Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In the Club

Early last year, after years of promising myself I would, I participated in the Baren Forum's print exchange. You can view the participating prints in this exchange, and other exchanges by clicking Mine is center, second from the bottom. There was so much great work, and I feel both thrilled and unworthy to be among this group.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pretty As A Picture

With the addition of black, this print is complete. I would say that I have enjoyed this print more than about any since my very first prints 14 years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the intention was to set this print in New Mexico. I have been through several times, and love it. However, don't go looking for this place out west - the model I used for the gas station is actually an old service station onbBuffalo's East Side. The tree is also an invention, a small homage to Gustave Baumann, the great printmaker. The blue Chevy is a tribute to my dad. The camper color is a nod to my wife.

I have done two other little camper prints, and I plan many more.

As per usual, I can only see the things I would change, little mistakes here and there. That's how I learn. But overall, it's exactly what I had pictured, and I am thrilled with the result.

Going to take some time to plan the next print, so please stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tone Depth

 While it may look identical to the last color, this lighter green helps establish depth and texture on the trees and grass. One last color!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Life On Mars

Like my woodcut hero Gustave Baumann, I am drawn the beauty of New Mexico. This print is the first in what I hope will be a series of works featuring vintage campers in all 50 states.

As alluring as the weather worn buildings, craggy rocks and red soil can be, there needs to be a little life in the picture. This dark green sets the base for the brighter green to come.

The ink layers (now at ten) are finally giving me resistance, which I expected, though at this stage the rough coverage is working in favor of the image.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Here are two of the last five colors. The colors are very important to the finished print.

 This color, a dark rust red, was designed to be the rust on the camper, car and tire wheel, as well as the roof tiles, camper tail lights and part of the tree. If you look back at past prints, you know that I dread printing bold colors in the middle of the process. But these new inks allow me to overprint with ease, even with lighter colors.

Though the soil is red, this red was a little ftoo bold. The scene, which I will get into deeper when I'm done, suggests New Mexico. The soil color there changes with the light throughout the day, so I wanted to keep the suggestion of the read, but to tone it down.
I would have preferred to go a tad lighter, but I needed good contrast with the beige in the camper, wall and fence; I also wanted something more tree-bark-like.

Now, on to some leaves and grass to pick up the color a bit, with a finish of black.

A note about the sign. As reported earlier, this was an improvised add, just a hint of an old painted sign, weathered away. With no significance, I chose the letter "k" because it was structurally interesting, and not necessarily difficult to carve. Although I'm still working on it, the letter got a little bit away from me. I realised today that it is reminiscent of the Sanskrit "om" symbol. This was unintended; yet, this print has surely been meditation for me. Maybe it's a sign!😂

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Long way 'Round

Reduction printing is so simple, yet it is one of the hardest things to explain (second to Pokémon Go!). One thing that is hard to explain to people is the "why." You roll out a full block of color only to have a small area show. What a waste, right?

I disagree. Each layer is a foundation. Each layer can move you to improvisation. See the lettering? I was inspired by seeing the flat expanse of beige I had printed. The tire in the trunk was also a last minute add.

This is color #7, with 5 to go.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Out of Control

The original design for this print called for about seven colors, and in my last attempt, I only made it to five before I had to stop due to the ink issues. This time, because the ink is laying down so well, I keep changing the plan, adding more colors. There's only supposed to be one blue green, and the blue here was actually supposed to be part of the rainbow roll; now it's the first of two blues.

The risk, of course, is going too far, either building up the ink layers to the point that the picture loses detail; worse yet is the deterioration of the plywood, which can crumble and cause pieces that need to stay to the end, start to disappear. But the failure to explore is where art stops and factories begin, and I already spend too much of my life in a factory. So, I will play!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Emerging From The Shadows

With the addition of the darker blue-green, you can now not only see the full form of the little camper, but you also start to see the entire picture start to gel This is when things get exciting for me, as I can now start to see where the picture is going to end up (I also see all of the little mistakes that may have been made along the way, and this is when I try to figure ways to change things around so that the mistakes look deliberate!). On the walls of the building, you also start to see something -- are those letters? This was an improvised decision, not part of the original cartoon, or the first attempted printing. The building had originally been just flat, and I wanted a little more life. It's a gamble, but we'll see how it pays off. At this point I estimate 6 more colors.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Everything On the Line

Still untitled, the print is starting to take form now, with the addition of a pretty retro blue-green, my wife's favorite color. This is my second attempt at this print. The first attempt, which I believe was some time last summer, ended in disaster, due mostly to the ink issues I've documented. No sign of any of those problems this time. The coverage with the Renaissance and Graphic Chemical inks has been outstanding.

I usually like to show previous attempts, but I have had no luck finding an old print or even a photograph. As I recall, I made it to the last or second-to-last color before it went all to hell. You may notice that the rainbow roll looks less prominent, but as the darker colors go down, the sky will regain its vibrancy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On a (rainbow) Roll

In commercial printing, the blending of two colors in gradation is usually called a "split" or a "split fountain." In block printing it is generally referred to as a "rainbow roll." For landscapes and such, it helps add depth to the picture. It can also be used to give the illusion of dimension. In "Ohio Street," I used a rainbow roll (RR) for the sky. It really works well for sky, and I'm using it again in the current subtitle piece seen here. I used to use RR a lot more when I worked with smaller sized prints. I've been reluctant to employ RR because I have been so occupied with the other printing issues I've had. Now that those appear to be resolved, I'm looking to perfect RR techniques to bring my prints the vibrancy I want.

This print is a redo of a print I attempted a while back, which fell apart due to ink issues.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Out of the Blue

As you know, I was just glad to have finished "Ohio Street" in time to show at the Erie County Fair. I was just happy to have solved the problems that had plagued my printmaking for years. I was so shocked and humbled by the ribbon. So much talent on display, I am certain that a mistake was made. Barring that, I am grateful to the judges and volunteers, and applaud all of my fellow participants. Every year, the arts and crafts competition elevates the fair from your average deep-fried carnival, from sewing arts to photography, fine arts to antiques. Aaaaaaaaand, it'the coldest building on the fairgrounds!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ask Amy

Me: I think I might be done with the print.
Amy: Really? I thought you had one more color.
Me: Yeah, I was going to. But I don't know how much it will add to it. Why don't you take a look at it and temm me what you think.....Besides, so much of the block is missing now, it would just be a pain to print.
(too long pause)
Amy: Well, you know I'm going to say it needs the last color.
Me (sigh) I know.

That night, I reluctantly went to the studio. Just as I said, it was a long painful experience inking the block.

As she said, it needed it.
Her advice, even when I ask for it, is usually ill-timed, inconvenient, and ill-informed. But it's always right. I mean always. Thank you Sweet Pea!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The River's End

I'm not sure if I'm done yet. I was considering one last color, a very dark purple/black, which would mostly be the trees and the river wall. But I don't know if it will really add much to the print.

I'm very happy with this print, so happy that I've worked out the ink that has plagued my work for so long. Had I known how well this would print, I would have taken a few more risks with detail. But, that's how it goes.

I confess that it's a bit safe for a competitive piece. It doesn't have the color of "Sunflower Farm" (2014) or the light-play of "Sweet Breeze" (2015). But it conveys a mood I often feel around Buffalo's big old industrial buildings.

I'm proud of the piece, mostly because of the registration. For a decade I've used a jig that often caused me problems while printing, and sometimes moved the register n mid print. I've gotten rid of all that in favor of a kento system, which has been a pleasure to work with.  To illustrate how dead-on the register is, look at the doorway of the silo on the bottom left. Inside the doorway is a little lite -- this little spot has held through 7 colors. I usually lose at least a quarter of my prints due to register. This time, I only lost one.

I will post it when it's all dressed up in a frame and ready for the Fair.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A River Runs Through It

This is state #4 of the second try for the "Ohio St Bridge" print. I am happy to report that the new ink has performed excellently. The inks are Graphic Chemical and Renaissance Graphic inks. I have abandoned burnt plate oil for hydrolyzed linseed oil, known as Sets well. This gives inks a creamy, buttery texture that allowed the ink to stand up and flow out, making coverage easier and facilitating overprinting. I only use a small amount, and even with white ink, it works great. I have also switched from Grumbacher cobalt drier to Hancock, which I used for ten years without issue. One single drop per ounce of ink and The print is dry the next day. There are 3 more colors. This print will be my entry in the 2016 Erie County Fair.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ink Detective

While there hasn't been much to report from the studio, a lot has been going on behind the scenes. The fact is that I haven't completed a print in almost two years, but it hasn't been for a lack of trying. The problem stems from a lack of confidence caused by a grand series of disappointments.

There have been several prints started, many of which are detailed in past posts. They would often go for five or six colors, and the something curious would happen, destroying the print. The colors would go down on the previous layer. I would hang it up to dry. Later, I would check on it and find that the ink had virtually disappeared! It was crazy. At first I thought it was that the ink wasn't printing at all, that I had thought the color was better than it really was. It was only after many, many episodes of this that I realized that it looked fantastic when it came off the block. Somehow, over time, it was disappearing before my eyes.

What was happening, actually, is that the ink was beading up, like painting a balloon with watercolors.

Now, what to do about that? First, I needed to go back and see what I'm doing differently than what
I was doing years ago. The chief suspect has been revealed to be Gamblin inks, specifically the white. Now, Gamblin's products are fine, and I love their colors -- and I'm not saying it's not something that I'm doing. Certainly, I may be adding too much oil to my mix; I use their lithography inks, which are very stiff, so I often use a lot of oil. It could be the drier I use; in fact, I know that I have been using too much and have recently corrected that. In fact, I thought that had been my issue, until I realized that it was only when I was printing over inks that were made up mostly of white that the ink would bead up.

I used to use inks from Renaissance Graphics in Pennsylvania, and I was always happy with them. In fact, I'm not sure why I stopped. Well, I've ordered a small bunch from there and from Graphic Chemical in Chicago, so my detective work will continue.

Aside from that, I have also made peace with my cast-iron book press (I now realize that it will never give me the crisp looks that printmakers with etching presses get) and have added spoon burnishing to the process to help smooth out areas the book press misses. I have dumped linoleum, poplar and birch plywood in favor of the costlier but dream-like shina plywood, which cuts like butter and holds lines well, even after eight or nine colors. I have discarded my jig, which used to hold my block when printing, which required a block to be perfectly square and also left a lot of embossed marks on the paper; now I use a kento system cut right into the printing block. I have finally mastered the art of sharpening my tools. I have been steadily working on drawing and designing.

Now, if I can just get the ink to work, we might have something!!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Firmly Planted

Just a small teaser snapshot. The new print with just two more colors to go. I'm excited to show off the whole thing. The shading effects on the front of the terra cotta pot were a happy accident. The hard part will be to make sure they don't print with any of the remaining colors. The final approach will take a steady hand and neatness, two things I am not known for!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Opening The Blinds

Ever since I purchased my antique cast-iron book press in the fall of 2006, I've been struggling to master my process. Every step forward seemed to herald a step back. Through it all, I kep working on my artistic abilities, falling in deep mad love with cartooning and graphic novels. Occasionally, I would dive back into printmaking to test out some new theories  that I'd hope would open the doors to finally cracking the code to better prints.

Late last year I finally discovered the root of my issues: it's the antique book press itself. I know of only one other woodcut printmaker who uses one, and for good reason: the torque is not enough to allow a good smooth laydown of in. This, in addition to troubles with the wood I was using and even some ink problems, had me on the verge of leaving printmaking altogether.

Over the last year, I have studied other printmakers very closely. When you are self-taught and working alone, you need to be a good detective. You also need to be resilient. It's okay to give up, just as long as you start again as soon as possible. That's my MO: quit...for a minute.

So this week, I cracked the code. I'll get into it more in-depth later, but I have found the missing piece of the puzzle that allows me to use my press and still make prints with excellent coverage and true color saturation I demand. Here's a terrible photo of the print in mid-work. There are three colors left, and I'll be back then to give you more details, and I'll tell you how you can get a print for free!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Future Is Now

...well, at least it was, yesterday. Well, I'll just aoid the year in review. Yes, the big win at the Erie County Fair was a special treat, but 2015 has the distinction of being the only year in which I didn't finish a single print since I began printmaking in 2002. That's about to change.

If you've been following this blog (and I know you've been rapt) you know that it's been more or less a soap opera of every misstep a self-taught printmaker could make. our last episode, it was finally discovered that the cheaf problem I'm having stems from the fact that I can't achieve enough pressure using my antique book press, no matter the paper, the ink or the block.

So, as the New Year 2016 begins, questions are raised:

  • Will Jeff press on (har har) using the same old equipment
  • Will he break down and buy a new press?
  • Will he change his style to accomodate the old press?
  • Will he give up printmaking all together?
  • Will he update his blog more than once every three months?
  • will anyone care?
  • Has the ship sailed?
  • Can he believe it's NOT butter?

Tune in regularly friends to find the answer to these and, inevitably, more ridiculous questions as we visit: As The Press Wheel Turns!