Monday, 30 June 2014

Woodcut "Sea Nest" - 3D print

"Sea Nest" by Toni Hartill (sold)

"Sea Nest" by Toni Hartill

This artwork was a natural progression from my 2D woodcut images. I imagine rock pools as little treasure chests or waka huia of the sea. 
I also think of them as “sea nests”, nurturing and protecting the life forms inside. The nest can be either wall hung or can sit on a flat surface.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Woodcuts in the making - what am I learning?

I have followed through with my rock pool images, despite setbacks and technical issues, because I am determined to LEARN new tricks through doing. All too often I start on a project, have difficulties, shelve it, and therefore fail to learn from the experience. So... following on from my first rock pool image which started out as a reduction print, I thought I'd share some of the travails I have experienced as I endeavour to learn about woodcut printing.

When I google for information about using MDF/ customwood as a material for woodcuts it seems that people are fairly polarized in their views from "don't use it, it'll wreck your tools, it doesn't cut clean lines, it goes soft and furry..." to "it's cheap and easily obtained, it can be cut to any size or shape, it's easy to cut because it doesn't have a grain..."

My 2c worth: 
  • I use it because I have LOTS of off-cuts from making furniture so it IS cheap and to hand. 
  • It comes in large sheets 2400mm x 1200mm so it can be cut to any size or shape. It can also be bought in smaller sizes from hardware supplies or craft shops.
  • It IS easy to cut because it has no grain.
  • Unsealed, the texture of the MDF can show when printing blocks of colour. If you don't want this effect I dealt with this by undercoating the plate first with a standard undercoat-primer and sanding the surface.
  • It is hard on your tools - it blunts them fairly quickly so you need to keep them honed.
  • It doesn't like getting wet - it will swell, go fluffy, fall apart - so either seal it with shellac if you are going to need to wash the plate or, as I do, just put the plate through the press repeatedly with newsprint to remove the ink as much as possible.
  • You don't want to be breathing in the dust so wear a dust mask as a precaution but if if you are cutting with chisels you are unlikely to be snorting up wood chips (I would hope).
  • Don't over tighten the press because you can crush MDF but it is pretty robust.

Reduction print: image marked up with a
Sharpie marker to make cutting easier.

"Anchor Me"
Reduction Print

I was fairly pleased with the results of this first print but
I wondered what it would look like with a second tone of colour.

The image re-cut as 3 separate plates, still in a rectangle format.

So, step 2: I decided to cut 2 more plates to accompany the black plate but there was still something that bothered me:  it was very difficult to ink up a rectangular plate and NOT get ink where I didn't want it, especially in the hole in the middle. For this style of image I wanted it to be really clean edged. I don't have a hard, large roller that is wider than the plate so I am trying to ink up in all directions with a much smaller roller.

So... I cut around the images with a scroll saw and chiseled and sanded the edges to a bevel all around.

The plates have been cut out with a scroll saw
and the edges sanded to a bevel all around.

Of course, this was going to make registering a bit tricky! My solution: I drew cross-hairs on the back of the plates and matched this to lightly drawn cross-hairs on my printing paper. It took a fair amount (LOTS) of fiddling around to get it worked out initially and would have been much easier had I started out with this intention. 
TIP: Don't draw pencil lines where you will be printing - it will show through the ink and you can't erase it once it is printed over!

Backs of the plates showing cross-hairs for registering.

I liked the cleaner edges I achieved through doing this so big tick so far. 

Next step: I wanted to create a more organic image and I wanted to see what it would be like with more colours. Of course, why not make it trickier! So, a new image was drawn up and 4 plates were cut. 

I undercoated the MDF this time and sanded the surface to see if I might get a cleaner print. Interesting to note that any brush marks will print which can give a lovely effect, rather like wood grain. 
Note to self - this is something to experiment with further next time.

To work out the 4 plates I designed, cut and printed the black plate first. I then scanned this into my computer, opened it in Photoshop and used "layers" to "play" with colour options and placement. Inspired I thought! Oh how I love technology!

The 4 blocks that make up the image "Deep Down"

First block printed.
Note the light pencil registration marks on the paper
which match up with the cross hair pencil marks
on the back of each block.

Inking up the 2nd block.
Note: I did 2 colour versions of this block,
one with a purple and one with a more muted soft grey.

Printing the 2nd block.
This shows how it was not an easy task to register the overlapping blocks with each other.

The 2nd block printed.
This is a purple version of the print.

This is the 3rd block printed (over a grey version of block 2).

The final block inked and ready to print.

The final (4th) block registered and ready to print.

"Deep Down" ~ The completed image (purple version).

Although there were lots of little niggles along the way I've been learning lots of things through trial and error.

 My biggest gripe, ongoing, is the quality of the printing inks. I've tried Fas water-based inks: they give clean, bright and glossy colours BUT they remain water soluble. Next I used water-based Flint inks BUT the red and blue are grainy and leave tiny speckles in light colours which is not desirable when you are wanting a nice clean image. Researching relief inks perhaps I should use oil-based inks BUT aaaargh, I can't stand the cleanup. I know Charbonnel Aquawash may be an alternative but they are expensive and I'd love to hear first-hand if anyone has used them for relief prints. 

So, if anyone out there can recommend inks that they use for relief prints of this sort I'd love to hear from you.

Hope you find something useful in my experiments. Happy printing!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Woodcuts on Show - in Hawera and Takapuna, NZ.

I have just hung work in an exhibition with my print group, Waitakere Printers Ink, at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. Determined to continue to develop my skills using woodblocks I created a series of prints based on my continuing theme of rock pools. 

The first image I created was a 2 colour reduction print called "Anchor Me." The title was inspired by the shape of the image which reminds me of the shape of a traditional Maori anchor stone. I was also exploring the idea of what it might be like to retreat into a rock pool to hide from the outside world, safe and secure - anchored - (ignoring any risks of hungry crabs of course!) There is also a bit of ambiguity here, are we, the viewer, looking INTO a pool or are we looking OUT? 

"Anchor Me"
Reduction Woodcut Print
by Toni Hartill

For the second image I wanted to explore the possibilities a little further so I designed and cut 2 more blocks to print two tones of teal green prior to the black layer. This image is richer in colour and yet less punchy as there are no white highlights. For the presentation I layered up 4 prints, cutting out the centre of the image and rotating each print until I was happy with the composition. I titled this print "Set Me Free" as a follow-on from "Anchor Me". This time I was imagining what it might be like to have the freedom to go off on an adventure in a rock pool (again ignoring the munchy things.)

"Set Me Free"
3 Block Woodcut prints, layered
by Toni Hartill

For my next image I wanted my rock pool to be less symmetrical, more free-form. I was inspired by actual rock pools at Takapuna Beach for this one and I was particularly taken with the fluted barnacles that grew in "blossoms" around the pools. Taking what I had learnt from the last print I decided to make things even more tricky for myself and go for 4 blocks. This of course increased the challenge of registering each layer (but since when do I take the easiest route?!) My initial vision was to create an image with quite vibrant colours (as the real rock pools are a deep pinky purple) but I also wanted to see it in more muted colours, more restful. I also experimented with adding texture to the water of the pool, giving the impression of being IN the pool, looking out, hence the title "Deep Down".

"Deep Down"
4 block woodcut print
by Toni Hartill
"Deep Down"
4 block woodcut print
by Toni Hartill

In April I sent one of my woodcut prints, "Deep Down", to the Lysatt-Watt Gallery in Hawera to be a part of the Central Print Council's "Devil in the Detail" exhibition. The theme of the exhibition required the print to either include the letter D in the image, or for the title of the work to begin with D.  Although I couldn't make it to Hawera in person to see the exhibition it looks like it was a wonderful show of members from around the country. Thanks CPCANZ.

My print "Deep Down" can be seen just to the left of the arch.