June 27, 2010

Junk or Treasure

My parents, who share our house with us and live downstairs in their own suite, have major issues with throwing stuff away. They hang on to everything: bags and bags of other plastic bags, enough empty vitamin bottles to build a pyramid with, spent light bulbs and batteries, EVERYTHING.  And I can sort of understand that.  I'm a strong champion of the "reuse and recycle" philosophy and I hate waste.  But, having witnessed how this philosophy can sometimes get out of hand, I do a bit of a self cross-examination whenever I'm deciding not to throw out something that "may come in handy one day".  As I see it, the line between frugality and hoarding is a fine one. 

Today, hanging onto stuff turned out to be a good thing.  I was getting ready to print the first colour of my Poppies print and I'm using the same paper (Masa) I used for the Folk Floral. I had some problems with it the last time because of my registration method and ended up having to add pieces of masking tape to the back of the paper halfway through.  

Now, having learned my lesson, I added reinforcement strips to the back of my printing paper before I even started printing. I was thrilled to finally have a use for some long strips of paper I had kicking around for what seemed like for ever, for just in case "I might need them".  They were even the perfect length and, combined with some double-sided tape, saved me a chunk of time.

Unfortunately, as these things often go, the time I saved got lost in another way.  There I was, feeling pretty good about how quickly I dealt with the paper issue, when I hit a wall with my ink.  I'm using a brand new tube of yellow it's very stiff.  I'm guessing it's old stock or something because it's more like etching ink than relief ink.  Hard to mix, hard to roll up, and terrible to print with.  I forged ahead, rolled it out on the block, and ran a couple of proofs but they were awful.  The ink was so thick it filled in some of the carved-out areas and didn't transfer well.  Worst of all, the print was rough around the edges, as if I'd used pastels or something. You can see it here:

The "gloppyness" and rough edges are particularly noticeable in this section here:

Arrrggh.  Frustrated and annoyed, I knew I had to try thin my ink out a bit. I also knew that, even though it's a water clean-up ink it's still oil based, so the thinning agent had to be oil. Linseed oil came to mind pretty much right away and I headed off to the garage to hunt around for some. That's where I found  this little bottle of gold: 

Almost looks like perfume doesn't it?  And it is French but it's actually a little bottle of linseed oil from a set of oil paints I bought for an art class in highschool.  Highschool!  Decades ago! So long ago I don't have the paints anymore and I sure as hell didn't remember I still had this oil but boy, was I ever glad I saved it all these years.  A few drops and it totally conquered the stiff ink issue: 
No more ragged edges:

Plus, the bottle is just the right size to fit into the bin I store my printing inks in.  It can live there until the next time it's needed.  Now the only question I have is, though I have no clue where the phrase "saving it for a rainy day" came from, is it a coincidence it was raining today?  

June 20, 2010

Delighting in Distraction

Ah, yeah, I missed doing my weekly post last Sunday so here I am, catching up.  I actually began work on my new print last week Saturday night, as per custom, but didn't move forward as fast as I thought I would.  After some mental coin-tossing I chose to start with the Poppies print and there's a fair bit of white space in the image. That means a lot of area to clear away before I can even print my first colour. I didn't have enough time on Saturday night to finish it all so no printing on Sunday and nothing to show.  
But I made an agreement with myself some time ago not to treat my printmaking as a chore.  Not to see it as something I absolutely HAVE to do or else. I don't ever want to get to the point where I'm working on a print because it's a must instead of because I love doing it.  And so, even though I didn't get as much done last week as I planned, I didn't sweat it.  I fully expected to catch up during the week last week and be ready for the first colour by today.  And then, on that Sunday afternoon, I made a mistake. 
Since I wasn't printing and had a chunk of non-designated time on my hands, I picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, and headed off into the garden and sunshine.  It only took a couple of hours before I was totally sucked-in.  For the rest of the week I blew off everything else I wasn't duty-bound to do and, nose buried in the novel, spent every free hour in Sweden.  This, even though R and I saw the movie a few weeks ago so I pretty much knew what was coming up in the plot.  I didn't even turn on the computer to check my emails the whole week.  And, of course, I didn't work on my block at all.  Didn't even glance at it until last night (I finished the book yesterday morning) when, again, I didn't have enough time to finish clearing all that white space so, once more, no printing. It sure was a good ride though. 
Did I work on my block today?  Well, not yet.  But, I will be carving tonight still, at least for a little while, because I want to try out my newly adapted bench hook.  Sometimes, after I've worked on a block for a few hours in a row, I get a sore lower neck from bending over the block.  I read about someone having the same problem a while ago on Wetcanvas and the suggested solution was to angle the block up a bit.  I thought it sounded like a great idea and then forgot about it until I saw Annie Bissett's blog post about her new studio.  The table top easel she uses started me thinking again and I got R to come up with a modification to the bench hook he's built for me.

The whole thing used to sit flat on my work surface but now he's added an angled piece of wood underneath to raise it up about 3 inches.  

It's definitely much more comfortable now.  Funny how such a little thing can make such a difference.  And now, no more excuses for not working, I'm off to carve...

June 06, 2010

I've been busy on the sketches for my next two prints.  As I said already, I like my last print so much I want to build on the same concept and, after two weeks of sketching and erasing and sketching some more, I've got two blocks ready to go.  

The first one was easy; it's basically a cousin to the one I just finished, in a different colour scheme.  I loved the green/gold stage of the last print and want to try it now as separate version.

The second print began as a fragment that came to me while I was falling asleep one night.  I get that often, bits of images or ideas that come in the dark with me snug in bed and very reluctant to get up and write them down.  That's what they say you're supposed to do, get up and write those ideas down.  But do the people who actually do that have to get up as early as I do?  I'm usually already pushing the limits of how late I stay up in relation to when I should really be getting to bed.  That's why, usually, when the ideas come just as I get cocooned in my blankets, all I do is hope I'll still remember them in the morning.  So far, it's been working out about 80/20 in my favour and I can live with that for now.  

So the image for the third print in what I'm now, tentatively, beginning to think of as "the series", started as one of those night children and then went through a few changes.  On paper, the first sketch looked like this:

It's loosely based on the lovely California poppies growing in abundance, like the weeds they are, randomly throughout the garden.  I love them so I tend to leave them be but they're spreading and I'll probably have to tame them back a bit.  Anyway. I finished the sketch and propped it up against the wall on my work surface and looked at it for a few days.  I liked it, the poppy heads (the bit that came to me first) were almost exactly like I first saw them in my mind.  But the actual poppies lack the graphic quality of my last print and I don't want to lose that.  So along to version two:

I put this one on display and walked around it for a few days too and, again, I knew it wasn't what I'm after.  I've managed to simplify the poppies and I'm happy with that part but, somehow, the image lacks life.  It's got no flow; it's too static.  One more time to the drawing pad.  Version three:

Somehow, by bringing the two poppies closer together and putting them at a slight tilt,  the rhythm between them has shifted and I got what I want so this is the version I'm going with.  Sort of.  The colours are wrong; I didn't have the right shade of marker and I didn't want to take the time needed for pencil crayons.  And I didn't like the leaves so I traced over the sketch and simplified them significantly before I transferred the tracing to the block.  But other than that it's the version I'm going with.  

Here are my two blocks then, all ready for the chisels:

Now of course, the next dilemma is which one will I work on first?