Archive | Printmaking

Where does the time go?

This year as been absolutely flying by, and now as I stare at my calendar it tells me there are only two weeks left until the Esoteric Book Conference. One of my favorite annual events, I’m extra excited this year as it will be my first as both a featured artist and an artist associated with Three Hands Press. I’ll be showing for the first time, the prints created for Children of Cain as well as a few other selected works. As wall space is limited, an even larger array of woodcuts will be available bagged and boarded including prints on goatskin and sheepskin parchment.

Danse Macabre woodcut in progress

As I prepare for the trip to Seattle, I’m also finishing up the block to the left. This will be printed as an edition of 15 for La Calaca Press’ “Calacas” themed print exchange. My inspiration is Hans Holbein’s “danse macabre” series depicting Death paying a visit to everyone from farmers to emperors. Scenes such as these were intended to remind the viewer of their own mortality and encourage proper moral behavior. I may have a few disagreements with traditional views as to what “proper” behavior constitutes, but recent reminders of the fragility of life have served to increase my drive to make the most of my life. Thus I wield the tools of my trade in response to that hourglass.

On the subject of making the most of it, I just found out I’m listed as an artist at The Lovecraft’s art fair tomorrow afternoon. I hadn’t been planning on participating this month, but my plans for tomorrow fell through earlier today, so I’ll be there with my full line of Lovecraft works from 3-6pm. Stop in and have a cold one!

Also on the 2nd and 3rd weekends of October you’ll be able to visit my studio during the Portland Open Studios Tour. I’ll be sharing the space with Carolyne Landon and we’ll both be demonstrating our techniques as well as answering questions and showing our work. All ages will be welcome and our studio is wheelchair accessible. Please visit the Portland Open Studios Tour website for more information about this annual event.

Watercolors & Woodcuts

Ye olde fish faces

It is no secret that I find inspiration for both style and content in historical sources. Not that I don’t appreciate modern creations, I absolutely do, but my appreciation for today is deeply rooted in my understanding of the past. (Read up on the history of plumbing and sanitation sometime — you’ll be thankful next time you flush.) I work with woodcut because I enjoy both the challenge and its deep roots as a medium to illustrate books. My mom loves to talk about how the librarians used to let me check out more books than the limit allowed because they knew I’d bring them back early and often in better shape than they left the library. Books are brain food and my overactive imagination lead me to consume a lot of fantastic and weird history as I grew. Through those books (and magazines) I was also exposed to a great deal of art, both photographic and illustrative.

An image from the book of Wonders and Portents


I’m still finding art and inspiration on the printed page. Recently I’ve been focused on the visual vocabulary of medieval woodcuts, and spending time searching for images has renewed my love for the quirks of imagery and production techniques. Facial expressions in particular often tend towards the grotesque or inappropriate given the situation depicted. (Check out the faces on those fish!) Typically printed in black, illustrated books were sometimes also hand-colored with varying degrees of skill. The image to the left is taken from a copy of Lycosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon and exhibits a rough coloration that may have been applied with the aid of a stencil for added production speed. In this day and age of book creation not requiring the touch of a human hand (or for that matter an actual physical book), I respect the time and effort that went into producing the 600+ page volume this image came from . The application of color to this particular print may be crude, but it has its charm.

Colored with a mixture of stone pigments

I couldn’t resist trying it out for myself. Printing editions always produces a few extras, and while outright errors are destroyed, I do have a backlog of proofs on hand for experimentation. A few attempts were just outright awful (I’m more experienced with carving tools than brushes), but I rather like the successes. My materials aren’t necessarily accurate to the period, but this Cthulhu was colored exclusively with mineral pigment colors such as apatite, zoisite, and rhodonite. I’m still very much in love with the purity of black line on paper and don’t see myself switching to constant color in my work, but I do think this has been a worthwhile exploration and intend to continue experimenting on excess prints.

Sea Serpents

Inking the serpent

Remember this guy? He’s done now!

Sea Serpent

Edition of 100 hand-pulled woodcut prints
Signed and numbered
Oil-based ink on acid-free cotton rag paper (all archival materials)
4×6″ overall

Sea Serpent

I couldn’t resist matting and framing one for myself and it looks fantastic! Works well with standard frame sizes (5×7″ frame size shown) as well as photo and ephemera collection media.

Want a little Sea Serpent of your own? Visit Raineysmith on Etsy.

One last look at the block

Time to retire the block

Wrapped up carving yesterday afternoon and immediately headed to Atelier Meridian to print. The session went smoothly, though slowly. Although I do use certain design tricks when planning my prints to reduce inking problems, they can’t always be avoided. In this case, I’d removed two text blocks in addition to all of the detail work, so the large roller I’ve been inking with had two new white sections to potentially dip into. The thumb in the photo is actually pointing towards a small spot of ink where this happened. To prevent messing up a white area, I used blue tape to cover these up before printing, then periodically carved away dirty sections. Not terribly difficult work, just a bit time-consuming.

The prints will now be left to dry a few days before I sort through them to chose the final edition. Then comes clean up of any smudges in the margins, titling, numbering, signing, and finally, delivery to The Hoffman Gallery for “The Hunt”.

July 7th-31st, 2011
The Hoffman Gallery
8245 Southwest Barnes Road, Portland, OR 97225
Opening reception July 7th 4-7pm

Many thanks to Beth Robinson for curating this incredible show.

Still carving

This is what I do at night

Reading this review of Tom Huck’s work, I came across this quote from Mr. Huck regarding why he works in wood, “Woodcuts are an inherently expressive medium. By that I mean when one carves and image out of wood it fights you. God or whatever didn’t make trees for us to carve images out of, and that struggle shows in the resulting printed image. This is why the German expressionists loved woodcuts so much, for it heightened the emotional content of the work. The quality of the lines are more jagged, and heavy black. Another big reason: DÃœRER!”

Huck speaks the truth, one of the great the joys of woodcut is the personality of the wood. Challenge does come with frustrations, but it is ultimately rewarding. Speaking of which, here’s the block after the final carving, but before the final printing. This final layer has been slow going, the red ink remaining on the block has remained wet, and you simply can’t rush when carving around fine lines. Or rather, you can, but don’t expect most of the fine lines to remain on the block.

After the 2nd color

Where'd my red carbon lines go?


Printing the 2nd color of “The Hunt” project went much smoother than the first. Woodcut can be a temperamental medium, but once you have a handle on how a particular block prints, you just need to repeat the formula until the edition is complete. Of course, something new could always go wrong, but that wasn’t the case this time. I’m now at the last stage of carving and hope to print the final color no later than Thursday. There’s just one little stumbling block.

If you compare the photo here with the photo to the right, you might note the red lines in the former. Those are my carving guidelines. My now very hard to see guidelines. I knew this was a risk, but I had hoped the shellac I coated the block with would repel enough ink to not obscure the lines. Whoops.

Fortunately all is not lost! The lines are still slightly visible, and I do have my sketches to refer to as I work, so I just have to be deliberate in my carving.

“The Hunt” continues

Carving resumes after the first layer of color is printed

After a problematic 8 hours in the atelier on Wednesday, I returned Thursday night to finish printing the first of 3 colors. I’ll be spending today carving away all of portions of the block meant to remain yellow, and plan on printing the second color tomorrow. Here’s hoping for a smoother session than the first!

Another peek at “The Hunt” block

The hand of the artist makes an appearance

Most of the large paper white sections have been removed from the block at this point. There’s now one last text block to carve as well as the hands and some other little details. I’m looking forward to inking and printing the first color layer Tuesday or (more likely) Wednesday.

June projects

Small text is the bane of my existence

I’m working towards two major deadlines this month. First, my contribution to “The Hunt”. This piece is based upon an antique medical apparatus in the OHSU medical archives which I examined at length earlier this year. Researching its usage has lead to many revelations regarding past medical treatment — and increased my gratitude for modern medicine! Hygiene in particular stands out as low-tech yet major innovation. (Just look at the history of Puerperal Fever some of the most rampant outbreaks were caused by doctors attending births immediately after performing autopsies.) We now take it for granted that doctors will wash their hands and tools will be sterile. Of course, not all we do in treating illness is perfect; I’m certain in 100 years people will be looking back at modern practices as quaint and primitive.

The photo in the upper left is just a small portion of the block in progress. The end result will be a three color reduction print.

Also in the works is a new piece to debut at The Congregation Gallery’s “Necropolis” show opening July 16th.

Sea Serpent proof

Sea Serpent woodblock & proof

Here’s that little sea serpent block and one of the proofs. To give you an idea of scale, he paper measures about 4×6″. It really is a very small block! I have a couple of larger projects due for completion in June, but I think it is taking the time to print an edition of this block as well. I personally enjoy collecting small prints and feel I’d be remiss in my duties as a printmaker if I didn’t produce some of my own.