March 30, 2008

Firebird: Tweety Phase

For the next few layers I'll be printing only the bird's body. This is the block to date. I tried using the nail-set tool for the halo around the moon and it worked so-so. I wanted a thicker "sprinkling" of indentations but putting the indents too close together tends to splinter the wood and then little chunks break away. But I still like the idea of it and will keep trying it elsewhere.

Today's colour was Tweety Bird yellow and printing it was a HUGE test in patience. Even with me using my smallest (2") brayer, ink got to places it wasn't meant to be and I had to carefully wipe the block clean before pulling each print.

Plus, even with some white mixed in for opacity, the yellow came out slightly greenish over the blue below.

I'm thinking it'll be ok, the bits that'll stay this particular yellow are small so the next layer should be warm things up slightly.

On another note, I only recently got my order for 10 pieces of all-shina from McClain's and, with the pace I work at, 10 pieces should last me for months. And yet, there we were in Rona, looking at hardware, when I remembered MDF and how highly Jen recommended it on WetCanvas. She's done some fine work with it: Jen's gallery. I just have to check it out for myself now. I found a couple of scraps, got the nice Rona guy to cut them into smaller, block-size, pieces and ended up with four 7" x 8" pieces and three 8" x 14" pieces all for $2. Yup, two bucks. Amazing.

I haven't tested it yet; I'm scared. Plus I have to transfer an image I want to try in black and white onto one of the smaller pieces first. But it's my self-imposed assignment for this coming week.

March 25, 2008

Firebird: First colours

My long-awaited week off from work is here and I have way too many ideas on how to spend my time. Plus, R has the week off with me and he has some ideas of his own on how we should be spending our time together, so it'll hardly be the art-focused week I'm longing for. Even now, I should be planning out our trip to the East Coast this summer but that feels too much like work. So instead I've spent a leisurely morning browsing WetCanvas and uploading pictures I took of my printing yesterday, the colour reduction portion of The Firebird.

I was stressing about it before I began because I knew what I wanted to achieve but didn't really know how to do it. I was really wanting to go for a gradation of colour in the sky: two colours rolled out next to each other and the brayer going through both. But I also wanted to have a glow-effect around the bird's body and I just couldn't wrap my brain around how to combine the two. I kept staring at the block and then at the clock as the minutes ticked away and then opted for no gradation this time. So the first colour is just a very pale blue:

I had some hassles with the printing; I mixed two different batches of transparent medium together and they didn't get along. As I printed, the ink collected on the block in little blobs that became really noticeable even on the prints. I had to keep wiping the block before rolling ink on it after every second printing. This in turn used up a lot more ink than I expected and I almost didn't have enough. It was ok in the end but irritating.

The good part was that the ink was so translucent that it dried very quickly and I was able to print the next colour, "the glow", within an hour and half of the first. The only issue here was that I didn't want to waste a whole block for the shape and I couldn't use the block I have as is. That's when I remembered the Scratchfoam I bought a few months ago, just because, and it came into its own now. I cut out the shape of my glow, stuck it to the block with some double-sided tape and printed it. It worked very well, I'll definitely be using it again for such things given that it's a fraction of the cost of the wood.

This is the block with the foam stuck to it; luckily I remembered to cut out the parts that I want to keep white:

And this is the resulting print. The second colour is totally off in the image; it's way more yellow and not so brown in real life but I couldn't get that to show up here:

Now, hopefully, I'll be able to get the carving done for the next printing by this Sunday.

March 21, 2008

How to make an Easter "Beauty"

When I was a kid in the Czech Republic, Easter was huge. It was the next best thing to Christmas. Folk rituals were still strong. Each year, my parents got numerous Easter cards, most of them depicting beautifully decorated eggs: kraslice or "beauties". The eggs are meant to be symbolic of the return of spring and of new life.
I guess mother and I were craving some old-country tradition after we moved to Canada because, when I was 12, she and I established our yearly egg-decorating ritual. We didn't have the proper tools, we didn't even know special tools existed, so it was definitely the actual doing that mattered, not the results which, if memory serves, weren't great. But we gave it our best shot every year until I left for university.

Since then, thanks to the Ukranians who most diligently, and famously, carry on with the craft with their Pysanky and have all kinds of tools to make it easy, my egg-decorating efforts have produced results that have kept me coming back to it almost every Easter for the last 20 years. Here's how I do it:

I take a clean white egg (insides blown out) and, using a kystka, a special stylus-like tool, I draw a design on the egg with melted beeswax.

Once I've got all the areas that will stay white covered, I dip the egg into yellow dye. (Fuzzy photo; lousy camera).

Now I cover all the areas that will stay yellow with beeswax and the egg goes into the second colour, in this case red. (Another fuzzy photo; same lousy camera).

And so it goes, I cover all the areas that will stay red and then dip the egg into the next colour. In this case it was black and that was my final colour, but I could have kept on going and going, adding in a whole rainbow of other colours in between.

The reveal: I warm the wax-covered egg carefully to melt the wax and wipe it clean with a tissue.

And here's final product along with the other two eggs I did today:

March 18, 2008

Firebird: Onto Block 2

I'm not usually this ambitious during the week, by the time dinner's done and the dog is walked the last thing I have the energy for is hauling out printing stuff but, wanting to get going on the reduction part of this project, I had to get the image from the key block transfered. Even as it is, with Easter just down the road and my big plans to decorate some eggs again this year, I'll be lucky if I get to print anything by Monday anyway. Never mind, it's good to have some goals so I transferred my image tonight. But I cheated. I used the stamping ink I have left over from my card-making days to do it with.

The big issue was ending up with a transfer that will survive multiple future inkings and wipings. I don't think Speedball would do that, but my serious inks take too long to dry. Using an ink pad was much faster, the drying time will be shorter, and clean up was nothing. Even on a week night, the process was relatively painless.
I ran a 6" rubber brayer across a pigment dye ink pad several times, inked the block, and when it looked like there was enough ink on it, I laid a piece of acetate carefully in place on top of it. I burnished it with a spoon and then laid the acetate, inked side down, on my second block. This is my inked key block and the acetate (ink side up):

And this is the new block with the printed image down. Some parts of the image didn't transfer as well as others, but still well enough to see what's where.

Once the whole thing dries I'll touch it up with a fine-line sharpie just to make sure the image lasts through the future multiple printings.

March 16, 2008

Key Block, Finally

No printing today still; today I finished carving the key block. It's held together with a hope and a prayer and lots of white glue in the parts where the lines wanted to chip out. I read somewhere that rubbing the block with linseed oil helps prevent unwanted chips and I did oil the block before I began carving. But then I didn't like how it was going so I flipped the block over and started again and forgot the oil. I cursed myself each time a line I was cutting around decided to chip away. And I doubt my lines are anywhere near as fine as those of the Japanese moku hanga guys. I'm pretty much in awe of their skill at this point.

Next step will be to run a proof and transfer it over to the block that will become the reduction block but I didn't have the motivation for that today: I'm still not properly in sync with last weekend's hated time change. I did managed to oil both blocks in preparation though.

March 09, 2008

Show and Tell

Really nothing to show as per my carving progress. The key block for The Firebird is coming along but has another week or so to go until it's done. Half-way through I thought to try sharpening the X-Acto knife blade I'm using for the cuts. I wasn't sure if it would work but work it did, and how! Just a few runs across a ceramic stick and what a difference! The block cut like cheese after that.

On Friday I met with another member of WetCanvas and a very active printmaker, Amie Roman: Burnishings. Three hours went by in the blink of an eye while we sat and drank tea, surrounded by her artwork and her husband's beautiful hand-crafted furniture, and while we, to quote Charles Aznavour: "emptied out our hearts, on every subject from the arts, to liberation..."

What a rush to have a chance to see, and admire, her work and to show her some of my own. I'm so used to making my prints in isolation, my only contact with other printmakers being on-line through WetCanvas, that it was really inspiring to compare notes with someone live and to actually get some positive feedback on my work. And I even walked away with a door prize, a small print she gave me for R after I told her how much he likes crows.
Amie's style is different from mine and her work is more realistic, yet it's definitely not static. Her prints have a vibrancy and immediacy that really appeals to me:

Very cool. I was going to mat it right away but then got a bit lazy. Instead, R and I went to Granville Island, looking for a birthday present for N. A good weekend all in all.

March 02, 2008

Firebird: Slow Ride

Slow going this time around. First, because I've had almost zero time this weekend to work on the block, and second because doing the key block is turning out to be a real bitch. I've tried using a traditional Japanese knife and all of my 3 V-gouges with equally poor results. Little bits of the block were chipping out in the wrong places. I finally flipped the block over, one of the pluses of working with wood, retraced my design, and began again with an X-acto knife. So far so good for now but really time consuming and not for tired eyes, which mine seem to have been these last few days.
On the bright side, at least it'll give time for the new all-shina blocks I ordered last week to arrive.