Thursday, May 22, 2008


One of my prints is featured on a Treasury in Etsy that made it onto the Etsy front page!

Here are the other artists who were listed (in case you come late to this post and the Treasury is no longer there) - please check them out, they're worth the e-trip:

WingedLion (Natalia Moroz)
magicjelly (Karena Colquhoun)
edamamepress (Amanda Gordon Miller)
mezzotint (Imogen Duthie)
anniebissett (Annie Bissett)
mLee (Marissa L. Swinghammer)
ellenshipley (Ellen Shipley)

Thanks Julie!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thoughts on new inks & press

I'd like to respond to some of the comments made about the Xocoatl post, as there are some good points that I'd like to make available to others (who might not think to read all the comments on a post!).

I, too, just started using [Daniel Smith water-soluble inks]. The consistency was fine (except for the yellow), but the drying time was crazy slow unless the paper was damp. Do you print successive colors right away or wait for each to dry? - Joan
Drying time of inks depends on paper, humidity, layers of ink, and of course the ink itself.

Prints on sized paper tend to dry slower than unsized because the sized paper can't absorb the moisture from the ink as well. If you soak or moisten sized paper before printing, you will remove at least some of the sizing (the longer you soak, the more sizing is removed, and the more the fibres swell to absorb more water into the interior of the paper, until, eventually, the paper is completely saturated - which is probably way too long for most relief printmaking techniques!), so that's why some relief printmakers like to soak/moisten their paper first.

Obviously, if you live in a humid environment, inks just dry slowly. As an aside, I had a rather entertaining thing happen to me when I was in Australia. I was working on little watercolour sketches as Christmas presents for the family that I was staying with, and I tried to use the salt technique: when you throw salt into still-damp watercolour painted onto paper, the salt draws the pigment-loaded moisture off the paper into the salt crystal and leaves neat trails of lighter areas in the painted surface. Really beautiful. Except, this time, the salt was absorbing the moisture from the atmosphere (it was about 95% relative humidity!), rather than from the pigment, so I just ended up with salt-watercolour. The point is, if there's lots of moisture in the air, any moisture from the ink will not be drawn up into the air. If you're inks cure (see below), that can also be affected by atmospheric conditions, as it is a chemical reaction.

With just one layer of ink, unless you're somewhere really humid, it shouldn't take more than a day (for the Daniel Smith water-soluble inks) to at least dry to the touch, but you should let them cure for at least a week before packaging or framing. If you create a print with lots of layers, the drying time in between layers increases more and more. Progressive layers of ink also reduce and eventually eliminate the paper's possible effectiveness at absorbing some moisture from the inks.

Another consideration about layers of ink is the thickness of ink that you apply. I've noticed that a number of self-taught relief printmakers have a tendency to use quite a lot of ink on their brayer in one go, rather than accumulating lots of thin layers to obtain that level of intensity of colour. I certainly did that until I took a course with a professional printmaker and discovered that I had waaaaay too much ink on my brayer. It makes a huge difference in drying time. Some tell-tale signs that you're probably using too much ink (other than ridiculously long drying time!) include:
  • ridges in the printed image where the surface tension of the thick ink pulls off the brayer and causes little pucker marks
  • fine details filling in very quickly
  • if you're observant enough, the ink also "zings" really stickily when there's too much ink as you're rolling the brayer over your inking slab. Zinging sound is good, just not super tacky-sounding for many relief printing inks (for comparatively tackier, like litho ink, the sound is different and stickier). That, of course, is entirely subjective, and requires that you just practice with your own inks & brayer.
Finally, if you're using an oil-based ink (like the Daniel Smith - they're still oil-based, just water soluble for ease of clean-up), the ink has to "cure" or polymerize to dry, rather than relying entirely upon evaporation of moisture like water-based inks.

So, with Speedball, I used to whip through about 5 or 6 layers of ink within a day's worth of printing, because Speedball inks pretty much dry by evaporation. Not any more with these new inks!! I waited about a day in between each layer (given that there were > 30 prints for each layer, I was happy to go and do something else!!), but really, for the last layer, I should have waited at least 2-3 days, as the third layer of ink wasn't quite dry enough to accept a fourth layer. But it worked out ok.
Richeson makes the blick presses. That being said, take a look at the phenolic bed. It's light and will not warp. Pretty happy with mine so far. - Curtis
Yes, I have heard great things about the phenolic beds; Dave's got an idea that we're both keen to try before we go spending more money on something that I might not actually need. Once he's had a chance to turn that idea into actuality, I'll definitely post the results here!
Ed: We didn't manage to successfully make a new bed, but it turns out that it's not necessary. The bed wasn't racking, it was the stupid "black linoleum" (vinyl) stretching under the pressure of the press. I just tested it again with a mounted block of linoleum; paper first, then block face down, and a heavy cardboard sheet to protect the roller, and voila! It worked beautifully. Baby press wonderful, vinyl I'm starting to hate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Printsy on Etsy

A few fellow printmakers with work on Etsy have banded together to form a new group ("Street Team") to promote printmaking and, of course, each others' fabulous work. We've got a new blog called Printsy: Printmakers of Etsy. We also have a Printsy group on Flickr.

Sparrow #4, Marissa Buchow, moku hanga print

Every Monday, the blog will feature a different Printsy artist, with information about their printmaking technique, style, influences, challenges & successes. This week's feature is about Marissa Buchow, "fustian" on Etsy, a moku hanga artist whose love of nature is beautifully expressed in her delicate work.

If you're a printmaking artist with a store on Etsy, please check out these pages and join up!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Xocoatl" - Exchange Print Spoiler

OK, not strictly true. I have actually done a little art lately.

I've signed up for the Four Oceans Press "Food Alphabet" exchange, and I'm doing "X". Why? Because I like a challenge. So a good chunk of my "art" time the last few months has been devoted to researching "xocoatl" (also "xocolatl"), the Mayan/Incan bitter hot chocolate beverage, and scheming how I'd use all this stuff in an image.

The other bits of "art" time have been spent procrastinating because I didn't really want to do almost 30 prints hand-burnished with my wooden spoon in reduction. So I was dithering about a design that would look good in monochrome, and that I wouldn't hate by the end of the process. Unfortunately, I was getting stumped. I also didn't really want to pull something 6"x8" entirely with hand-burnishing for that many prints; that is way bigger than I normally do, and it was somewhat discouraging.

Fortunately for me, we recently did a field trip to Seattle (and, Daniel Smith), and I got a very early birthday present. I am now the proud owner of a Richeson baby press.

Baby Press!!!!!

And it's lovely. And it did a beautiful job on the prints. Except...the press bed racks at the end of the pull. It's just the metal bed that came with the press, and it's not perfectly flat. When it racks, the print smears just at the end. So I don't have perfect registration on my prints (which really chaps my hide, but I'm just letting it be).*(see ed. note at bottom) The prints are actually really nice, they're just not perfect, which, I suppose, underscores their hand-made-ness.

Printing Xocoatl
holding the press bed in line to prevent racking

Dave has a scheme to make me a new press bed; I know I could just buy a replacement, but I really like his idea and am anxious to try it. Hopefully, he'll have an opportunity to make it before I do more printing.

Incidentally, not only is this the first print edition pulled on my brand new press, it's also the first time I've used the Daniel Smith water-soluble relief inks, and I think, really the first reduction edition I've pulled that is a) that large an edition in number and b) that physically large a print. So, all of these "firsts" add up to a bit of a learning curve, but I'm still really happy with the print.

By the way, darn Daniel Smith for not having 1 lb cans of transparent medium in this product any more - for all of you out there who use DS water-soluble inks, do you not use transparent base? Do you realize how much pigment you get with even about a half mix of each? Not to mention the lovely "glow" of inks layered through each other... I wish they'd bring the pounders back, but not enough people were buying them. Sigh.

OK, enough excuses (I seem to be doing a lot of that lately!), here's the process:

First layer was just a solid block of very subtly greened yellow. I used the back of my carving block to do it, and there were some interesting contour lines in the material that showed through in the print (but not enough to show on a scan or photo, unfortunately). Next layer was just red (with lots of trans base):

Xocoatl - 2nd state

Next layer was a rusty brown colour. Here's a shot of the inked piece of black linoleum, using a square at one corner for block registration, and pieces of tape with "t-bar" markings to do t-bar registration (I use the t-bar registration for lithographs and it seems to work pretty well overall).

Registration layout

Xocoatl - 3rd state

The final layer was a deep dark chocolate (of course!) colour:

Xocoatl, 2008
8"x6", edition of 30
Daniel Smith water-soluble relief inks on Strathmore Bristol

The elements of the design are what, arguably, the ingredients of the original xocoatl drink would have been made from. Clockwise from top left, vanilla bean, maize, achiote, chili pepper and of course, cacao. I'm very pleased overall with the print (save for the less than perfect registration, grrr), and I love the "noise" marks in the images, especially the pepper. I think that pepper is my favourite part of the whole print.
Ed: It's not the press. The bed wasn't racking, it was the stupid "black linoleum" (vinyl) stretching under the pressure of the press. I just tested it again with a mounted block of linoleum; paper first, then block face down, and a heavy cardboard sheet to protect the roller, and voila! It worked beautifully. Baby press wonderful, vinyl I'm starting to hate.


I have been quiet for a month (obviously). Partly, I bought a new computer, so setting that up took significant amounts of my spare "computer time". Partly, I've been more involved in the Federation of Canadian Artists - I'm now the Communications Committee Chair, which means I'm also on the Board of Directors, so there's some more responsibility there. Partly, I've had a significant amount of actual paid work, done on the computer, which also reduces any time I want to spend on the computer for "fun".

Finally, it's spring. We're gardening. We're traveling. I'm outside, and not inside, and I'm lazy doing no art.


Bare Branches II, single block relief print
3"x4", Speedball water-soluble inks on Strathmore Bristol 2006

I put two prints into the recent International Miniature Print Exhibition at the Ottawa School of Art, and both of them sold! The gallery/school has been less than brilliant at communicating anything to any of the participants. I had to find out that I was accepted through a printmaker in the area who went to the exhibition and let me know (and took photos of the exhibit itself). I had to find out that I sold one piece from her email, and another piece from my Aunt's email to me after she and her son had visited the show. I'm happy that I was accepted and thrilled that my work sold, but really, a little communication on the part of the organizers wouldn't kill them. Ah, well!

Where the Lilies Grow, reduction cut relief print
4"x3" (approx.), Speedball water-soluble inks on Strathmore Bristol, 2007