Sunday, January 19, 2014

Studio Visit and Commission Work

It's January and I thought it would be fun to do a little studio tour and look at the portrait commission I'm working on. I got a request for a portrait of Jemma the cat in November. Because of holiday traveling, we agreed that it would be finished in February.
After settling back home, I have started this lovely carving and am in the process of printing the first color. The finished print will be a reduction two-color engraving on a resingrave block. First color gray and second color black. On the left you can see the finished sketch of Jemma on the 6x4" block. The original image I am working from is small and a little blurry, so I have about 8-10 other images that are being used for reference for color, fur patterns and details.

After the sketch was finished, I sprayed it with fixative and colored it with a blue permanent marker. That way I can still see my sketch clearly, but can tell where the block has been chipped away. Below: just starting carving the image.

The life of a stay at home mom/printmaker is not so glorious as it may seem. At this point I usually only get to work on carving the block after the kids go to bed. Hence the dark photo. I sit on the couch and use a tv-tray to work on. After I'm done, everything needs to be cleaned away before morning before the kids get up and get into everything. Once the baby gets a little bigger, I'll be able to schedule time during naps to work during the day. Here are a couple closeups on how the carving is moving along.

The first color is gray. So I am only carving out the background and white areas of the cat. When I'm happy with the block, it gets set on the press ready to be printed. The roller on the press can be moved up/down so I take a few minutes to figure out what is the right height for printing when you add the block, paper and plastic blanket on the press. I am using an old letterpress proofing press, which works perfectly for this type of work. It is relatively quick to roll up a block with ink by hand and print it, without having to fuss with the big press.

With the first color being gray, you'd think it would take me a whole 30 seconds to mix up some white and black inks and be ready to print. Meek, wrong. It took me about 45 minutes of adding varying amounts of black, white, brown and transparent and testing on a scrap piece of paper to get the shade I wanted. Well, maybe the black will be quicker for the next color. It's only black right?

Here's two closeups from the press. With the light hitting it just right, you can see all the detail.

And now to see the studio. You can click on the image to see it larger. Here is how I have everything set up simply but effectively. On the left you can see the press, with the block. Next to it on the other end of the table I have a piece of plastic that I mix and roll up the ink with. Moving to the right is a rolling table that has a mini etching press on it. It also doubles duty as the bad print detention spot. 

Now the good prints get to go and lay on the comfortable small card table set up in the middle. I use a piece of ordinary sheetrock (from Homedepot etc.) that has been cut into pieces to dry my prints on. Every time a layer gets full, I place another piece on top of it. The boards are heavy and made of plaster so they flatten and dry the paper very well.  You can see the extra boards waiting to be used next to the table (on the right). 

Now lastly there is the printing paper. It's stacked on the table on the right. I am using 300gsm Lettra to print on. The paper is fun to print with, but takes a little sweet talking to get it to print pretty. Soaking will make it too wet and print blurry, but a dry surface will not get good ink coverage. So what is the poor printmaker to do?

Misting is the best of both worlds. I hold the paper over the plastic bin and use a small mister to get it damp. The bin just catches the extra water droplets, so my floor is not all wet. Then I lay the paper inside a towel to even the dampness out while I walk to the other side and roll up the cat with ink. After inking, get the paper, place it on the block, place rubber blanket over block and print. Voila! one image is done. That then goes on the drying sheetrock with the good prints I hope and a new paper is dampened. Below: All the pretty cats waiting to be held down by sheetrock.

So far I have 2/3 printed. I am going to take about an hour tomorrow and hopefully finish these bad boys. After that I get to enjoy some quality time with the block again as the black carving is produced. Already looking forwards to that! I think it'll be about two weeks time and I can proof the second color. Stay tuned for that in the next post.

Hope you enjoyed the tour. If you'd like to see some closeups of anything or more in depth explanations please leave me a comment below and I can include it in the next post. See you soon!


Jemma's friend said...

Thanks for such a detailed post with photos of your progress. You've captured Jemma quite well!

jp said...

fantastic, i like it !