Thursday, May 7, 2009

Balloon: hanshita and proofs

Here's my lovely block of cherry. It's the end cut of a large plank of kiln dried
American cherry that at $5.00 board foot was a decent bargain. I cut off the end piece which had a few knots and defects and cut that piece again longitudinally giving me two 9" X 12" boards. These were carefully sanded smooth to an almost glasslike polish. (I'm still saving the good portion of the board for the future when I start making real art).

Next the photocopy of my drawing gets glued face down on the block. This will reverse the image for me so it will print right side up and not backwards once it is carved. This process of drawing or printing a copy of the image is called a hanshita in Japanese and it is used to create the black and white master keyblock as well as for the individual colors (each color usually gets its own block).

Then I carefully dampen the back of the paper once the glue is dry and work off the back fibers of the paper until I can see the black lines of the photocopy through the remaining thin layer of paper. If I am careful I can get almost to the wood but if the paper gets too damp the image comes off. Once I can see the image I apply a thin coating of oil with my finger tip and this makes the paper disappear and the image very visible (and softens the hard cherry a bit). The lines aren't visible in the photo but are very obvious in real life.

Now I carve. With a mix of American and Japanese knives, chisels and gouges I carefully first carve the outline of all the black lines. In relief printing you carve away all the wood that doesn't print leaving just the black lines or shapes which will receive the ink when printing comes. Once I've outlined the lines and shapes I carefully remove all the wood to the outside or inside of my incised lines.
The block on the left is my finished keyblock and the block on the right is the "beta ban" block which will be used to print a solid, pale block of color.

Printing is done with a mix of water based pigments (tube watercolors or pure pigments). These are mixed with a little homemade rice paste. ( I use organic sushi rice and eat the somewhat overcooked rice later for lunch). These are mixed directly on the wooden block and then the dampened sheets of paper are carefully laid on the block and the back burnished with a baren, a specialized burnishing tool made of a bamboo skin over a braided coil.

For this print, I pulled a couple of quick proofs on white paper to check my carving, registration, and get a general idea of how it prints. I pulled proofs on a white paper and there is one impression of a pale cobalt violet for the background and then the keyblock was printed in indathrone blue. (These were leftover colors from my last print and will probably not show up in the finished print.)

Now I regret not drawing in the balloon string. I had meant to have it implied but I think it needs to be there. So I draw one in to check how it would look.

Then, the headless/incomplete/whats-happening-over-the-shoulder? issue that D.M. noticed gets a look over. I always have trouble trying to "fix" drawing problems. They usually look like a feeble attempt to photoshop someone's face onto another foto and attempts to add the eyelashes/brow or nose tip to the turned away head looked pretty bad. So I added the wavy lines of her hair that really did cover her whole head from my angle in the original drawing session.

This helps define the head a bit but may add another point of interest too many.
Any thoughts? I'm leaning towards just adding the string and leaving the head alone.
I've just finished preparing the other cherry block to carve at least the balloon string and the seal.


  1. Sorry to cause trouble with the head thing.....Peole can be so problematical. I do like the balloon awfully much.

  2. Thanks d.moll; I'm grateful to have some real criticism; you pointed out a problem that I had noticed and sort of chose to pretend wouldn't be an issue. It's likely that the model's pose timed out and I never got to really finish the head as this is a gesture drawing and will probably print too as a line drawing. It's strength is in the quality of the line and that nice elbow that is probably the reason I kept it all these years.

    The balloon has nice texture. I'm using a Murasaki soft baren for the keyblock and that means good pressure for the lines that print darkly but the overall mass of color for the balloon prints more softly due to the soft baren. I had originally planned on just the outline of the balloon but never cleared it thinking I'd get a nice contrast with the drawing.

    By the way, nice toad.

  3. I like the way the wavy lines of hair set off the arm that drapes over her head. I didn't see the arm as an arm before you drew in the hair.

  4. And thanks for sharing your process! I really enjoy seeing and hearing how other artists work, espcially the glimpses into their thoughts.

  5. I agree with Leslie, having the hair there really helps 'pop' the arm. In your drawing you used rather thick pen-lines. I think you could put some hair curls below the arm using a line the same thickness as the rest of the drawing and it probably wouldn't be as distracting, and would, in fact, add to the drawing.
    Thanks for sharing your process and letting us get involved.

  6. Thanks everyone.
    Well, I finished carving the "balloon string and hair" block and while I think Terry's suggestions are probably on target I went with the illustration on the last post with the thick lines. (I did another sketch with thin lines too but I couldn't decide and thought I could always trim the fat ones if I don't like how it prints.)
    Also I was thinking of just embossing the hair instead of printing it although that might get too "fussy" for what should be a one plate print and is now 3!
    Hope to pull a couple of proofs tomorrow to see how it looks.