April 27, 2008

Firebird: Night Comes On

Yes, it's true, there's always a point in each print where it stops being just an odd bunch of colours or shapes and begins to resemble the final thing, the goal. Is it that very moment in the printing cycle, the moment where it all starts making sense, where both R and N will come into the kitchen and, glancing at the line of drying prints, will say: "Wow! It's really starting to look cool!", that keeps me engaged with this whole printmaking thing? (Of course, it may not always be looking "cool" but my family knows well how fragile this artistic ego can be).

Anyway, from that moment of cohesion (nice word) on, each new layer printed is only a slight embellishment to the last and doesn't affect the image in really drastic ways.

I think I reached that point today:

After today's colour, I suspect the next couple will only fill the image in a bit although I'm now beginning to get nervous about the key block. It's been too long since I included a key block in my work so it's the old FFU syndrome: Fear of f***ing-up.

April 25, 2008

3 Cheers for Daniel Smith

So I wrote to Daniel Smith about what to do to fix that black water-soluble ink I tried to use a couple of weeks ago but couldn't print with. I got an answer the very next day but, though I was expecting they'd tell me about some "magic solvent" I could add to the ink to transform it back into it's original state, the guy who wrote said there were potentially too many variables involved and I'd need to call their customer service center and talk to them in person. He gave me toll-free number to call.

Since I leave for work before the DS call centre opens and come home after it closes, I had to put the call off for a week. When I finally got around to calling I explained my problem and asked the girl I was talking to about the "magic solvent" I was hoping she'd recommend. Amazingly, after listening to my woes, she apologized most sincerely and, instead of recommending a "fix", told me she'd just send me out a new tube of ink, free of charge. Is that great customer service or what!??? Yes, I am impressed.

April 20, 2008

Broken Traditions

Last week, at work, I sold two of my prints: Field Flowers and Tree Spirit. It was a fluke, two different people stopped by my workstation, both on different days, saw my prints hanging there and, after a bit of chat, said: I'd like to own one of those. Cool. Quite cool. Now the only problem is that I was supposed to mat them both today but didn't. That means I'll be scurrying to get it done after work and dinner and dog walking and lunch making and what ever else gets thrown at me at the end my typical work day during the week. But I suspect that both people will be understanding.

I didn't get around to doing any artwork today, in fact I had to squeeze the carving and printing of the Firebird block into yesterday's schedule, somewhere between washing the floors and baking cookies. Today R and I went to a rally. No, we're definitely not activist types and this is pretty much the first rally I ever went to of my own volition. We went in support of something that's been a Canadian institution for as long as I can remember: CBC radio and the CBC radio orchestra.

CBC radio has been the only radio station I've listened to day in, day out, from morning until night for the last 20 plus years. It's the national station of Canada, publicly funded and commercial free, and it's one of the reasons why I've been proud to be a Canadian. It's earned my loyalty because I've always heard something different there, something that made me think and grow. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, things have been changing. The programming is moving away from its classical music core, shows I've loved have been replaced by triter programs, the producers are pandering. Recently, it was announced that CBC radio orchestra, the only remaining radio orchestra in all of North America, will be given the axe. 70 years of tradition and the future dreams of young aspiring music students slashed with the stroke of a pen.

So we went to the rally. All 200 of us or so (ok, not a huge crowd by any means but hey, printmaking is a niche group too right?), and we wore our pins, and we listened to a few token politicians give some speeches, and we saw young university music students with their signs, and we heard the words of the relatively small handful of people who took the time to go try effect a change. Neither of us has much faith a change will come though. I don't even think we'll make the news, given that our competition for new items today was the annual 420 rally at the Art Gallery, the Sun Run (10,000 people), and the Sikh Vaisakhi parade (100,000 people). But at least we know we tried.

On the plus side, yesterday's printing went pretty well. I made a mask for the block again, for the leaves above the fields.

The mask was a bit tricky to use but worked well enough:

I did realize, about a third of the way into printing, that it's actually quite dumb of me not to have used two separate blocks for this piece, like I did with my Wabe Sabe Pine. I really should have used one block for the bird and the tree and a second one for the fields and all the rest. Why the hell didn't I do that this time? It would have made things so much simpler! I sure hope I've learned my lesson now.

Nonetheless, the print is now beginning to take shape:

The red in the leaves won't actually show much in the end, it's only there for highlight and I'll be overprinting it with blue eventually. I was originally planning on using a rose colour on the leaves but decided that the red might be fine. One less step that way.

April 13, 2008

Firebird: Orange you glad I didn't say "banana"...

It's amazing how quickly weekends go by. Specially when you try to cram as much as possible into them. Yesterday, being the first really nice Saturday all spring, I couldn't procrastinate away from the gardening anymore. It was definitely time to remove the last signs of winter still laying around here and there and R and I worked hard at it. So it starts again; next weekend we'll be blowing money at the garden centre.

But, half a day of housework and the other half of yard work, last night I almost didn't touch the Firebird block to get it ready for printing today. Guilt finally drove me to it, the thought of a Sunday going by with nothing printed wouldn't let me relax until I sat down to work, chisel in hand.

I also spent a good half-hour making three very clever little masks for the block so that I wouldn't have to do so much wiping today, particularly around the tail feathers, but when it came time to actually print, the masks were just as much hassle. I did use one of them, something I should have really thought of the last time already given how rough the tail feathers are looking right now. I'm really hoping the rough bits will even out once the other colours and the key block come into play.

After I finished printing the Firebird, I turned to the MDF town scene and the dancing girls I worked on last week. Hugely ambitious, I got my paper ready for both and got ready to print, and that's when my ambitions snuck out the back door. My DS black water soluble ink, barely used in the last year and a half, was a huge problem. It had developed an odd rubbery and slug-like quality and it rolled out into dozens of tiny jelly-like blobs instead of velvety ink. It wouldn't take to the block so I misted it a bit with water which made things marginally better but still not good enough; none of the proofs I pulled gave me any reason to go on with printing onto good paper.

The images show the poor ink results and this is clearly a big problem I have to solve soon; I planned to use the same ink for the key block of the Firebird print eventually.
My next step will be to e-mail Daniel Smith and ask for advice. Depending on what they tell me, I might try using my black oil-based ink next Sunday.
Ink issues aside though, I'm really not happy with the actual print I carved out of the MDF either. It's probably a learning curve; the lines aren't as clean as I'd like them to be. I'm not used to the material and its quirks, one of which is that it tends to crumble a bit. I'll try using a V-gouge for my lines on the next block I do and see it that'll help.

The other experiment, oiling the MDF with mineral oil to make the block more resistant to water and cleanup, seemed to work OK. The oil soaked in well enough, but since my image was two-thirds carved already when I oiled it, I had to work around the relief bits and didn't really get the oil to penetrate as deeply as I wanted to. Consequently, as per below, once I began clearing some unwanted parts of the block, I also ended up clearing away the oiled parts.

The next block I work on will need to be oiled before I begin carving.

April 06, 2008

Firebird: Duet

As I got ready to print the next colour in the bird's body today, I realized that the new colour has only a bit-part; there's only a couple of places where it appears: the bird's head, the moon, and the apple. And, unlike last week's yellow which was here and there throughout the print, today's colour is exclusive to the top half of the print. Suddenly it seemed like a huge waste of printing time to only do one colour. Luckily I figured out that I could, reasonably easily, print another colour beside the one I had planned.

It worked out OK though, again, I had to wipe away some of the blue with a damp rag and hope I didn't wipe too much. One minor disappointment was that I'd carved some detail into the head feathers which didn't print well. Too fine it looks like. Oh well.

After I finished with The Firebird I did a test print of the MDF. One of my biggest problems is that I'm never sure how deeply to carve. I'm beginning to learn that the all-shina will allow for fairly shallow cuts but, not being as familiar with the MDF, I was concerned about it. I've been using my smallest (1mm) curved gouge to carve it and it seemed like my cuts might be too shallow.
I did some sample cuts on the underside of the block I'm currently working on and took a proof. I tested the 1mm curved gouge, a 3mm V-gouge, and a 2mm curved gouge and, surprisingly, all of the cuts showed up.

The cuts on the far left were done with the V-gouge, the cross-hatch next to them and those on the far right were done with the 1mm curved gouge, and the thickest ones in the middle as well as the three horizontals were done with the 2mm curved gouge. One thing I noticed, also visible in the proof, is that the edges are a bit ragged in parts. I hope this can be eliminated with sharper chisels.
The only other issue, and this may be a bigger hurdle, is my inks. I love using my water-soluble inks but I know MDF will swell when wet. Today I wiped the ink away with a damp rag very carefully yet even the slight moisture altered the areas around the cuts and it looks as if, printed again, the lines will be even more ragged now. Can MDF be oiled to reduce water absorption and swelling the way all -shina can? Looks like that'll be the next test.

April 03, 2008

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

I was putting the new MDF pieces I bought away into the Rubbermaid storage bin I keep my clean, unused, blocks in, and came across an old carving I'd started at least two years ago. I'd got about 2/3 of the way through and then got fed up never finished.

8.5" x 5"

In those days, I was still using the cheap (79 cents a sq. foot) composite flooring tile recommended by Jim Rimmer although it didn't take me long to figure out that Jim clearly has more strength in his hands than I do. These tiles are hell to carve. Hard and slick, my chisels skated along the surface and the only way to make the stuff workable was to heat it. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Plus, it only stayed workable for maybe five minutes, so I spent as much time heating the block as I did carving. Plus, if it was heated too much, it carved too easily and it was easy to cut too deeply into it and tear chunks out of it.

Still, I managed to produce five prints with it, including a multi-block one (four colours), and I got 2/3 of the way through the one above before I gave it up and went back to lino at eight times the price.

But now that I've found the thing again, and now that the Firebird block needs very little carving this week and I have more time, and also because something that's 2/3 done is really almost done, and finanlly because it seems like such a waste to throw something with so much time invested into it away, I decided to see if I could finish it. I was originally planning on this being another multi-block print, I got all the other blocks cut to size and transferred the image onto them. That part of it I will not be doing at this point. It'll be a black and whiter with maybe some water colour.

This is my original sketch.

It's based on this old pen and ink drawing from the late 1800's by Mikolas Ales who's work I loved, copied and learned my admiration for pen and inks from, in my teens.

Anyway, I started working on the unfinished block and remembered that it really had to be heated so, while it was warming on top of the radiator, I also decided to test out the MDF. And it worked, it worked! A bit of woodcut snobbery here, makes me say it isn't quite as nice to work with as wood; it has a pulpy/powdery sort of texture and it's a bit harder to cut into, although it does carve away under my curved chisel really nicely. I need to get used to it more obviously.

The one big plus, besides ready availability, is the price: if I screw up a piece of 15 cent MDF, I won't feel nowhere near as shitty as if I screw up a $8 dollar (the shipping fees are a killer) piece of all-shina. This alone allows for greater experimentation.
Here's a section of the piece I began working on, very basic for my first experiment.

And m I pleased with my progress for this week? Yes, I am. The only issue now is, where will all the prints go to dry when the blocks are all done at the same time?