Monthly Archives: June 2008

Ow, again

No, I haven’t stuck myself again – this one is muscle strain from a few hours with the carving tools. I’m working on the largest, most complex block so far – katsura, designed to print onto A4 paper.

But still, I’m most of the way through the final pass. It takes more or less four, after the design’s been drawn on – first I cut out the gutter around the edge, and neaten up the outside edge of the printing area. Then I scoop out the white areas with the komasuki (U-shaped gouge – 5mm and 3mm depending on the size of the area) and/or the kentonmi (registration chisel – a standard straight-edged flat chisel. This is very much not what it’s intended for) and after that go around again with the komasuki to deepen the holes and neaten up the edges a little. The final pass is with the sankakuto (ninety-degree V-shaped gouge – an amazingly useful combination of chisel and scoop) to neaten up the edges properly and eliminate as many random splinters and inappropriate angles as possible. It’s also particularly good for steepening the cutouts, which is good for this one because I want clear white areas without cut marks this time.

I have only a rough idea what the final product is going to look like at this stage – well, obviously I know where all the lines are supposed to go on the macro-scale, but on the millimetre scale it could do almost anything, and that’s one of the things I particularly like about printmaking. It almost completely sidelines my natural fussy-perfectionist tendency, and leaves the print with an unpredictable vitality.

Malachite & bronze

Another experiment – I picked up two new colours and a new gloss medium, and wanted to try them all out.

The background is Hooker’s Green (System 3), and the metalwork is done using Ara Dark Bronze. This is gorgeous stuff, but it’s a nasty one to clean up – I had to go back to one brush and wash it over again. The catalogue suggested that the Rheotech gloss medium would also work as a hard, permanent, waterproof glaze/varnish, so I decided to try that out too. It ends up as a relatively low gloss, but still brings out the colour of the background beautifully.

Malachite & bronze

I need to work on getting a more even texture for the varnish, but it still works.



The design and text are screenprinted, the frame is screenprinted and then overpainted to give the broader deckle.

For this one, I made a screen framework from scrap mountboard and stapled the screen onto it. Note to self – do not attempt to block it out in the same colour as the sharpie you use to draw the text on.

I used another scrap of mountboard for a squeegee – oddly, it’s remarkably difficult to find an actual squeegee around here. I’m sure I remember seeing them in all sorts of places, but when I’m actually looking for one…

The printing process went well, and it gave quite a lot fewer artifacts than the stencilling did. (Though, to be fair, that might also be down to taking more care over blocking it out.) One thing I did see was a set of blobs on the right-hand side, just outside the frame – that’s the other reason I overpainted it, of course.

It’s hard to make out with my crap photography, but there’s an interesting 3D effect on the second half of the text – a grey drop shadow to the right. I’m not sure whether that’s down to blocking or lifting or driving paint underneath, since I was standing on that side and spreading paint towards me.

T-shirt stencilling

I made this the other day – Sainsbury’s sell fairtrade cotton T-shirts for £3 each. Still horribly ecologically damaging, but there aren’t really any practical alternatives to wearing cotton. And cheap, so I picked up some to experiment with.
Gold & blue T-shirt 1

(I tweaked the brightness and contrast a little, to adjust for the domestic lighting and make the pattern more visible.)

Following a friend’s suggestion, I made a screen from net curtain fabric (£1.50 a metre from Walthamstow market) and spread it taut on my tambour frame. Some viscous grey acrylic worked nicely to block it out, after drawing on the design with a Sharpie (note to UK people – you can get authentic Sharpies at Ryman’s, and they are indeed as good as people say).

I mixed up the paint, using 1:1 acrylic paint and textile medium, but managed to overestimate and dish out far more than I actually needed. I ladled it out with the brush and vigorously rubbed it in (with the same brush – this makes it, technically, stencilling rather than screenprinting) going over and over in several patterns.

The first layer – the gold – went on nicely, but I didn’t have complete coverage. Some areas of the disc were a bit patchy. I ended up taking the screen off and hand-painting over it, since it was such a large area and no fiddly bits to deal with, and deliberately doing texture effects. I’m not sure either way about the rough, frayed edges of the disc – I rationalise it by thinking of it as deckle.

After leaving that to dry for 24 hours or so, I put the second screen on (the first was a simple circle) and repeated the procedure with the blue. This time it didn’t need overpainting except in a few small areas – I didn’t want to risk putting the screen back down and ruining the registration.

I’m rather fond of the distressed print effects and broken lines, and I’ll freely admit to being a sucker for this particular colour combination.


Quick post to note down where I’ve been getting things from – mostly, Atlantis Art in Whitechapel, and Intaglio Printmaker in Southwark. The latter is a bit of a trek to get to, especially in a London summer, but it’s worth it. For those of you (most of you) outside London, both places do mail order of course.

On my first trip to Intaglio, I picked up a set of cheap Japanese carving tools (hangito, kentonmi, sankakuto, and two komasuki); some water-based ink for relief printing (oil-based is a bit more traditional, but I hate working with oil-based materials unless I have to); some battleship lino and a couple of pieces of katsura (gorgeous sexy Japanese softwood, carves wonderfully); a small roller; and a few large sheets of Velin Arches paper. This made a perfectly adequate set of equipment for kitchen-table printing, though I had to use the back of a large spoon as a baren. (A proper baren, and some of their carving vinyl, were top of the list on my return visit.)

Prices: a piece of lino six inches square is £1.70, and the vinyl is £2.05 for a piece 200mm x 300mm. (That’s what I did this on.)
The katsura (10mm deep) is £4.81 for the same 200mm x 300mm, or £1.35 for six inches by four – that’s what this is on.

I’m currently lusting after more paper, but I want to use up more of what I’ve got first. I also have some gorgeous-textured handmade Indian paper, in various colours, that I want to try printing onto – I just need to finish carving the block I started the other day. When my finger recovers a bit.


Just been trying another woodcut, after working on vinyl for the last three, and the difference in the cutting texture is very apparent.

Note to self – yes, that komasuki is sharp. Especially when you’ve just spent a couple of minutes on it with a waterstone. Just because it doesn’t glide through katsura with the same effortless ease as through vinyl doesn’t mean it isn’t sharp. It may not be sharp enough – I still don’t rate my sharpening technique much – but when you forget one of the cardinal rules of Not Being Bloody Stupid and jab it into your left forefinger it bleeds like a tube of Crimson Lake in a Hammer movie.

Two Birds

I did these with another vinyl block, and discovered a couple of interesting things. The first is that – since the vinyl blocks are only 3.2mm deep, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting ink on the higher ridges outside the “official” design – it gives me interestingly unpredictable bits outside the edges. And if I try to eliminate them all, I end up going right through the block.

The second is the response of this particular paper – Atlantis heritage woodfree paper, 315 gsm, quite smooth and hard-surfaced – to soaking. The first image was done with dry paper, the second moderately-soaked – what I did was stack half a dozen pieces of paper up on a waterproof surface, giving each a thorough squirting with the plant mister before dropping the next on, and wiping off the surface water before dropping each one on the plate.

Bird with tail (unfeathered)

Bird with tail (feathered)

Venus Aresin from the Waves

Venus on the half-shell

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, reenacted by ball-jointed dolls. Those are about four and a half inches high – they’re Puki Pukis, made by Cerberus Project. Cupid is a ‘Cupid’, the other two are both the ‘Flora’ model.

For comparison, here’s the original. I’m rather impressed by how well a four and a half inch doll can recreate Venus’s pose. Mind you, it’s not entirely anatomically probable for a living model, at that.

(via Redcountess)

Vinyl print 1

This is a triple experiment, really. I used a sheet of Japanese carving vinyl rather than the wood or lino previous pieces were done on – it’s extremely nice to work with, except that I occasionally find myself carving too deeply and going right through. Not by accident, it’s a lot like the softwood panels I used for others, but without a grain.

Secondly, I used pre-moistened paper (not soggy, just moist – I used a plant mister) to see what effect that has. The answer is basically that it doesn’t, apart from making the paper a bit more tractable and less inclined to curl.

The third experiment was in using a proper (if cheap) baren, rather than rubbing it with the back of a spoon as before. It’s physically easier and less painful to use, and has a nicer tactile quality – though when the guides say to rub with the grain of the baren covering, not against it, they really mean that.

Vinyl print 1