October 2007


Because of my issues with getting smooth color, I decided to purchase a more expensive baren to see if it would make a difference. So now that I have the new baren I decided to do a little “scientific” comparison.

The barens being compared are the Standard Quality Baren purchased from McClain’s (medium 11cm, twisted paper coil, $8.95) and the Murasaki Baren purchased from McClain’s (12cm, hand-twisted synthetic cord, $130.00 – note: this is by no means the most expensive baren on the market as one could pay as much as $650 or higher).

In terms of physical differences, the Murasai baren is more nicely made. It is wrapped more tightly, with more attention to detail. It is heavier than the Standard Quality baren and has a black lacquered back (ategawa) as opposed to a black cardboard back. The Musasaki also has what I would call a “new car smell” which some people may like, but personally I am hoping it goes away with time.

Comparison of Standard and Murasaki Barens - Backs

Comparison of Standard and Murasaki Barens - Sides

The Standard Quality baren feels much smoother when rubbing over the paper, while the Murasaki feels quite rough which, I assume, is due to the courseness of the cord.

I did an experiment here by printing two pieces of uncut shina with the same amount of pigment (Holbein artists’ water color – mineral violet) and nori on the Shin Torinoko white paper. I used the same amount of pressure and time in rubbing the paper.

Comparison of Standard and Murasaki Barens - Marks

As you can see, the results are quite different. the Murasaki baren prints quite a bit smoother than the Standard Quality baren although you tend to loose the woodgrain. Depending upon the desired effect, both of these barens have their place. Was the Murasaki work $100 more than the Standard Quality baren? This is hard to say. Since I made the investment, I know I have a bias toward thinking that it is worth it. I think it is good to experiment with different tools and find what works best (within your budget limitations, of course).

Hungry Dog - Working Print

I spent most of the week printing working proofs of the Hungry stray dog. Here is the best one. With a few minor tweaks, I will be printing the run this week.

I also began brainstorming ideas for a print that will become part of the Periodic Table Printmaking Project. I am excited to be a part of such a cool project – thanks to Jenn Schmitt and the Baren Forum. My element is Niobium. I will be using imagery of the Greek myth of Niobe for this print. Hopefully I will have some test images by next week.

I’ve been having trouble getting a good even color in my latest woodblock print and I have been trying to figure out why this is happening. As far as I can tell these are the variables that can affect the evenness of the color:

Baren – pressure, quality of baren
Pigment – some colors are naturally grainy (e.g. French Ultramarine Blue)
Nori/Water/Pigment – ratio
Wood – type, grain
Paper – differences in texture, sizing, and fiber content

Admittedly I am working with an inexpensive baren and will need to upgrade there. A better quality baren is sure to improve the evenness in tone. As for the pigment, I have used mineral violet in many watercolor paintings and have not found it grainy. Yellow ochre pigment is a bit grainy, but seems to be less noticeable (probably because is it a lighter color). Likewise, I am using a similar nori/water/pigment ratio as I did in lonely dog which did not produce this blotchy effect. I have also tried using more or less water/pigment/nori with little difference. As for wood, I am using shina which is smooth with tight, even grain. So paper seems to be the one factor that could be causing the blotchiness.

Here are three types of paper all printed in the same way. The mineral violet seems to be a bit less blotchy on the nishinochi paper. Nishinochi is made with 90% Northern kozo and 10% acid free pulp. The gampi is made with 100% gampi and the Exhizen Koso is 100% kozo. All of these paper look and feel very different from one another.

nishi.jpg

gampi.jpg

kozo.jpg

After I get a better baren I will try this experiment again and see if the paper still makes such a difference.

I have been working on another Indian stray dog print. Here are a couple of tests. I don’t think I like the plain blue background, so I am experimenting with a pattern. I carved this using the method that Annie Bissett described in her blog http://woodblockdreams.blogspot.com/2007/09/hanshita-made-easy.html using a modified photograph glued to the wood with nori. What sounds like an easy process that might even feel a bit like cheating, is actually a really messy and rather uncontrolled process that required a lot of gutsy just “going for it” attitude. The paper shreds as you carve and it’s hard to tell how deep you are carving and you can easily loose track of where you are. I like the way these tests are turning out, but I’m not sure I will use this process again.

hungry dog print test 1
test 1

hungry dog print test 2
test 2

On another front, I have decided to begin posting some of my work on Etsy. I noticed that some of the other woodblock printmakers were using Etsy with success. My site is at http://serendipityartist.etsy.com. I like this site much better than Ebay in that it focuses on handmade arts and crafts and has some neat features like the ability to search by color. I’ll let you know how that goes.