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.


Jen said...

Hmm. I usually don't do as many reductions as you do, but I can see the MDF fading after 4 or 5 cuts and wipes/washes. I hope the block holds up enough for you to finish!

My romance with MDF has also faded. The surface is so... buttery... I slip wayyy too much with my chisels. I've switched to battleship linoleum- harder to cut but not THAT hard- and I love the linoleum smell. :)

It is so exciting to see your prints come to fruition!!


Gray said...

MDF- God it's been a while since I worked with it... I don't remember having those problems but again, I never did so many layers.

It looks so great- I am really jealous and looking at my tools and wondering.... I worked for a bit with wood- layers of wood together- thats a real cow when it catches on the tools and a small piece flakes off. But I like it as you get a really raw 'wood' look to the print. Very hard work.

Katka said...

Thanks to you both for the comments.

I totally agree with you and the smell of Lino -- love it.

Sounds like you were using plywood. One of the first woodblocks I did was in plywood and yup, it could come off in little flakes. Good for clearing big areas but bad for parts of the image flaking away.

Amie Roman said...

I can't remember - do you seal your MDF first with acrylic primer? And maybe you could try using a fine waterproof liner to do your drawing? I haven't yet resorted to that, because I've not done anything so complex with MDF, but I could see that it might be helpful. I did seal my pencil work on that big block Exposed with a charcoal/pencil sealing spray, just so it wouldn't smudge during carving. That seemed to keep the pencil lines pretty well... but it was only one colour.

Yeah, MDF has definitely got significant limitations, and I think you hit the nail on the head: it's a composite material which was never really meant to have the guts of the product exposed to the elements. The print is looking great though!!

Eraethil said...

It is definitely looking beautiful as a print! I too hope that the MDF holds up for you for the finish. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey! I'm working on MDF and having the same problem. I've heard of using shellac to coat the whole thing before you cut and then again after you're finished...

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all fall down said...

I know you said you have to wipe the block to see the lines of your drawing, but do you also run the block through the press a few times after your last inking to clean it off?

I've had so many bad experiences from wiping relief blocks that i am a firm believer in 'seasoned' blocks instead.

Typically if you run it through enough, you should be able to see an under drawing. Especially if you seal it (a thin layer of polyurethane works well) between layers, the ink doesn't seem to pile up as much.

But yeah, I think it is just the nature of the material. Which is sad, because MDF rules otherwise...

Anonymous said...

MDF is great stuff but seriously full of VERY deadly toxins in the various glues that hold it together. Good stuff but it was never meant to be carved and breathed in. Any factory that uses it in making furniture etc has massive extractor fans to get rid of the fine dust as it is worked with. Please think twice before using it.

Anonymous said...

I use linseed oil to seal my MDF blocks. It soaks into the MDF and transforms it into a material which is somewhere between Lino and hardwood. (Leave it somewhere where it is hot and can get plenty of fresh air.) As the oil cures the MDF becomes harder with time until it is almost like stone.

Mind you, I use oil based inks and paints and print on moist/wet paper and this seems to work well for me without getting any rips in the MDF as you do with 'untreated' MDF which behaves a bit like think card stock.

Hope it helps.