Monday, 26 February 2018

Testing, testing

I've started my first new work for a long time. If you follow me on social media you might know I had an accident at the end of last summer that wiped me out for quite a while. As well as the practical issues of being unable to walk for several months, the overwhelming tiredness of a body throwing all its resources into healing meant that I completely lost my printmaking mojo.

But now I'm back, and as I have found I am rather rusty this seems like a perfect time to talk about proofing and testing new prints and correcting mistakes. A lot of art blogs present the perfect finished article - so for a change I'm going to show you what goes wrong.

To make life hard for myself, my first new print is a Japanese watercolour woodblock (moku hanga), which demands quite a high level of technical proficiency. Maybe I should have eased myself back in with a single colour linocut.....

Anyway, I had in my mind's eye an image of a wooden Russian doll. I wanted to use the moku hanga shading to create the rounded shape and shiny varnished surface of the doll, as if I were painting it in watercolour, but also wanted to include the folk art hand painted decoration. My plan is to add the line detail to the finished and dried prints with a brush so that each print is unique, just as each hand painted doll is unique.

I have two sets of Russian dolls. I have had them so long I can't even remember where I got them, though it is likely the older and larger one was a gift from my merchant seaman brother who used to bring me back a doll from every country he visited when I was a small child. That makes it nearly 50 years old which explains why the outer doll is so faded.

My design is a sort of composite of all these dolls, and was transferred onto six different blocks for carving and printing. I printed up four test prints, each of which had different things wrong with it, which can be frustrating but is also the point of proofing.

From a distance these look like a good start, but when you get close...... oh so many mistakes....

Lets's start with the registration, which means lining up the paper on each successive block correctly so that the different elements match. These two sections are meant to lie next to each other, not have a gap between them. Oops.
The tricky bit here is working out what went wrong. Japanese woodblocks are lined up using kento slots cut in the wood. It should be foolproof, but pushing the paper half a millimetre more firmly into one slot than the other can create distortions of several millimetres at the other end of the block. Once I'd worked out what was going on with this block I wrote a note on it to remind myself to drop the paper into place a certain way in future.

There's no excuse for the registration mess here though, with two layers being printed out of alignment. It's one block being used for successive layers so this is purely user error and sloppiness on my part. Must do better.

This granulating effect is caused by insufficient nori (rice flour) paste being blended with the watercolour. It can be used deliberately to get an interesting texture but is not what I want here where I'm trying to depict smooth varnished wood. Must be more careful next time.

The mix on this print is more successful and the shading is working quite well to create a 3D effect (notice the highlight towards the left). I want this effect to be stronger though, so on the finished prints I will start with an even lighter layer and build up the shading to even darker red. This test print used about three or four bokashi (shading) layers; I probably need to do six or seven.

These marks around the image are where the watercolour has strayed onto the surrounding block and been picked up on the print. There are various ways to tackle it:
1. Carve away more wood, especially if particular spots keep causing problems.
2. Clean up more thoroughly around the inked area before printing.

A quick test run of the hand painted details went well, so now it's time  to prepare the paper and mix up a new batch of nori paste, ready for printing tomorrow. Watch this space.

UPDATE: the finished print can be seen in this blog post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear people's thoughts on this blog, but there may be a short delay before your comment appears publicly. Thanks for your patience.