Monday, December 30, 2013

Starting Over

Sometimes you just start over.
It may not be well thought out, or prudent, or financially promising, or likely to succeed, but you do it anyway.
The small farm that started this blog has been idle for years---I travel too much and and am too often away summers and winters for work in the US to have kept my word in maintaining it.

Nevertheless, when a neighbor, who had been cleaning out his artichoke patch, asked if I wanted some leftovers.....I hesitated only briefly before saying " Yes".
He asked if I had the soil prepared already and I said, "No".
He said, "you'd better's supposed to rain tomorrow...."
and I left his house with about 50 Artichoke plants.....

He saved the small ones. They're really good lightly boiled and eaten like cardoons.....but his wife can't stand he didn't need many and was happy to give away what would have ended up in his compost pile.

The soil was wet and heavy from Fall rains. Too wet for a tractor and too wet really to walk in.
I used a greenhouse tool to fork the soil over, aerating it from below, then tilled in lightly some well-aged compost.  Alex and Sami helped dig shallow holes, throw in a fistful of compost and a plant and cover them with soil. A single stamp of the foot to settle the soil around them. We cut off the tops of the plants to help them avoid withering before they put out new roots. We finished just before dark and it did indeed, rain that night.
They're Morellini, the small oval purple artichokes the Italians love (and eat raw or preserved in jars of olive oil).

If things go well they'll grow new roots and establish during the rest of the Winter and early Spring and come MAY they should be a meter high and a meter across and send up the flower buds that will become our next crop....and even if we have to be gone again this Summer; we will still have artichokes to eat before we go.

Note: Artichokes (carciofi in Italian) are a common local crop.  Each plant is a biennial, growing a big, spiny, bushy plant the first year, then flowering the next. While the flowers are enormous purple thistles, they are usually picked as unopened buds which you'd recognize as an artichoke.
Only one type is grown commercially in the US (Green Globe)-- a huge, round stuffing type of artichoke) but in Italy there are many varieties and in Florence, the favorite is a small crispy green or purple artichoke that is usually eaten raw. (You can't do this with a green globe no matter how fresh it is). Each plant dies after flowering but the plant sends up numerous small suckers/shoots before it does and these will flower or produce each year. So while technically a biennial, the plant will produce artichokes for years from the new suckers.  (We usually thin them to just one per plant so they get bigger and so did my neighbor, which is why he had them to give away....).

Friday, December 20, 2013

Oops! More Common Moku Hanga Printing Errors.

I probably should have started with this one as it is one of the more common, "Oh No!" causes of printing errors--and not just for woodblock printers. The realization that the image has to be reversed on the block can be easily overlooked..... In this case, this was an early work and only the number "2" was missed....the title and other numbers were carved correctly.
Too Wet:
 The Boar print has what is termed, "tamari"; the wet, dark halos around the numbers and many of the boar's bristles are from much too much moisture and pigment on the block and it's squeezing out onto the paper instead of being driven into the fibers during the printing.

In the lower example, the mottling of the green background is caused by too much moisture rather than pigment. It seems the wetness breaks down or washes out the size and this mottling won't go away with overprinting.

The paper won't really accept any more pigment and multiple printings don't seem to get any darker or more even.

Western Papers.
 The grainy, ethereal, "atmospheric" effect is a hard to avoid defect of attempting to print on Western Papers.
The texture left in the paper surface from western paper screens during their manufacture remains and the pressure generated with the baren often isn't enough to print color smoothly.
A stronger baren, really firm pressure and certain papers are more accepting than others.
In the lizard print below, the red dewlap (skin flap) printed evenly while the blue background did not.  It is printed on Magnani incisioni which can be printed smoothly with a lot of effort (as can Fabriano Artistico).
The easiest of Western papers to use for moku hanga printing is probably Rives lightweight and I've had decent results on that paper.

Sizing issues.
If the size is badly or unevenly applied it will show up in the finished print. This looks like the sizing brush was accidentally set down and the streak of extra size acted as a resist.

Harder to illustrate is the effect of too-weak size.
Prints will simply be "flat" or "lifeless" or the colors will never seem to really be vivid or strong despite multiple overprintings.

If the pigment isn't brushed out evenly or there isn't enough paste in the color mix (or you're using cheap brushes), the brush strokes will show.
Again, sometimes this is a nice thing.
Sometimes it is a distraction.

In this case I liked it and as in the prints above, I kept all of them, defects included.
They serve as reminders of things to watch out for going forward.
But they also record my progress (or lack thereof) as a printmaker. As I struggle to become more professional it's helpful to look back and see where I've been.  There is a naivety to some of these works that is still very appealing and I'd hate to lose that freshness and vitality in a search for clean edges and even color application.

This discussion will probably remain active for as long as I make prints. Stay tuned for the next disaster.