Friday, November 21, 2008

Book Exchange

I've been doing a lot of work lately with a wonderful group of creative artists called The Book Arts Roundtable based at the Baird in South Orange, NJ.  One of the things they do is to have a book exchange twice a year.  Everyone brings a book in a brown paper bag and puts it on the table and then we draw numbers and choose a bag to determine what book we go home with.   Each person shows the book they received to the group and the bookmaker gets to briefly describe their process.  This was only my second time doing this and I haven't really found my "voice" bookwise but I felt pretty good about this effort.  

My book began with scans of some rejects from a woodblock Christmas card I'd made a couple of years ago.   I came across this stash of leftovers--some had dodgy registration and some had too much ink mess in the margins.  I could clean up the margins using Photoshop and then I printed onto some interesting papers I found.    I chose four stages of the print.  For the front page of the book I used just a background print and then attached a vellum layer showing all the colors which could swing out of the way or back into registration.   I had cutouts in the cover to show details of the print.

I'd been wanting to try Coptic binding so I found a book that explained it and got to work.  I used a paper with an Asian theme which had a cloth backing for extra stability since the paper is what holds the signatures to the covers.   It was a challenge to cut the circles through the davy board for the covers but I persevered.   Note to self--find a  circle cutter that is happy to cut thicker material.

I have a Martha Stewart device which does pretty well on paper but the board was too much for it.    I enjoyed doing the Coptic process once I had the concept in my mind.   I wasn't happy with the floppiness of the binding so I added some little straps cut along design areas of the paper and glued them on which worked pretty well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I took a workshop last weekend, at the Baird in South Orange, with Miriam Scheuer in basic bookmaking techniques.   It was soooo hot in that 3rd floor room without air conditioning but it was worth the suffering.  The first day we learned lots of book forms, most of which didn't require gluing or sewing.  The second day we made two codexes.  One had exposed spine and the other was cased.  I hope I'm using my new vocabulary correctly.  I used some of my paste paper for the covers--the paper looks so much better in use than it did as a big sheet.  Anyway, it was very exciting and I feel ready to move into making artist books.  

Fun and Games

This is a surprise gift for my son.  I'm so certain that he doesn't read my blog that I think it's safe to post the progress.  The idea came from a crazy idea he thought of for how to frame his diploma because he majored in Ancient History.  He laughingly said it would have Roman gladiators and mythological characters cavorting all over the frame and emerging from it.   He said he didn't want some boring frame like everyone has. 

 So, I felt it was a challenge I might be able to take on.  My husband and I assembled a collection of plastic toys and cut them down so they'd appear to emerge from the frame and glued them down.  Then we gessoed the whole thing and then I mixed up some traditional gesso using rabbit skin glue, marble dust, tissue and linseed oil cooked up and used that to strengthen and smooth the joining areas.  I think we're going to spray it black, but the decision isn't final.  

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New arrival--a proof press!!

Well, I couldn't let that workbench stay  empty, could I?  I spotted this proof press on ebay within driving distance (thank you, husband) and I put in a bid and  fortunately won.  Then I panicked--was this really going to print type and wood/linoleum blocks? So I used the time before pickup day to do research and quell my fears.  I focused on registration since I think that's the weak point for a simple proof press like this as opposed to some of the Vandercook proof presses.

 The sellers were very nice people--someone in the family had taught printing in a school and had a shop in the basement.  I quickly checked the press and saw I was correct that it will print type-high stuff so that was a major relief!  It is a LinoScribe proof press.  Apparently there are some LinoScribes that  print rubber type that's only made by the company but other LinoScribes are for proofing and sign printing. 

 Before even cleaning up the press I eagerly got out an assortment of cuts and type and linoleum blocks and tried it out.  Oh my gosh--it worked great!  I love the dial on the side that changes the height of the roller.  I discovered that it has a nifty mechanism to hold the paper in place that consists of a row of "fingers" which are operated by a handle held tight by a spring.  The roller mechanism opens the "fingers" by depressing the handle when it is in the farthest position to the left.   After putting the paper in place you can roll the carriage just a bit and the "fingers" close tight.    

I can see I will need to keep notes on how high the roller setting should be for different kinds of printing material.    The grid that was in the press bed was filthy and damaged so I removed the bar that holds that in place which is at the opposite end of the press from the "fingers".  I replaced it with graph paper covered by a layer of acetate.  I'm thinking I can write on the acetate maybe. Or maybe I'll want to put a grid specific to each printing job under the acetate/mylar.  

  I can see there will be a period of experimentation before I figure out the best way to deal with registration.  I've seen plans online for a frisket and tympan device but since I already have a way to secure the paper that doesn't seem like the way to go for my situation.   Maybe some strong rectangular magnets would be good to make sure my block stays where I want it when I'm in a hurry and don't want to bother with locking up the traditional way?   Always lookin' for easy street!!!   Also, magnets would hold the graph paper/acetate down at the corners.  I can't see a way to secure them at the "finger" end of the press bed.

I would love any input from experienced users of presses like this--there's just not much on the internet that I can find.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I love Serendipity!

I found this piece of furniture at a thrift shop and immediately saw it as a carving station extraordinaire.  It already had the slanted top and I put on some wheels and drilled holes for the pegs so the block can be held steady in different positions and glued on some non-slip material.  I don't know if I'll stand or sit as I haven't tried it out yet.  I love the fact that it has drawers down both sides for tools, etc.   I wonder how I can customize it some more--maybe a corkboard above the desktop to hold references for carving?  Maybe some small pegboard to hold stuff?   The brakes on the wheels need some adjusting so they work better...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's taken some time, but I'm moved into my new 1/2 size studio space where I've moved all my letterpress stuff.  Once I had the presses and type and so on moved over, I realized I needed a work table.   Using a plan found online, my husband and I built this awesome and quite massive table.  The plans had a few mistakes in the measurements but we managed to work around them.  My enhancement was to put on wheels.  I collect them off of discarded metal things at our town's recycling center.  I look for the ball bearing kind and fortunately I had four nice ones.  They aren't the kind that have brakes which we were worried about.  The table moves easily but I think it's stable enough without the brakes.   The stain I first put on  emphasized the plywood aspect too much, so I painted over it with a nice neutral greenish gray.   The etching press in the background is not mine--it's in the other half of the studio which belongs to another artist.
Now, it's time to get some work done!

Monday, July 28, 2008


I have my 32 Moku Hanga woodblock prints done and will get them in the mail before the deadline--what a 
relief.  Ha ha--unintended pun!   For those non-printmakers, I'll explain.  A woodblock is a relief print, as in the ink is on the flat surface of the print when it is printed.  The negative/non-printing areas are carved away and below the surface.   What a relief!!  

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More Progress

I'm not sure why I couldn't get the text to upload in my last post but I'll try again today.  With days to go I am almost done!  I'm trying to be philosophical about the goof ups.  My prints will be 1/2" narrower than they should be but I'm hoping that's not as bad as being too big and it just couldn't be remedied in the time available.  I'm going to show the three colors I printed today.  I went over the sky with a gradation of the same blue color.  Then I did the green block and finally the gray of the road and cloud shadows.  I was too tired to attempt the black block as it requires some complicated adjusting of the registration.  Somehow the three color blocks are matched up but not to the original black block.  I decided to adjust the black instead of trying to change all the color blocks.  It was cowardly I confess.  I was afraid of having so many opportunities to make mistakes and the registration hell that would follow!  Now for take-out and a movie with my husband!!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Paste Paper Experiments

I've just gone through a period of trying out different recipes for paste paper and it was really fun.  I still haven't worked out what is the best paper to use and which paste is best.  There's something called Mohawk superfine that  I haven't found yet to try out.    I used some Fabriano Tiziano in colors and Strathmore series 400 acid free drawing paper in a big pad.  These all worked to varying degrees.  When you dampen the paper there is buckling which is hard to manage.  The Tiziano may have behaved the best but the Strathmore worked well, too.  I tried Japanese calligraphy paper in a pad which was no good at all--the colors weren't crisp and there wasn't enough contrast.   Maybe sizing is the issue...  There were so many variables and I should have kept notes but I was having too much fun and was too caught up in the design part of the process to do that.  Pastes that I tried:  white cake flour, wallpaper paste which said it was wheat paste, and rice flour cooked.  The rice flour required lengthy cooking.  I really think the biggest variable was whether I added some additives I read about--tincture of green soap and glycerine.  I would definitely add those in the future.   I even tried one batch using acrylic glazing medium with color but, surprisingly, it was dreadful.  The ink blurred after I made the design.   Since I'm not sure the wallpaper paste was actually methyl cellulose I plan to try the expensive version sold for bookbinding that is labelled as methyl cellulose next and see how that goes.  It's really easy to mix up which is good.  I've used it for Japanese woodblock and I like it.  One other possibility from woodblock printing is Nori paste which showed up for sale in a big jar container at my local art store.  I guess I would just water it down sufficiently. I wish the paper had a bit of shine and I read that methyl cellulose gives that effect.  There was an estate sale recently for some people who had a private press--The Golden Hind Press.  Arthur Rushmore was the pressman and his daughter Delight Rushmore designed paste paper for the books they printed.   The sale was almost over when I got there so not much was left, but I found an empty book cover made with the paste paper and bought it.  Thank you Delight!  My paper doesn't look nearly as good as hers but I like it nonetheless.  It's good to have as a sort of benchmark for success.  Hers is fairly shiny as if it were waxed.  I apologise for the quality of the photographs.

Monday, April 14, 2008

This is the kitchen pressurizing sprayer I use to apply an acrylic type aquatint.   I believe it's intended to be used for cooking oil.  You put the liquid in and screw on the sprayer top and then you slide the pump top onto the base and pump it until there's enough pressure.  I do this outside and use a dust mask to avoid breathing the aerosolized acrylic (Future floor polish or Lascaux hard resist).  I stand where there's a darking background so the droplets are visible and I spray up high into the air.  As the droplets fall I slide the copper plate horizontally into the cloud of descending spray and it settles on the plate very nicely.  I do this repeatedly until I have what I want, using a magnifier loupe to check the progress.   Windy days are a problem but I've managed to deal with even that

ot the patience to wait for the weather to cooperate!  I rinse out and pump and spray water through the sprayer as soon as I've finished applying the aquatint.  If I'm worried that some acrylic may have dried on it I put some ammonia in it and spray that but you need to hold your breath in that case.

Here's the sprayer taken apart--the top piece is the pump.  It's a pretty simple device.  There's a gasket you can't see that ensures that the sprayer makes a tight seal and holds the pressure.  I have another one that's all plastic and it has a crack in it but will hold the pressure pretty well in spite of that.

The last photo is of the pump on top ready for pressurizing.

If you look on my Etsy site you can see some aquatinted etchings I made with this process.

So here is the "Rats!" print.  I had to start over carving which is not something I like to do so I got to know this image very well.   I tried to use MDF and it carved really well but the minute water got on it the surface swelled up.  Perhaps if I had varnished before trying to print I could have avoided it but once it became uneven there was no remedy.  Well, it gave me a chance to refine the image...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Here are my prints all laid out to dry for the Barenforum's Chinese New Year exchange.  This is the year of the Rat.  I had a hard time warming up to the concept of rats but then I discovered all the people online who have pet rats and are apparently very fond of them.  VERY fond!   Do a Google search and you'll see what I mean.  So my rats are very well fed like pet rats and only a little bit mischievous.  I guess they're celebrating their year by nibbling on the calendar!  

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Here's a print from the first block I printed.  This is on an interesting paper from Indonesia someone gave me.
Here's one of my favorites--I like the way the pears glow.  It's so different from how I originally envisioned it but it doesn't matter!

Reduction Prints

I've decided to blog more regularly so today seems like a good day to add something--I took a two day workshop with Chuck Miley today and yesterday.  We worked on making reduction relief prints with  emphasis on drawing with our gouges.    It was liberating!  Although we made drawings from a still life, they became just a departure point.   Later I'll upload a picture of the black and white block prints but for today take a look at some of the multi color  prints!   

Monday, January 7, 2008

My new etching press-before and after.

The top image shows the press as it was when I got it.  Covered with paint splotches but essentially intact.  I used huge threaded pipes from the hardware store for the turning arms which I covered with good old duct tape. (See the second photo).  I am using MDF for the bed until I get something better.  I got wooden doll heads from Michaels for the handles (painted black) and for the knobs at the end of the tension adjuster rods which I cut out of plain metal rods.  

The gears really make it so much easier to turn than my old direct drive press.  I think my "Precious Monster" is looking pretty good now!!   Another story would be how I tried in vain to take the press apart to carry upstairs and managed in the process to drop the press on my finger turning it into a pulpy mess.  I recovered but have a new respect for PM.