Racking Up A Fair Clip

Forgive the title. At least it proves that, with sufficient effort, any two figures of speech can be nail-gunned together to form a meaningless headline…

Although I don’t print much or often, it’s nice to have somewhere to dry the results. Since Poppy was born a lot of stuff has migrated to the garage and eaten into my working space. I thought about installing an overhead drying rack. It should be easier to accommodate than one of those wire-mesh kinetic sculptures, and a lot less expensive. The online stores sell the usual variety (made of wood, wire and king-size marbles) for a crazy price: around £100 for something that might cost £15-20 to fabricate on a bad day.

Print rack close-upSo what about making my own? There were a few targets to consider. It would have to be quick to make. If I took a day building it, I might as well put in a day’s freelancing and earn enough for two shop-bought racks. It should be made from everyday materials and easy to duplicate anywhere.

An evening’s rummage on eBay later, I had bought half a gross of bulldog clips and 200 large wooden beads (folksy bracelets, for the making of). Add to that some heavyweight printer paper and a few yards of genuine NATO-grade nylon cord (!) from the army surplus store.

Bulldog clips will spot with rust over time and that could stain prints. So I designed a PDF template for a paper cover for the clip jaws: print, cut, fold and slot into place. Repeat 36 times per rack. Mail me or leave a comment if you want the template.

Printrack installedI used needle files to bore out the beads until the cord would fit. For this you need a small needle file and something really, really interesting on TV for the next few hours.

Then thread on three or four beads, a clip, some more beads, a clip… you get the idea. Be sure to tie a good hefty knot at each end of the cord when you’re done, or you’ll have little round things all over the floor, just where you can slip on them. It’s a good idea to tie the some intermediate knots in the cord so that if one end-knot works loose, the whole lot of beads and clips doesn’t cover your studio.

After that, hanging is the easy part. A heavy-duty hook screwed into rafters on either side of the garage, and it was ready to go up. It works a treat. The beads keep the clips a couple of inches apart, to keep printed sheets from touching and to give your fingers room to grab a single clip. If you hit the assembly, even really hard, everything just drops back into place. If a paper cover gets dirty, replace it. Simple! Two racks cost around £12-£15 and an evening watching crummy movies on satellite TV.

More Joy of Scraps

Engraving toolScrap stores are our friends. Our local one, Orinoco Scrapstore, is a fine place to rummage for useful bits and pieces. Yesterday I visited and for once didn’t find what I was looking for, but as usual turned up something else. In a rusty old toolbox I found this engraving tool: 50p at Orinoco’s going rate. When I got home I scrubbed off the gunk and rust and checked for maker’s marks. It claims to be a Glardon and Vallorbe #19 oval tool.

Tool pointI think these tools are sold for engraving metals, but it might be fine for wood engravings. It certainly left some nifty marks on a small piece of endgrain wood I had lying around. The tool sells for around £8.00 new so this was quite a bargain! I wonder if they have a burin lying around somewhere…

Door Ornament: The King of the Jungle

Lion doorknocker photoAges ago I saw a nice lion door knocker in a village in darkest Gloucestershire. I didn’t recall seeing one quite like it before so I took a picture. Since then I’ve seen half a dozen newer and shinier clones, each with the all-important knocky bits still attached. But I kept the picture because of this feller’s expression: unashamed to be surly, suspicious and nailed to a door by his forehead.

I finally decided to do something with the picture this weekend. Fishing out a quick, late-night sketch from last year, I scanned it and upped the contrast. Then I printed it at the right size for a small block and transferred the laser print using a Chartpak blender marker. Stuffed full of deadly poisonous xylene, allegedly, so I opened the garage doors and windows to the winds and thought clean thoughts.

Lion doorknocker sketchConventional wisdom says to burnish the transfer. But conventional wisdom doesn’t own a hydraulic press, so there! One minute and six tonnes later I had a perfect transfer. I’d already darkened the surface of the block with a mid-grey Copic Sketch Marker. The alcohol-based ink doesn’t fluff up the wood like water-based highlighters can, so it’s perfect for the job. The theory is that when you cut through the grey surface the pale wood will make a strong contrast, so you’ll find it easy to see where you cut. And the theory is pretty good! Even on fine, shallow cuts I could see exactly where I’d been.

Lion woodblock before inkingThe woodblock decided not to co-operate. It’s light stuff that may or may not be basswood, bought from Intaglio Printmaker. To be fair to them I must say that the block was fine when they shipped it. I brought it inside before winter so it wouldn’t warp and crack in the garage, so instead it dried to tinder from the central heating! One flick of a gouge and I could clear a strip clear to the end of the block. Great for clearing the design, but scary when cutting details. It was entirely possible that even a little 1mm gouge would split the design in the worst way. But it survived as well as my tool skills permitted.

Maria Arango and others from the Baren Forum have good advice about wiping blocks with linseed or mineral oil just before cutting. In retrospect, this would have been the ideal time to make use of their wisdom.

I have mixed feelings about the results. It was great fun to cut, but I could have done far more with the source material. Then there’s the printing. I’m bad at inking blocks, and I don’t want to fill in all the small, shallow cuts by mistake. Maybe it needs stiff ink or the loan of a larger diameter roller? Only a tiny dab of ink at a time on the inking slab? If you reading this and have a suggestion, please leave a comment!

If it prints successfully I’ll post it. If not I’ll put it down as a learning experience.

Little prints for little people

happy_poppy_small.jpgYou might know that my daughter Poppy (a.k.a. Kalliope Ann Rose) was born last December. Here is a picture of her, looking all sweet and relaxed. Don’t believe it for a moment…

One fact that that survived the fog of new-parenthood was about Poppy’s visual development. For the first weeks she could barely see any distance, and couldn’t differentiate one colour from the next. Apparently a lot of this isn’t to do with the eye, but with neurology — visual processing takes a while to perfect. Little ones like pictures full of sharp edges and high contrast. We noticed that she’s taken quite a shine to a wood engraving we have on the wall. She can stare at it for minutes at a time and seems fascinated. This was food for thought.

a2z.jpgAll Poppy’s baby books are full of bright primaries or pastels. There’s very little with strong, monochrome images that might appeal to her. So I thought about making some very simple designs and binding them into a little concertina book. I’ll start with letter and number shapes, musical notes, domino and dice spots, spirals, zigzags and meanders, and so on. Will she come to understand any designs? I doubt the cognitive tools are there just yet. But who knows? Maybe when she encounters writing and other symbols elsewhere she’ll recognize something. And we’ll have a book to preserve, drool and all, as a keepsake.

Here is a stab at letter shapes. As usual I struggled to ink evenly, but then it’s a first proof. I’ll post later — and hopefully more interesting — designs when they’re ready.

Catch them while they’re hot…

Chinese Prints

The Ashmolean — a great museum even when it’s not exhibiting prints — will soon close the doors to its exhibition of Chinese Prints, 1950–2006. If you are anywhere near Oxford before 2 March 2008, please go and see it! Actually this is the second of two parts. The first was late last year, but I didn’t even notice as the little one was on her way. I caught this half with only a week to go.

It didn’t matter that the artists were unfamiliar to me. Or that there were obvious propaganda elements in many exhibits, putting forward political messages that I’d be uncomfortable to endorse. The execution of many pieces was perfection. My favourites include Zhao Yannian, Protest, 1956; Li Huanmin, Reading Hard, and Grazing, both 1962; Yu Qihui, Comrades-in-arms — Lu Xun and Qu Quibai, 1998; Zhang Chaoyang, Heroes and Heroines are all around, 1970; Wang Jieyin, We Are The Force Criticizing Lin Biao and Confucius, 1973; and Xu Kuang, The Master, 1978. You may get some idea of the way the content leans from the titles! All the pieces I name here are printed with oil-based ink and some wouldn’t look out of place in a Western-tradition collection. But there’s a vigour to them that I can only envy.

I bought the accompanying book. It’s worth obtaining if you’re interested. You can order it from the museum shop or from Amazon. No, they’re not paying me for the plug!

Dürer and friends

Just across the centre of Oxford from the Ashmolean, there is an exhibit of German Masters at the Christ Church Picture Gallery. The full title is Holbein, Dürer and beyond – German drawings and prints from the Christ Church Collection. It runs until 30 March. There is no shortage of interesting items. But for anyone who loves early European prints, there are examples of Dürer’s Small Passion series, and some of his other woodcuts and engravings. Peerless. I’m going back to see it again at least once before the close.