Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Graces Hanshita

Printed keyblock; the area colored in will be the next block.

Slow progress but I've finished the keyblock.
Now I'm printing a few hanshitas before I clean out the area of inside the bags.

As I suspected the lines are a bit chunky; but for this image, which I'm hoping to print a bit sloppily it should be ok.

Registration will be an issue for the little ribbon ties.

I'm still working out color and printing sequences.
Hope to carve another block today/tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cherry Ply

About 4-5 years ago I found a pretty nice slab of local Italian Cherry and had the local lumberyard cut it into thinner planks.
I didn't take into consideration the width of the blade; and I was trying to economize by getting as many planks as possible from the thick board....I ended up with planks that were only about 1 cm thick. I've used them as is-- even carved on both sides--but they're prone to warping and I was hesitant to try anything larger than my yearly zodiac cards.

I found a local carpenter however who has been intrigued by my woodblocks and as he has an enormous hydraulic, hot-water press---used to laminate doors, tables, etc.-- he offered to laminate these onto some plywood. He insisted however I use marine plywood ( I told him I wanted a water-resistant glue...).

So I found a piece of local marine plywood (Okoume)--not cheap either --and he took my cherry planks and had me come by and pick them up a week later.
He trimmed them to be flat sided and I had him cut the smaller ones to 30cm length....These are the remnants--the ends that were left-- they're about 22 by 27cm by 2.4 cm thick.

Cherry/Okoume: About 2.5cm thick, the cherry alone is 1cm.                          

I don't think warping will be an issue
Cherry side

The Okoume side

Not sure if the Okoume will be useable but I'll try; it's soft, has a very pronounced grain and looks like it will want to flake off.

These will be part of the Trash bag print I'm working on.
I think I'll need a total of 6 plates....I think 3 cherry and the 3 backs will make up the others.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Trash redux

It's nice to be carving cherry again.

I  decided to start in on my backlog of "Prints to Do" list and this trash bag doodle was in the stack near the top.
Trash bag doodle from my sketchbook

I had gotten as far as a neatly-drawn line drawing and transferred that to an acetate and then to this block with some carbon paper.

This is a 9 x 12" American cherry/birch plywood block I had purchased from McClains about a year ago.
I hope to use the Birch Ply back for one of the color blocks.
The Three Graces (key block in progress)

I've been carving now for a couple of days....stealing an hour or two from other things when I can.
I have an idea for the color blocks but it's still pretty ill defined. I'm hoping to do a partial reduction but using multiple blocks still to allow for lots of overlap of colors (and chances to fix any errors).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bamboo Skin

 If you have a Japanese Garden nearby--now is the time to pay them a visit.  Specifically, go check out the bamboo gardens.  Bamboo grows about a foot a day. Botanically a grass, it has culms, long segmented stems and each of these is protected by a sheath during the growth phase and small terminal leaf that drops from the growing stalk as it gets taller, one for each segment. A good stand of bamboo will be dropping or will have already dropped dozens of these.  

The Takenokawa, is the dried bamboo-leaf that is used to cover the baren coil and serves to help distribute the pressure while protecting the paper from the coil bumps and friction. I get mine from Japan via post (Woodlike Matsumura) or from McClains in the US.
They're hard to ship so end up costing about $5-7.00/each due mostly to shipping costs. (although, if I get them with a roll of paper they usually ship inside the paper roll). I usually buy 5-10 at a time.
But now that I print harder--I go through them faster.  My testing of a duct tape cover or the shelf paper (works pretty well) was due to the fact that I just have 2-3 left and I'm saving them for serious printing.
Fallen Bamboo-Culm Sheaths

I had another of my "Hey, these might work!" moments walking in the garden again this week and noticing the stand of bamboo that hides the old well and pumphouse.
We have 2-3 patches of bamboo on the grounds.  I had long ago looked at, then discarded them as a local source for Takenokawa as being too narrow.  But when I covered my last baren--I was surprised how much wider it got with dampening and stretching.  So I went back to the bamboo patch for another look.  Most are stands of a thinner bamboo used for staking in the garden but this patch--planted probably 200 years ago to hide the even older pump/well--has quite a few thicker shoots--some a little more than 2inches/5-6cm in diameter. I looked over the fallen skins and selected out the ones that weren't damaged and that seemed to have come off the larger stems.

Compared to the purchased Takenokawas I've used in the past;
these are thinner in thickness and a little narrower...they look like 8-9cm when they're dry/shriveled or all curled up but they're pretty long and there were a lot of them. So just out of curiosity,  I got an old one and dampened it under warm running water and carefully opened it up uncurling it under the water and then measured the open leaf.....gee, now it's almost 11cm wide......

Leaf dampened under running water then carefully stretched/smoothed out with fingers. Now it's almost 11cm wide.

I rubbed the inside with a smooth stone to iron out the ribs/wrinkles and measured again. 12 cm! Wow, this is going to work. 

So, since I still had one left-over cardboard round and a length of twisted cord I decided to quickly put together another baren so I could test if these skins would work to cover a smaller baren....In addition, I made a few alterations from my last one to see if I can get more pressure and a more effective baren from the same materials.

I coated the braided cord with acrylic medium to harden it up and stiffen the cord. I trimmed the disc to madke it a little smaller-- 11.5cm diameter so it would better approximate the Murasaki baren I was comparing it to and be small enough for the skins I had found.  I glued two thick paper concentric circles on the side the cord would be glued to to make it just a tad covex.
I didn't like the shiny gold of the back---it's made to go under cakes--so I also glued a thin sheet of washi to the back just to make it less ugly.
Then as just a quick trial,   I dampened one of the uglier skins and quickly stretched it out by working across the grain until it opened up. Then used a river rock and a hard surface to stretch it further and smooth the grain.  It went from about 9cm wide to 12cm wide and covered the baren with nothing to spare. It had a few splits but it didn't get worse or fall apart when it dried, so encouraged,  I tried again with a better skin.
This one was JUST barely wide enough once prepped. But it's on. Very smooth and looks pretty good.

Trial leaf; it fit, but had a few splits so I tried again. 

Finished Baren with Home-grown Takenokawa

Tomorrow, I'll test it out.

But first I went back to score a few more skins.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Zig Zag

Mostly ZAG  7.5"x 10" moku hanga woodblock print; ed 35

 I had this little print in my mind for some time. 
Imagined as an exercise in overlapping colors and simple shapes.
Just three colors:
Hansa Yellow
Napthol Red Medium
Pthalo Blue (green shade)
and a little sumi added in the last impression.

There was a flame-like textile in the 1500s renaissance Florence (and I can still see examples during my walks past the Antique shops in the city center) and the Missoni brand fabrics sold downtown and internationally still borrow from that design pool. But if I'm surrounded by zigzag motifs locally it was a foreign weaving that I had in mind when I sketched out the little drawing that would become this print.

The textile I was thinking about was this one:

 It's a Baluch flat-weave cover or kilim. It is asymmetric and dyed with all-natural vegetal dyes with an amazing purple and rich orange and madder red and blue. It is long and narrow and would have been used originally to cover bags or belongings in the back of a nomads tent, or as a decorative hanging in the rear. Woven in Afghanistan about 100 years ago I find it abstract and Modern in an aesthetic that seems to defy style or fashion and time.
It was in storage however (see the roof entry from late Feb) when I was working on it and I had just a vague memory of how it was constructed.   I had  the print all planned out and had finished the keyblock when I pulled it out to check for colors.
 I noted that it was pretty different than I had remembered and I'd have changed the blocks if I had seen it earlier.
(I'd have included the steps in the diagonals--they add a lot of energy).

The Yellow block I printed very strongly to allow the later green and orange to glow.
The red was printed medium strength and the blue fairly lightly to allow for a nice green and purple--and then reprinted (using a different block) to deepen just the blue stripe and the outlines.

Very simple but not all that interesting in the end.

The original textile is much more captivating and beautiful. This is once again one of those examples where the original idea remains far more interesting than the finished print.
But I am working towards getting stronger and more vibrant colors--- this is a far cry from the wan and weak colors I was still getting just a few years ago.

The bright white version on Magnani incisioni printed surprisingly well; I only used these for proofing the blocks as they're still pretty hard to print by hand and the reject rate (due to slippage) is higher than with the thinner and more transparent Japanese washi.

TheWashi edition (on Mura Udabon Smooth from the Japanese Paper Place) has a nice imprinted wood grain--the paper is dried on wooden boards; and LOTS of little inclusions that became more obvious during printing as they acted as a resist to the colors.

It was my contribution to the Baren Forum Print Exchange #56 and 31 copies went by post to L.A. yesterday. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Making a twisted-cord Baren

How to make a home-made, inexpensive Baren:

(Disclaimer:  I have 2 Murasaki Barens made by Goto Kikuhide (purchased from McClains) .....;  In this line of barens; he has replaced the traditional braided bamboo filaments (8-16 strands braided to make an uneven, knotted cord) with a hard, purple synthetic coil.
They are great tools and I have both a fine and a medium and I use them every day when I am printing.  I highly recommend them and I think they are a great value and a great purchase if you are already printing in earnest.).

I gave a class recently and when I needed Student-grade barens--I knew the students who were just  beginning were not ready to invest in a good baren but I wanted them to have an option beyond the cheap plastic or paper coil barens currently available at art supply stores.
I wanted something that would be:
Easy to put together from readily available materials

 It was a good friend years ago who showed my two sons how to make a cord by twisting string together until it "jumps" twisting back on itself making a stable cord.
The idea is that when you twist a long string until it is very tight, the torque developed and the stored energy in the twisting will cause it to twist again upon itself along it's length forming a stable cord that is 2-4 times the original diameter--anyone who has tried to coil a common garden hose and found it keeps trying to twist on itself will have experienced this. The kids both made short lengths of cord and used the end loop to attach a key ring or piece of colored cloth.
A few weeks ago when I last covered my Murasaki baren, I remembered vaguely that it looked a lot like the cords he had showed my kids how to make--only much harder.So I picked up a little kite twine and made a 24" loop and twisted it using a pencil and looping the other end around a broom handle. Twisted tightly and then folded and let go it immediately twisted back on itself forming a tight, twisted cord; I carefully made it into a little coil and the little bumps were pretty hard.   Hmmmmm.

About a dozen types of twine and string later I was ready to try making a little baren.

I cut this to size using a sharp blade. and sanded the edges to a bevel.

Disc of plywood or cardboard; I used a canvas-primed circular canvas 13cm diameter and the base of a cake platter (I got it from the local craft store) made of sturdy 1/4" dense cardboard. I cut one down using a sharp knife (Toh)
I sanded the edges to a cambered shape to try and make it more concave and so the edges wouldn't damage the skin/covering.
I painted acrylic medium over both sides to make it smooth and waterproof.

Acrylic Medium (It sets and dries fast) to use as glue to hold down the cord.

Twine or string; I tried hemp, cotton, and nylon. The harder the better.  Not too thick; the thickness will come from the twisting.

Cover : leaf, shelf paper, primed canvas, shrink wrap are all possibilities.

Make the cord: (worth practicing a few times on shorter pieces) a loop 2-3m long will allow you to get a feel for it and can be used as an outer border if you use a thinner kind of string.)

This had been twisted pretty tight, any tighter and it will start to form little bumps/knots that will make the later cord uneven.

I used a long loop about 7m long (21 feet) so the twine length was double that (14m or about 40 feet). I tied the ends together to make a loop and set the knot over a vertical post--I used a broom handle propped against a door.

Then using a wooden spoon or pencil, twist the loop, like a toy-airplane propeller.  With this much length it will take a while (I spent about 10 minutes twisting); as it twists it will get shorter by about a meter but keep twisting until it is tight but smooth (you don't want any bumps yet).

Using a helper. Have them grab the twisted string/twine at about the 1/2 way point and carefully use that person as a fulcrum to fold the twisted string in half keeping them separate and a little taut. Once the end you have been twisted is next to the other end held up by the post or broomstick have the helper carefully let go of his end (holding it a little bit away and it will begin to twist back on itself and you can walk it down to the other end letting it twist. If it is a little uneven or loose from the other end you can tighten it up (twisting the new cord in the direction that tightens the cord).

 I use a little piece of duct tape to tape up the two ends that were loose. Form the new cord into a spiral (If you do this now it will tend to stay in the spiral shape.

Assemble the Baren Base;
I used a cheap brush and thickly applied matte medium to the surface the cord will sit on (I wanted it to hold the cord firmly. Do this over a piece of wax paper so it doesn't go on your table.
I slipped my premade spiral right onto the wet glue, adjusting or tightening it as necessary (I had already cut it to lenght so there would be about a 1/8th-1/4 inch border of backing (the cord coil was a little smaller than the backing disc).
Then carefully holding the end and disc down, press and hold it into the glue/medium until it sets (4-5 minutes). Once it is set you can set it to dry with a piece of wax paper and a book to hold the cord flat against the glue.

Let it dry overnight.

COVERING the Baren.

For this I recommend looking a the various sites for how to cover a baren.

The Bamboo leaf definitely works really well and learning how to tie one is worthwhile.
Bamboo leaf (Available via mail order from Japan(Woodlike Matsumura catalog) or McClains catalog in the USA; Work great; take some practice to do well; but even badly will work.

Shelf paper--I used a small piece of commonly available shelf paper; but I carefully stuck onto the sticky side a piece of glassine paper so that the shelf paper wouldn't stick to the coil (glassine side to the baren/shelf paper side out).

Simple primed cotton canvas (sanded a bit smooth/gesso side out) (*This tip from Maria Arango Diener of 10000Woodcuts)

The yellow one is shelf paper.

These were all tied the same way a baren would be;
The cover was placed face down; the baren was placed on top, cord side down and the cover was carefully pleated over the back and twisted to make the two twisted pleats that would make the handle, once it was tied with cord.


They work pretty well as a student-grade baren--but better than the cheap plastic one that I used for a year and better than the cheap $10.00 paper coil ones.
I spent about $5.00 in materials ($10.00 for the one covered with a bamboo leaf cover).

My Murasaki Baren is still definitely a better tool--works better and provides more concentrated pressure. They feel better in the hand and definitely provide more concentrated pressure.
I think they use a much harder cord and do a better job making the surface a bit convex.
Future ideas:
I will try making my next baren a little smaller (the 13cm size means the pressure is less as it is spread over more surface area--My Murasaki Barens are both 12cm and I think that makes a difference.
I'll try to use a thin plywood and sand the printing side a little more into a convex shape and see if I get more pressure--the one I made prints well--no dips to cause splotches--but not with enough pressure to get good coverage on thicker papers.
I will also try to treat the cord with acrylic medium after before making it into a coil/spiral to see if it stiffiens/hardens the coil enough to increase the strength....
(I'm also tempted to try the plastic cord used to make weed-wacker filament........and see how it twists).

I will keep trying to refine this and post results if they are better.
Anyone who tries this please or has suggestions please use the comment box to add your input.