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[River in Autumn - 2] Work begins

Posted by Dave Bull at 3:26 PM, August 17, 2008

Continued from [River in Autumn - 1]

After spending quite a bit of time mulling over the design considerations I mentioned in the previous post, I did come to a decision on which approach to take, put something together, and have now started carving.

This is a shot taken from the Woodblock Webcam earlier today, at the point where I broke off for lunch:

What are we looking at there? Is it perhaps a column of smoke? Did I indeed decide to 'focus' on the fire? Well, no; as you will see, I have decided to take a more traditional approach, and the design will reflect the general description of the scene as I described it in that post. It's night-time, we're on the river bank, the river flows past, large trees loom over the scene, branches hang overhead, and ... of course ... there is a campfire.

This will be the third - and final - night scene in this series; we previously visited the woodland and the seacoast. (Unfortunately for the overall 'balance' of the completed series, these three night scenes come in chapters 3, 4 and 5! I certainly didn't intend for that to happen, but in the attempt to try and balance a great many other competing factors, this particular one didn't come out well ...)

To create the dark night sky in the previous print - the Seacoast in Summer - was 'easy'; just print a good deep black and that was it. But this print cannot be treated that way. The single colour black in the moon print may have been deep, but it didn't have 'depth'. (I'm contradicting myself here, but bear with me for a moment ...)

One of the ways that the shin-hanga genre of printmaking - in which I like to think that I am dabbling - differs from the earlier ukiyo-e style is its extensive use of multi-layered overprintings. (I'm thinking primarily of shin-hanga landscapes here, and not the images of women, which for the most part are in a neo-ukiyoe style.) Some ukiyo-e prints did in fact use overprinting, to produce richer and more varied colours than was possible through single impressions, but the result was still intended to be 'flat'. The shin-hanga prints, on the other hand, demonstrate how overprinting of transparent colours can achieve an effect like a beautiful violin varnish. The object is indeed 'flat', but we have the illusion that we are looking down quite deeply into the surface; a half-millimeter of varnish seems somehow to be far far deeper than that.

And so it is with woodblock prints. A deep black produced by the heavy application of a single impression has nowhere near the 'depth' of one produced by multiple impressions of different colours.

So the challenge for me in this print is to try and find a way to create a night scene with 'violin varnish depth'. Over here, in the area off to the right of the campfire, is that a tree trunk we can see in the gloom? I'm not sure ... Over there, we can vaguely see a large stone at the water's edge, and around the edge it is slightly illuminated by the campfire, but if we look closely ... can we see the textures of its dark side? We're not sure ... Up there at the top left of the scene, a very old tree stands guard; its thick trunk is covered with moss, which has broken away in a few places. At least I think that's what we are seeing ... but it's difficult to make out in this faint light ...

The print will be - of course - a flat piece of paper. But if I can succeed in what I want to do with this, it will have enough depth to satisfy the most demanding varnish connoisseur!

Now I should be careful how much of this sort of thing I write here in these entries, and how much I 'promise' in advance, because to tell the truth, I don't have a clue how to do this. Actually, that's not strictly true, as my experience gives me a basic idea of where to start, but whether or not I can produce the effect I want - without this thing ending up as a turgid muddy overprinted mess - is far from certain.

When I started typing this entry, I had intended to explain the carving of that first section, and how I'm beginning, but that's going to have to be enough for now; I've got to head back downstairs to the bench. This print is going to take a long time to produce, and every hour of delay in the work is one hour later that the payments will eventually arrive.

Talk about motivation!

The thread continues in [River in Autumn - 3] ...


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