November 29, 2009

The papa brayer, mama brayer, and the little wee baby brayer.

Sometimes, my printmaking efforts are like the race between the tortoise and the hare with me as the tortoise. But, today, I was the hare! In a printing leap forward, although I began the day with four colours still to go into the Hummingbird Vine print, I now have only one left. I can't complain about that!

I have, as of last night, carved both blocks down to nearly nothing and there aren't any areas that actually touch each other anymore. When I saw that, I couldn't resist the opportunity to print three of my four remaining colours all in one go. Boy was I glad to have my three little brayers! They all came in very handy today.

The colours in the images below are (left to right on the glass plate): green-black, periwinkle, and maroon.

The colours don't come through accurately in the photos because of the glare; the maroon looks more brown than it is in reality.

Here's the print as of today:

The frustrating thing is that the last piece I need to print is in the maroon I printed with today but it's on my second/other block. If I'd planned it better, the window trim and roof pieces would have ended up on the second block too but, clearly, I messed up with that one. Now, for next week, I have to haul out the press and inks, and all the rest of my printmaking paraphernalia just to print an area no bigger than 2 inches square, in a colour I printed with today already. Grrrrrr.....

It's funny how, even though I left the Czech Republic fourty years ago, old Czech proverbs still haunt me at times when I mess up somehow. Cursing myself over the last few days for the poor planning re: which of my two blocks would have what parts of the image, I could not help thinking: measure twice; cut once! I guess I haven't totally learned that lesson yet.

November 22, 2009

The Tropics of Bloedel Conservatory

First things first, the Hummingbird Vine print got another layer today. Stupidly, while I was cutting the block for this printing, I cut away some areas that I needed to leave in, for shadows underneath the vine. I caught myself doing it before I cleared them all, so it's only a small area I'll need to fix. And I have an idea how to do it, sort of, but theory and reality don't always marry up the way I imagine they will so I'll have to see if the idea actually works.

Here's it is with it's latest colour:

But, before I printed today, on another gray soggy day perfect for escaping to exotic places, the three of us took a trip to a place we all love, the Bloedel Conservatory. It's been in the news lately because the Vancouver Parks Board is considering closing it down. Faced with a 2.something million dollar budget shortfall they're looking at the Conservatory as one of the potential casualties of the cut backs they need to make. It makes me want to cry.

It's an incredible place, one of the city's hidden treasures, and one of those places I'd like to spend a half a day at, sketching, but never do. I keep telling myself that it'll happen one day, when I don't have to work every day anymore, but I might have to face the possibility of that day never coming. Today, as second best, I managed to take some pictures though.

Standing outside,

certainly doesn't prepare you for the amazing world inside the dome:

The walkways wind through among dozens of exotic birds and what must be hundreds of tropical plants co-mingling in fantastic and colourful ways.

There are, of course, the recognizable plants you'd expect to find in a tropical jungle:

There are also plants we've had at home at one time or another:

And then there are plants that are just bizarre:

And the birds (only some - they generally weren't into posing):

I took so many pictures I almost felt foolish and yet, it's hard to capture the true sense of a place like this. You just have to be there, but, you might have to hurry.

November 17, 2009

Strawberries in the Snow

As a bit of contrast from the summer blooms of the Hummingbird Vine print, here's the finished reduction cut (in lino) for my Christmas cards this year. I'll still be mounting it onto card stock to finish it off.

I strayed from traditional Christmas icons and, instead, based the card on a traditional Eastern European/Russian folk tale: The Twelve Months.

The story, in my condensed version, goes like this:

There was once a girl who lived, in a small cottage in the woods, with her stepmother and stepsister. As these things generally go in stories, the stepmother and stepsister were mean and treated the poor girl badly. For example, one day in the heart of winter, the stepsister decided she had to have some strawberries to eat. This was long before the age of supermarkets and Mexican produce; strawberries were definitely not available in winter but the mean women threw the poor girl out into a winter storm to go find strawberries anyway.

Wandering around in the storm, nearly frozen to death, the girl came to a clearing where twelve men sat in a circle around a blazing bonfire. Four of the men were very young, four were slightly older, four were middle aged, and four were quite old. The men were the Twelve Months and, recognizing her kindness and purity of heart, they not only allowed the girl to warm herself by their fire but also, one of them, June, made strawberries bloom in the middle of the snow drift so she could take them home to her tormentors.

There’s more to the story, of course, and the evil mother/daughter duo get what they deserve in the end. Also, I used a little bit of artistic license in choosing it as the inspiration for this year’s Christmas card: the girl is sent for the strawberries in January, not December. But her humility and purity of heart (and the magic it once would have taken to get strawberries in the middle of winter) are fitting to what, in my mind anyway, Christmas should be about.

November 15, 2009

So THIS is what happens to MDF?!

They say that November is the wettest month for us here in BC and they may have a point. Lots of rain these days which, as I've said before, is ok by me. The dog, poor thing, doesn't like it much, even with the water-repellent vest he has for the winter time. But for me, a big pot of soup on the stove and almost all day to print and draw makes for a good Sunday.

Another colour closer to the finish for The Hummingbird Vine today and the block is slowly getting smaller and smaller.

I'm really happy with the way this is evolving so far, watching the colours play off each other as each new one is added.

Still, there is something I haven't liked all that much in doing this print: the MDF. Yes, the romance is fading. Maybe it's because I'm doing so many colours (9 so far) but the block is getting "crumbly" and some of the edges are becoming ragged. It's also harder to get a nice clean cut edge as I'm carving, sharp as they are, my chisels tend to rip little bits of the MDF away instead of slicing. That annoys me.

I'm guessing that's just the nature of MDF. Given that it is a composite material, it is just not meant to be wiped and wiped and wiped all the time and I'm doing a lot of that: both during printing and after, when I clean the block in prep for the next run (something I have to do to be able to see the lines of my drawing). I use a barely damp rag and have tried using a dry one but it hasn't made much difference. The block tends to disintegrate a bit more each week. I tried to get around that by sealing it with a spray varnish early on but the varnish only sealed the surface and, as parts of the block are carved away, new, unsealed, areas are exposed.

Lesson learned, leave the MDF for prints with only very few colours or, preferably, one colour only. For multiple colour reductions I'd better try lino again and see how that holds up.

November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

Have you seen the flags of Freedom
what color are they now,
Do you think that you believe in yours
more than they in theirs somehow...

Neil Young, Flags of Freedom

November 11th is always bittersweet. On the one hand, it's a day off. On the other, it's a day off in honour of those who died in war, to preserve the freedom we generally take for granted. I feel the weight of that. For years, I didn't really think of the reason behind the holiday and was just glad to have a free day. But as I get older, I become more and more aware of what this day represents. Like I said, I feel the weight.

This morning, same as for the last few years, I took a walk over to the graveyard. R and the dog came with me but we couldn't bring the dog in and R stayed outside the fence. There are quite a few graves of soldiers there and we figured it would be an fitting place to observe our two minutes of silence. A few other people were already there, standing still. Somewhere behind us, maybe from the Regimental buildings by Queens Park, a canon was going off.

I wandered around the graves, reading the names on the markers, sweeping the leaves away from those that were obscured. Behind me, three silver-haired people huddled together around one of the graves. A stooped man and two women in woolen coats. Poppies pinned to lapels. They were holding hands and leaning into each other as if for support. As if they were all sheltering under one umbrella, except it wasn't raining.

What thoughts at heart have you and I
We cannot stop to tell;
But dead or living, drunk or dry,
Soldier, I wish you well.

A.E. Housman

Back at home, pushing away a sense of melancholy, not wanting to waste the day, I printed.

Only a handful of colours left now.

November 08, 2009

Translation Widget Fun

Boy did I have a good laugh this week.

Somewhere in my internet travels I came across the possibility of adding a translation widget to this blog. And, although I never, up until I came across this possibility, thought about adding such a widget, I got curious. What would my blog, translated into Czech, for example, be like? I've got a whole gang of relatives over in the CZ. Surely, their lives are just not complete without knowing what this Canadian cousin of theirs (a cousin they barely know and barely remember) is up to, right? Ok, so probably not. But still, I was intrigued about the thing so installed it. As a test.

I then scrolled through the drop-down menu until I found "Czech", clicked, and...poof...there was the blue chisel in Czech! Magic! Well, sort of.

Is there such a thing as a word collage? Because that's what the translated version of my post was: a bizarre collage of words strung together in a reasonably comprehensible way but sort of...twisted. Mostly Czech words, a spattering of English, and a Twilight Zonish mixture of both, or neither. But the most amusing part was the gender issue.

Czech, like French, or Spanish, or German etc., uses different word endings for verbs according to the gender of the one who's performing the action: the word for a guy doing something is slightly different from the word for the same thing done by a woman. In my translated post, I, the narrator, switched freely from being a man to a woman. It was wild....instant and painless sex-change. Most entertaining. Still, I chose not to keep the widget installed. My past work history as a translator wouldn't let me. Bye bye funny widget. I guess my Czech relatives, poor souls, will just have to suffer along without the chance to read this blog.

Anyway, here's this week's colour in the Hummingbird Vine print.

I'm starting to get just a little bit excited about this print now. A bit of heart flutter when I see it, hanging to dry in the kitchen.

And, BTW, the new Flexcut chisels are everything I imaged they would be. They're good in the hand and great to work with.

November 01, 2009

Rolling back the clocks.

I'm sure I'm not alone but I LOVE the day we turn the clocks back an hour. A whole extra hour in the morning and the day seems like it's so MUCH longer. I got all kinds of things done today and I'm sure it's just because of that precious bonus hour conjured up by the switch to daylight savings time.

First, I added in the next colour for the blooms in the Hummingbird Vine print. Next week I can get back to the house portion again.

Second, I started working on this year's Christmas cards. I know. Crazy. It's only the first day of November, right? Outside the windows, the leaves are, in the words the dramatic Edmund Stone on NPR today, still "attached to their mother trees and showing brilliant colours". Christmas seems a loooong way away.

And yet, I know all too well from past experience how time has a way of vaporizing and a lot of the cards I make go overseas; I need to have them done by the first week of December. Also, I'm doing a reduction cut this time. A very basic one, only three colours (or maybe four) but it takes time for the ink to dry. Getting a head start seems like a good idea.

My original plan was to use Speedball inks. They're not great but they dry fast. I could print all three (or four) stages in one day. Nice idea except when I looked through my supplies, though I was sure I had more, I could only find two colours: white and black and neither one of those is what I need. So, Daniel Smith inks it will have to be.

The next problem is space. How, when I've got another edition hanging up to dry, do I make enough room for fourty cards on top of that? I solved that one by cutting my paper long and doing two prints per sheet, one at each end. Except I couldn't print this way on my press so I had to rig up a sort of a registration jig and I'm printing without the press.

I made a frame out of mat board just big enough for my lino block and positioned it against the right angle square I normally use. I'm not actually using those v-shaped pieces in the corners. It seemed like a good idea initially but my paper is too thin, essentially sketching paper, and it kept sliding around so I went back to using the hole puncher as always.

This is how the paper lays on top of the whole thing, held in place by the hole-puncher. I've already printed the image onto the other side which is why there's holes in the top.

Now, with the 13 prints in the Hummingbird Vine edition hung two per peg and back-to-back and the 36 card prints hung the same way, I have room for everything.

Sometimes, it's the smallest things that can make or break a day: an extra hour in the morning, a good drying rack, sun coming in through the windows...