Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pomegranate Block Print

Every year I promise myself that I am not going to print my own Christmas cards again because it is a TON of work... and yet something compels me to do it.  The path to developing and printing the cards was long and full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and all sorts of life lessons.  So I thought I would share a glimpse into the process in this post.

This year I intended to make a gnome-related design.  I wanted to have gnomes holding hands in a line or a circle.  I spent a fair amount of time developing this idea and was disappointed that in the end I felt kind of "meh" about the design.  So I let go of the gnome idea and started playing around with using elements from my folk door design for the card.  I definitely liked it better, but the design involved two colors and I knew that would double my dry time so I was a little concerned about that.  Below you can see some of these options. 

"When you let go you create space for better things." - Unknown

It is a tremendous amount of effort to hand-print over 100 cards and I decided I still wasn't excited enough about my design. So I continued exploring and eventually I had the idea to play with a pomegranate shape.  At first I liked the idea of having six pomegranates on the page in different positions and styles.  I played around for a while with that idea but a friend came over and told me it looked like a bee's head.  After she said that I couldn't get it out of my head.  So I played around more with putting folk designs inside...which I loved.

Below you can see my favorites.

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” Abraham Maslow

I thought I was definitely going to go with one of the above designs but I decided to do a little more sketching.  I came up with about 6 more sketch designs that I really liked.  Below was my favorite one.

I scanned the sketch and made the design in Illustrator.  I have to say that as soon as I saw this design I knew in my gut it was the one.  Once I finished making the design in Illustrator, such a feeling of elation came over me and I thought..."This is what the struggle is about!"  The high one gets after tenaciously working with a design until you fall in love with it is indescribable.

"People actually feel happiest and most fulfilled when . . . bringing highly concentrated effort to some compelling activity for which they have a true calling. . . . Fulfillment happens not in retreat from the world, but in . . . profound engagement." Stephen Cope, The Great Work of Your Life

After the basic design is finished it is then so much fun to play around with the subtle details.  If you are a detailed person you might notice the tiny differences in the designs below.

After I chose the design on the lower right  I still wanted to play around with seeing what a border would look like.  Sometimes playing is a dangerous thing because I liked both options so much it stalled me out for a couple days.  I printed the designs out and stared at them for two days pestering anyone who walked by for their opinion.  You might think it is a small decision but it does have implications for the carving and printing.  If I chose "no border" I would carve the plate very clean.  However, if I kept the "border" option I would leave more carve marks to make it look old and worn.  Also, having a border helps hold up the brayer when printing, but it is harder to line up with the edges of the paper.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;"
Robert Frost

After days of fretting I decided to go with the "no border" option.  This experience reminded me that life is not a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book.  You can't follow one path and then go back to your next favorite path and read that option.  You have to choose one way and then give it your all.  If it doesn't work than you can try again.  However, in this case ". . . knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back." (Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Below you can see the drawing transferred to the plate and the carving process.

Once the plate is carved it is good to clean the pencil lines off with a little vegetable oil because sometimes the pencil will transfer to the first few prints.

It is always exciting to ink the plate for the first time and see the design appear for the first time.  George made a short video of the first inking below.

For some reason I started printing at 9:30 pm on a Friday night.  The basement happened to be pretty cold and the ink was WAY too thick.  Every time I tried to print the paper would smear and the print was blurry.  Plus I was losing all my fine details.  I ended up heating the ink on my light table and it finally thinned out...but it took me a good hour to pull a good print.  I stayed up until 2:30 that night printing because once you get going and the plate is primed it is good to keep it up.  I printed 45 that night.  In the photo below you can see all my rejects at the top.

"Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th." - Julie Andrews

The next day I printed the rest.  My goal was to print 111 because I like that number and that is approximately the size of my Christmas list.

Now I just have to title and sign them all, print and apply my labels, put them in the envelopes and stamp them, and off they will go to their new homes!  I wish I could send everyone a hand-printed card made with love.  I like to think it is my small way of spreading joy in the world.  And in addition, I have been given the gift of learning how to let go, play wholeheartedly, commit and engage deeply, and persevere.  

“Scatter joy!” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The curmudgeon in me also wanted me to add one more life lesson...learning to let go of making Christmas cards every year!  We will have to wait until next year to see if I learned that lesson.

As this might be my last post of 2017 I would like to thank all of you out there who read the blog.  Your support means so much to me and I love having you on this journey with me.  Wishing all of you so much joy in the new year!