Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Etruscan Light at the end of a 'Tormented' Tunnel

          So, the polymer plates arrived on the Monday before Christmas, and I prepared some paper on Tuesday evening ready for printing trials on Wednesday. The preparation consisted of cutting the trial papers to size, labelling them (very important) and layering same between sheets of damp blotting paper so that the paper picks up enough moisture to feel cold to the touch, but is not visibly wet. Leaving overnight or for a few hours gives the moisture time to even out so the sheet is uniformly damp. It will print very much better, more evenly and darker using less pressure than if printed dry. After a few prints on practice paper I printed the image 'Tormented'... onto some Torinoko Lightweight Japanese paper (from McClaines) and it printed very well. I had anticipated some difficulty with the solid black areas (the falling figure looks a little concave on the plate) but it was fine. I used a fairly hard packing, as I didn't want the image punched into the paper too hard.
          I next printed the plate of trial text in different sizes of Brioso Light onto the Griffen Mill handmade paper, and was very pleased with the result and glad I had chosen the Light version. You can never really know until you try it. I'll probably use the 17pt size on the title page as I think it rather handsome. 

  I then experimented with various Japanese papers, Akua colors and pochoir, using brayers instead of brushes. With my previous use of this method, the repetitive motion gave me severe shoulder and neck pain, and started my quest for an alternative method of obtaining colour prints, hence the foray into woodblock and wood engraving. I intended to use some small brayers and cut some Mylar stencils. I then had to break off for Christmas preparations.
          After the break, I tried out the stencils with brayers, and found that the surface of most of the Japanese papers was not sufficiently sealed (not sized enough) to take the action of the brayer and a fairly stiff ink. The fibres 'picked' with just one layer of ink. For use with a brayer (roller) the ink has to be of a stiff consistency otherwise it doesn't coat the surface of the brayer evenly and slides about on the ink palette. I tried one western paper, a Zerkall book wove in a soft white colour, which worked well, but I disliked the appearance of it next to the Griffen Mill handmade text paper. Also, the coloured inks always look better on a white paper. So where am I now?

          Some months ago, I obtained samples of a lovely range of Japanese papers, thin and translucent, in various colours. They were truly beautiful, but at the time I couldn't see how they would work with my colour woodblock ideas. A couple of days ago, during my research on sirens for one of the other images ("..softly whispering their siren song"..), I came across some pictures of ancient (BC) Etruscan vases, and light dawned. The Etruscans were the people of an ancient civilization thought to predate the Romans, and they occupied part of the area of Italy now known as Tuscany. How very appropriate, I thought. I have no idea if Leonardo actually would have seen these ancient pots, but I like to think he may have known of them. Here are some examples:
The Etruscans decorated their vases in various tan and biscuit shades with black, and sometimes dark blue and maroon. I could achieve this elegant and sophisticated look using the coloured papers. I tried the "Tormented.." plate, printing dry, and love the look, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for the other images, and will set the character for this book. It is a break-through moment for me, as I have been endlessly obsessing about the 'how' and now I can concentrate on the 'what', knowing how it will appear.

Here are the prints drying on the line (an idea I took 
from various other printmakers, including Sue Woollatt and Andy English - thanks guys). I also show some of the prints on the Bicchu torinko paper from the Japanese Paper Place in Toronto. They are handmade, and dried on wooden boards, which gives them a little texture and character.
          The prints are not quite done, as there is still another experiment I have to do, but that will be in another blog post, when the material I ordered in November finally arrives - good old UK Post Office. Well, that's quite enough excitement for this week.