May 9, 2014

A Couple of Experiments

        I finally got around to printing a block I began at a show back in December and finished a couple of months ago.  It got held up by the push to finish The Extraordinary Book of Doors, followed by the push to prepare multiple shows and school programs…  But it’s finally printed, and I can report on it.
        I was pretty pleased with my idea, which was to make a musical staff of telephone wires and place the birds as the notes, “spelling” out the famous Hallelujahs of Handel’s “Messiah.”  But the execution ended up involving a couple of experiments, which were only partially successful.  First, inspired by Peter Brown and traditional wood engraving styles, I wanted to try lightening up background details by carving a certain amount of white straight through the shapes.  So after carving all the bushes down below the telephone wires, I went ahead and cut right through the ones in the back.  The result?  Well, it works somewhat, but I think it looks too geometric.  I may experiment some more another time, but my inclination is to go back to making my white follow the shape or texture I’m carving.
        The second experiment came about because I messed up big time.  I had already carved out a fair bit of white around my largest shrub before I remembered that behind the shrub were more plants - black, not white.  Aargh!  You can see on the left side of the image where there’s too much white carved out around the shrub, but that, at least, could be a gap between bushes.  On the right side of the large shrub it really looked unacceptable.  I decided it was time to try filling in the hole.  It’s axiomatic in block printing that once you’ve carved something away, there’s no putting it back, but I had recently bought a tube of E6000 rubber cement and figured I had nothing to lose by seeing what I could do.  I filled in the largest offending hole with glue and let it dry.  After drying, the glue dipped down in the middle, so I added another layer… and another…  Finally I added so much that this time it was raised up above the level.  I tried shaving the top back off, but that simply wasn’t going to work.  The glue is far too stretchy to carve.  I ended up squishing it down as hard as I could, and pressing particularly hard on that spot during printing, and that way managed to get it to print as if it were just about level.  But first I also had to peel the glue back up off the edges, as well as trying to recarve some of the little white leaves that got somewhat filled in next to my construction site.  Again, this stuff really doesn’t work to carve!  So, the results of my experiment?  You can see the somewhat blobby looking black area to the right of the largest shrub.  To the extent that it looks a lot better than it did all carved out in white, I guess the experiment was a success.  But this really isn’t a very good solution - getting the glue to go everywhere it needs to and nowhere it doesn’t is next to impossible, and it certainly doesn’t end up looking or acting like it’s back to being a pristine, uncarved area.  Simply painting the offending area back in on the finished prints might have given a better result, and if I were really a perfectionist I would no doubt have scrapped the whole block and started again.
        But I’m not a perfectionist.  Because I wasn’t entirely happy with the result, I quit after a relatively small edition.  But I still think this has a certain happy charm even if it isn’t my most technically proficient work.  After all, if the Hallelujah Chorus of the roadside birds doesn’t cheer you up, there’s nothing I can do to help that!

[Picture: Hallelujah Chorus, rubber block print by AEGN, 2014.]

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