Experimenting with camera settings and Photoshop: suminagashi prints

I’ve been taking photos of the last suminagashi batch so that if and when I cut them apart, I won’t miss them.  😉  (Part of the nature of suminagashi is that it never turns out the same way more than once.)  This set turned out much more photogenic than the last — although that may also be partially due to my experimenting with the light settings on my camera.

Today was overcast, so I used the “Cloudy” setting on my camera, even though I was indoors with only window light.  This gave me a batch of photos which appeared dim (all values were shifted towards the black point in the Levels histogram), though I was able to adjust how the computer read the files by using a Levels adjustment layer in Photoshop and hand-tweaking each color layer, which worked out more aesthetically pleasing than letting the computer take care of it through Auto Levels.  I’m actually really amazed that it worked (for most of them, anyway):

Heh!  Nice!  Ah, right:  I’m hoping you can click on the images to see a larger version!

Like I said in the last relevant entry, I changed my working pattern for this set.  I can see where it would be useful to rinse off some of my papers after printing them — two or more got a weird haze of ink over the top (though I tossed one of them because it was so messed up); another got blotched by my not drying excess water, which caused a pooling effect.  Overall, though…it worked!

I’m trying to fight an urge to go back and try this again…mostly because I don’t want to have to clean off the craft table again, but….

All right! Getting better at suminagashi

Yeys. 😉 I had another go with the suminagashi tonight. Overall, this batch looks much better than the first — though again, I was doing it with little sunlight remaining.  Right now the prints are being pressed; I should be able to document them tomorrow (I mentioned the trouble in taking photographs in artificial light, here). I should be able to post photos of them, tomorrow.

The colors are much nicer in this batch. I think that before, maybe I wasn’t using enough ink — and I was too conservative in my color schemes, plus I was agitating the water too much (which probably thinned the floating ink out). I met with a necessity to dispense a few more drops of Sumifactant toward the end (it was getting too dilute), as well as a few more drops of yellow.

Something also seemed to be happening with the ink getting mixed with the Sumifactant from a coated brush:  I had an issue with my blue ink towards the end of the printing process which resulted in the layer of ink not spreading as far as it should have (it only spread a little, whereas at the beginning, it spread expansively). I’m thinking that the issue had to have been related to surface tension.

In any case, I now have a new bunch of prints being pressed to dry. I should change out the papers soon; I can cut some Kraft paper down to size. No use utilizing the nice paper (copy paper:  not that nice, but can be put to other uses) for interleaving:  I’m also afraid that the chemicals used in printing will cause an ink transfer of my throwaway papers.

I also have one big, really nice print in semi-B5 size (7″x 10″, in Wet Media paper) in pink and violet.

But, things learned (other ones, at least?):

Skimming the old ink remnants off the top of the vat of water is not a crime. I did this with some old copy paper already used for interleaving, last night, which I think helped me avoid ink fragmentation in the empty areas of the prints (a bane that I found in my first batch last night).

And copy paper isn’t good for suminagashi printing, I found with my last print.

Don’t be afraid to use too much ink! Although yes, it was a precious commodity at school, where we all had to share one kit, realistically the Boku-Undo set of inks is designed to be dispensed drop by drop (using the included floating papers instead of Sumifactant).

Don’t be afraid to mix colors! I think that color mixing is the reason behind giving us the colors they did in that set:  I made a rich latte brown by contaminating orange with blue, but didn’t see it until I was rinsing out the palette. So it’s possible to go way beyond just using the inks straight. I had been mixing secondary colors (e.g. violet) and some tertiaries (yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-violet), but not ones with three or more distinct hue components (orange [red plus yellow] plus blue). The possibility of mixing earth tones is open to me.

I’ve got to be more careful about letting air bubbles underneath the papers. It happened at least three times this last time, and it’s really annoying if you’re going for an overall print that isn’t messed up somewhere in the middle.

Speaking of which — I may end up cutting my prints down with a straightedge and gridded cutting mat, because the interesting areas are generally not around the corners (which is where I was going to put my linocut prints, before cutting them apart). I do have a T-square, though it isn’t of much use without using a drafting table; I also have a plastic L-square, though, which may come in handy (it’s a ruler shaped like an “L” which can be lined up on my gridded cutting mat). I’ve just got to be careful not to shave down the L-square with my knife:  mine is probably intended to be of more use in marking than in cutting. I’ve just looked this up, and metal L-squares do exist:  something to keep in mind if I’m going to be doing a lot of prints!

My semi-B5 pad (7″x 10″) is about the right size for taking one big print of the vat, and even though it feels like a risk, I’m not lacking paper if it gets messed up. Plus, I can always cut down:  it’s harder to tape up.

I avoided using black ink at all in this last round, after seeing how it muddied some of my prints yesterday. It’s possible to mix a black with the three primaries, though it reveals color overtones when laid in the vat. I did still get a couple of muddied prints, which I remember (now) some students trying to save by putting them under running water. I just tossed them, though the thought of saving them is interesting. I should also remember that I can make other prints using the backs of messed-up sheets.

The blue given in the Boku-Undo set looks like a cyan to me, in pure form. To get Ultramarine hue, it needs to be mixed with red and a touch of green (which seems to cancel out some of the red and darken the tone towards black). I didn’t realize that my violet pan had turned Ultramarine last night until a relatively late stage. The blue just keeps getting darker and darker when contaminated with red — until it looks black — but that’s actually a concentrated violet (which doesn’t look so concentrated at all, when laid on the surface of the water). The green must dull it down slightly, this being why I started seeing it as burgundy (a desaturated violet-red) after a good amount of red was added (past the violet point)…muddied, it mellows out into a really nice deep reddish color. But I can’t remember how this looked when printed.

Oh, and:  today I tried agitating the water less, using mostly breath to ripple the water instead of a paintbrush handle (though I did use a brush handle a couple of times). This enabled bolder patterns and larger areas of color. I’m actually fairly amazed at how much more pleasant to look at, this batch is than the last one.

I’ll go cut down some papers to press my new little things, now…

One last remark:  I am having a really good time doing art without having drawing be central to the work. This stuff requires a lot of cutting and alternative methods of making images, but it’s still really fun! I was mentioning to the folks that even when just given different drawing implements, it changes one’s technique. And I’m not used to this, and it’s awesome. 🙂

Return to suminagashi

I’ve just gotten through my first suminagashi (Japanese ink marbling) attempt since…the time I first learned the technique, years ago.  It’s pretty simple, and fairly fast:  my biggest problem was not having the space to let as many prints dry as possible.  Because of this — and because I entirely forgot about my Stonehenge cotton rag hand-printing paper when in the process of prepping my papers (during which I got to play around with a mat cutter, paper, and a cutting mat [hahaha sharp things]) — I somehow avoided printing any of the Stonehenge!  Gah!  It wasn’t even on my mind!

The good part of this is that I was able to mess up on papers not nearly as precious.  As it was my first time in years doing this form of marbling, there were the inevitable prints which didn’t turn out as I liked — about five of them.  It wasn’t so bad, though:  there are at least nine prints which came out of the set which are pleasant enough to behold.  I had been planning on trying to do the “crocus” prints on top of them, though I hadn’t planned on using Wet Media and Drawing papers for that!

Beh.  (“But, ehhh.”)  Anyway.  I’m dealing with Sumifactant, Boku-Undo inks, and really cheap brushes, along with a disposable tray of the type used to cook turkeys, copy paper for interleaving, and some of my most-hated textbooks as weights.  😛  I know the Boku-Undo are non-toxic; the Sumifactant, I’m not sure about, but what I heard from Colophon Book Arts (here is their “Oriental” page) was encouraging.  Of course, though, I got the stuff…years ago.  The page says it lasts indefinitely when tightly capped.

I don’t know why it hit me tonight that, “hey!  I can do this!”  What I do know is that the sun is down and as such I won’t be able to take any appreciable photos of the prints under artificial lighting.  (Not only is the lighting in the area such that I’ll cast shadows on anything on the table [the prints are still wet], but it will cause a yellow-orange cast over everything…which is annoying to try and work out through Photoshop for every image, while still keeping colors accurate.  I’ll try to get some photos in the morning.)

I didn’t mention that when everything got pulled off of the table (long, likely irrelevant story), D didn’t notice one of my small pattern tracings (2″x 2″) for the crocus block, and so it is now…gone.  Basically.  As in it fluttered away into the ether.  I’m not too thrilled about this, but it’s easy enough to do again — it’s just that I feel like I’ll never be able to do it again in exactly the same way (but is that a goal…?).  I kind of wish I had scanned it.

The other day, I was also able to get some reading done in Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer, and now have a relatively clearer idea of how to register (align) multicolor prints.  I don’t think I’ve read all the way through the section of how to carve the block and pull prints, but what I have read makes more sense when read straight through than when looked at piecemeal and out of order.  (The illustrations tend to encourage the latter approach, with me.)

I do think that it would be okay, though, to do a second crocus block without worrying about print registration (but I will want to mark which direction is “up”).  I can worry about registration when working on the gingko leaf, which is the project after this.  For one thing, working with registration implies making a key block (a block with areas of color outlined), then carving the key block, then producing multiple prints (one for each color block) on translucent paper, then pasting those prints reversed on each subsequent block (I’m thinking UHU Stic would be good for this, as it washes off with water even after it’s dry), then possibly oiling the paper, then carving through the paper and removing what’s left with water.

I kind of wish that I knew how to register prints in linoleum block printing, though:  I’m not totally positive that the technique will transfer over from mokuhanga (Japanese woodblock printing) to linocuts, particularly because I’m working with opaque inks.  What I’ve seen recommended for mokuhanga are opaque watercolors (gouache) — Holbein at that (I have these already) — but they’re applied so diluted that I don’t think the opacity is a big thing.  At least, when compared to Speedball Printing Ink, the latter is a good deal more opaque (or so I would think after having used the black ink and having felt the texture it leaves on top of the paper).  It might be, though, that I’m supposed to be printing on soaked paper, not dry paper:  something I can test, since I didn’t use any of my Stonehenge!  (And, I just realized, I do have a vat to soak these in:  the same vat I used to marble the papers, tonight.)

Which reminds me that I wanted to get back on top of learning Japanese language (nihongo).  I had just been wondering if there were guides to, or commentary on, comparisons of the different media in Japanese (I’m not sure how much material exists on this in English).  Then I realized that I’d have to be able to read kanji for that, most likely.

Well.  Motivation!

Ah ha ha.  I should be getting to sleep…

(almost the) First linocut done since high school!

I am trying not to title this post “Bahaha,” though I’m sure you’ll be able to sense my excitement!

I was able to take a trip out to the little art store I wished to go to.  Amazingly — I got out of there with a bunch of linocut supplies for under $25.  It probably has to do with the fact that I got a bunch of little tiny linoleum blocks — the one I’ll show here is one of the smallest, at 2″x2″ — and the fact that they were having a sale on the hard pastels I bought — which were the most expensive thing, at under $5 for a set of 12.

Last night after getting home from that trip, I honestly felt like going to bed, but I interrupted myself.  I didn’t want to go and get the art supplies and then never use them, so I started looking through my cheap little notebook at my designs.  I realized fairly quickly that the way I had been sketching was suited to linework, but that printing would probably require a different approach, utilizing blocks of color or tone.  With that in mind, I started sketching — in pencil, albeit in 8B pencil.

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My initial design is at the top of this photo.  Below are iterative versions of it, on tracing paper (center), translucent marker paper (left), and Saral (carbon) paper.

I actually surprised myself with my initial design, as I’d somehow managed to draw a diamond shape which had a little less than 60º as the angle of the inner corner, making 6 petals totaling 360º.

This is the actual first transfer of that image to (translucent) marker paper, on the right:

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I used marker paper because I felt it would hold up better under fineliner (I used a 0.1 mm pen, here), and I intended to fill in areas with black to see what the design would look like in high contrast.  As I was doing this, I remembered some examples in a Dover book on the principle of Notan (balance between positive and negative space), and was curious about what would happen if I introduced shapes pushing from the negative space into the positive space — this is why the petals are notched.  I also realized in this iteration that I needed to pay attention to the center of the star, because if the petals didn’t have a coherent center, it could throw the design off.

I also realized that I didn’t have to echo the almond shape throughout each petal, and wondered what it would look like if I added a recurve to the outer edge of each white area.  So I traced over this shape with the tracing paper (first image, below center), using this idea — and trying to fix the center of the design.  I did this first in 2H pencil. Then on the tracing paper, I went over the lines with fineliner again (so I could see them) and traced over that on the marker paper (first image, below left).  At this point I could color things in without losing any precious underdrawing, so I did.  I had intended to divide the outer rim of each petal into two and let the white space part the outer edge, so that the petals were implied but not fully stated — but when I filled the space in, this detail was not visible.  I also joined the positive space on the outside of the petals to save myself a headache.

Once I was happy with the design, I traced over — I think the tracing paper copy — over carbon paper (Saral paper) with a 2H pencil, on top of my 2″x2″ linoleum block.  On the first image, lower right, you can see what this did to the Saral paper:  it’s translucent where I transferred the carbon onto the linoleum.

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I did not take a photo of my block before carving, but I was very happy with the line transfer.  What I was less happy with were the performances of the carving tools I mentioned before, which are from my high school sculpture and relief-printing days.  Because they didn’t perform all that well, I ended up using an X-Acto craft knife with a #2 blade to do most of the image cutting.  The area around the image was cleared out with a large shallow gouge, however.

One thing I did find to my surprise was that the little subtlety of the curvature of the white area was not immediately apparent in cutting.  I also found that small circular cutouts are difficult to do in linoleum, and that I would have been better off doing something like I did in the outer petal ring and just cut out an almond, without trying for a circle.  When I did try for circles, I ended up cutting out more positive space than I intended to.  This will change in the next iteration of this project:  almonds all the way!  😉

After the cutting was done, I started looking around for my acrylic plate and the hard rubber brayer.  I couldn’t easily find that plate, though — I know where one used to be, but since we’ve cleaned up, I’m no longer sure where it is.  But apparently…we had extra picture frames, and I was able to take one apart and use the glass that would have protected the picture, to roll out my printing ink with the brayer!

This is water-based Speedball printing ink, which came in a small tube.  I’m really thankful that I didn’t have to buy a 1 lb jar to get any ink at all — at first, all I could find were the jars, but then I found the little packs of ink hanging up in the same area.  I picked up a black, then later realized at home that I probably should have gotten white or a color in addition to the black, so I could experiment with duochrome.  But — next time.

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One of the nice things about this ink is that it cleans up very easily with water; on top of that, it seems to be nontoxic.  It also has good tack, meaning that when I put the paper on top of it (I used Stonehenge, which is designed for hand printing), the paper did not move, even as I burnished the back with the back of a spoon to transfer the image from the carving to the paper.

There were barens at the store to accomplish the same thing, but I felt they were overpriced for something that is basically just a flat surface.  Of course, if I’d used a baren, it would be less likely that I would get those surrounding marks on my print (see above) which resulted from both tipping the inked brayer as I rolled it (it’s a tiny print, okay) 😉 and pushing the paper down into the background with the spoon during the burnishing process.

In high school, I think we accomplished the pressing by rolling a clean brayer over the back of the paper.  And, of course, if I used something like a small press, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stray marks at all…although one of the reasons for starting out with block printing is that you don’t need a press.

And, well, now — I have a good bit more insight than I did before on how to do this, and want to retry the carving process.  I have one more little 2″x2″ block of the same type, and found an old opened (throwaway) linoleum block today (it feels like an eraser).  Seriously, though, these things aren’t expensive, something I had to remind myself of before I started carving!  I think the block I carved today cost $0.66 or something like that.

It is pretty cool to see your work result in something, though!  And that’s not a bad try for being (almost) the first time I’ve worked with this technique in 17 years…(and yes, the BAHAHA moment when it works is great…!)

Yes, in Art, books do (actually!) help.

I’ve heard it said that one can’t learn Art through reading books, but sometimes those books actually help urge someone into action.

I’ve been reading in a book on Chinese ink painting techniques…and may just have gotten the inspiration to work on a painting (I’m not giving away the title until after I’ve decided whether to buy it or not).  This is on the canvas I intended to start on last semester when I got my easel (the canvas is 30″x30″, just under the 34″ maximum height my easel can take), but a different image than originally intended/settled for.  If I can pull it off, it may turn out to be a beautiful, wonderful painting.

I think a large part of the reason I haven’t started on this yet (besides time pressures) is the fact that the canvas is square, and so it isn’t entirely straightforward to think of a way to make the composition dynamic.  Though, it is possible.

I had wanted to work with an image of this plant before, but I thought that maybe I should work on something less…daunting? perfect? instead.  What I’ve done is taken one of my second-favorite images (not the most-favorite one, which this one may be a prelude to) and cropped it down in Photoshop, then printed it.  Next step is to gesso the canvas with a base color, then work loosely with vine charcoal over the surface to draw in the shapes.  After that comes glazing over the correct lines, wiping everything else away, and starting in with color (which is where I may want to bring in the colored pastels — given that I have no time limit).

I might want to do one or more practice versions of the drawing first, though, just so that I know where everything is…though that will mean working on not-so-great paper (full size is…pretty big, and the only thing I’ve got in that size is cheap butcher paper that’s kind of irritating to work with; moreso than newsprint).  Or — a better idea.  I could do a smaller version of this on one of my square watercolor blocks, though…the methods differ.  I would need to mask some areas, if I used watercolor.

Hmm.  I think that what I’ll do is work at about 2/3 scale on a newsprint pad, first, including value renditions if I can (including white as well…I am not sure if I want to go into colored pastel on newsprint); then go into drawing on canvas (given that I haven’t worked in charcoal for months).  Watercolor is just going to be tough…unless I do it loosely, and very small.  Also, that method seems to work best when one hasn’t decided on a layout yet; I have my layout already.  What I need to do is figure out where everything is placed, and get my arm used to the directionality of the lines and forms.

At least I’m getting back into the art…

Found a cache of journals?

It’s been a bit of a trial even to get back to the point of writing, here.  Good points?  1) I found my old Japanese Pentel Brush Pen (the one with the ink reservoir as the handle and no English anywhere), 2) I did go out and just get the Uni-Ball Signo 207’s in Ultra Micro and Bold; 3) I cleaned out one of my desk spaces and found at least five in-progress paper journals, organized by theme.

I had started to play around with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen at work (this one was packaged for the U.S. but still has kanji on it that I can’t read), when I realized that I did not have an adequate amount of control over it as regards handling, to be able to be intentional about my marks, when drawing.  Upon realizing that, I started trying to write in kana (Japanese syllabary), and found that this pen is excellent for writing in Japanese!

At that point, I went into the stacks to try and find materials with which to expand my (Japanese) vocabulary.  What’s nice is that I can understand a good amount of this.  The negative point is that I had been hoping to focus on calligraphy, not necessarily getting wholly involved in learning another language!  I know it will give me skills lacked by others, but still:  it wasn’t my intent to launch into learning Japanese language because I got a brush pen.  😉

Nor was it my intent to come home, start reading aloud, and have D switch the channel to NHK World so that I could hear native Japanese intonation…

At least he’s supportive, though.  I guess that’s nice.  🙂

Finding the paper journals, though — that was kind of a trip.  There’s stuff in there from at least five years ago.  Because I found them, I was kind of wondering where to place new thoughts, at this point; but what I’m writing here is kind of on a meta-level; and my journals are themed.  I do want to do something with my hands, though, and writing longhand counts as part of that.  So does calligraphy, and drawing.

Speaking of which, it’s much easier to play around, when using pens or markers which make a consistent mark regardless of force, as versus using things which make marks which are dependent on hand pressure.  Let alone hand pressure, while using an alternate and not wholly comfortable or understood grip.

I’m guessing it’s like trying to play piano or electric piano when one is used to a keyboard:  pianos are sensitive to pressure when the keys are touched.  Keyboards, aren’t.  I still remember when I got together with one of my friends who made art exclusively on the computer, and she didn’t know how to make a pencil mark lighter by pressing lighter.  The variation of pressure was something she hadn’t been exposed to, before.  (This is one of the reasons I opted for training in Fine Arts as versus immediately going deeper into Multimedia Arts.)

I’m very good at achieving fine gradation with pencil, but even so, brushes — and especially this little soft Pentel Pocket Brush Pen — are much more sensitive to pressure than that!  Also, from what I understand, the normal grip used with Japanese brush calligraphy is different from the grip I’m used to for writing in English.

I suppose it marks the third major grip position I will have gotten used to:  in drawing, there is the normal pencil-grip position — like the way one holds the upper stick of a pair of “chopsticks” (hashi).  I’ve modified this in a way which gives more control, in exchange for a callus on my middle fingertip:  holding the pencil between the tips of the first two fingers, and thumb tip.  Then there is holding material (like charcoal) on its side between the fingertips and thumb tip.  With brushes, though — there is at least one more grip, and that is the one I’m trying to use now (from memory).

Here, I’m holding the brush vertically, and using the motion of my arm and fingertips (not my wrist) to make strokes.  (To be clear, I’m not sure I’m supposed to be using my fingertips.)  This involves bracing the handle of the brush vertically against three fingers with the thumb, and essentially hovering over the paper.  Granted that this allows for much more freedom of mark than only having one grip position.

After I get it down, maybe I should make a tutorial…I suppose I can film myself, though I’ve never done it before.  And, wait:  I don’t know how to edit that.  I’ve never taken a Digital Filmmaking class.  I suppose I can just use photos, then… 😉

I have gotten to the point where this blog has become so large as to be unwieldy.  There is the option of switching to a different Theme in order to make my much older entries available…or maybe I should only post here that with which I want to engage others.  I have just found it relatively amazing to find these little books with my 29-year-old self’s writings.  Not to mention that I can draw in a paper journal (though I may need to resort to things that won’t warp the paper or rub off — like the Signo 207’s).  It’s just really tempting to go back to paper journals, but then the entire community engagement thing is missing.

Yeah, blogging is like an entirely different animal than journaling, huh?

I should be able to use calligraphy practice to teach me control over the brush…I just wonder about the possibilities of combining the media of calligraphy and art…

Alright, I’m still awake…

I was able to finish A View From the Studio Door by Ted Orland.  I had about 40% of the book remaining, but after all the academic reading I’ve had to push through, this was nothing.  I finished it after dinner.

Now, I have broken back into The Complete Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook, which will likely have me doing things differently where it comes to watercolors.  In addition there is Design Elements:  A Graphic Style Manual, 2nd ed., which should refresh my knowledge of basic design.  (I can no longer remember how long ago I took Basic Design…)

In any case, I’m actually–! all ready for bed (more than I can say, having accidentally dropped off to sleep, in days past), and find myself not-tired.  Seriously?!  It’s 2 AM here!

It’s not all me, anyway, though.  Right now I just have to figure out what to do…and maybe rest my wrist.  I think it’s a little sore from writing all those papers…

I will need to go out tomorrow.  I wanted to refresh my Process Yellow FW ink (the one I got had mold or something in it), plus look for the Ultra Micro and Bold Signo 207 pens in black…though I don’t need them.  I can see that now.  I just need to use the Microns, and depending on my technique, I probably won’t need those for painting, just for drawing.

Line and wash is just one of those things that…well, I suppose it is traditional, but it’s kind of traditional in the way pulp fiction is traditional.  🙂  It’s not regarded as the highest art.  The book I was reading wanted me to make shapes with the brush, not draw first and color-in later (the latter of which, I’m really struggling with, so I can see why they would say this).

I do want to get a book on Notan.  Notan is basically the strong use of visual space, including (most obviously) negative space.  Of course, this is essential in watercolor, regardless of the fact that the word sounds like a 19th-century Western invention attributed to the Japanese.

I have an e-book on this aesthetic, accessible — now that I’m thinking of it — through Kindle and the Cloud Reader, but having a paper copy would likely be easier and less harrowing.  Water and electronics don’t mix.

And ah, right.  I should pick up a roll of brown Kraft paper on which to practice brushstrokes.

Coming up, when working in grisaille (greyscale underpainting), I think it would be a better habit for me to mix my blacks and greys.  This will bridge me straight into using color, as then I can add more hue to the mixture, bit by bit, until I get to the most saturated colors.  It’s tempting to want to go and buy a grey and a black, but I think I’ll have more fun — and learn more — the other way.  🙂  After all, I was trying to get to black when I discovered a Burnt Sienna-type hue…

Gah.  I really need to play with color mixing!