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?

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