Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Four Seasons" final colors

I added the final few colors to the print project I'm working on today, and finalized the reduction woodcut "Four Seasons."

Earlier this week, I added a dark brown:

Over this, I added a dark green. The brookies finally swim free!

After two days of drying time, I added what became the final color: a deep, dark blue.

I had originally wanted to print a lighter dark blue, and then finish up with black. I decided my blue ink was too bright straight out of the can, and decided to tone it down a bit with orange. I over compensated, and came up with "nearly" black. I added the rest of the can of blue to this mess, and was able to come up with a very dark blue. It printed over the other colors dark enough to call "black", and printed around the snowflakes light enough to call "blue."


"Four Seasons" (final)

As with all my prints, there is a certain level of "mortality": because these are hand done, I bothced a few.

The biggest culprit with this print was keeping a handle on the registration of all those colors. The darker the colors get, the worse a mis-alignment shows. With the lighter colors, you can get away with a mis-aligned print or two, but when printing near-black, even the slightest shift will show horribly. One of the rejects above was caused by a stupid, half crazed housefly that landed on my ear as I flipped the block/paper over to burnish it. With another, I coughed as I laid the inked block onto the image... after starting with 24 sheets of paper, 18 prints total made it all the way through to the end.

These rejects will be ceremoniously burned later this winter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Over the weekend, I made good progress on the latest reduction print, "Four Seasons." Just when I think I'll never get through all the colors that need to be printed, I suddenly realize I'm on the home stretch. I've only got a few colors left to go on this print, and then it will be done.

I've come to the point where the details are really starting to take shape. Two more colors, a deep dark red and a dark green, are all thats left for the Spring section of the print.

Except for a dark brown, the Fall leaves are pretty much done.

Summer's honey comb is finished (and looking great, I'll add...) All that's left is some black on the honey bee.

The two brookies need a dark blue-green along their backs, which I'll echo in the Spring and Fall backgrounds. The snowflakes will get a rich, dark blue background to finish them off.

The very last color will of course be black. Most of the block will be carved away; only some outlines will remain. Sort of sad, looking back on all the work it is to carve the block, but the results are worth it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More colors

I managed to add a few new colors to the print "Four Seasons."

After letting the previous two layers dry completely, I added the third background color, a pale yellow/tan, to serve as a base to the honey comb and the fall leaves. Since it was coloring a separate area of the print, I was able to immediately add a layer of darker pink to the flowers. I let those colors dry overnight, then followed up with a stronger yellow/gold to the leaves/honey comb areas.

The final color I added today was a darker pale green. I've come to the point to where I've pulled out my smallest brayer to selectively ink individual sections of the block. This helps avoid unnecessary ink build up.

The previously "ugly" garish easter-egg colors are starting to meld together and work nicely. A detail shows hows the colors are working together - the green, being slightly transparent, turns a nice golden brown over the pink of the flowers. Because its being used in the trout, it will help anchor the two image objects together.

I'll let these colors dry for a couple days. I've got a lot of carving to do on the block before I can start thinking about printing it again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Four Seasons: first colors

I printed the first two colors of the print, Four Seasons.

After first carving out everything on the block I wanted left white, I mixed up a batch of ink and spread it out on my inking plate (a smooth piece of polished granite.) Using a soft rubber roller, or brayer, I spread an even thin coat on the wooden plate.

To print the plate, I first lay the block onto a sized piece of block printing paper (mulberry paper made in Thailand):

The plate/paper is then flipped:

I then used a barren, or hand-press, to burnish the paper onto the plate. The idea is to create enough pressure on the paper to cause the ink to transfer from the block into the fibers of the paper:

Satisfied I've covered all the areas with ink, I can then slowly pull the paper from the plate:

The results are always fun to see:

And so the printing process goes... I've decide to "pull" 24 prints from this block, so after going through the steps described above 24 times, it's time to decide on the next color.

I keep a series of print-outs of the images I'm using for this print, my "color maps." To decide on the next color, I pull one of them out now.

I'll print the lightest pink of the flowers now. Even though it will get covered up, it will act as a good background color for the two trout, and for the autumn leaves at the bottom.

But first, I need to clear away everything I want left light green. A small, sharp hand chisel and mallet make short work of the job:

Once the plate is ready, the inking/pressing/pulling process continues. This time, the image starts to slowly emerge:

With two layers of ink, I'll leave the prints overnight to dry completely until I add more.

In truth, the pink is pretty ugly printed over the green right now. It will stay that way as I add layers of colors, until the darker colors separate yet unite the disparate blobs of color together into the finished piece.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Four Seasons - Progress

It took awhile, but I was finally able to find and transfer the different images onto the block for the latest woodcut, which I've entitled (simply enough) "Four Seasons."

My good friend Jon Jacobs contacted me on behalf of Kiap-TU-Wish TU, and asked if I'd like to donate something for this years banquet. I like Kiap, and have contributed and benefited from the terrific work they've done to the streams that I fish. So while I don't put in as much as I used to (I was the habitat projects coordinator for a number of years, back before there were kids...), I'm gladly donating another print to the cause.

I'm hoping it to be this one.

This is one of them projects that you look at, and say to yourself "What was I thinking?"

I'm pretty sure I can do it, though, if I get to work and not get distracted by any more Indian summer days that whisper to me about double guns, setter puppies and grouse woods....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Please join us for an open studio, Sunday Dec 6th

Please join us for an open studio, Sunday Dec 6th

-just north of El Paso, Wisconsin-

South of Baldwin on Hwy 63
East (left) on Hwy 29E (1 1/2 mi)
South (right EXACTLY 2.5 mi)
N7107 County Rd N

John Turula ceramic and steel stools

Mark Nuebel

John and Sophie Koch

Margy Jean Balwierz

Margy's studio is open any day, please call ahead 715-778-4473

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On to something new...

OK, so the last moku hanga didn't work out like I wanted. There's a number of things that I don't like about it, but there's a number of things that I do. The trick is now to figure out how to separate the two so it all comes together into a cohesive piece that I'm satisfied with. Well, that's the trick, isn't it?!

But, I've got a stack of ideas that I need to pursue.

I ran a reduction print several years ago of a brook trout surrounded by the stages of the moon, sky and mayflies. It was a very satisfying print personally, and it was well received:

I like the whole framed image as an image, so I'm going with that as a base. I'm most comfortable with reduction prints, so I'm going to go with my old standby of pulling reduction prints off from a single maple block again.

I'm thinking a couple trout this time, with the four seasons surrounding them. I pulled out my folder of images - pieces and parts of ideas that have made it to scrap paper - and started shuffling images around:

A bit of graphite paper, and I've got the start of an image:

More images for the rest of the border:

I'm liking this more and more as it goes....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I finished up the last of the color blocks last night: transfer the image, carve out the colors, and print. One final run with the key block, and viola! The final product:

"The Duck Hole" 14" X 8 1/2" Akuacolor inks on Yasutomo Sketch paper

I like it, for the most part. As with most pieces, I made a few mistakes, but learned a little bit more (in this case, I learned A LOT more...)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One step forward, two steps back...

An inadvertent scratch and a badly aligned block, block progress on the latest multi block print.

First, as I went to open one of the flat-file drawers to get a sheet of paper, the drawer seemed to hesitate at the half way point. Instead of trying to find out what was in the way, I forced it all the way open. Not until I closed it again did I see that one of the prepared blocks was sitting next to it. The edge of the drawer caught the wood and put a deep scratch right across the penciled in image:

I had no choice but to start he block over - the scratch was too deep to "buff" out with steel wool. Fortunately, I was able to switch ends of the block, and re-do the image on the other end (instead of preparing a whole new block...)

Then, as I went to print the 3rd color block, I noticed right away that I had botched the registration on the lower half of the block:

I decided to take out the lower half of the green block. I really did look bad, and I didn't like the color being the same as the background, anyway.

So, with those two mistakes taken care of, I was ready to continue on. First, I carved out the evergreen bows:

I decided to add the fisherman's red jacket to this block, as the two colors would be far enough away not to interfere with each other, As I printed the AP's, I experimented with inking the jacket to give it some dimension:

The colors are starting to layer up nicely; the print is coming together:

Two or three more blocks to go (depending if I can double up some colors...) and I'll be able to finish with the APs and print some test prints.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Second Color Block

Using the same process steps as before, the first color block is transferred and carved. Here it is, inked up and ready to print:

I want the river to have a gradation from light to dark, so once the block is inked up, I use a rag to wipe the gradation where I want it.

The print is lined up in the kentos carefully let down onto the inked and wiped plate. A sheet of waxed paper is added between the paper and barren to help the barren slide easier, and to act as a small "cushion."

So far, so good. The kentos seem to be lining up, and with enough APs, I'll work the bugs (and blobs) out of the inking/printing process (!)

Key Block Finished; 1st APs Run

The last bit of carving on the Keyblock involves cutting the all-important registration marks, called "Kentos." Carved into the lower corner and along the side, these marks serve as channels that the paper will slip into. They will be identical on each block, so that the paper lines up exactly in the same place on each color block.

The finished keyblock, ready to be inked for the first run of Artists Proofs, or "APs". These proofs will be used to cut the color blocks from, and will be used to test and adjust each color block before it is used to print a "real" print run from. I personally like to use Japanese Gampi paper for my AP's. It's thin, but very strong.

A boar hair/deer hair traditional brush, hand-made from a split piece of bamboo, is used to ink the keyblock up with black ink for the first run of proofs. The ink is applied directly to the plate, and is brushed around the block.

The keyblock, all inked up, ready for the first piece of paper. Oh! The excitement!

The first run of Artists Proofs:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


With the image inked in, I've started carving the black lines into the "keyblock." This is somewhat more exciting than the re-inking process, but still, it gets tedious; I've a loooong way, it seems, until I start printing ink to paper.

Still, I like the carving process - it's a big part of what draws me to woodcuts in the first place. I have a bit of a sculpture background (hey, I did work for Wally Shoop, after all...), so it's satisfying carving into a blank piece of wood:

Especially with the added benefit of printing the image later!