Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gyotaku - Fish Printing - Part II

While I wasn't able to participate in the actual printing of the coho salmon, the process of applying inks etc. is the same. Here are some differences in the set up.

If the salmon has been gutted, then the body cavity should be packed with paper towel to return the body to the correct form. The gill cover needs to be super glued down (remember to let it dry completely before laying the fabric down!). Also, if the fish has not been gutted, the vent (anus) should be super glue sealed.

If you wish to have the fish's mouth open, then pack the inside with more paper.

The fish will need a cradle carved out of styrofoam. If the piece of styrofoam is large enough, you should carve out just enough for the body to sit in, but not the tail fin. If too small, then the styrofoam should be cut to surround the body of the fish, and taped down, holding the fish stable in place.

The fins (dorsal, pelvic, anal & adipose, if there) will need to be carefully cut from the body, laid onto a piece of mylar, and glued down, in the correct direction off of the fish, open in the way you'd like them to be printed. Once they're glued down, use another piece of mylar to trace the outline of each fin, and cut out the fin shape. This will act as a printing template so that when you print the fin, the ink doesn't go beyond the fin itself.

The tail (caudal fin) remains attached to the fish. You can spread it out & glue down with a water-soluble glue onto a piece of card, then angle the tail to get a nice shape. Obviously, the cradle for the fish has to be cut to accommodate the final overall shape you'd like your fish to sit in.

Once the fish has been set up in its cradle, you need to apply glue all over the body. In this case, Yamamoto-sensei utilized a water-soluble glue that would easily wash off once the print was finished. He gently applied the glue in long strokes along the length of the body.

Yamamoto-sensei suggested gently pressing down with both hands against the fabric, smoothing out along the body.

Yamamoto-sensei used a hair drier to speed up the drying process.

Yamamoto-sensei then applies a cut-out masking tape mask over the eye; it will not be printed, but later on carefully painted with a brush.

While awaiting for the glue to dry completely, it's a great time to make the tampo. Cotton is shaped into a smooth, rounded-top ball. Gently centre a square of fine silk over the ball, and grasp loosely to form the shape of the tampo.

Once you've got the tampo shaped, wrap an elastic band around the neck. It's very tricky to get the right softness to the tampo, with enough "give" at the neck. Very small tampo are made in a similar manner, but with a rounded toothpick inserted.

I don't have any final print pictures of the salmon, but generally, the ink is applied in the same manner, from light to dark. The body is printed first, then the ink heat fixed, and then the fins are printed and heat fixed. Finally, the eye is painted and heat fixed. Please see Yamamoto-sensei's gallery on his site for samples of his work. Yamamoto-sensei has posted photos from our workshop on his gyotaku website.

This was a great workshop, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this method of printmaking.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gyotaku - Fish Printing - Part I

This weekend (August 25-26, 2007), my Mom (Betty) & I attended a gyotaku or "fish printing" seminar, with Mineo Ryuka Yamamoto, in Campbell River, British Columbia. Yamamoto-sensei uses the "indirect" method of fish printing: the ink is applied to a fine polyester or silk cloth, which is laid over the object being printed, so that the texture comes through the cloth and shows up as the ink is deposited on the high points of the subject but not on the low points (just like relief printing!). The result is a beautifully detailed, extremely fine print of the fish (or just about anything else).

The tradition of gyotaku apparently began when fishermen were competing to see who had the largest catch. Fishermen from far away couldn't get their catch to the competition fast enough before their catch began to shrink from dessication. Someone decided to make a print of their fish and send that - all that was needed for proof was the "fork length", from tip of the snout to the fork of the tail. One of the oldest surviving fish prints, from the mid-nineteenth century, is on exhibition in Japan. Yamamoto-sensei has been printing for about 35 years, and has printed many creatures from fish to crustaceans & molluscs, to insects, reptiles & mammals (including humans)! Details of his work can be found on his website (in Japanese), and information about upcoming North American workshops at International Fish Print Studio.

On our first day, we printed a dungeness crab, and the second day, students printed a coho salmon. In this first part, I shall overview the process for the crab. This is merely an overview, and by no means meant to replace Yamamoto-sensei's detailed instruction. If you are interested in this process, I highly recommend
contacting Yamamoto-sensei
to arrange attendance at one of his workshops. He is a wonderful teacher; very patient, with a gentle sense of humour, and he is very generous with his assistance and knowledge.

Yamamoto-sensei took us through all the steps required to produce an indirect-printed image. First the (marine!) subject must be cleaned thoroughly. Set up of the subject is the next, and in some respects, the most time-consuming part. Yamamoto-sensei says that he can spend up to 40% of the overall time on set up alone. With the crab, you can arrange the legs any way you'd like, but you need to use a very lightweight "paper clay" to set them up so that everything is as level with the back of the carapace as you can get it. Whatever is below "level" will not be printed.

Yamamoto-sensei arranging his subject, laying "paper clay" to support the legs.

Once the subject is completely arranged to your preference, and is patted as dry as possible, you need to apply glue. In this case, we used a spray adhesive. Once the glue is thoroughly applied, gently lay your piece of cloth over the subject smoothly. Once the fabric has been placed, gently tamp the fabric into place, and work out the air pockets & bubbles, working from the highest points down to the lowest points of the crab.

Yamamoto-sensei gently tamping the fabric down onto the subject.

The inks are specially formulated oil-based inks that Yamamoto-sensei has developed for this indirect method fish-printing (although he also applies them in a similar manner for direct printing when he wishes to print onto heavier cloth, such as a cotton t-shirt). You must make a tampo, a silk-covered cotton ball (I'll go over making them in a later post), in order to gently dab thin layers of ink onto the material over your subject. Very delicate work is done with a tiny tampo made on a toothpick. Sometimes you need to mask your material from the ink with either a mylar template, or a piece of cut or torn blotting paper, so that the ink doesn't bleed beyond where you wish it to appear.

Yamamoto-sensei applies ink with a tampo, using blotting paper to prevent ink bleed.

The ink is applied from lightest to darkest, in very thin layers. You have to gently tamp the ink repeatedly in one spot in order to get sufficient build-up, but it's easy to go too far, or to blob on too much ink at any time. Patience is definitely the order of the day for this method!

Work in progress - my print of the underside of the dungeness crab.

Once the inking is complete, gently remove the fabric from the subject.

Betty's completed print being removed from the crab.

Once the print has been removed, the ink needs to be heat-set, so the piece is ironed, face down, between two sheets of craft paper. Once fixed, the eyes and feelers can be painted on. Again, the print has to be heat fixed. The piece should be washed to remove any "juicy" stains from the subject. If you wish, you can mount your image onto a decorative paper mount.

Yamamoto-sensei applying glue to the hand-made, hand-dyed mounting paper.

Next, the piece is carefully laid onto the glued mounting paper.

Finally, air bubbles are gently brushed away from the centre outwards, using a very soft, wide brush.

Once the piece has dried overnight, the mounting paper can be gently released from the mounting board with the fabric still attached to the paper. This can then be mounted and framed as desired.

As with any other work of art, the piece is signed, and in this case, sealed with a chop.

Yamamoto-sensei applies his signature and chop to his finished work.

As with any other printmaking method, there are many challenges with this one. We were using cooked crabs, so the legs had fallen off of many of our subjects. While that wasn't such an enormous problem for those who chose to print the back of the carapace of the crab, I really wanted to print the under parts, because the textures are so very interesting. I had to crazy glue the legs of my crab back in place, which didn't work very well. I thought that the glue had set completely, but it hadn't, so the crazy glue also bonded to my fabric. I now have lovely rents around the points where I'd had to reattach the legs, but with the mounting paper, the damage is not as severe. Definitely wait for all crazy glue to dry!!!!

Inking requires much patience, especially with such a detailed, fiddly subject as a crab with all of its legs at different angles & levels to the main carapace. Getting the correct amount of ink on the tampo and then getting it onto the fabric carefully without bleeding is also a challenge. And finally, when you do heat-set the inks, they seem to ooze a bit and loose crispness. Perhaps if we let them dry a little first? Or maybe the heat was too high? And the final challenge for me was of a physical nature: the oil-based inks made be very nauseous by the end of the day, so I was not able to print the salmon on the next day. This method is obviously something that would take years of practice to refine, as demonstrated by Yamamoto-sensei's facility and skill with this technique.

Success!! Betty, Yamamoto-sensei & Amie
(samples of Yamamoto-sensei's work in background, and on his t-shirt!)

Betty's final mounted print

Friday, August 17, 2007


I haven't been doing much art this week, because I'm stuck on an image. I know what ultimately I'd like to do, but I haven't yet figured out a way to get there. As discussed in my previous post, Natalia Moroz's technique of combining reduction & multiple plates for colour complexity intrigues me, and I'm trying to figure out how to integrate it into this new image. I usually need to have a really good idea of the procedure involved before I can start work. Sometimes, it evolves as I progress, but with something new, I need to do a lot of thinking first. Many artists think on paper; they sketch up what they want to achieve. I do not have that habit developed; I'll usually write in words what I want, maybe with a few sketches. But for some reason I really need to visualize not just the end result image, but the whole process from start to finish.

So bear with me a while longer as I work out the kinks - I'll post the results or the next stages of the process as soon as I can!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Highs and Lows of Reduction

Here's the latest contribution to the portfolio.

"Where the Lilies Grow"
Speedball water based ink (6 colour run) on Strathmore Bristol, cut from vinyl, edition size 6, dimensions 100mmx71mm (roughly, but slightly smaller than, 4"x2 3/4").

1. I wanted to convey a cathedral-like atmosphere; the place where these tiger-lilies were growing was by a road cutting through northern forest. The trees in the background seemed to be uplifted and bringing the lilies up with them. So here's the underlying composition I was using:

Doesn't really quite line up properly here, but the idea was to have a vanishing point off beyond the paper, to give it the image some lift.

2. Something I'm extremely happy with is the "relief quality" feel of this piece. I sometimes struggle with the medium; I don't necessarily make use of that special quality of the relief print where there's tool marks, and the special kind of tool marks inherent in relief printing. Here's a close up of the upper left hand corner where I feel this was particularly successful:

This is also a good example of why I enjoy using reduction - I feel that the layering of the colours is particularly lovely in this passage.

3. Something I constantly struggle with and am not happy about is smudginess in parts where there's a large area that's been cut away and non printing surrounding a tiny area I want to print with the last colour when I'm down to my last state of the plate.

This is an example from one of the prints that did not make it into the edition. What a pain that it happens AT THE VERY LAST COLOUR. Argh. One of the pitfalls to reduction!

The more I read on the printmaking section of the WetCanvas! forum, and the more I work with the vinyl blocks & Speedball inks, the more I figure I need to buy some better materials. So I'm awaiting my litho friend's list of litho goodies he wants before I put in an order to Daniel Smith for some stuff. I've had a look at people's suggestions throughout the forum on inks & papers, so I've got some ideas of what I'd like to try. I'm afraid I'm going to stick with water based for now, mostly from the fumes perspective (oil-based inks make me nauseous), although I might sample the water cleanup oil-based inks at some point. I'm also thinking about Natalia's technique of combining reduction & multiplate once I get some lino blocks. I can't do that with sufficient exactness yet because I cut and size my own vinyl blocks, and I'm not precise enough to get good alignment for multiplate printing. Besides, the material is squidgy, so it can deform, thus two cut as exactly as possible might still not align properly.

Anyway, I'm still learning, and still figuring out things with this medium, and having a lot of fun doing it. Overall, I'm quite pleased with this edition (wish it had been a wee bit larger, but... ehn), and I'm very happy with the way the image worked out; it was definitely what I saw in my mind. And I really like the colours, too, kind of delicate. I think the feeling is just right.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Miniature Challenge

I just discovered Wet Canvas!, an internet artist community with amazing stuff. One of the groups is the Miniature Art section, and in there they have a monthly challenge. I decided what the heck! They post a few different photos, and you have to produce a piece that is no larger than 12 square inches in any media, based on at least one of the photos. So this was my contribution:

New Castle Lighthouse photo by karenjh
Dimensions: 10cmx6cm (roughly 4"x2 3/8")
Medium: Relief block print carved from vinyl/synthetic block, Speedball water-based ink, printed on Strathmore Bristol paper. Haven't finished the edition yet, so I don't yet know the size.

I'm rather pleased with the texture of the clouds & sky, and I was delighted at the texture of the lighthouse itself. While the original is actually of stone, this has the feel of a wooden structure, which is kind of neat.

Monthly challenges are a great way to get the old gears moving. I get stuck in a rut; not so much that I have no ideas (I usually have plenty) but I don't necessarily know where to start or which one to work on. I find that I prefer to figure out a way to do something first before I tackle it, then progress through it. I suspect that comes from my scientific background!

Saturday, August 4, 2007


This is my latest print. I'll start with the first state, and work up through to the last (although there is a divergence at one point which resulted in two final states, but the difference is subtle; I'll show them both). The image was provided to me via a Daily Kos contribution on ravens in San Fransisco. I contacted the author and received not only permission to use the image, but a higher resolution copy to work from.

This is a reduction cut relief print. For those of you who are not printmakers, this process basically involves removing material from your plate, leaving behind the colour of the paper, and eventually, subsequent ink layers. Once you've finished with the last carving, that's it, you can't do any more prints on this edition, because the block changes after each layer of colour. So generally, you start of printing more than you'll eventually want in the edition, because chances are good that you'll have to use some as a proof, or want to keep some to represent one of the progress states, or you might just muck up something (e.g. registration) and not want to keep that print in the edition.

One of the benefits of the reduction method is that colours build on the paper, rather than being separate from each other (which happens when you're using many plates to achieve multiple colours), sort of like doing washes or glazes in painting. While these inks aren't transparent, they're not strictly opaque, either, so there is subtle interaction of colours in the layering.

This image was carved out of vinyl/rubber block (kind of like Speedball's "SpeedyCut" but cheaper, and consequently, less consistent in quality), and printed on black Stonehenge 245g paper using Speedball water based inks, and hand burnished. The final image dimensions are 7"x4".

So the first state (of which I did keep one, 'cause I kinda like it):

The ink colour is a very pale greenish grey. Note the black colour of the paper shows where I removed material from the original block of vinyl.

Next state:

The gradations are achieved by a technique using the brayer (roller) to blend the inks together before applying them to the paper. I first brayered on the mid-value grey blue, and the light value mauvy pink, then did a rainbow roll of the two to merge them together. Notice how strongly the words on the road sign leap out at you still? Well, that really bothered me, so here's the modification (and final version for this state):

Next, I carved away almost the entire background, and wanted to provide a uniform mid-value for the signs. At the top of the image, I did a faded roll (kind of like rainbow, but instead of a second colour, I just carefully feathered out the ink to almost, but not quite, the edge of the brayer) with a darker indigo colour and got the third state:

You think I would have learned from the second state above that clearly cut words REALLY draw the viewer's eye (i.e. the stop sign).

Nope! Had to print it first then smack my head, do a little more carving and got the final version (although, looking at the digital image, it isn't quite as bad as it was in real life; trust me, it was worth fiddling with). Here's the slightly alternate final based on the first version of the second state. Note that the lettering on both signs is now sufficiently obscured to not draw the eye too much.

So I didn't really need to obscure it for the second state, but I actually like the bit of light value in the final version, which is this one:

I realize the reproduction of these isn't brilliant, everything is actually a little lighter and clearer in real life, but you get the idea. Enjoy!

Welcome to Burnishings

Welcome to my printmaking blog. I am a printmaker, primarily relief prints. For those of you who have no idea what printmaking is, the Edinburgh Printmakers have a great summary description. Original art prints are works of art created by hand with various tools, media and equipment. In order to create a relief print, you have to first carve or remove material from your printing block, or matrix. The material remaining on the block is what is printed. Ink is applied using a roller, or brayer. The ink is transferred to the paper using either a press, or by rubbing the back of the paper by hand, a process called burnishing. As I do not currently have a press, all of my relief prints are produced by burnishing, hence the name of my blog.