Just trying to work out whatever’s in my mind, here:

I’m going to try to write, even though right now I’m feeling that I don’t have much to write about.  This, in turn, probably has happened because I haven’t been writing, daily.

Watercolor practice

I used some of the pre-mixed greens I had left on my palette, along with Sap Green, to “color in” (or add color to, or apply wash to) a couple of sketches I did of a Bok Choy Mue in one of my Maruman sketchpads…which I was amazed would take watercolor without warping too badly.  (It just says “Sketch Book” on the front, with no mention of branding other than the graphic design of the cover.)  You will want to tape the papers down, though, for best effect.

Although I did these last night, I didn’t take photos of them then, thinking that I would do it today.  However, I had to get up early for an appointment (woke, 7 AM) and ran out of steam at about 3:30 PM, sleeping through until dinnertime at about 7:30 PM.  So I still haven’t taken the photos…I’ll try and get one up of the Maruman sketch pad tomorrow.

I’m still kind of tired, but then:  I did take medications at about 9 PM (on time) because I have plans for tomorrow.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I neglected self-care tonight and got too sedated to be functional in 15 minutes…just a warning.

Ah! But!

I also found that my Strathmore ArtAgain paper (a deep black paper which I used in one of my older posts) is heavy enough to withstand wet media!  I haven’t yet tried to use washes on it, but it’s very apparent that I can draw and write on it with gouache and a paintbrush, and it doesn’t warp with light use of water.  This is an idea I got from Sarah Sullivan, though my approach differs from hers.

Basically, for me, using light media on dark paper allows me to paint in the light, as versus darkening something and progressively preserving the lights.  And using gouache (opaque watercolor) allows me to use Titanium White (also known as Permanent White; contrasted, I am thinking, with Lithopone) without concern of breathing in Titanium Dioxide dust.

Breathing nanoparticles of Titanium Dioxide dust has raised concerns about carcinogenicity, but I wouldn’t have known that without inquiring why so many pastels now had CA Prop 65 warnings, and CL (Caution Label) signifiers on them, even without heavy metal components.  It could be overkill by Prop 65 — but it has made me more aware of how I use pastels in my own work.

In a home environment, I don’t want to get the dust in the carpet and then vacuum up the dust, because all that may do is redistribute the dust, not contain it (I’m not sure if a HEPA filter is sufficient to contain nanoparticles, which are so small that they are transparent).

This means that if I use pastels — which I kind of don’t like to do anymore, given that it isn’t even good to get the pigments on one’s skin (and certain pigments do stain the skin and likely are absorbed transdermally [if one can’t get them off or out]), and I hate having to seal my drawings (which under normal circumstances can be very toxic — even using Aqua Net as a “non-toxic” cheap alternative in volume enough to seal a pastel painting smells noxious) — I would want to do it somewhere away from air intake vents and over a hard surface, so that I can mop up the loose dust.

To be clear:  the danger of cancer from Titanium Dioxide is not a toxic one, it is a mechanical one.  Loose airborne particles of Titanium Dioxide can get into your lungs and just never leave, and over time that can cause irritation (at least) and leave you at risk of lung problems…but just read your MSDS (Materials Safety Data Sheets) to be sure.

It is nice to be able to manipulate pastels with one’s fingers, but it…just seems hazardous, right now.  Especially as it is very…apparent when in a classroom with a lot of kids using pastels, and wearing a dust mask, how full the air is of pastel particles when one removes that dust mask (I can literally smell the pastel dust, though a particle mask will block the smell).  I started wearing a dust mask, in turn, because I kept sneezing and smelling pastel for hours after a painting session.

If I were going to work with the broad sides of sticks of color, I might want to try the Prismacolor Art Stix — they’re colored sticks made of the pigmented cores of Prismacolor colored pencils.  I haven’t used the Art Stix yet, but I would expect them to have a different working method than pastels (even Prismacolor NuPastels — a hard pastel which is relatively nontoxic).  And, no, Prismacolor isn’t paying me, here.

For the record, I am not sure if coming into contact with colored pencil colors is hazardous or not (though I think the pigments are bound in oil or wax, and thus not hazardous…but I don’t know what happens when that stuff is hit with Gamsol [“odorless mineral spirits”], just to let you know that this is an option and that I haven’t tried it, and don’t know its hazards.  Gamsol, used primarily in oil painting, is used to liquefy — at least oil-based — colored pencils in order to get them to look like aquarelles, or watercolor pencils.  Prismacolors are wax-based, though; whether this works with oil-based pencils only, or both, I don’t know.  Also, I’m fairly certain Gamsol is toxic, but it’s supposed to be better than regular “mineral spirits”).

I do know that there is nowhere near as much dust with colored pencil as with pastel or pastel pencil.  There is some dust associated with colored pencil use (especially when applying heavy strokes), but I haven’t found it to be more than a small nuisance.

But anyway — I tested out two white inks on ArtAgain paper the other night, and found that both J.Herbin (?  I don’t know this brand; I just had a bottle of their white ink) and Daler-Rowney Process (“Pro”) White absorbed into the paper and faded.  Holbein Permanent White gouache, on the other hand, stayed on the surface of the paper and actually brightened as it dried.  Other colors can work as tints with white, but may not show up on their own against black (for instance, Alizarin Crimson).  There’s an argument for getting the 40 ml tube of Permanent White…(no, I’m not doing it yet)…

I would post my test paper, but I got into practicing brush lettering in Japanese, and it probably looks horrible compared to native calligraphy and says things I didn’t intend it to, so I…think I’ll save that.  ^_^;;

That aside, I now know why one of my books tells me to write “mu” in a way different from that in which I learned it:  it’s just too complicated to work with a brush, otherwise.

I’m getting a bit frustrated with not moving forward more quickly with the Japanese; then again, it isn’t my top priority.  Work, school, and keeping myself balanced, are.

Speaking of which, I’ve got to decide whether to do homework tomorrow, or not…


Self: do not forget about these supplies like you forgot about the watercolors…!

Hmm.  Well, I’m back from the Japanese stationery store, with somewhat less money 😉 but plentiful supplies…a new appreciation for the library (you mean I don’t have to buy the books to read them?) and I have realized that I need to get a Pinterest account.

After thinking a bit on what Google has hinted are called “dotted grid” notebooks or journals, I did a little online visual research on them (with help from Pinterest)…and it just increased the urge.  So I did go ahead and get one of these today.  I also got a pad of washi, though I’m certain it is machine-made:  the brand is Aitoh, which also makes the Boku-Undo marbling (suminagashi) inks.

The paper is for calligraphy and ink painting…also of use in mokuhanga (woodcut) transfers.  I’m pretty sure that it’s sized (has sizing/is chemically treated to alter ink behavior) on one side.  It can take original ink paintings, it can be printed onto with a mixture of nori and gouache, and it can be glued down to other blocks to transfer a design from a key-block print to other color blocks, meaning I can then accurately carve and register (align) the other blocks.  (Kozo [mulberry] washi, as this is, is known for not deforming much [let alone falling apart] when wet, which is the reason I wouldn’t just use tracing paper.)

Speaking of which, I also found a small tube of rice starch glue (nori), which means that there is now essentially nothing (other than having to acquire basswood sheets or shina plywood) keeping me from trying out woodcuts:  the colors I have, need the nori to spread evenly.  I don’t have the same brushes as I’ve seen being used elsewhere for mokuhanga, but I can try and wing it with natural-bristle stencil brushes.  (I’m deliberately not going into flagging the bristles, here; though I remember reading something about a substitute for “dragon skin” [sharkskin] to fray them, online.)

I’m still concerned about insect infestation in regard to the nori (particularly since we do have bugs that eat starch here [luckily they’re just silverfish:  ugly and annoying but not disease-ridden]), but I haven’t tried it yet; and for less than $4, it was good to get it.

The other stuff…well, I did find steel stub nibs for calligraphy at this place, though they’re a little large to store with all my other nibs.  They’re also coated in machine oil, which I may be able to get rid of through a soak in soapy water, as versus heating them.  I probably could have waited and hoped to find them at either of the two art stores on this side of the Bay, but…I just didn’t.  It’s kind of like I could have waited to buy a baren from the Japanese knife store that I wanted to visit, but thought it would have been more expensive there (it wasn’t; they had a workable model for about $13 less than I paid for my Speedball baren).  If I really get into mokuhanga, I may have to go there, though — I’m not sure the Speedball one will be as forgiving on non-cotton paper.  (It is kozo, though, which I would think to be tougher than it seems.)

Aside from that, I did get a set of Speedball printing papers (which I didn’t know existed until today), two shitajiki with grid lines on them (I HAVE WANTED THESE FOR YEARS!), two Zig pens to just try hand lettering with (a brush and a calligraphy nib), and some cheap papers in which to practice my Japanese writing.

Right:  shitajiki are called “pencil boards” in English; they are sheets of firm plastic to put under the page you’re currently writing (or drawing) on, in order to protect the rest of the pad or notebook from indentations.  The shitajiki I got are essentially like a ruled template to put behind a piece of white paper in order to write in straight lines; only, Japanese writing is based more on a grid than a line, and can run either horizontally (left to right) or vertically (right to left).  This means that I can use cheap translucent white paper now (like, the stuff from the dollar store), to practice writing.  Both of these were under $5 — one is clear and one is transparent blue (I’m not sure why).

I was not able to find the bocha today.  It’s not a big loss, considering.

I also did find the printmaking section of the bookstore (finally!), but they were mostly focused on admiring prints, not making prints.  (I have found a place that does have books on the art of mokuhanga; they’re just online.)  However — when I grow out of my current Japanese-language-learning texts, I will also be able to go back there for plentiful beginner and intermediate reading material.

Today did reinforce the desire to be able to read written Japanese: the store assistant I questioned as to whether the washi was sized or unsized had no idea what I meant by “sized.”  If I had been able to read the packages, I probably wouldn’t have had to ask.  In addition, there were books on woodcut prints at the bookstore, and while I could appreciate the art, I couldn’t read the commentary — as it was in Japanese.

I can restart my language learning, though.  Soon.  I just need to work out my priorities where it comes to work, Summer school, art, and Japanese-language learning.  Ideally I would be able to do all of this…but I’m not sure that is possible.

Could it be that I will actually have to schedule my summertime?

Eh.  I guess it’s better to trial it now than when things are going full speed…

Preparing for the City, tomorrow

Alright.  So from research tonight and last night, I have a good idea of what I’m going for in Japantown, tomorrow.

IF I get Yasutomo Sketch paper (big “if;” Yasutomo is the only readily available Japanese brand of…many things, including washi ([ideally] handmade paper) outside of Japantown or Japanese specialty stores), my first choice will be the Hosho kind — not Hanshi, which is sold unbound and, over the wind, I heard it is too light for suminagashi.  If the Hanshi is there, though — I will have to think about passing it up.  It would likely be useful, at the least, in transferring patterns from a key block to templates for other blocks — but I don’t know if it will work in linoleum block printing.  I know it will work in woodblock.

The thing is, mokuhanga (Japanese woodblock printing) is a relative investment…not so bad after having gotten materials for linocuts (particularly the knives, and inks), but still.  There are different tools, and it looks like things have to be managed from the ground up where it comes to things like applying sizing (nikawa:  animal glue + myoban: alum) to paper.  Or where it comes to mixing colors with rice starch paste (nori) in order for colors to print properly.  Or where it comes to maintaining a baren with camellia seed oil (tsubaki).  All these terms are given in that mokuhanga book I mentioned by April Vollmer.

There is an entire complete process to this which seems to be a different working method than I was prepared for, given the surface similarities of process between linocuts and mokuhanga.  (I am thinking that I wasn’t prepared for mokuhanga having such a deeply different cultural heritage from linoleum block printing…apologies for having to say that.)  In light of that…I’m going to try and focus on suminagashi paired with linoleum block printing, for now.  Until I gain more experience.  🙂  I’ll have less time, starting next week (school is about to start up again), so I should prepare for that.

I’ve decided against getting a stub-nib fountain pen (2mm), as…I already have some (dip pen) nibs which will work.  The issue is largely that I haven’t gained skill in using them, yet, and I was never really taught how to use them.  I think the last time I tried, I was very young (and impatient), and had only newly gotten the hint to burn off the anti-rust coating before trying to use the nibs to carry ink.  Otherwise, the nib will not be very useful.  (To my credit, though, I did use a nib until it snapped…don’t know if I get experience points for that or klutz points for that…)  😉  At this point, we do have a “Third Hand” tool which can hold my nibs while I singe them…a lack of this is the reason I stopped (I bent the jaws of a pair of pliers unintentionally by indirectly heating them while holding the nib).

But I do have some steel nibs approaching 2mm wide.  If I find any more broad ones like this tomorrow (I’m not counting “steel brush”…which is fairly intimidating to me), I may pick them up, but other than that, I’m not dropping $30 on a portable and more finicky version of a tool which is more versatile when worked manually.  I can’t see myself carrying around a calligraphy pen just for kicks, and I can do more with a dip pen (read:  opaque inks, quicker color changes, less expensive errors) than I can with a fountain pen.

But yes, I am thinking of calligraphy, again.  The “printing” thing seems to be sweeping me around into a more book-arts sort of deal.  Which is good with me, as long as it’s fun — it’s just that it wasn’t expected!

I still haven’t worked on my painting, either.  But then, I’ve been doing other things.  🙂  Watercolor would be my nearest media which I would think to be compatible with book arts.  It’s just so freakin’ hard…Negative space, yo.  Negative space.  But maybe the prints will help with that.

Okay:  the other thing to get is bocha:  roasted twig/stem tea (I like the name:  bo is the name of a man’s staff in aikido).  I can’t imagine us going home without manju, either (the kind I’m thinking of is daifuku mochi; M will only eat kuri manju, however).  Daifuku is some sort of very soft rice thing (I’m not sure if it’s pounded rice, or rice starch dough) around sweet beans (an); kuri manju is a baked wheat bun around the outside of sweetened smooth lima beans.  (I realize that may sound gross to people, which I wouldn’t understand, except for the fact that I once ate reconstituted dry lima beans, as contrasted with the frozen baby kind.  I feel you.)

Otherwise…I can see myself being tempted by the dotted papers and the Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints.  But realistically, not only do I not need these (the latter) at all…but the Koi ones look better, where it comes to smoothness.  I think this means I need to break out the watercolors I do have!  Probably the only reason these look even…tempting is that I haven’t recalled, or accessed, what I’ve got stored…which are very likely of higher quality, and almost certainly more expensive.

(Well, that, and travel pans of red are often junk, in my experience:  both Koi and Kuretake Gansai Tambi look better in this department than Cotman or Prang, which are the cheap travel [pan] colors I have.  It’s probably in relation to red being more culturally meaningful in Japan than here [it’s a color young girls and young unmarried women are expected to wear…or at least that’s what my grandmother related to me].)

As for the dotted papers…maybe.  Inks?  Maybe, but I’d more likely wait.  I don’t know how much bottled ink they have there, anyway.  Dotted papers are also available from the Japanese dollar store, now that I’m thinking about it.  I’ve just seen how they can be used, and want to play.  (is that so much to ask?)  😉

The other thing…that I’m kind of dreading, is seeing another worthwhile book on mokuhanga and/or relief printing, at the bookstore.  But I’ll deal with that when I come to it…

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…


…and I’ve been asleep, nearly all day.  I woke up early today for a meeting, then found that my eyes and nose were burning and I was starting to sneeze.  The staff probably didn’t like this, but I stayed home from work, sick:  I’d rather nip it in the bud when I first start to get sick, and be better in a few days, then run myself into the ground and have a few miserable days when I am severely ill, unable to function, and subject to secondary infection.

Between school, work, and driving lessons, I’m pretty sure that something had to give (a couple of days ago, I had my first driving lesson with a new instructor.  I’m not sure if the stress of that, lowered my immunity).

Mysteriously, I’m still tired…the only two options as to why, are that I actually am fighting something off (that’s bigger than I suspect), or that I’m dealing with something psychological, in addition.

There’s not much of an option, though:  I have some work due soon that I haven’t started on because it’s annoying.  It also has an ungodly amount of points attached to it.  I will have to work on this, tomorrow, so unless I call in sick with my Prof, I won’t be able to sleep all day, again.

I’m writing here because I need to write something so that I’m not going into my paper feeling like I haven’t written in so long that I can’t think in words.

I also only have three weeks of school left — one of my group members reminded us all of this, today.  At least things are in line.  And if I get a C- in the Intellectual Freedom Seminar (I doubt I will, but the Prof is tough and I’m not into this class and we have two make-or-break papers due in the next three weeks, one of which I have 24 hours to write), it will tie with a certain math class for being the lowest grade I’ve ever gotten.

But life goes on after C-, and I’ll never have to take this class again.

Gah.  I can’t help but feel that I’m being told it’s OK to disagree, but then there is also an expected “correct” answer which may cause me to be thought of as inferior if I deviate from it (to clarify the reason I’m not liking this class)…

I think that by tonight, however, I have clarified the position I’ll take in my paper.  I don’t like the position I’ll have to take in my paper — it goes against my ethics — but it’s the one that makes most practical sense.

I can start work on it, now.