Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Woodblock and Stencils

I'm currently preparing for my class and residency with Karen Kunc at Constellation Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is an incredible woodcut printmaker who uses a few "simple" techniques to create spectacular work. (You can see some of the amazing work that she creates with these techniques HERE.)

In order to get the most out of my time with her, I have been practicing everything that I know we'll be covering. This is my first test of using craft paper stencils to isolate areas of the block for selective inking. This set of plates is pretty simple, they are the positive and negative of each other, giving complete coverage of the block between the two of them. The trick that I tested here was to create a set of stencils that matched the block and gave me enough wiggle room to roll the ink on consistently without getting it in other areas. As you can see, without stencils, rolling ink onto some of the "tiles" without hitting others would be impossible.

[Blocks and isolation stencils]

First, I ran the 8x10 craft paper stencils through the press with carbon paper to transfer the image to the paper. Then I cut out the separate stencil areas with an X-acto knife.

[One inking]

In this image, you can see how I did the biggest trick of this test run. It looks like I've achieved a radial rainbow roll, which we all know is impossible. As you can see, all I did was ink a linear rainbow (orange to purple) into each "petal" separately. Since the orange was always pointed toward the center, it gives the appearance of a fade form the center outward. Pretty cool, huh?

[Two inkings on one block]

[Five passes]

I then went on to do some tests that used all six stencils in various ways just to show myself what's possible.

[Variety of effects]

Now I just need lots of practice with these techniques so I can wrap my head around how to use them in my real work.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Testing A Laser Carved Plate

While I'm catching up on old stories, let me tell you a little more about my trip to Seattle in May. I was selling at the Northwest Folklife Festival and having a great time. Just down the row from me was a vendor I had never seen before. His name is Scott Alberts, and apparently he's quite a fixture in the Seattle art scene with a permanent store in the Pike Place Market.

[Scott Alberts]

When I saw his work I realized that I could use this technology to carve much more intricate plates than I can currently produce with a router. (Of course I know that other people are doing this. It just never seemed like *I* could do it.) I asked if he could carve me a plate overnight and bring it to the last day of the festival. He did it! Since I'm familiar with a lot of the parameters of carving wood with machines, I knew how to choose the art and prepare the file for him. I emailed it on Sunday and walked over to his booth Monday morning to pick up the finished piece, still smelling of smoke from the laser.

[Cedar silhouette artwork]

[Cedar silhouette block]

It was amazing to get this piece of work from him so quickly. After the show on Monday, we tore down and I started my drive home. The first thing I did when I got back was to test this laser carving for ability to print detail, and for the ability to hold those details over multiple runs through the press.

Since I'd asked him to carve it at the same size as the blocks I've been using, I can use my existing jig for registration. I just need to bring the surface up the the exact same height as my other blocks. I used some old wood that was laying around the shop and planed it down to the right thickness.

[Glue sandwich]

[Sun drying]

Then I clamped them together and put the clamp contraption in the sun to dry faster.

[Mounted block]

[Correct height]

Once the glue was dry I cut off the edges, ensuring that the finished block was exactly 5" square and exactly the right height. Then I started rolling ink and doing tests.

[One print]

The detail rendered perfectly!

[Many prints]

So then I did a bunch of tests, partly to see how these shapes overlap and partly to test the block's detail holding ability. I was impressed! There may come a time when I add one of these devices to my workflow to give me a lot more detail in the finished work.

[Compare the detail]

Really, the difference in image detail is astonishing! Especially when I want to do multiple layers of color separation with tightly registered details, this type of detail could really come in handy.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Tone Tests

Do you remember that, tucked firmly in the back of my mind is a goal to find ways to introduce "tone" to my woodblock prints. I used ghosts in my first set of leaf prints a while back as a first try at creating areas of ink color in between "no ink" and "fully inked".

Then, in my workshops with Robert Canaga, I learned another few techniques. Finally I squeezed in a whole day between cloth production and shows to try some of the materials and techniques that he had introduced me to.

In the collagraph portion of the workshop, we learned about all kinds of acrylic media with beads, pumice, and fiber in them. They impart interesting texture and tone to collagraph prints, and I thought that they might do the same for woodblock, too.

[Medium Pumice Gel on Woodblock]

[Fine Pumice Gel on Woodblock]

They do. This would have to be one technique combined with others, but this initial test showed me that it is possible to create a stippled "tone" using relief ink application onto this pumice medium.

The next thing I tried was simple, just wiping the relief plate with a tarlatan in the way that intaglio is done.

[Wiping A Woodblock]

It worked, too. Again, I would probably use this technique on only one or two layers in a complex print, but I can see here that it works.

The last test was the most complex. The goal here was to replicate the effect of a ghost print, but without creating two other "throw away" prints to get the block inked up for the ghost. To achieve this effect, I first rolled pumice medium onto the original plate. Then, using a clean roller, I lifted some of the medium from the original block and transferred it to the main block.

[Block with Pumice Medium]

The result is a smooth wooden block with a pattern of "schmutz" on it. The trick comes when I wipe the block of ink before printing. In the smooth areas, the ink wipes off easily. In the rough areas, the ink stays on the plate. The boundaries between these two areas are kind of "smoky", depending on the tarlatan texture, and the wiping pressure and speed.

[Complex Pumice Ghost on Woodblock]

It's exactly what I wanted! Again, this print on its own is not very interesting, but combined with the other techniques in a multilayer print, I can see that this would give the hazy, smoky, tonal richness that I'm looking for. I can't wait to see how these techniques eventually get folded into my work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Art and Crafts Press Visit

When I was in Seattle for a couple of shows in May, I decided to make use of my down time between them to visit art supply stores and to meet a woman whose work I've admired from a distance, Yoshiko Yamamoto, one of the owners of the Arts and Crafts Press in Tacoma, Washington.

[Ms. Yamamoto in her retail shop]

I wish that I had taken more pictures of her beautiful work space and the impressive equipment that she controls to create her gigantic editions. But I was so captivated by her charm and generosity that  I just forgot.

She walked me through the studio, talking frankly about her equipment, methods, challenges, and aspirations for the future. I learned so much about the printmaking restrictions that led to the work that is such an icon of the arts and crafts style. If I decide to move in the direction of this style, I can see it from a much more critical perspective and understand a little better how to approach it, thanks to her rapid education.

Before this trip I had realized that it will be difficult to push myself in the direction of high quality print work if I don't have some examples of it in my space. I went to her studio with the goal of purchasing one or two of her works to frame and hang in my studio for inspiration.

[Kayaking at Glacier Bay, 13"x9.5"]

[Crow & Persimmon, 4"x8.75"]

[Greeting cards]

In the end she had given me an hour of her time, so much knowledge, and sent me home with a few pieces of her gorgeous work. Her generosity stands as an example to me of how I want to treat visitors to my space when I get established.

Be sure to check out the website. [Arts & Crafts Press] This company is a super power in the Arts and Crafts design world. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sorry For The Spotty Blogging

Whew! To say that I'm overwhelmed at the moment is a gross understatement.

Between doing shows, designing and creating a new cloth color, and studying for my residency at Constellation Studios this summer, I just don't have time to blog. I promise that I'm taking lots of pictures and roughing out some ideas around how to chronicle the journey, but for now doing is taking precedence over talking.

Thanks for your patience.

[Stencil inking tests]