A few months ago we noticed that a Raptor show was coming to one of our local parks here in Maryland so on that weekend we went over to see what was happening. Very well attended, we had to park some way away then walk to where all the action was. There were about 6 or 7 falconers there giving talks or showing birds. Some sat on bow perches in a roped-off area, others were in boxes to be brought as necessary. I managed many photos and some of my watercolor sketches are below.
This Aplomado Falcon was lovely to look at and draw. She was flown a few times and was incredibly lithe in the air. Quick, long-winged and very agile swooping about the sky - wonderful to watch!
This Yellow-headed Vulture was another interesting bird and is just like our Turkey Vulture but is yellow on the head instead of being red. There were a number of owls too including Great-horned, Screech, Long-eared, European Eagle Owl and the star of the show - a beautiful well-marked female Snowy Owl. Hawks included Red-tailed and Harris Hawk plus there were plenty of others too. Inside in a soft-lined box was another surprise - 2 European Eagle Owl chicks! Incredibly cute and occasionally giving 'screesh' begging calls. It was too crowded in there to do any sketches so I did the above drawing at home in my studio later on. It was certainly a morning well spent and I now have plenty of sketches and photos to draw from for future work.
Eagle Owl Chick, graphite on Arches paper, 7" x 11". Red Boat sketchbook studies, 8" x 11" (approx).
Here is the signed White Tiger woodblock print from the first run. The image size is approx 5" x 6.5" (12cm x 17cm). Paper size is 6" x 8" (15cm x 20cm). The black and grey tones were printed using Speedball water-based inks, the blue using Cerulean Blue watercolor from Windsor and Newton. Paper is Kozo printing paper - a bit thin but acceptable. Please contact me if you want one of these prints.
This pic shows the just completed print run. I keep the slightly damp prints in this plastic folder as it helps stop them from drying out during printing. After the printing process is completed, I dry the prints sandwiched between sheets of mat board which absorbs most of the remaining moisture. Then they are stacked under a heavy book for a few days after which they are nice and flat.
Some of the prints laid out here before signing showing consistency through the print run. I'm sure that as I do more of these, my printing will get better with fewer mistakes - fortunately there were only a few rejects and I managed 15 clean prints ready for sale.
Incidentally, if you are purchasing woodblock prints, how can you tell if they are original or just a mechanically produced print? Best way is to turn the print over and view the back. It should look like the back of my print shown above. Notice how the pigment has been forced into the fibers of the paper - this is due to the pressure of the baren during the printing process. This effect will be less if thicker paper is used but you should still be able to see pigment from the back. Also in oblique light, there should be a slight impression in the paper from the rubbing pressure against the blocks. Most reputable online dealers will show an image of the back of the print along with the front.
Well, this has been quite a journey and one that I am very glad to have taken. I have learn so much and am eager to try more - I have quite a few ideas for larger woodblock prints but need to source some decent wood first. In the meantime my next posts will focus on some of the other things I have been working on.
This took far longer than I had expected but after many experiments printing on different papers etc, I was able to do a complete print run. So far this is an open edition as I may use the image to do cards etc. I did make quite a few mistakes along the way but I learnt a lot. So far I am happy with the design and carving of the blocks but realize I have quite a way to go with the printing process. I am getting better though and I know that things will be easier with the next print.
This image shows my first impression using block 1, and printing pale grey as the first color. The print shown here is a bit blotchy and this is due to two factors - the wood that I used for the block and also the paper which was Japanese Kozo printing paper - nice but a bit thin really. The wood blocks had quite an open grain so some lines appeared and also it was a bit soft for proper woodblock printing. When taking each impression, some of the pigment that was around the areas of the carved shapes bled into the printed areas causing yet more blotching which was very annoying. Using better wood should stop all these problems. Fortunately for me, quite a lot of this first layer will be overprinting with the next grey and eventually the black so I wasn't too worried.
Here is the print after receiving the second color - a medium grey. This one went on a bit better but still had more texture than I would have liked. I printed each edition on dry paper which is not quite the correct way but as I am still learning, I wanted to keep each step as simple as possible. After completing each color stage, the prints were laid out to dry off slightly then stacked under some heavy books - this minimized any wrinkling. One other problem was that I initially printed the first two colors of 20 prints on the wrong side of the paper so these all had to be scrapped! Thankfully I was only half way before I realized!
When it came time to print the black, I had more problems. The main one was getting the ink to the right consistency. Since I am using the Japanese method of printing, the color is not rolled onto the block as in other methods but rather brushed on using a special brush so it has to be thinned. Dark colors can be a problem even for experienced printers and I ended up having to print the black twice. Still, not the end of the world and when I was happy with the strength of the black, I did the blue of the eyes using cerulean blue then set the prints aside to dry. Next I will sign and title the prints then enjoy the results of my very first woodblock print.
Onto the third block now. This one will take the longest to carve as the lightest grey is in most areas of the print and underlies the other two colors. I start in the upper left slowly working my way down the block taking care not to loosen any of the more delicate pieces of carved wood.
More carving this time on the right side. I'm mostly using an Exacto knife with a fine sharp blade to do the shaping of each area, then a thin v-gouge to remove the wood around the carved areas. Larger areas are taken out with a wider c-gouge and a flat chisel.
Here the block is mostly completed - it has taken quite some time to get to this point. Mainly because I am new to woodblock carving and also because I am taking care not to break off any of the small carved shapes of the somewhat delicate wood.
Knowing that I could lose some of the carved areas when printing, I decide to carefully add thin superglue to most of the smaller shapes on the block reinforcing the glue of the plywood. I pour out a blob of glue then using a thin piece of wire, add glue around the base of each carved shape. This of course takes ages but I am at last satisfied that the wood won't come off of the block later on when I start the print run.
And here is the block with the image washed off and the wood dried. As you can see, there is a lot of detail on this one - trust me to choose such an intricate image for my first woodblock print!
And here is the 4th block in the series. This one was the simplest as it will only be used for printing the blue of the eyes.
Finally I'm finished with all the carving! It really has taken some time but here are the four blocks shown together. So far I'm happy with how things have gone. Next onto to some test printing!
Onto the second block now. Here I am working on removing the wood around the areas that will remain the darker of the two greys. Since I will be using transparent color for the printing, I can safely overprint these areas without creating any problems which would be much more difficult if I was to use opaque oil-based ink. I carefully note which area has to remain on the block then as before, cut around then remove the excess wood with various gouges etc. It's slow work but hopefully I will be able to make many prints from the finished blocks.
This pic shows the completed dark grey block with the registration marks in the lower right and left. Next I'll take the block to the sink and carefully wash off the remaining paper image that was glued on before I started.
And finally the block ready for printing. Since there are more areas in the print that will be dark grey, this block took a bit longer to do compared to the first one. Still, things seems to be going along okay, the real test of course will come during the printing process. Then I'll be better able to compare sample prints to each other and see if I need to do any modifications with the registration etc.
After deciding to attempt a woodblock print from scratch, I took a look in my garage through the wood pile and found the remnants of a sheet of plywood that I had used to make a cabinet. The surface looked quite smooth so I cut the sheet into four 7" x 9" pieces on my table saw. These were given a little sanding around the edges to clean up any rough spots then the top surface was lightly sanded with fine sandpaper and dusted off.
I scanned my original image of the tiger into my computer then resized it to about 5" x 7". This was printed out onto 4 sheets of white tissue paper that I had taped to regular printing paper sheets. I should have used Japanese Gampi tissue paper to print onto as it is much stronger but didn't have any so the domestic tissue had to do. This was then pasted face down onto one of the plywood blocks. I tried to get is as square as I could but wasn't too worried as I would cut the registration marks according to the print and not to the edge of the block. I didn't have the proper tools so had to make do with a x-acto knife and a few linocut carving tools that M gave me.
Not really knowing what I was doing, I proceeded with cutting the two registration (kento) marks on the lower right and bottom left, then began cutting away all of the wood around the areas that I wanted to print black. This took quite a long time as although the image looks quite simple, there was a lot of detail that I wanted to capture in the print.
Slowly getting there! The plywood was quite soft so it came off quite easily, the problem was making clean cuts so as not to flake off any of the wood that had to remain on the block. I used a gouge to remove the wood in some of the larger areas but had to be very careful not to slip and make any mistakes.
Finally all the carving was finished for this block. I left a ridge of wood that extended up somewhat between the eyes as this would support the sheet of paper when it came time to print. This would stop the sheet bowing down and picking up any stray ink from the block and ruining the print.
Next I took the finished block to the sink and gently washed off the tissue paper using a toothbrush. I was careful not to scrub too hard as the glue used on plywood sheets is very thin and doesn't hold the layers together that well. I didn't want any of my carved areas to come off.
I inked up the block then made a few test prints on ordinary copy paper - not bad so far. The wood held the water-based ink well and with enough rubbing, it transferred to the paper quite well. I know that the printing process will get better as I practice and using better paper when printing will also help. Most of what I have learnt about woodblock carving has been from the incredible David Bull. See much more on his multi-faceted website - www.woodblock.com. Next onto carving one of the color blocks.
I have been interested in woodblock prints for many years and still very much enjoy the ones in my collection that I purchased some time ago. So after doing a lot of research and practicing on a few scrap pieces of wood, I decided to try and create a woodblock print from scratch. The close up of a white tiger shown above is the result. There should be a bit more variation in the greys but I'm still not quite up to speed with the printing aspect so will have to experiment a bit more until I am able to complete a full print run. This one was the best of the few that I did but it is only on cheap photocopy paper so should get better results on proper printing paper. I'll document the whole process in the next post. Size is 5" x 6.5".
I am an artist living and working near Washington DC in the USA. I was born in the UK but have lived abroad most of my life. I paint mostly landscapes and birds but have many interests so you never know what will turn up. Most of the paintings shown here are for sale so please contact me at jeremypearse (at) gmail.com if interested. Thanks for visiting!