Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Project: Orchard Calendar

Deb and I have been kicking this project around for about a year now. A calendar depicting the people, plants, animals and seasons of an orchard; we want it to show what is rarely seen by the public back at the shop or at the farmers market, but what is integral to the life of the place.

I at first figured I would produce the whole thing myself with woodcuts, but as projects piled up, it became obvious that it wasn't going to get done. And since Deb was the one closest to an actual orchard (being she works at Maple Leaf Orchard), she decided to jump in and get things started by presenting me with a set of thumbnail drawings.

So it was decided: Deb would do the drawings, I would transfer them to blocks and print them, and then Deb would take over and paint in the colors with water colors. Since we are working under a self imposed deadline of September 1st, I decided the quickest way to carve/print a dozen blocks would be to produce them on linoleum blocks.

A week later, 10 drawings are done, a stack of lino blocks is ready, and two proofs have been printed:

January cross-country skiing by moonlight

May apple blossoms pollinated by the orchard honey bees.

A New Press

Folks often ask me what I use for a press. They are always amazed to find out that I don't use a press, or at least a western-style wheel-and-rollers type of press we're all familiar with. Since I pick up block printing after a small hiatus back in 1995, I've used nothing more than either a wooden spoon or a simple barren, which translates to "hand press".

But circumstances change, and when Deb proposed this latest calendar project, I knew I wouldn't be able to hand-burnish a dozen 8x10 relief plates onto thick print-making paper without wearing out my shoulder. I knew I needed a press.

But printing presses are expensive. Real expensive. Prohibitively expensive on our tight budget ($$ available for a printing press = $0.00) What to do, what to do?

The internet to the rescue - I'd heard a lot of talk about a thing called a bottle jack press, about how it's easy to build yourself, about how people have been using them for years, about how great they work.

I tracked down said press, and found building plans through printmaker Charles Morgan
The plans are free, easy to follow, and provided you can saw a 2x4 and cut some metal angle iron, you'll end up with something that looks like this:

I broke down and bought a new 6 ton bottle jack, hardware and a sheet of 3/4" MDF, all for under $50.00 (far cry from the $6,000.00 for a new combination relief/intaglio press...) I used salvaged oak 2x4s for the base and the upper and lower bars. I modified the recoil system to use heavy duty springs instead of bungee cords. This thing weighs about 70 lbs and is solid as a rock. I ran a test proof of an old wood block and the thing works great - I only need to add some press blankets.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brace of Brookies

Some of you will recognize this image - this is the third print I've done of the two brookies next to a creel. I like the image - something timeless about it - and each time I print it, something new happens.

This is the finished AP, or Artists Proof. With a multiple block print, the printer prints each block as it's finished, checking registration as each block is carved. The finished print is often signed off as an "AP", or artists proof.

The process starts off by creating and printing a block line block, called the key block. This printed on as many sheets of proofing paper as the printer needs color blocks. The separate colors are then inked in to the separate sheets, one sheet per color:

Once done, the stacked sheets will look like this: