Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jig Trouble

Beginner's luck, that's what I'm calling my last month of success with the registration jig. I've pulled hundreds of impressions with fantastic registration and no problems.

[Jig and print]

Well, that run came to an end today. I decided to try cranking up the press tension 1/4 of a millimeter. On the first print with the new setting, one of the registration pegs sheared off.

"Huh. Must have been a weak spot in the wood," I thought to myself. Uh, nope! The next impression sheared off another peg. Then another and another.

[Last print with two sheared pegs stuck in the paper.]

Ah, well! This is why I use the CNC cutter, right? I can just make a new one. Well, yeah, I can. But maybe I should have had more coffee first. I was apparently asleep at the wheel.

[Ink missed the paper]

See those skipped spots on the print? It must have been badly inked, right?

[Ink still on the block]

Well, no. The ink is still sitting there on the block. What!? Why?

[Hanger slot from when this piece of wood was going to be a sign]

Oh, look at that! There's a bit of support structure that's missing from the jig. It didn't seem like a big deal when I carved it. I mean, the block is 1/2" thick birch. It wouldn't flex so much over such a short distance that it totally misses the paper, would it?

Well, yes, it would. Back to the wood shop. This time I'll pay closer attention.

Friday, January 29, 2016

First Test With Cobalt Drier

Yahoo! My shipment of printmaking chemicals arrived today, chief among them the cobalt drier that I couldn't wait to try. Here is the first layer of the first test...

[Transparency gradient test]

When you look up close at the last four prints, you can see that I experienced my first challenge with the drier. It made the ink thicken up while I was working. In the following image, you'll notice that #1 is nice and smooth. #2 has uneven coverage because the ink was thickening on the slab. #3 has even more blotchy areas of poor coverage. In #4, I'm compensating by layering some extra ink onto the plate, but I still have poor coverage.

[The last four prints]

[The second to last, up close]

[One drop of cobalt drier and one drop of black in a pool of transparent tint base]

The real tests will be tonight and tomorrow when I lay down the next layers. If the drier has done its job, the next layers will sit on top instead of blending with the previous layers. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Local Pigments: Diversion or Time Investment

I really am trying to avoid "rabbit holes" while I develop the new printmaking business. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a diversion and the development of a personal style. This next little project is right on the edge.

The mountainous area where I live is rich in natural pigment minerals. We have a vein of deep red clay on the ridge where I hike all the time. There is so much pure clay that there was once a brick factory in the town on the other side of that ridge. Five miles away is at least one vein of gold ochre that washes into the creek.

[Red Ochre and its source]

[A collection of pigment stones - black, green, red, three shades of gold.]

I'm going to go on a tiny tangent and see if I can powder these stones finely enough to use them as pigments in my own homemade printmaking inks, and here's why...

Selling craftwork, in my experience, is all about selling the story behind it. When people see my new body of work, I want them to understand that my artwork is intimately tied to my lifestyle. With the weaving, I bridged that gap by showing folks pictures of my yurt-based studio as a way to understand my methods and my motivation for doing what I do.

The new work will contain lots of imagery from the nature that I see every day, but I'd love to be able to take it up a notch and include minerals that I find on my hikes into the work itself. Eventually, I'd like to pay for hiking trips by visiting places with unusual pigment stones and adding them to my collection of art materials.

The new story, in a nutshell, is that I have found a creative outlet that allows me to deepen my relationship to natural places, and to make a small part of my nature experience available for others to bring into their lives.

That said, I also need to be mindful of the return on my investment of time to develop this portion of the art. I cannot let it become a diversion that prevents me from producing the work I need to get my business off the ground. If it starts to take up too much time, I'll shelve it and use commercially available pigments until some future point when I can afford to invest time into using raw pigments.

Such is life! It's a balancing act between what I want to do and what I can afford to do.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ink Layering, More Learning

Remember how I learned about drying one ink layer before printing the next one? Well, what I haven't learned yet is how to tell if the previous layers are dry. In past experiments I baked the prints in a toaster oven and let them sit for 24 hours. In this experiment, I did not bake them in the oven. I thought that transparent tint base and/or plate oil was allowing the layers to dry in just one day. I was wrong.

The strange thing is that the layers didn't blend together right away like they have in the past. They blended when I baked them. After printing the fourth layer, I could see that the ink was thick and glossy so I decided to bake the prints to dry all four layers more quickly.

[Unbaked on the left, baked on the right]

In the image above, I was testing the results of printing light inks first with darker inks over them, varying the transparency for each print. The blending of lower layers with upper layers is most apparent in the area on the lower left where there is yellow below black. The yellow bled into the black, giving the appearance of sitting on top of it.

[unbaked vs baked]

Again in this image, the blending is apparent after baking. In this case the orange is printed over the black. Baking causes the black to blend forward, mostly obliterating the little opacity that I was able to achieve.

[Viscosity effect?]

One last complication with overprinting on inks that aren't quite dry is an inadvertent masking effect. You can see on the plate that wet black ink is lifting from the print, preventing all of the orange ink from being laid down.

I cannot afford to bake my prints to ensure that they're dry. Before the year is over, I'll be taking the printmaking studio off the grid and moving it up the hill into the yurt where I have no electricity. I've already ordered the drying agents that I expect to use for speeding up the drying of each layer before printing the next one. After seeing the weird results from these tests, those tins of drying agents can't arrive soon enough!