20 October 2017


Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 6 blocks, 9 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 10 on Yukimi paper
Based on five video stills of a fire burning in a fireplace.

Hearth has the word heart in it, and for many centuries (or maybe even forever) the cooking fire has been the heart of human life. It wasn't until 200 years ago that the open hearth was replaced by a fire in a "box," with a flat top and oven, and it was another 100 or so years before modern ranges, gas and then electric, became common. My own grandmother's electric range had a small attached wood stove that she used for heat and for warming food as late as the 1970s.

Lynn and I heated with wood for three years when we lived in Taos, New Mexico. It was messy and a lot of work, but I loved it. Chopping wood, hauling it into the house as needed, banking the coals overnight and then firing the stove back up in the morning — those rituals became embedded in our days and connected us to natural rhythms that you just don't experience when your "home fires" are unseen in the basement and you simply turn a dial to make heat. I recently read that watching a fire in a fireplace or fire pit lowers blood pressure, and the longer you watch the lower it goes, so who knows, maybe our love of hearth is biological.

If you've never seen Michael Pollan's series, "Cooked," it's pretty interesting. The first episode is about fire.

11 October 2017

I Love a Fireplace

I grew up with a fireplace. My dad loved making fires, and he showed me how to open the flue, how to warm the chimney and get the draw going, how to bank coals, and how to add wood so that it wouldn't smother the embers. When Lynn and I bought our first house, having a fireplace was high on our list of must-haves and we used it a lot. Now we have a gas hearth, which is nice and easy and not at all messy or smelly, but I miss the rituals involved in tending a wood fire.

So the fourth print in this "Playing With Fire" series is a hearth.

Here are some in-progress photos.

Two colors with some yellow wiped away to reveal the white of the paper.
Another block printed. This block had a fairly strong grain pattern.
Six colors shown here.

Next I'll be darkening the background and adding some bokashi (gradation).

30 September 2017

Candle In Wind

Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 6 blocks, 10 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 10 on Yukimi paper

This print was created with shapes derived from four selected video stills of a candle burning in a windy place. A steady flame is lovely, but more often than not the wind blows. I used to smoke, and I remember lighting a cigarette outdoors was like this. Or keeping a candle lit at an outdoor vigil, or trying to light a campfire on a damp windy night. Or candlelight on a porch, or near an open window.

The bokashi glow appears quite strong in this photo. It's a little less so in real life.

Here are a couple of shots of the print in progress.
After four impressions of color
Five color impressions

23 September 2017

Steady Flame

Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 11 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 15 on Yukimi paper

This image is again based on shapes derived from video stills, this time a video of a candle burning. Even a very steady flame has some movement. Fire always moves.

In the tradition that my meditation practice comes from, the image of a steady flame is used to signify the light of consciousness, the self or center of one's being, which is constant and cannot be perturbed. Making contact with that part of oneself is one of the goals of meditation. A candle flame is evocative of other things, too — religious ceremonies, holidays, winter, romantic dinners, a small beacon of hope or home. There's something comforting in it, I think.

For you print nerds, let me talk about that little smudge at the base of the flame. It's another kind of bokashi, called atenashi-bokashi (gradation without definition), which is used to make rosy cheeks or other circular shapes. An uncarved area of a block is dampened with a wet cloth or brush to define the border where the fade is to occur and then pigment is applied with a small brush. It's difficult to get a consistent effect.

A circle of water has been applied first and then brown pigment added to the center and allowed to spread on its own.
A light rub with the baren transfers the circular smudge to the print.

21 September 2017

Pulling Some Grain

I've added a few more color layers to this flame image, bringing the total number of color passes to eight. You can see that I've just begun to build a circular bokashi (color blend) to make the flame glow. More layers to come. You can also see some wood grain in the print. Wood grain is another of the Mysteries of Mokuhanga.

I'm using shina plywood, which I almost always use, and shina doesn't have much in the way of wood grain, but every so often there's a piece that prints a pretty strong grain and I saved this block for the last impression because its grain looked promising. Sure enough the grain is printing. I may not be able to keep it as I add bokashi, though. Printing shina grain requires a somewhat dry block and a great deal of baren pressure. You can use a wire brush on the surface to try to enhance the grain, and I've even heard of folks using a blowtorch before the wire brush. The idea is that the torch and/or brush takes away the softer parts of the grain and leaves the harder parts. I'm not planning to go to those extents for grain, though. Just trying to see if I can do it with pressure and careful registration. It very well might not work!

A closeup of the block itself. The grain mirrors the flame shapes.
A closeup of the printed grain pattern.

15 September 2017

Hand Made Washi

Here's the print in process with two more colors (two more blocks) added. This makes a total of five impressions so far, and the paper is holding up much better than it did for the previous print, when I noticed some paper fibers lifting during the printing.

Paper is another Mystery of Mokuhanga, another of the variables that can make or break your print. I mostly use Japanese hand made washi, a strong type of paper made from long fibers of kozo or gampi. The fibers are hand pounded, mixed with some stuff, and then hand molded using screens. (See this blog post about a paper-making family I visited in Japan in 2004.) The paper I'm using for this series of prints came from Woodlike Matsumura in Japan and is called Yukimi. To be honest, the main reason I chose this paper is because of its name — yukimi means "snow viewing" and I liked the idea of making fire prints on paper named for snow. I was able to take a chance on an untried paper because I almost always like whatever paper I buy from Matsumura-san.

Anyway, just as my bokashi vary from print to print because I'm not a machine, had made washi varies from batch to batch and sheet to sheet because it's made by human hands. So it's quite possible that the paper I'm using for this print is literally different than the paper I used for the Strike a Match print, even though it's the "same" paper.

For the record, I like Yukimi — it's strong and fairly thick, bright white, and colors don't dull on it.

14 September 2017

More Than One Way to Make a Bokashi

In a quest to keep my printing momentum going in spite of the fact that I have other work plus an "active" puppy, I'm moving right along to the next print. For this one I'm basically scaling up the candle flame print that I made in December for a small print exchange with some of my mokuhanga tribe members. That little print turns out to have been the test run for this whole series.

Fire glows, so for this series of fire images I'll be using a lot of "bokashi" — graduated color blends. There are a number of ways to create bokashi, and I began this print using a wiping method to create a gradation. First I covered an uncarved block with a yellow pigment, then I used a rag to wipe away a small circle of the pigment where I want to keep the white of the paper. Here's the printed result:

I then overprinted the yellow with a pale orange using a second block with a flame shape carved away: