This project was quite an adventure! I've never attempted a woodblock print this large. Each color was carved from a 24"x24" sheet of baltic birch plywood. To print an edition from blocks this large I would have to work with a press (rather than my usual wooden spoon). I found press time surprisingly difficult to find, used-presses-for-sale equally difficult to find, and new presses difficult to afford. After a good deal of research and contemplation I decided to attempt something difficult. I built my own printing press. To do so, I watched a few relevant YouTube videos, ordered plans, and made my own way. The plans helped, but as a wise man once told me, "The instructions are just one man's opinion." Luckily, I'm patient and willing to fail forward. To my surprise, the press works fairly well. It has some "character" which it shares with every print it makes.
This was the first time I used my plunge router for carving a printing plate. This tool came in handy for removing large amounts of wood and for cutting out the letters. Note: this wasn't a stencil job. I traced the letters (in reverse) onto the plywood and vary carefully watched and moved the router according to those lines. You can see a little human error in the "o" of "for" where the router slipped and grazed the surface. Fine details were carved with chisels.
I decided to switch to Akua soy-based inks for this project. This was another first and I think I'll stick with them. Mixing primaries worked well, they don't dry up in storage, and water clean-up is a big plus.
Speaking of ink, I've never had to ink blocks this large. Necessity mothered another invention and I designed and built a 25" wide ink roller with PVC, plywood, some hardware and a sheet of rubber. Like the press, it works mostly well. Like the press I'm willing to play with irregularities.
The paper has been sitting in my flat files for years. My grandmother, Ikuko, has given me fine handmade Japanese paper over the years. She has stopped making large sumi-e ink paintings and has gradually been giving me supplies. She brought this handmade mulberry paper back with her from Japan years ago. It has a velvety touch, long grain, and holds human gestures from its makers.
Texture seems to be a recurring theme in my work. For this project, I emphasized the wood grain by abrading the wood with a steel brush. I also placed canvas behind the paper to give the tan ink a woven texture. The handmade paper and my slightly wonky press provide a little "growl" to the surface, keeping things from getting too predictable. I like the way this print has a simple design, but complex surfaces. There's clarity if you like that and ambiguity if you like that. Even though printmaking is a process of making multiples, the textural elements of this edition combine to create many "one-of-a-kind" pieces. The prints in this edition are obviously brothers and sisters, but they're not identical twins.
There are two editions. 5 prints were made with a gray background, tan acorn, and dark brown shading. 9 prints were made with a blue background, tan acorn, and reddish brown shading. To get these 14 prints, nearly 100 tests were printed and tweaked to check ink color, carving, pressure, and alignment. I have a big stack of misprints on cheap paper and a few on good paper too.