Thursday, April 20, 2017

Baren Time

The bamboo in the garden is coming up and that means I'll be gathering takenokawa--the leaf sheaths or culms from the bamboo plant that I use for covering my barens.

I have a few workshops and classes starting next month and one of the things that always interests students are my home-made barens.  A basic plastic baren like we use in my classes costs just $6.00 but as the papers get thicker and the work more complicated, a stronger baren with a little more "feel" and heft makes printing easier and improves the quality of the printed image. Mid-range barens get expensive fast, and professional barens can cost--depending on type--from $150 to over $1000.

The one's I make take a few days to put together but cost just about $5.00 in materials and work well enough for beginners and students on both thin Japanese papers and thicker European papers and will function until one has made enough prints to think about moving to a better tool.  Instructions on how they're made can be found in earlier posts--the biggest change I've made is in hardening the twisted twine with PVA glue so it will stay hard longer--and using different strings to make medium or harder barens. I've had 3 of my barens find new homes recently so I have to make a few new ones so I'll have some for my next workshop for students to try out. For someone who wants to make their own look over my earlier posts:   or

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This time with a little color.

I have been moving forward with my small print series of shunga/erotica/quick sketches and have etched one image/plate and almost finished another. Meanwhile, I cut color blocks for this one and pulled a couple of color proofs using my baren and today quickly inked and proofed the zinc plate with a small table press on top of the color work already laid down.
I'm using a textured Italian etching paper and my zinc plates weren't highly polished so there's a lot of plate tone that is going to greatly influence the final result. 
I think this isn't bad for a color test--I will probably flip color tones for the male and female shapes and try to get it to print a little cleaner.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Shunga 2

Here are the first three of my sample plates for my erotic/shunga series.
I'm still not sure if I'll be able to pull this off but I'll commit to at least 5 of the images I have in mind and wait until I've got the color blocks done and printed too before I decide if this is worth pursuing.
Of these I'm happy with the 1st two--the third I think needs to be redrawn and etched on a new plate.

Soft-ground etching on zinc waiting for color plates.
They're all either 13cm square or 12cm x 13cm.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


This is the tentative start of a small project. This, the first print, is based on yet another scribble from my sketchbook and my recurring interest in how our mind and eye turn random or unconnected shapes into recognizable forms.

The original scrawl of two wavy lines drawn as positive and negative reciprocal shapes-somehow became became male and female--and the reworked lines and resulting shapes then became figures. I drew these over and over--some more literal, others even more nuanced and I've played with how abstract I can go and still have this read (almost) as a depiction of an erotic act.
The two plates that printed together make the print at the top.

 There are others coming, but they're not subtle and I hope to be able to make a small series of prints-
playing with the Eastern/Western techniques of moku hanga and etching while referencing the history of erotic images from the Ukiyo-e tradition.
My plan is to combine the techniques of soft-ground etching for the drawn lines and fill in color areas using wood blocks and bokashi gradations although I may try doing the same image (or a variant) using the different techniques. I'll start with a couple and see if I can make something interesting,
but the eventual goal is to put together a group of 10-12 images for a small portfolio or artist book.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Not to Scale

1" x 4" etching and aquatint on Magnani etching paper.

I'm attending the Wednesday night sessions/open studio at Il Bisonte, one of many historic graphic arts/print studios in Florence.  There's a small group of us and once a week, after dinner we have access to the nuts-and-bolts materials and tools of a well-equipped printmaking studio. There are acid baths for zinc and copper, an aquatint box and hot plate,  a guillotine cutter for metal plates, many presses and a professional printer helping and supervising those who need assistance in making plates and prints.
I have several small works in process and I'm trying to meet the deadline for a miniature print competition so I'll decide soon what's good enough to push to finish and send.

These were done in my first few days--as I was trying to refamiliarize myself with drypoint and etched lines. At the top is a two-plate etching and aquatint. While below, is a print made from a drypoint zinc plate, printed on a student-grade, Japanese paper. Drypoint means I used a sharp scribe to scratch directly into the metal. It raises a burr and prints with an easily recognizable hazy line.  As with lots of my work, it's based on small, scribbled doodles--these of scientific and measuring devices--rulers, protractors, beakers, etc.  These are all hand drawn and I like the play of the obvious "wrong-ness" of the drawing. The inexact spacing and wandering line that negates the purpose of these objects in the real world.   I've only printed these copies but I hope to make some time and print some clean ones on good paper. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Five O'Clock Shadow

I like to joke that I have a "serious" line of work and a "frivolous" one.
This would fall in the latter category but these silly works, made without thoughts about meaning or purpose always have a spontaneous feeling rather than being fussy or forced.   And I think if they still make ME smile, then I think that's a good thing as they'll probably make others smile too.

This is a small work--the image is just 2" x 2" (5cm x 5cm) and is based on one of my many scribbles and doodles in one of my sketchbooks.

I had meant to do this as pure color woodblock. But cutting all those little dots for the beard stubble takes time and I really thought they'd be perfect done with an etching so the drawing was etched on a small zinc plate.
Unlike the previous Lampreys/Valentine prints, rather than using aquatint for the colors, I went ahead and cut several small wood blocks for the color passages.

So this ended up being Japanese woodblock and hard-ground etching on zinc and three color blocks (Shina) and was printed both with a baren (the color plates) and a small press.

These are test prints (rather than true Artist proofs),  and I think I need to darken the lines in a few places and decide on how much plate tone I want as I try to print a reasonably consistent edition once I decide which one I like best.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Valentine, 2017; aquatint, etching and trace monotype.
Don't look for deep, symbolic meaning. This is just a stylized, parasitic, toothed, Lamprey, with a heart-shaped tongue, and hollow, sweet cliches stamped on it for Valentine's Day. 

I've been frequenting the Printmaking Studio and Cultural Association, Il Bisonte, in Florence during their once a week evening classes. It's been years since I did any etching or worked with a press and I was ready to spend one night a week in the company of etchers.  I like to work small and I chose to start with a square, zinc plate and some sketches from my "random doodles" sketchbook.  I started out with a simple cartoon of two entwined Lampreys called "Lampreys in Love" and then with Valentines day and all, I got kind of carried away.  For those who don't know, the Lamprey is a primitive, jawless fish that is a parasite on other acquatic animals. It attaches to the body of other fish and uses the serrated teeth and sucker mouth to attach firmly to the body of the host/victim. It has a toothed raspy tongue that bores into the side and it feeds off the body fluids and blood of the host. It doesn't necessarily kill the fish it's attached to--but they can perish from the gradual weakening through the loss of blood and nutrients, and the constant wound and weakened state can lead to infections and death. The Lamprey has a complex life cycle--similar to that of the Salmon, hatching in fresh water rivers and streams, growing in fresh water, then moving out to sea to become adults and living for years in the open sea but coming back to fresh water to spawn. Once highly prized among royalty, as it is a "meaty" fish and could be eaten during Lent and was consumed in very large quantities (leading to gouty flares among the rich and puffy).

The Nekko company has been making candy and wafers since the 1800s. One of their best sellers, especially around this time of year, are their candy hearts.  Small sugar wafers, die cut and printed with various coy sayings. They're smart enough to change with the times. They now come with "text me" or "LOL", etc.

But my Lampreys are purists. So I went with the classics from my childhood schooldays.

BE MINE, TRUE LOVE, REAL LOVE, MISS YOU. (I skipped STUCK ON YOU, ALL MINE, and a few others due to space issues and some emotional baggage).

These are small 4"x4" images, printed using oil based inks, a la poupee for the color with trace monotypes in purple ink for the words.