Thursday, December 28, 2006

Block Print.

Last month, Jules and I walked along the Embarcadero, when we stopped in one of my favorite San Diego bookstores. I pulled out a book on German woodcut prints and showed it to her, saying how much I'd like to try making my own prints sometime.

For the first time since I've lived in California -- almost eleven years -- I have a Christmas tree.

Presents sat anxiously at its base. Being each others' greatest enabler, we had the following conversation:

"Do you want to open presents now?"


Five days before Christmas, wrapping paper exploded across the living room.

The best presents are those that reveal the other person was listening when you felt you were just blathering, and support endeavors that are important to you, even when you felt you were being idealistic or fanciful.

Jules had bought me a woodcut block printing kit. It was perfect.

(She also got me the most amazing alarm clock ever, but that deserves its own entry.)

For woodcut block printing, you are -- in essence -- making a large ink stamp. You carve a design into a wood block, apply a layer of ink, and stamp it onto paper.

This medium forced me to thinking differently about the image and process. Planning was important. There was no such thing as an eraser. The technique of carving and process of stamping reduced the amount of detail that could be given. How would I render an image using scratches? Simple often worked best. For my first prints, I would use only black ink. Therefore the image would have to work in two tones (black ink and the color of the paper). When you wrote in pen, the mark you made was black. However, in block printing, the line you cut would be light -- it is the uncut sections that were black (ink). I had to think in terms of negative space. In addition, the image was reversed left to right (like a mirror). I had to figure a way to transfer my sketch to the block so that it would be flipped vertically during carving, and therefore appear correct when stamped onto the paper.

Conceptually, making a block print was simple, but there were some steps involved.

As the gift meant a great deal to me, I wanted the subject matter for my first block print to be special as well (the kit contained one 4x5" block). I chose the Flatirons located in my beloved Boulder, Colorado.

This has been my subject matter for a few pieces (an oil painting, pen sketch, and a watercolor -- all done while sitting before the Flatirons).

I took this black and white photo four years ago.

I drew the image in my sketchbook to the same dimensions as the wood block (5x4").

I traced the design onto wax paper and transferred it onto the linoleum layered block by flipping the wax paper over and retracing the outline again.

After the image had been drawn in pen on the block with the image reversed left to right, I started carving.

It turned out that inking the block was almost an art form in itself. I thinned the sticky ink with a few drops of water so that it laid on the block correctly. The type of paper also made a considerable difference. But after some experimenting, I created my first official print.

I produced 14 total prints for this series -- each hand inked and pressed.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Walk #3.

Juliana and I have begun a routine of going on weekend walks throughout the city.

Walk #1 found us at Cabrillo National Park. The lighthouse, subject matter for my eponymously titled painting, sat perched atop the hillside. At the shoreline, we enjoyed the tidepools...

and searching for crabs in the cliffs.


Walk #2 led us along the Embarcadero.


Undecided on a destination for our next walk, we consulted the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego. I purchased it with ambitious intentions upon moving to San Diego. I had romantic notions of traversing the county, accompanied by a walking stick, fedora, and whip (to rescue myself during a possible rope bridge collapse, of course). But outside of book marking an urban curiosity that intrigued me, it sat neglected on my shelf, and had not spawned a single journey.

I showed Juliana the bookmarked page.

"Where the hell is this?" she asked. "I worked downtown and have passed this place a hundred times. I never knew this existed."

And thus began Walk #3.


Our journey started in Banker's Hill at the corner of 2nd and Spruce, located sheer minutes from downtown, the airport, and Balboa Park.

We first encountered the Quince Street Footbridge, with views of the airport and the bay in the background.

Quickly and conveniently, Juliana found a condo she wanted me to buy her.

After crossing the bridge, we descended into the canyon below. It was amazing how one could be located in the middle of an urban setting, yet feel completely removed from it. I hoped that the thick brush and overhanging trees provided enough wilderness for me to wear my adventure hat without fear of ridicule. I had bought it in Colorado four months back, and was looking for any excuse to wear it.

I have an inkling that I may have looked dead-sexy in it.

We continued along the canyon floor and talked about how wonderful it was to find this hidden gem.

"I keep expecting a dinosaur to run out of the bushes," Jules said.

"What would you do if you saw a dinosaur?" I asked.

"Crap my pants."

"That would definitely hamper my desire to rescue you."


Maple Canyon dead-ended on Dove Street. We followed it to Curlew Street, passing by beautiful and charismatic houses -- the type that make you wonder what your life would be like if you lived in them -- and found ourselves at the Spruce Street Suspension Footbridge. It hovered seventy feet above the canyon floor and swayed with each step.

The bridge was built in 1912. The suspension cable was anchored by an assembly that did not spark overwhelming confidence.

The whole walk seemed like an amazing discovery.


We ventured over to Mission Trails for Walk #4. We started at the visitor's center...

walked two miles to the plains area....

and meandered over to the Old Mission Dam.

We were tired and our feet sore after walking four miles and we still had a half-mile uphill climb remaining.

I turned to Juliana and said, "I wish that I was the Beastmaster so that I could conjure animals for help."

"Who the hell is the Beastmaster?" Jules asked.

I was stunned, unable to fathom a life without knowledge of the Beastmaster. They really need to teach this stuff in schools.

"You haven't seen The Beastmaster? He was a barbarian who could communicate with animals and get them to do things. He could see through the eyes of a hawk and get a panther to fight people. Plus he got to see Tanya Roberts naked."

"Why would you want to see through the eyes of a hawk?" she asked.

Obviously she was having problems seeing the incredible benefit of hawk eyes.

"Well if you had enemies approaching and you wanted to know where they were you would call for the hawk and have it fly above them."

I erupted with a loud and bellowing, "CA-CAW," simulating how I would call for my hawk.

Juliana laughed. I disarmed other hikers who passed. They should just consider themselves lucky that I didn't send my panther after them.

"How would that help us get back to the car?" she inquired.

"Well, I could get a large bird to carry my backpack...."

I then stalled upon realizing that there weren't any large animals like deer or bears in the area that we could ride back to the car. Could you round up enough squirrels to carry you? Probably not. It was then that I realized my Beastmaster folly. It wouldn't have been very helpful (outside of the seeing through a hawk's eyes -- that would rock). It was also chilly and if I was the Beastmaster, I would be wearing a leather loin cloth.

And on a long hike like this, the leather would probably cause chafing.