Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Completing an engraving started in 2009

single colour engraving (from resingrave block)
image size: 4.5 x 6 cm (1 5/8 x 2 3/8 in)

 I was recently organizing some of my artist materials to a more centralized storage system and happened upon a small sized block of resingrave (synthetic coating that is fused in a thin layer to a mdf substrate that makes it type set height). On the surface of the block was a sketch I had made of a sparrow balanced on top of several wildflower branch heads. The block itself measures 4.5 x 6 cm.

At the time I had only progressed to the rough sketch and decided this might be too small for an image to continue. But as fate would have it other things soon took priority and the block was set aside and then put into storage. Last week I was going to begin another new work but when I discovered the block I decided to focus instead on it. I had since that time acquired a good full spectrum combo lamp-5X magnification swing arm unit that allows me to work on blocks that would become small detail engravings.

In the above photo the sketch was traced over using a waterproof fine liner marker. The top area surrounding the bird (sparrow) has been cut away using several engraving blades.

The block is set on a leather sand bag while engraving which allows me to turn both it and block and raises it to a good visible working height under my magnification lamp.. 

block with background cleared
and the early stages of adding details 

print from the open edition with addition
of wash & pigment using a small paint brush

I will print this as an open edition. Some of these will also find a little colour added to them

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Engraving from end-grain maple block


Coastline- Lake Superior
wood engraving/hand-coloured
open editon (varied)

Recently a fellow printmaker (master engraver) who is a good friend I have known for at least 25 yrs sent me with a couple of pieces of end-grain wood he wasn't planning on using. To date I had only engraved into Resingrave (a synthetic hard polymer) and old hard dark brown linoleum. 

I had been wanting to try end-grain but encountered difficulty in sourcing it here in Canada. I was forced to put that earlier idea into the "do that later" mental files. 

My printmaking friend had seen some recent small lino and resingrave work I showed him via email and he decided to help me obtain some traditional end-grain hardwood that he has used throughout his career as wood engraver, artist/illustrator and run a small gallery to showcase his work in his residence. In addition to the section of maple I was also sent an equal size piece of rare old boxwood. 

I had the wood pieces cut to specific smaller size blocks by a local cabinet maker who had the recommended vertical bandsaw to cut with the grain (which is vertical orientation for the almost 3/4" thick blocks. The maple block I was sent is around 1/2" in height.

I was fortunate to have a small tabletop Blick etching press that allows enough clearance between the press bed and bottom of the top roller set at it's max height to accommodate paper and a smooth piece of hard paperboard. 

I chose a landscape to sketch from a photo I had taken a couple of years back taken during a trip east to visit family. This is typical cambrian shield rocky outcrop that borders the north shore of Lake Superior on the Canadian side of the border, One will often find low bush blueberry shrubs, harebell flowers growing out of cracks in the rock. The rock also has a lot of lichens spreading across the ancient granite face. It is one of my favourite things about living here in the region where I do.

Below are a few photos that illustrate the creation of the print. They show a bit of the progression from after I had carved the block surface and through to the final colour version on paper. The first photo is my working set up and I place most of the tools nearby as well as the leather sandbag to help me keep the block stable while it is engraved. I also use a crocker sharpener system with light mineral oil and an arkansas oil stone to keep the tool tips nice and sharp. I will give a particular tool I plan to use a quick pass back and forth across the oil stone and it makes cutting into the wood surface less difficult to cut.

For the hand-colour element again I introduced watercolour with small fine tip watercolour brushes.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Chickadee - relief block engraving (hand-coloured)


Continuing the addition to my small songbirds of the boreal forest series of engraved surfaces that began with a small study of a red-breasted nuthatch click here I have a new work to share.

This time it's a black-capped chickadee.

This particular study like the former print again echoes the bird placement among tree foliage and the inclusion of hand colouring after drying of oil relief ink on paper (printed from the block). 

 The chickadee print is slightly wider but the same height compared to the nuthatch in block size. It is 6.25 x 9 cm (2.5 x 3.5 inches). To date I have printed 10 good images on heavier italian milled cotton rag paper. It will be an open edition so I can print more as needed off the block.

I won't go into written detail about process with a lot of words since it has been described several times in earlier posts found by using the search word engraving. Instead I will show photos of stages of creation that visually describe the process I use.

tracing from a basic soft lead pencil sketch and transfer to block surface

pencil sketch then had black permanent marker over top

a wash of thinned india ink was put over the marker image 
photo shows early stages of engraving using a scorper blade (top) and a spitsticker blade (side). After this photo I decided to cut incidental marks to create foliage

a progress proof on japanese paper

marker pigment removed using acetone

inked block on the press bed with runner bars on either side that paper will set on top

block surface inked and ready to print

adding watercolour wash during hand-colour stage

the final result

nuthatch and chickadee engravings on paper

I was recently gifted some damaged wood pieces by a fellow engraver (boxwood and maple) that I had cut by a local cabinet maker using a bandsaw to yield me a range of smaller blocks that were usable. I just hand sand the block edges to square them since the end-grain is delicate and requires special care for cutting into blocks from larger pieces.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

small two block landscape linocut with additional colour applied by hand


Last week I took a couple of small pieces of battleship gray linoleum that were left over from a past project and used these to create a small colour landscape relief print. 

Referencing a couple of source photographs I had taken during a river walk a couple years ago I made a sketch on paper (first photo below). This was transferred onto tracing paper and reduced to a silhouette (second photo). I traced the silhouette image in reverse by flipping the tracing over top of graphite paper positioned onto the piece of lino that would become the key block. Then I darkened the pencil by drawing with waterproof sharpie marker over the pencil silhouette. Detailing in the foreground and some indications of forms that light would define (shoreline, path and long grass and indication of flowering plants) were brought out by drawing these on the solid black using a white pencil crayon and fine tip white ink gelli pen.  

The size of the linoleum blocks determined what could be achieved in carving within the dimensions of 2.75 x 3.5 inches. Some of the fine details were only achievable by using magnification and use of a palm grip micro cutter and a couple of wood engraving blades during the carving process.

When carving was complete I rolled oil based black relief printing ink across the surface, set the block on the press bed and put a piece of inexpensive subi paper over top. A thin piece of smooth masonite panel was set over top the paper. But before advancing the press bed to pass under the roller I adjusted the gauge posts raise the roller to accommodate the block, paper and masonite based on the overall height of all elements stacked on one another and deliver a gentle pressure to make a proof print on paper. 

After several days of letting the proof dry I put tracing paper over it and sketched in shapes of clouds I thought would add interest in the background sky. I decided to also allow for minor reflection of clouds in the water (mirror effect). Again, I traced the sketch in reverse onto the second block, used permanent marker over the pencil lines and carved away the surface linoleum outside of the black shapes (clouds and area in the water below the horizon line).    

I then mixed a blue hue from oil based relief printing ink. This was printed onto another sheet of subi. When the ink had developed a skin after 24 hours (I added a small dot of a drying medium to the ink) I  placed the key block (inked and ready to print) in place, put the proof on the pins and set it over the block (printed blue ink side face down) and ran it through the press. This allowed me to see if the registration was good and how the black and blue worked together.

It was at this point I remembered using a gradient ink blend on my brayer to create a dramatic sky effect in an earlier print project and I decided to see how it would work for this study. This involved placing dabs of ink on my glass ink rolling surface (darker blue on top, white in the middle and blue ink again below this). The brayer was rolled several times so that the inks mixed into one another at their edge points and created a gradation effect that was rolled onto the second block. (I set some scrap pieces of equal height lino on either side of the block to start and end my ink rolls when it was transferred to the block surface and this delivered a pretty consistant effect).


I could have continued cutting more blocks to introduce other colours to the foreground grasses, path and left side foliage but since this was a rather small print size I decided at this point there would be less stress if additional colour was applied using brush and wet media pigments to these small areas of negative space.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

more tetra pak printing

An example of recent studio experimentations using tetra pak as a plate surface. The study originates from a sketch made after a visit to a local botanical conservatory. The bird of paradise blossom was in full bloom and made a good subject to interpret using a print based medium. In this case I chose a small tetra pak surface to use as a plate to transfer my sketch onto and scribe line into the surface and print onto paper using an intaglio technique.

I traced the main shapes from my sketch onto thin transparent tracing paper using a soft 6B pencil. The tracing paper was flipped over and aligned over the surface of the tetra pack panel (thin plastic coated foil fused to the paper fiber base). I went over the lines I could see through the paper using a hard but sharp pointed tip HB pencil and this left the impression of the 6B tracing but in reverse. Then with the use of an etching needle and cross hatching I was able to add in more tonal variation with cross hatch and stipple. 

Oil based Cranfield Safewash etching ink was wiped onto the plate surface and down into the scribed lines using a dabber made from tightly rolled up craft felt held together with a piece of duct tape. I wiped the ink with a soft porous fabric (not tartalan as it would be coarse and left scratch marks in the surface that would show with ink). I polished the plate surface with thin newsprint. 

I lightly misted & blotted a piece of  250 gm all media cotton rag paper that was then placed over the upward facing inked plate set on the press bed. A piece of newsprint was set over top of the print paper (protects blankets but helps absorb any moisture, then blankets were carefully set over top of this. I then passed all of this under the roller of my table top etching press.

The print was carefully removed and taped down onto a piece of mdf board to dry. Later I added washes of watercolour into the white regions to colourize the image. The plate and printed image size is small (7 cm x 8 cm). I was able to yield a total of 5 good images from the plate before it deteriorated to a point that the line was very faint.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Experiment - small tetra-pak plate intaglio print

small botanical print made from a Tetra-pak plate

Several years back I came across a blog by a European printmaker who was making original intaglio prints using tetra-pak juice boxes. These containers are originally used to contain liquid foods. The boxes are constructed from paper board with a thin foil layer fused onto one side and then are coated in a thin layer of plastic. This artist was cutting panels from used containers and using these as a surface from which small hand-printed intaglio prints could be achieved. She had success marking line into the surface using needle tools. These lines would hold etching ink and would transfer to paper under extreme pressure (usually with the use of an etching press).

I recently decided to try this material out for myself, being a bit of tetra pak containers find use in this household. It was also an experiment to learn how the plate might perform printed as small detailed images. The artist who inspired me had minimal detail in her print designs and areas of dark contrast achieved by cutting and peeling away areas of surface layer. She added some line and texture in the remaining surface using a pottery needle to scribe line.

I had a sketch on hand that was recently used for a larger acrylic painting on board. I redrew my sketch onto tracing vellum (reduced scale) to fit a small plate that measures 5.5 x 8 cm (2 1/8 x 3 1/8 inches) and then reversed it and retraced the line using a 6B lead pencil. This was then positioned (6B graphite tracing facing the plate surface) over top of the tetra-pak plate and secured it with cellophane tape to the underside of the plate. I then drew over the graphite line with a fine line permanent marker. The next stage was to remove surface areas where the darkest tones (created by the ink deposits in the lower regions) would be printed.

tracing from sketch, front and back of cut panels from juice box

cutting and peeling away surface foil area using surgical scalpel blade

I carefully used a surgical scalpel to cut and remove the delicate surface area where I wanted darkest hues to print. Peeling away the plastic coated foil from the cut surface areas revealed a coarse paper board texture. This might hold a fair bit of ink which in turn would print dark after the wiping back of the plate before I printed it onto a soaked and blotted cotton rag paper.

plate ready to be printed after inking and wiping surface with newsprint

first print that ink was too spotty and weak

the second print

I applied Caligo safe-wash black etching ink again using a homemade rolled felt dabber and wiped the surface with yellow pages from an old phone book. The ready to print plate was then put on my press bed on a registration sheet, clean cotton rag paper was set over top along with an equal size piece of newsprint and then the felt blankets. I set my press roller to deliver tight pressure when the bed was passed under the metal top roller.

Unfortunately print #1 didn't yield a good image. The ink was faint in a lot of spots. Could have been any number of factors that caused this (too much wiping, ink too thin, paper too damp, etc...). 

After some modifications and a second inking of the plate results for the second print were better. There was some good contrast happening between dark and light areas. However that being said a lot of the tiny lines that were scribed into the surface didn't appear to deliver the details I was hoping for. I believe that the small size of the plate and the shallower surface marks made by the tools didn't deliver as good an image as those from a metal or plastic plate. None the less, I still see possibilities with tetra pak prints of small size maybe using designs with basic outlines and simplistic detail lines. I plan to explore this again soon.  

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A small relief block print bird study

relief block engraving w/ hand colour
printed image size: 5.5 x 8.25 cm

While still "in the creative moment" from the previous post linocut endeavor I took another sketch of a nuthatch and decided to adapt it onto a small scrap piece of hard linoleum. 

Due to the small size of the work and to help put less pressure on my neck I again used a illuminated swing-arm magnification lamp and a small portable table-top raised surface to cut the block on while I was sitting.

 permanent black marker drawn over pencil
& cutting of surface areas underway

carved block ready to be printed
ink was rolled across the surface with a small hard brayer

The block size measures 2 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches, I found working with magnification really helped me see the cutting up close. It isn't until the relief surface is inked and the first progress proof is made that you get a sense of how small the line is in this.

I used a couple of blades to achieve the design. The first was a small u gauge liner blade which was used mainly for cutting and clearing away larger areas found in the bird and also in a couple of branches. To get the really fine line of the needles, lines in the feathers on the nuthatch I used a lozenge graver wood engraving tool. 
Additionally, I found it better to have the linoleum cold and hard surface for cutting using the wood engraving tool.

When I had the block ready I rolled thinned oil base relief printing ink (in this case some older tube Daniel Smith relief carbon black). 
I used my homemade registration board system with a 3 hole punch attached at the top to hold the paper, an L shaped mat board corner to hold the block in place and centered with the paper. I also had strip runners of 3/8 inch wide scrap lino glued to the sides of the registration board that would help keep the roller level and that the pressure was evenly distributed across the surface when the works are passed under it. Once the paper is attached to the board using the punch pins at top I set a piece of smooth masonite over top and carefully pass the works under the roller by turning the manual press levers.

I printed the first couple of inked block impressions on newsprint to help in adjusting the pressure of the roller, then a couple were made onto thin white kozo.
A small number were then printed onto Magnani and Somerset rag. Several were printed on 5 x7 inch card size rag (Arches) as I saw the opportunity to use these as my seasonal card for several close family and friends.

I allowed several days for the ink to dry by hanging the prints in a warm ventilated room. 

A small amount of colour was introduced to the prints using fine artist grade watercolour paint with small sable brush.

It has been great to get back into relief printing and the processes involved.

Some of these will soon be listed as available in my Etsy shop found under my shop name Borealart. (link below) 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Return to relief block printmaking

sketch was transferred to the block with graphite paper then permanent marker was drawn over the lines on the grey battleship linoleum. This was used as my cutting guide.

My apologies to those who are following this blog and the sparse number of posts published this year. Health issues have been the reason.

The good news is I am feeling a lot better and my physical abilities have been making improvement thanks to results from tests and medical advice. 

Recently I decided to take a sketch on paper, transfer it to the surface of a small piece of battleship grey linoleum and then carve a relief design. 

It has been at least 6 years since I last made a relief print on paper and really missed the process.

graphite sketch main shapes made on parchment
then transferred to block surface with graphite paper

the model

During my recovery I would often sit outside in the sun and in a quiet wooded yard. There are a variety of birds that visit me. I am especially taken with the very friendly red-breasted nuthatch family that are treated with a little loose seeds or peanuts.

I thought it might be fitting to adapt a sketch from one of the observations to a block surface. It has progressed to carving of the negative surface areas. I have to decide whether to do this as a single block in black and white or visualize and carve additional plates to allow colour elements to be added the design. Or I could introduce colour via hand-colouring with water-based media into the single black and white image

Below are a few photos that show some of the early stages of developing the matrix from which the print will hopefully emerge on paper.

A side note: I used a wood engraving tool (known as a lozenge graver) to achieve small fine lines to define feather patterns in the wing. This worked well as long as the linoleum was cold and hard surfaced. For removal of wider size surface areas using traditional linocut tools I will generally heat the block first. The lino surface material is much easier to remove when it is warm.

fine lines removed on surface for wing definition 

lozenge graver (wood engraving tool) that was used for
the fine surface line removal in the wing area

progress print on scrap kozo paper using water-based block printing ink
transferred using a hard plastic rubbing tool