Sunday, December 9, 2018

Debut picture book coming in 2019

I am sorry to have been so much absent. There are so many things I want to share monthly, but time is in short supply for me, and writing here always seems to be at the bottom of the list. I will try to get in the habit of posting more again. When I don't get to things right away, then there is never enough time to circle back to them later.

If you have been following me on social media, like instagram, twitter or facebook, you found out that I have my debut picture book coming out in March 2019 with Pomegranate. It's a beautifully written manuscript by Vivian Kirkfield, that I got to make wood engravings for. The book is an animal counting book that features endangered species and has great STEM material on the back about each animal featured in the book. 

Illustrating has always been a dream of mine, and with a lot of hard work and courage, that dream is finally coming true.
There were a lot of twists and turns in making sketches into wood engravings, into illustrations. I'll break down and share the whole process with you in the next few posts. There are a lot of steps to normal book illustration, but when you add the printmaking steps to it, you can't fit it into one post anymore. LOL

Right now we are getting promotional materials ready for the launch which happens in March-April 2019. The great coincidence is, that April 22 is also Earth day and the theme for 2019 is: "Protect our species". Our book fits snugly right in that theme! It works well for a wide age group and I hope lots of parents, libraries, schools and home schools will get lots of mileage out of it. (I'm also working on FREE work sheets, coloring pages etc to go with it...)

Please come back soon to see how the illustrations were made up close and personal.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Woodlands Owl Illustration with Timelapse Video

This was every room in our house a couple weeks ago. Since opening boxes and getting our house somewhat functional, I have been trying to catch up on all manner of things.

One of the many things has been to finish illustrations for my new dummy about an unfortunate owl who can't keep her pets. I remembered to take some video of the process to share with you and wanted to chat during it to explain some of the process that I go through when making an illustration like this.

The nuts and bolts:

Paper: Legion paper, Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress 140lbs/300grm
Watercolors: Windsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Yarka
Pencils: 2B mechanical pencil, and Derwent Studio color pencils
Brushes: sz 4 for most of it, sz 6 for bigger areas and sz 2 for a few details. No great quality brand name, just what I've gotten from Michaels.
Masking fluid: Schminke white masking fluid in 20ml bottle
Scanner: Epson Perfection V500 Photo Scanner
Printer: Canon Pixma Pro-100

The way I usually work illustrations is that I start with sketching in Procreate, on the iPad. When I finish a good draft, I paint in with approximate colors to resolve any conflicts that might arise later when painting the piece with watercolors.

After I have those two things resolved, I make a simplified line sketch in procreate, that I print out on watercolor paper at about 20% opacity. It's something I learned from Jake Parker's videos, and brilliant, because it takes the stress off from me from making mistakes in the painting. If I mess up with watercolors, I can print another drawing and paint again.

After the paper has been printed, I soak it in water and lay on my Gator board to stretch. If you look carefully, you can see the warping happening in the middle. After about 5 minutes, I flatten it out, and staple (just normal office stapler) it down around all the edges and leave it to dry until the next day. 

I like to paint my whole illustration in one sitting if at all possible. I get a feel for the colors I am using and how they apply, and when I have to stop in the middle and continue on a different day, it disrupts the flow. I choose a day both kids are gone, and have several hours of uninterrupted time. 

When you watch the video, you can see how I apply the paint, usually in layers, going darker each time, and bouncing around the paper, painting all the same colors in together. Below is an image of my painting set up. Nothing fancy, just basic stuff. On the top, half cut off, is my color sketch printed out, and a jar of brushes.  

Here is the time lapse video with chat of the painting process, with some comments on scanning and editing in Photoshop. 

Finished illustration with staples being picked out. 

And final illustration with edits in Photoshop. Most notably, the red line. I did not want to do it by hand, in any case that I draw it wrong and it has to be redone. 

Hope you enjoyed this little insight into my process. I should have another video to show soon and will be working on some new prints in the next few weeks. If you have any questions or comments about this post, just email me or comment below. 

SCBWI 2017 Los Angeles Conference

As a quick update, before digging into the conference, I wanted to mention that we have finally moved and I am starting to work out of my new studio again. We've been in flux since May, and it is nice to sit in my own chair again and get the gears moving slowly. I wish I would have had time to post this sooner, but things are never perfect, so its better late than never right? I'll have a mini post with a link to a timelapse video of my latest illustration and hopefully will have some new prints to show before Thanksgiving. If you haven's signed up for my mailing list, that is the best place to hear about all the latest prints available for sale. (Sign up here => "Newsletter" in right column)

Back to the main topic of this post:

I was fortunate to attend the latest SCBWI conference held in LA this July. This was the first large SCBWI conference I’ve attended and think that it was well worth my time to go, especially as a newbie to the industry. The LA conference, from what I hear, is a more relaxed atmosphere and there is more of a chance to meet your peers. I think it is a great conference to go to, especially if you are just beginning, because you can hear professionals talk about their experiences, attend mini workshops and bond with peers who are in various stages in their careers. I felt like at least half the attendees were close to me, still waiting to publish their first book. I think a lot of the breakout sessions were also geared and very helpful to new author/illustrators, and I got something from each one that I went to. My regret is that I wasn’t able to be in more than one spot at the same time, to listen in on all the great lectures. I took lots of notes, and it’ll take me a while to go through them to sort all the information out.

There were so many highlights at the conference. The first was being able to connect in person with friends I had made on Facebook in my writing groups. I got to know many of them better, as we sat together for panels, lunches and coffee. My two roommates, whom I had met in an online class, became life-long friends, and as a bonus, sharing a room really helped bring the conference cost down. Left: Us roomies all alumni of Arree Chung's (right) Storyteller Academy.

Second, I got to meet Leuyen Pham, author/illustrator. I love her style and humor and went to all three of her events. My favorite was her session “Creating Middle Grade Art”. She has illustrated a wide variety of middle grade books, and her insights on how to choose the subject matter, working with art directors and differences between chapter books for early readers and middle grade novels were eye opening. She also has a very similar way of working to me, which made me identify with her the a lot.

Third, I wanted to highlight the breakout session with Tammy Sauer. Her session was titled “Picture Book Writing Secrets - Revealed!”. Her talk was also very informative, and extremely entertaining and she was a speed talker. I did my best to take notes, but still havent gone over everything and organized it all. She had so many good ideas on how to make stories more funny, interesting, organized, how to escalate events, play with readers expectations, different types of hooks etc. She was the most animated speaker I’ve seen at a conference, and it was fun to be there for the ride, even though my hand hurt from taking notes and my ears were ringing afterwards.

Some of my tips for a new illustrator attending this conference would be, first, to take breaks when you need them. The days were packed with events from 7.30am-10pm, with short breaks for lunch. If I would have done every single thing, I would have been over spent by the end of it. I took some time during a lunch time, over a keynote speaker who I thought would be least interesting, or after the end of the sessions before socials. They weren’t long times to rest, but it was nice to take 10-30 min to kick your feet up and be in a quiet spot for a moment.

portfolio review session
As an introvert, I also recommend, get to know a few folks before the conference if possible. It was nice to have someone to room with, and to sit with at the events. So I didn't spend all my energy trying to talk to strangers.

On the flipside: do talk to strangers. If you looked around, there were plenty of people standing/sitting alone. Ask them if they are an illustrator or a writer and if they were published, and the conversations would usually flow pretty easy from there. I did get the nerve to talk to some of the faculty, but am kicking myself for not saying anything to Peter Brown. I am a big fan and just didn’t know what to say to him aside from blushing. I’ll have to work on that for next time.
Which brings me to the next point, do your research and look the faculty up before you go. It will make it easier and faster to figure out what lectures you want to see, and to come up with conversation points or questions that are helpful for you.

The only thing I was perhaps let down by, was the illustration showcase. The showcase was fairly well organized, but aside from peers looking at your portfolio, I am not sure there were any art directors/editors/publishers to see it. I believe the New York conference has a lot more of editors and art directors around, so if you need to save money, that might be something I’d reconsider for the next LA conference.

so many new friends
To wrap things up: I definitely plan to go to another SCBWI conference. Making connections was wonderful, and I learned a lot. I think for the next one, I’ll try NY, just to see how different it is to LA. If you have any specific questions for me about the conference, I’d be happy to answer. Just send me an email at mirka_hokkanen (at) yahoo com.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Steamroller printing a Giant Linocut

Hi everyone! Things keep rolling at such a fast pace I haven't had time to write as much as I would have liked to. We will be on summer break soon, and I'll try to be good and post many of the things I've been neglecting. I still have several of the videos from the MAPC printmaking conference I wanted to share with you.

This story begins in February, with the arrival of a huge roll of linoleum.  I had organized the Bryan Art Fair Print fair and steamroller printing the previous year, and since it was a big hit, we wanted to continue and make it a tradition. The fair was on April 8th, this year, so having the linoleum in February made it easy to distribute to the teams that were farther away in the Dallas area.

Mine sat in the studio until end of March, before I had time to do anything with it. I always wanted to do giant animals, so I could really get into the details in fur/feather patterns, and it was a toss up between a pony, a bear and this hawk. After taking a quick poll from some friends, I decided on the hawk. By that time, I had just over a week time to carve it! Yikes.

It ended up being a week and a half of very intensive carving. My whole upper body was so tired by the time the print fair rolled around. Note to self: next time give your older self some more time to complete massive project. I began as I usually do, drawing with pencil onto the linoleum. Since this was huge, I used a projector to trace the feather pattern onto the block. Then I went through a second time looking at my reference photo and actually drew everything in properly. It was a challenge to keep on track with the feathers, especially on the wing. After the whole thing was drawn, I gave it a healthy spraying of clear fixative, so that when I carved, my hand wouldn't smudge all the hard work out of existence.

I attached the block on a piece of masonite with some tape, and was able to work on it propped upright. I had an office chair that could roll back and forth and go up and down, depending which angle and where I needed to carve. It was very helpful to be able to roll back and see the whole image on a glance, rather than having it on a table and seeing it from an angle constantly. It wasn't until the very end, for the background, that I set the block on the table and finished carving it there.

The day of printing was a bit windy, but otherwise gorgeous. Here is Rebecca Villarreal from Pigmint Paper Company rolling up her block.

Steamroller ready to rock n roll. It was super fun to drive!!!

Getting ready to reveal the print.

Prints were hung to dry on the large windows right by us. 

Holding up my first print. Success!

After the event, I spent some time refining the design a bit more. I wasn't crazy about the background, and decided it needed to be a bit different. I made some quick mock ups on the computer to test different backgrounds out and did another quick poll with friends to see which one they responded the best. Everyone liked #3, which was my favorite too. A friend suggested I leave the border out, which was a great idea, so the winning design was a variation of #3.

I went ahead carving the improved background, did some refining in the feathers all over, and ordered large enough sheets of paper to print a small edition. The first batch of paper (Mohawk superfine and thai kozo) was shipped flat, and got all kinked in the mail, which was a pain, because I did not realize it until I had reserved a morning to use a friend's studio and was standing there ready to print. I had to cancel everything, return the paper and order thicker paper (which they did ship rolled), so it would arrive in better condition. 

The new paper arrived a week later: Legion Lenox, 100% cotton drawing paper, 26x40". I had never used it before, and was a little apprehensive, because of the large image and fluffy texture, but it printed beautifully. It embossed heavily, which might be my only negative for it, but I needed the pressure to get it to print nicely without soaking the paper. Here are some pictures from my friend's studio, from 2nd attempt at printing. 

She has a beautiful large etching press as you can see. It's even green- my favorite color! I taped registration marks directly on the bed and also needed to tape the top of each sheet down to print to make sure it got fed in right (I was on my own, with no extra hands). The tape I was using was an artist tape, meant to tape down watercolor paper, but it worked great for this application too. Peeled off easily and is supposed to be acid free (which I am not sure any tape ever is?). You can see the whole printing process in the video below the second studio shot. 

Some images of the finished print. I am really happy the way it turned out. The background looks great and adds to the image.


At this point, the prints are drying for at least a day more. I posted a pre-sale in my Etsy store, for the first people who want to get one at a cheaper price before May 25th, 2017 before I take these to Galleries and the price goes up. I printed a total of 20, but used up several sheets of paper for proofing and carving some adjustments to the image. Then there were several that had small areas that I missed with the roller etc. so the final edition will end up being between 10-12.

I am super happy with the way it turned out. It was a long process, and I wouldn't do it again anytime soon, but I'm sure in about a year, time will make the memories golden (as we say in Finnish). Have a great week, talk to you soon!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review on Paper and Engraving Blocks

We had a chance to sample some papers sent from and blocks  provided to us by Jim Reynolds. Please see a more in depth review on those supplies in the next post coming up. :)

Here are my three favorite papers that are most suitable for printing engravings/relief:

Savoy - The Top Choice

"Made from 100% pure cotton, SAVOY blends old world elegance with new world sophistication making it the perfect choice for a wide range of projects from greeting cards and invitations to hang tags and luxury packaging. Though originally designed for letterpress, SAVOY also offset and digitally prints beautifully."

These are the color options they sent me.
You can see the texture here. There is some, but pretty smooth. 

Its strong formulation, yet soft flexibility allow for strikingly clean and crisp folding, blind embossing, foil stamping and engraving. These papers were hands down my favorite to print on, largely because out of the stack we received, these are the most archival ones. They feel velvety in hand and the subtle texture picks the ink up nicely without having to dampen the paper. This definitely will be something I'll keep in mind, when buying paper next time. 

Arturo - Second Runner Up

"Created in Italy by Cartiere Magnani exclusively for Legion Paper, Arturo has a luxurious, soft, suble texture created with Magnani's exclusive "Corona" felt. These fine papers are ideal for invitations, announcements or just for people who love written correspondence."

This mouldmade paper, as you can see in the image below, has more texture to it. It still took the image fairly well, but there was more fussing around with pressure. Maybe with wetting, I could have gotten a good impression, without having to put as much pressure, but I prefer to print my relief prints on dry paper.  to prevent buckling when drying. The biggest reason this didn't make top was it is made of 100% high-alpha cellulose instead of rag (cotton). I prefer cotton over wood pulp. But for making lasting prints, Arturo has a neutral pH and is acid and Chlorine free. 

Remake - Fun paper for cards and other seasonal things.

This is a interesting paper line, that includes fibers obtained from leather-making processes. "Eco friendly with the up-cycle heart of using existing fibers from other manufacturing segments, Remake is produced with 25% by-product from the leather goods industry, along with 30% post consumer fibers and 45% FSC certified virgin pulp. Made with 100% green energy."

This paper was fun to look at. It is soft, velvety and has little speckles that give it some depth. The surface is nice and smooth, and it takes ink wonderfully. Really a joy to print on. Because it is made from leather byproducts etc. it is not archival, and I would't use it to print my editions on, but it would be fun for cards, or other more ephemeral things. 

These are some of the colors we got. Love the teal!
A closer up shot to see the speckles. 
I wanted to proof a small block on the papers. I Printed on the various Savoy papers and Arturo, and my setup consisted of a proofing press, and I used 3 sheets of paper over the printing paper for added pressure and give.

In the closeup below picture, the left side is Savoy 118lb paper and on the right is Savoy 92lb paper. The bottom left cat was printed with the same pressure as the 92lb paper, and the image is a little too dark. some of the details have been inked over, so I took out one thin sheets of paper that were buffering, and the resulting pressure gave me the image above it, which is a nice impression (looks a little blown out because of side lighting). 

These were 184lb and gray 236DT cover card stock on the left and on the right a sheet of arturo. You can see on the arturo, the pressure was too light first and you see a lot of the texture of the paper. I adjusted pressure w an extra sheet of paper on the top and it printed great the next time (pic above).

Engraving Blocks Review

Maple block from Reynolds
Jim Reynolds also sent us some sample blocks to try.
I found out about him about a year ago, and have ordered from him a couple times since. He makes both maple end grain blocks and solid surface blocks, which I find both nice to use. 

The solid surface blocks ($0.55 per square inch) are some sort of countertop material as far as I assume. They are white and the solid block is glued to a piece of plywood to make it type high. The material is hard and does not chip like Resingrave does. I really like using it, and can get nice details that hold up while printing. It is easy to see where you are carving, because the material is white. Max size for no seam blocks is 10x14". 

The maple blocks ($0.75 per square inch) have been glued together from smaller pieces. You can purchase block as large as 5x7". I've done several engravings on these blocks too and approve as well. They are obviously rougher to carve than a boxwood block, but for the price and convenience they are hard to beat. Between maple, solid surface and Resingrave, I'd pick solid surface first, then maple and Resingrave last. The top two are both nice in their respective ways. Carving on wood is always nice, because its a warm material and softer. The solid surface blocks work best for me, because I don't have to worry about indentations behind my engravers, because the material is so hard. I don't have to fuss with carving, and can just go at it as I please, which is a big bonus compared to wood. I also like the detail I can get on it, and the ease of seeing my carving as I go. 

All order over $75 ship free in the continental US and all orders under will have 15% shipping charge. All blocks are made to order and take 2-3 weeks to manufacture and deliver. To contact Jim, email him at jmreynolds (at) or call 414-771-1377. Or if you're in Milwaukee, WI, you could probably pick up your order yourself. 

This block is one of Jim's maple blocks. 
print from the maple block
There is another material that I tried at our recent Wood Engravers Network workshop. That's HIPS, High Impact Poly Styrene. Joanne Price uses it a lot, and the pros for that material are that it is super cheap to get and you can get it in fairly thin plates, so they are light, and easily transportable. I find them a little hard to carve, and pretty soft. There was definitely a learning curve, but I want to give it another go at some point.

Solid surface block with a beginning engraving on it. 
Finished engraving with the finest detail I've done as of yet.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions on the papers or the blocks please shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lakelife multiple block linocut

We had a fun trip to Finland this summer. We spent lots of time at our summer house, and outside in general. I did lots of sketching and photographing and ate plenty of ice cream, candy, pickles and peas (all the things I miss while away). 

A pike we caught in a net, smoked and ate. 
As soon as we got home, I needed to start and finish a portfolio print for Shelley Gipson at Arkansas State University. This was a project I had been looking forwards to the whole summer. The theme was to create an edition together with our child. We talked about it with Aila, and decided since we just got back from Finland, to do something to remind us about the fun times we had. Her favorite thing was to be at the pier and catch fish and other lake life that she could get in her net. We kept them in a bucket during the day and investigated how they lived and interacted. She picked out the animals that she wanted and I drew it in a scandinavian design style, that was attractive for her with bright colors. 

I wanted to include in this post lots of photos of the process. We started out with a very rough sketch, just collecting all the animals on it. Below is the second sketch, where I started working on a design to incorporate all the elements. It's a little light, you can click on the image to see it bigger. At one point I scanned the sketch in the computer, to play around with colors, which area would print with which color. Its faster to do on the computer, since I can quickly change colors to get an idea what the finished print would look like.

Since I was doing 4 colors, I needed to have a key plate, that would be where most of the information for the image would be. That was the first one for me to carve, and after it was done, I rolled it up with black ink, printed it on a transparency, which I then rubbed on the other 3 blank linoleum pieces, to transfer the image. Registration would be pretty important, with 4 plates to match.  

Carving the key block (printed in navy for final image)
After the color separation blocks dried a couple days, I carved them all out. The designs were fairly simple, so this didn't take me too long. I use a Speedball carver for most of the detail work, and then larger Flexcut tools for everything beyond that. They are sharper and easier to cut with than the Speedball, but I've found nothing that will give me better details on linoleum than my Speedball tiny v-cutter. 


I try to print from the lightest color to the darkest. So with this series, I started with the yellow plate. I mixed a small amount of cobalt drier in the ink, so it would dry faster and allow me to print all colors in a short time. 

Since I had already printed the key block on a transparency, I used that to register my yellow plate down on the press. I use a piece of plywood, with a sheet of mylar glued to it, and I attach the linoleum to the mylar with a light coat of spray adhesive on the back of my linoleum. After those prints were pulled, they hung for a day, and the next day I printed the green color. (Drier mixed in ink again.) 

Below are some shots of the green color in process and drying. I use a 3 tiered clothes drying rack to dry prints, because it folds up when not in use, so its just very convenient. I did not wet the paper for this edition, because I didn't want to deal with uneven stretching, and floppy papers while printing. This was printed on 110lb Lettra. 

second color (green) being printed 

Below you can see the keyplate on the press with the print 3/4 way done. The color elements are all there, red, yellow and green, and it is just waiting for the navy layer to complete the gaps. 

Mixing the navy ink.
I did a short video of the process as well. Its always easier to understand how things proceed, with a video. You can see little foam pads on the side of the block during printing. These help that the paper doesn't lay on the plate until the roller rolls over it. This trick helps keep the print clean from smudges and ink shifting while the paper stretches as its being run through the press. 

Ta-daaa! the finished prints. It took a while to get the prints to print dark enough, but not too dark, where the details would be lost. I was so happy with the print, but the edition was only limited to the amount that we were sending to the portfolio. I have a couple proofs left, and did get nice big postcards done, so if you want one, you can have one on your wall too.

Below are the separate plates used to print on the right, and the ink swatches on the bottom left and first sketch on the bottom.

Once the prints were dry, both of us signed them. 

Aila proud of signing the prints. 

Exited to share the finished image together. 

One of the proofs hanging in the dining room. (Hanger from Ikea)
I was so happy to be invited to participate in this portfolio. It will be up at MAPC conference Oct 5-9, so I will try to get some pictures of all of them together and update this posting. If you would like one of the postcards of the image, they will be listed in my Etsy store in October (with several other new prints!).

For the latest updates, you can always sign up for my email list here (you get a 20% discount code for your first order when you sign up). More to come soon, as I have been printing in the studio like crazy for the last month and a half. I'm super excited to be at two big art fairs this fall, and one or two local holiday showcases, and the conference coming in a week and a half. Squee!!! 

All the best!