Turning Seventy-Two Years Old

river threads

Yesterday I turned 72 years of age. I had no special plans other than washing and ironing after a week of feeling my way through five days of wood engraving in an exceptionally inspiring class. My fellow students were very good at seeing where and how to add the light and our instructor is simply the best and most generous at teaching.

My own work (three wood blocks engraved) was acceptable but leaned more toward the harsher lines of wood cuts than engravings. I need more practice. But engravings require end grain blocks of wood that are not so easy to come by. I could make my own like I did more than a few years back and hope that the seams where they must be pieced together do not show in the finished print or I could just go back to wood cuts where extra marks matter less.

Here are some of the engravings I did with the same instructor about six years ago.

samurai wood engraving


And another I did on my own later, a small one used for hand printed Christmas cards.

pine cone wood engraving

And here is one of the many wood cuts I have done on the plank side of a wooden board. This is part of a series of owls with backgrounds carved on the opposite side of the block and colored with a different ink.

barn owl

And now for this past five days of engraving.  Here is the first one. A small block about 2.5″ square carved with a crow’s head taken from a large graphite and acrylic painting I did and hangs in the studio.

crow block and prints

Then onto one of my favorite subjects: Eucalyptus leaves and pods. Here I used one of my own hand made glued up blocks that had worm holes in it. They could be somewhat disquised within the bug holes so prevalent in gum leaves.

gum nut block and print

And another finished print of this image.

gum nut print on green

Finally a 2.5″ x 4″ block of an interpretation of Storied House, a mixed media structure of a house with an organza book in the attic. I decided to see how it would be printed as a book plate.

Storied house block with sketchbook

storied house ex libris

I really like the sound of wood being shaved away from the matrix. I even like slipping and having to adapt the new mark into the image. But my hands get sore. My older hands get sore from the gouging, sharpening, gouging some more. My back hunched over the block aches because I just do not want to get up and take a break when I think that any moment now I will have the perfect block carved and ready to print.

This week I will give myself and my body a break and go back to assembling the Lost Time books that I printed and cut up before the engraving class. More Epson ink has arrived and I may just do the last five of the Diner Time Circus book. Or…..design another wood block image to start on when my hands recover.


Trying to Decide on Format for Lost Time Book

lost time first two test books

These are the test books for ways to format text and images for a limited edition of the Lost Time book I have been working on. I wanted to get it all figured out this past week and have everything laid out in the computer. The thought process was to get the images the right colors and size needed to decipher the details. Then where does the text go? Over the image? On the left blank page? Under the image? It is funny how often my mind changes. But not so funny as the printer continues to suck up the ink as I deliberate. My quite large Epson Stylus Photo R3000 has informed me, just at the moment I thought I would use it, that the ink is low. A quick check on the website for purchasing more ink and the cost of $283 seems a bit much right now. Maybe I will wait for a sale.

The other problem was that the larger Epson printer originally saw more dull greys, so I corrected the images yet again only to have them look too yellow. It seems the smaller office type Epson was more in sinc with what I had in mind. Of course the problem here is that it only takes 8.5″ x 11″ paper and the images need to be a minimum of 5″ to be legible.

The book above on the left is six inches across and only has the images from the printer glued to plain paper to see how it looks. The one on the right is five inches and turned landscape wise to let me put additional background pages next to each one with image and text on the right.

lost time test books open

But I don’t like trying to read the text within the image. Especially since I went back through all the images in my photo program and had them all made fainter to get rid of the yellowness, feel a bit more mysterious and match up with the graphite used in each one. It is so strange that to see something in my head is one thing but I need to complete the entire process to actually see that it won’t happen quite the way I envisioned it. Lots of ink and paper lost, well sort of lost, in this process. Although I like the soft cover on this second prototype for some reason I thought maybe I should start again making the book larger with images only on the right with the text under the image and a blank white page to the left. This required using a piece of card stock weight paper 8.5″ x 11″ for each page and having a folded and glued foredge. Of course each image needed a decent margin around it making the new book size 7″ tall and 7.5″ across. Here is that process.

lost time folded foredge pages

Each page folded and one half inch glued to the back plain paper. All in a card stock that I liked the feel of. So much about book arts is how does the page feel? Does the “feel” of the page match the way the images and text “feel”? These images invite touch and “strolling” of fingers through them.

lost time folded foredge detail

I decided that there should be a concertina spine section to glue the open pages to each side of a fold. Then of course thought stitching these folds into place would be better than gluing them. This would let them “breathe” more when turned.

lost time concertina

Next was getting each lined up with the one below as they are glued into place.

lost time pages glued to concertina

I chose a lighter weight paper for the concertina fold section that was 100% cotton fiber office paper. It held a crease nicely and was easy to pierce and stitch using only four holes.

The messy part for me was making the cover and getting it close enough. Actually I had to tear it apart twice before getting something acceptable. I wanted it hardbound using two colors of lokta paper that referenced the interior illustrations. Getting the three pieces (front, back and spine) that had all been covered individually the right distance apart was challenging. Hanging the text block did not work the first time because I had overestimated the width of the spine and it, well, just looked bad.

lost time making cover pieces

I redid it smaller after pulling it away from the covers and tried getting the text block attached. That took two times and adding more paper to the little I had left for the purpose of attaching to the covers. I did not like the gap that appeared between the end papers and first and last pages so I re cut them larger to cover the gap. See below.

lost time pasting in end papers

I put some end tapes top and bottom to help fill the gap and edge of the concertina between the text and spine.

lost time top view

Here it is finished.

lost time covers in place

A bit boring is my conclusion. The cover does not do it for me. Too plain. And way too much work to insert a title or image to make it more interesting. If I want to make a small edition in the hopes of selling some, I need to maybe go back to the smaller book with the soft cover. So this morning it is back to the printer (even the smaller Epson is now telling me that “magenta” is low) and back to the layout problems.

What I did learn is that the page on the left is better off blank, the text needs to be below the image, and the image needs to be smaller…..just a bit. The most important thing I have learned is that I need to make more of the dreaded blank journals to improve my hardbound binding skills.

This next week I am taking a wood engraving class. Five days of hearing the scritch, scritch of small shavings being taken away from the end grain. By tomorrow I should have had this Lost Time book decided and perhaps printed out. And then have selected my subject matter for carving this next week. And that means detailed drawings before heading into class if I am going to get much accomplished.

I will show my efforts here next week.