock printPrionus Californicus--Beetle ACEO woodblock printPrionus Californicus--Larva ACEO woodblock printStain
Toggle BoltDominoTiger Carpetblu vase studyJajim Sienna VariantYellowPi
Year of the BoarchameleonEarthworm (nightcrawler)Lacrime di Rospo labelLydiaVino Rosso 2005 label
Shapes and Postures B&WYear of the RatBalloonPi (black variant)BonsaiFirstDayHome

moku hanga woodblock prints, a set on Flickr.

This is a mixed collection of all my moku hanga polychrome woodblock prints.
Oddly, my earliest prints, Lydia and Vino Rosso/Bianco while naiive are kind of my favorites. Before I had an idea of what was possible or limited by what I thought I couldn't do.
Still haven't made a dent in my "to do" list for 2012. But I'm happy to see these all together.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


"Thou shalt not covet Thy Neighbors' boxwood"

While I was working on my Maple print I noticed (but had noticed long before) that there was another tree of interest in the neighborhood.

But this time my interest lay not in its artistic potential as model, but in its potential as a lumber source. I have a print I'd like to do that is fairly detailed and will have very fine lines. As solid Cherry gets more and more expensive and as even cherry-faced plywood becomes more and more costly, even expensive alternatives become options--at least for smaller prints.
While in the US, I began to think about trying to find a source of boxwood for at least the key block. Most lumberyards don't carry it and specialty stores for luthiers and furniture makers are frightfully expensive and have usually very small pieces if they have any at all. Big trees are scarce, cut long ago, and what's left are small trunks and branches and these often have to be glued together to make pieces big enough to use for carving. It is very slow growing and the wood is very hard and was used for centuries to make woodblocks for printing text and engravings. Boxwood species are a favorite of Bonsai enthusiasts but they too usually look for an old specimen to dig up and shape as starting from a cutting would take a very long time.

However, one of the advantages of being in an old country (Italy) is that there are lots of old things about.

Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, is a common landscaping shrub used for centuries in Italy and Europe and as synonymous with the formal landscapes as the cypress tree is to rural. It is commonly used to make boxed gardens, pruned into hedges and topiaries and there is a thriving landscape/nursery industry in producing small boxwood shrubs. In formal renaissance gardens small areas were divided by boxwood hedges to create elaborate formal symmetric gardens. They have to be pruned/shaped several times a year. When fertilized the leaves and branches grow more quickly but the trunks take a very long time to thicken. But in addition to European Boxwood or American boxwood, there exist over a hundred of other cultivars from Asia and South America and they differ in growth habit, leaf-size, and color. Some grow a bit faster or are more yellow or darker green. In the 1800's and early part of the 1900's a resurgence in garden revival led to restoration of antique gardens or planting of new ones.

If work need to be done (wells, roads, laying pipe, etc.) and part of a hedge removed or damaged, or if landscaping desires suggest putting in a new hedge--There are "quick" ways to get a new hedge fast; buy bigger plants and plant them closely together (costs a lot more), or look for smaller plants that grow faster. And indeed there are Asian and South American cultivars that grow faster. On this property sometime in the last Century (?), someone planted a faster-growing South American boxwood to make a "new" hedge on the corner of the lawn, next to a large Cedar of Lebanon. It may be older however; older gardens have mixed hedges usually comprised of boxwood and myrtle and bay laurel while new hedges (last century) are more commonly planted to only one species. This is a mixed hedge of European and South American Boxwoods and Laurel and at one time it WAS neat and tidy, curving around a bright green lawn in the center of which is a towering Cedar of Lebanon.

But hedges need trimming.
Trimming hedges requires labor.
Good gardeners grow old and retire or die.
Fortunes change; houses are sold or abandoned.
Wars intervene and gardening and hedges become superfluous.
Sometimes yard work just gets put on hold when landscaping costs get too expensive and trimming the hedges happens less often.

So at some point in history, someone stopped trimming this hedge and when they came back and started to fix up the place they trimmed around the slightly taller South American boxwood; pruning the bay laurel and European Boxwood lower and more neatly. And once our specimen got a bit taller it seems they stopped trimming it altogether and it took advantage of the neglect and took off. And grew. And grew.

So here we are now. some centuries later and there is a magnificent Boxwood tree, inclined to the Left in search of light (that Cedar of Lebanon they planted around was much taller). This one is a good 12"-13" in diameter at the base and at least 40' tall?

That's a lot of Boxwood.
There's more to this story: but I'll give a clue and forewarning.

Our hero was briefly tempted by Lust and Greed to commit an act of great depravity too terrible to even mention here but was spared by the gentle hands of Providence and Chance and a swift kick in the behind from their sister, Conscience, causing him to stumble into a dusty, dark and almost invisible workshop on this side of the river Arno.

And there, downstairs, in the back was a small stack of boards pretty much just like this:

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Well, it wasn't hard work and perseverance that got me to finish this thing. It was mold.
Mold can be seen as small black-gray spots on the yellow background.

After a spate of very cool, damp weather, it turned hot and my long days of printing and frequent interruptions led a few days ago to me pulling out the prints from the freezer and finding MOLD spots--just starting--on three of the ones I had left yellow (all on Italian paper). I think it was from my paste as I didn't make new paste every day and the mold was just in the background color on the prints and not on the unprinted paper. After a brief temper tantrum and hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth and general unpleasantness I decided to go through the whole pack.
My Japanese paper was still ok and the newsprint didn't have the smell of mold/mildew so I thought there was hope.

I posted the finished version in my last post but while I didn't have time to take process photos at least I can give an impression of how the last day of printing went.

I quickly printed a thin glaze of Naples yellow (with a few drops of chlorine bleach added) to those three that showed signs of mold (a desperate, unorthodox and probably useless gesture), isolated them from the rest (I hung them up outside hoping the UV rays would kill the mold), threw out all the old newsprint and dampened new ones and pulled out my Japanese paper (still no mold visible) and went into College All-nighter mode and spent the next 15 hours finishing up or getting them as close to finished as I risked. I'd have probably done another 2-3 impressions if I wasn't backed between fatigue and the risk of ruining too many prints and the deadline of mold erupting on all of the paper.

Over the yellow background I printed a big bokashi mauve from the top down--this looked as terrible as one can imagine (mauve over yellow made a dirty purplish brown). And things at this point looked pretty bad; I had visions that between the mold and my bad color sense I'd ruined everything. But the next color was a rich blue-green glaze/Bokashi that went over the mauve it started to get interesting. (I'd left the yellow ground intact at the bottom and a last bokashi in a burnt-umber to the bottom finished off the background. All that was left was to reprint the keyblock (it had started off carmine but with the dark background it didn't have enough contrast.) As I expected this was the hardest block and I lost 3-4 copies due to mis-registration of the two superimposed keyblock impressions. But the ones that worked were much, much better. I stayed up a few hours more shuffling them in the dry kitchen to get as much moisture out as possible (I didn't risk drying them stacked under weights) and the thin paper was pretty much dry when I finally tossed in the towel and went to bed.

The final tally:
Seven Shina plywood blocks; about 15-17 impressions.
Today I signed and numbered what ended up being a very small edition.
I ended up with an E.V. of 10 decent copies. In addition, there are about 5 Artist proofs/working proofs in the intermediate stages (yellow/green/blue-green backgrounds) or on different papers. (and I counted about 20-25 proofs/rejects/trial copies/test prints) that represent a good 10 sheets of etching paper; a few sheets of Shin Torinoko; and 8 full sheets of Hosokawa Japanese paper and 4 of Hosho.

In the process I've learned a lot:
How to handle and print on thin Japanese papers using a carry sheet to aide registration--it can be done.
How to size my own paper if I have to.
My home-sized paper had a little too much size--some of the speckling is from that,but I needed the extra size on this print. This thin, 39g/m2 weight paper took a beating: the background alone ended up with 5 impressions printed on almost the whole sheet with both a normal and ball-bearing barens and I could have kept going--the paper was still fine. No pilling, no tearing, no delamination of fibers, no bleeding.
(Hosokowa Elfenbein (imported in Europe by JAPICO) listed variably as 80-90%Kozo, 10-20% pulp.)
How to NOT leave DAMP paper in a plastic bag for days on end without taking care to put in freezer/fridge while not working (I knew this already but wasn't paying attention).

The three yellow moldy ones are probably a lost cause but I'm not ready to throw them out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Maple, withering

Maple Branch, (withering).
16"x 15" moku hanga polychrome woodblock print
Hosokawa Japanese Washi
E.V. 10; 3 AP; a still-uncounted number of variants and rejects/misprints.

It was November when I cut off a small branch of the Japanese Maple growing in my mother-in-law's garden. I brought it inside and hung it up and in the span of a few hours the beautiful, Fall, red-carmine-vermillion leaves had twisted and curled as the water fled from their cells and the dry air hastened what Fall would have inevitably wrought later.
The back-lit seeds glowed with the late afternoon sun and the the two leaf surfaces were different colors; the back of the leaves twisted forward to show me their bellies carmine-red, puckered and veined. The front sides glowed from the sun behind,more orange, with only the veins showing dark. The chlorophyll, the green life-blood of all growing plants was too precious to let fall to the ground and had been drawn back into the stems and branches to await the lengthening days of Spring and provide the engine and fuel for next year's growth.

I had been drawing from life only earlier that day and this was another model, only older and more fragile. The dangling seeds were now earrings and jewels and the five limbs of each leaf wrapped around a body that was no longer alive. I sketched this hanging branch with its Baroque leaves with a rapid hand, in pencil, before the light faded and before the mood changed. As it dried I knew that even a careless breath would shake loose the leaves or separate the seeds from whatever invisible connection still held them to stem.

It took a long time to make this print.
Thanks to all who have looked, commented and offered advice and encouragement.
I'm glad Spring is here already and Summer just ahead.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

English Roses, Italian Vases

I printed one background color yesterday on my Maple print and as they are now too damp to print on I have a day off from that project.
So, I spent the day in the garden today. In addition to planting a seed crop of edamame and sweet corn, I deadheaded the roses that are finishing up their amazing May flowering but cut a few nice ones to bring in the house.

They're David Austin English roses and are very fragrant.

The white Art Deco vase I borrowed from my Mother-in-law; It's produced by Lavenia, an Italian pottery firm in the North and judging from the stepped lines it must be from the 30's.
The painted vase/water pitcher is one I bought years ago on my first trip to Florence and is of modern (1985) vintage.

And last night I caught the haunting fragrance of the Linden trees which means they too must have just started flowering. Hope to do some drawing soon. If I EVER finish the current print, the bell-like Linden flowers would be a nice pairing with the Maple seeds......