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I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Block Prints Require Testing?!

Ever since I met Andy Farkas, learned about his
craft and (swoon) acquired one of his prints, I have been
anxious to try printmaking.  Of course I dream of starting at the top
 but for once I decided to start at the lowest
 possible level of dabbling: the rubber block print.

Remember when I showed you how easy it was to craft a print out of the styrofoam tray under your fruits?  The next step is to carve from a rubber pad or a piece of linoleum.  So having had success with styrofoam I knew it was but a few short steps to Farkas-quality, right?

The top two carvings are done on small rubber-ish pads and then glued to a piece of wood to make them easier to handle.  The bottom pink pad is uncarved, look for these at Michael's or any art supply store.  The carving on the bottom right was done on linoleum, a much harder surface to carve but still easier than wood, plexiglass or metal.

Now remember my haunting lesson on test tiles?  Well, there needs to be an entire chapter on test tiles in the world of block prints....but I didn't take that class, did not read that book so I learned that lesson the hard way: experience.

These are the tools used for carving.  One was inexpensively acquired at a craft store, one was a bit nicer and bought at an art supply store and the fancy one on top was inherited (with a sharpening stone) when a friend weeded out her notions.  

Draw out a design and move it to tracing paper so that you can see how it fits on the block.  Remember that what you carve will be reversed when printed so you can flip it over if you want a different orientation.  Transfer to the block either with tracing paper or, on the rubber, going over the design with a very soft pencil and then rubbing that mark onto the accepting surface of the rubber.

Now the fun of carving.  Slow and patient.  It's almost meditative.  Two very important things to remember: you can't easily put back something you cut off AND your design will very likely change slightly as you carve away.  Spend some time thinking about what will show up as ink and what will show as paper.  You can see very faint lines in my paper drawing reminding me what to cut out.

Water soluble printers ink is used and I use a foam tray to roll it out on.  With a brayer (a rubber roller) ink the design.  You may upend the block to print or place the paper on top of it.  I tested both.

This makes it easy for me to use my fingers (or a clean brayer) to press down and be certain that the ink has made contact with the paper in every spot.  Then the paper is peeled back for the reveal:

oh yuck....not a very smooth print but something I have learned is not unexpected with a first run.

So that is just one reason "test tiles" become important...I can see that either I did not ink up enough or I missed the smoothing part.  So above is another test.  On the L I put the paper on top of the carving, on the R I turned the carving onto the paper.  Hard to see the difference on this photo but there is some change.  Notice anything else?  

I don't like my blank parts...they are too smoothly carved out and leave no tell-tale lines which would be more interesting especially around the stars.  I dug too deep in my judgement.  And?  look closely.

Where the mountain intersects the moon is a triangle that missed being carved out!  And ditto for the mountain edge on the far left.  How many prints did I make before I noticed this?  Luckily I can go back and re-carve between prints.

Thank goodness I "tested."  Another interesting test is varying the paper used to print on.  Some are so stiff they don't meet my needs at all, others too flimsy to last.  Finding the right paper is crucial and  one should save that for the last test so that you do not use up all "the good stuff" on bombs.

different papers, note the clean brayer in photo

Like Goldilocks and the three bears, this one is "just right." I made a mental note that I prefer the "white space" to be more interesting in future blocks but otherwise this printed well on the paper I used.  

So I'm like a reformed addict: test! test! my friends...and test again!  no, this is not the end of the story.  For someone who hates "do overs" it is ironic that my word "festina lente" implies a bit of slowness as one gathers steam.  When I explained Maggie's test tile approach (last weeks blog) to a friend, she summed it up nicely: "She goes slow so she can go fast."  Yes! Onward.


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