Archive for December, 2009

Prints in Progress: Color Choice and Resolution

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

I have to think about color extensively as I am working on a print.

Yesterday’s post about color choice is continued in this post today. In yesterday’s post I mentioned how color can be used to resolve other colors together, and make them work well and look good together.

Examples of Prints in Progress

This print can easily be resolved with a darker green

This print can easily be resolved with a darker green

I have a few prints that are in various stages of completion, one of them has an obvious resolution, one is still making me think. In this section I am going to discuss how I think about color in these prints, and what I think is needed to resolve the colors I have printed so far.

The print on the left is waiting for 1 last color to be printed, and I think that it is pretty clear what that color should be. I plan to print a slightly dulled down (ie. less saturated), transparent forest green color. That color should make this image pop together.

The trick to this image is going to to find a color that is rich enough, but not so rich that it overpowers the other colors already on the page. The 3 colors on the paper so far are not strong in value and saturation, so a very saturated color might visually dominate these colors, and make them appear weaker, and lose definition. A strong color would draw all the attention, and the other colors would appear very gray in comparison.

A color without enough saturation, on the other hand, will make the entire image appear bland, and the definition will be lost because nothing will stand out. If the 4th color is as dull and grayed out as the first 3 colors, then the entire image will appear to be a dull gray mess, and nothing will catch the eye. Everything will blend together, nothing will be interesting.

A quick aside

I wasn’t going to discuss this in this post, but it came up as I was thinking about the above print, because I noticed another completed print that seems to contradict what I said above.

The vibrant dark green works because it is used sparingly

The vibrant dark green works because it is used sparingly

Interestingly, the issue of matching the value of the other colors is more and more of a problem when the area that ink will cover becomes larger and larger. In the previous example, the 4th block will cover a large portion of the paper with ink. This makes the color choice much more important.

If the block applied a smaller area of ink to the paper, then a color with a much stronger value could be used. The color will not overpower the others because there is less of that color on the paper.

The print on the left demonstrates how a stronger color can be used when used sparingly. The first four colors that were printed are all very close to gray, their value is all very low. A strong color could easily overpower all of these subtle colors.

I printed the final block, the little bits of definition of the leaves, with a very saturated green color, straight out of the ink can. I didn’t thin the ink or mix in other colors to tone down the vibrancy of the color.

This choice worked well for this image, and the small, vibrant bits of color make the image come to life in a way that it didn’t before this vibrant color was printed. If the final color covered more of the paper, however, this strong green color would start to overpower the rest of the colors because it would become too dominant.

The fact that there are just very small bits of this color allow me to use a color so vibrant.

Back to the Regular Program

The last block I have to discuss today is another print that is in progress, and that I have created a bit of a problem with.

These two colors will be difficult to resolve

These two colors will be difficult to resolve

The block on the right has only the first 2 blocks printed, but I used 2 very different colors on this print so far. The light blue, and the dirty orange color do not look very good together as they are. A third color is needed to tie everything together, and visually connect these two colors.

Even though these two colors are not that saturated, they look more saturated than they are when placed together. The blue and the orange are compliments (opposite on the color wheel), so they make each other look brighter. Because of this, I will have to mix a color that is a little more saturated than I might guess, because I have to match the apparent saturation of these colors, rather than the actual saturation.

I’m not sure exactly which color I will print on this block next, but it will probably be in the brown family. The trick is going to be to pick the right shade of brown to make these two colors come together. It would be just as easy to mix the wrong color brown as it would be to mix a color that makes the blue and the orange look good.

Last Thoughts

It turns out that I think about color a LOT. Color choice is usually the most difficult part of the printmaking process for me.

If you missed yesterday’s post, click here to check it out. Leave a comment below and let me know if this was interesting, confusing, or anything alse.

Case Study: Saturation, Value, and Matching Colors

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

I create a lot of problems for myself that I later have to fix.

A lot of those problems have to do with color.

The 101 Woodblock Series project is largely a design project. I formulated the idea for this project when I was still thinking a lot about design, rather than art. That influence has found its way into this project. Most of the thinking and artistic consideration that goes in to each print has to do with balancing color and shape in a way to make a pleasing image.

Most of the prints have 4 or 5 colors printed on them, which requires mixing a lot of colors, especially considering that each of the 101 prints is different.

The trick is to get all of the colors to work together.

Sometimes, everything works out, and the image just comes together. The colors work together well, and the resulting image is rather… pleasing.

Much more frequently, I create a bit of a “challenge” with the first 2 or 3 blocks, and have to figure out how to fix this “challenge”.

In the challenging prints, the colors don’t quite go together, and the image does not look complete. Often a final color is required to make the disparate colors come together and look good. I think of this as “resolution” of the colors, with “resolution” used in the sense of “resolving” things.

Resolution explained with Music

In Music Theory, Resolution refers to the part of the music that brings everything together, and makes the piece of music feel like it is complete. It is the final note that makes the piece of music complete.

Technically, Resolution is a change within the music from dissonance (sounds that don’t sound good together) to consonance (sounds that do sound good together).

The parallels to printmaking are that I often have to find a color that makes all the previous colors – which don’t quite look good together – fall in to place and look good.

Before going on, I want to show you, with music, what resolution sounds like. I picked part of The Four Seasons, by Vivaldi, to demonstrate Resolution.

This audio file has the very last chord edited out, so that it is unresolved. Take a listen.

Vivaldi Unresolved:


Without the final note in the piece, it feels like everything is left hanging, it is unfinished.

Compare the above to the following audio clip, which is the same music, but with the ending chord left in.

Vivaldi Resolved:


The last chord completes the music, and makes it sound finished. Everything that came before it works together as an overall piece of music, when the last note is added at the end to resolve the music.

Resolution applied to color

I often find myself in situations where I have to pick the right color to visually resolve the colors I previously printed. The colors on the paper up to that point don’t quite work, don’t feel complete. I have to think about what color will tie all the others together, just like the last note in The Four Seasons ties that piece of music together.

I’d like to take you through a brief color imagination experiment:

Imagine something purple. Not bad.

Now add some orange next to it. Not good.

Orange and purple have a natural dissonance them. They don’t look good together. It is difficult to find a 3rd color you can add to these 2 and make the combination look good. It can be done, but it is a challenge (hint: the color that can do this begins with “green” – click to read why*).

Now imagine green and blue together. These colors usually look pretty good together, because they are close in hue. Another color is needed though to make these two colors really pop, other wise they may look fairly drab together. Because they are so similar, the combination of the two can be boring. A small bit of red, or a red-orange color may make those colors really look good together. A neutral color, like brown or gray, can also bring these colors together. Since blue and green naturally work well together, they are easier colors to resolve with a 3rd color.

Examples from Complete Prints

I recently finished a batch of prints, some of them resolved well, some of them did not. In this section I will explain which I think resolved well, which did not, and why.

The challenge is to find a color to match the warm oranges and reds

The challenge is to find a color to counter the warm oranges and reds

The print on the left surprised me. I started by printing the horizontal stripes, and then the 2 blocks for the leaves. The result was a very vibrant image full of warm colors, yellow, orange, and red. I like the vibrancy of these colors, but I knew that I needed something else to counter the warmth.

Without something to cool down the image a little bit and pull back the warm colors, this image could be too vibrant, to the point that it is difficult to look at. In fact, you can see the print as it looked with just the 3 vibrant warm colors in this post: Weekend Printing Results.

The warm colors in this print are similar in value and hue, and the image gets lost in a sea of orange. This image required a 4th color to resolve the previous 3.

My first thought was to put a cool color, like a blue or a green in there, but after thinking about this, I thought that a cool fourth color would stick out too much, and the image would be a visual game of “one of these things is not like the other”. I took a gamble with the gray color I printed the gears with, and I think it worked out well.

The gray color I printed has a touch of yellow and green to it, and has almost a “cool golden” color to it. The touch of cool that the image needed was added, but with a toned down, grayish hue, so that the value of the cool color did not contrast too much with the overall warmth of the image. The warm vibrancy of this image is something I like about it, and I did not want to counteract that, I just wanted to cool it down a little so that it wasn’t overpoweringly vibrant.

The same color used before did not resolve the colors in this image

The same color used before did not resolve the colors in this image

Contrast the use of the “golden gray” color above with the use of the same color in the image at right. In this one, the golden gray color does not resolve the colors in the image, and in fact, makes the dissonance between them worse.

The use of the color for the gears in this image, was, I believe, a mistake.

This image was difficult to finish because I created a visual problem when I printed the first few colors. I like the red in the leaves and the pot, and I like the light, slate blue of the horizontal stripes, but together, they look bad. They have very little in common, and adding the last color of the gears made it worse.

I am still not sure what color would have made this image work, but I think it is in the purple family. A purple might bridge the gap between the red and the blue and tie them together somehow.

In some ways, I backed myself into a corner with the red and blue, and created a color combination that does not have an easy resolution.

I find myself doing this quite a bit, because I am experimenting color combinations when I make these prints. I have tried a lot of combinations that are not obvious to me, and aren’t from the usual palette of colors that I would choose. I am trying new things, and sometimes it doesn’t work.

Final Notes

Color can be a tricky thing. Finding the right color to complement and make other colors look good together can be difficult, especially if you use colors that don’t play well together in the first place.

Tomorrow I will have a post with this same sort of look at color choice and resolution, except with examples from the prints that are in progress, but not quite done. I will be share with you what I am planning to do and why, instead of just telling you what I have already done, as I did today.

Also, these prints are currently available for sale to Newsletter Subscribers for my cost for supplies and shipping. They are my nice little bribe to get you to try out my newsletter. This special, “subscriber only” price only lasts until I finish all 101 of these prints, sometime in the next few weeks.

If you would like to see the rest of them and get your chance to purchase them for next-to-nothing prices, sign up for the Newsletter now.

Quick Thanks to Vivaldi


The Vivaldi clips I used above are from my CD of Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons”, performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Trondheim Soloists. The disc also has “Devil’s Trill” by Tartini on it. It’s a good performance of the pieces, you can Click here to check it out on Amazon.

The disc also features a cover with Anne-Sophie in a strikingly striking pose. If you still need a recording of The Four Seasons for your music collection, this is a good choice.

If you click on the link and buy something, Amazon will give me a small piece of their huge pie (you pay the same price though). This allows me to buy food, make more art, and makes me happier.

As a result, I make more beautiful art, and share it with the world, making it a better place full of more happiness and good will towards men and women.

It’s probably actually your moral and patriotic duty to go buy, buy, buy!


*[note from above]Orange and purple are a split complement of green. The complement of green is red (they are opposite on the color wheel). A split complement is when you take one of the complementary colors, in this case red, and “split” it into two colors on either side of it on the color wheel. In this case, red is “split” into purple and orange, which are an equal distance away from red on either side of the color wheel. Usually, split complements look better when the split is much smaller, meaning that red would be split into a red-purple and a red-orange. The bigger the split, the harder it is to resolve the colors. Now click HERE to go back.

Christmas Comes Early

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

…when you buy yourself gifts!

I received my order of supplies from McClain’s today. In addition to a selection of about a dozen very small woodblocks and a sample book of Washi papers, I got a set of good ink.

Gamblink Relief Inks

Gamblink Relief Inks

Getting new materials, especially new inks or paints, is hard to explain. It is a bit like getting a new car. Everything you do with them stands out as fresh and new.

I opened up the jars of ink as soon as I got home from work and got to printing. I did not have plans to print a particular run yesterday evening, but I wanted to try out these inks. They are smooth, almost runny. When I rolled out the ink and rolled it onto the block, I was surprised… these inks didn’t feel like they were mixed with oil at all! They feel like they are mixed with butter.

They roll smooth and evenly on the block, and just do what they are supposed to. This is a far cry of difference from the Speedball inks I have been using from the local art store.

I love these new inks, and I am eager to print an edition with them on nice Washi paper (once I finish the 101 Woodblock project early next year).

Quality materials are incredibly important, last night reminded me of that.

= = = = = = = =

On a side note, I highly recommend McClain’s for relief printmaking supplies. Their website is incredibly informative, easy to use and purchase from. Shipping was very fast, my order was in the mail the day after I placed it, and it arrived 2 business days after that. I will be buying a lot of stuff from them in the future.

Weekend Printing Results

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

continuing my current 101 Woodblock Series, I’ve been printing all weekend to get a bunch more started. My current count is 40 prints, completed, 40 in various stage of completion, and 21 more to begin.

I’ve been carving a couple blocks for a while, and recently finished them. Here’s one of the prints of the two blocks:

The most recent blocks printed

The most recent blocks printed

Much more work to do, time to get back to it.

How to be a Part Time Artist (or anything else!)

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

My DayJob takes it out of me. Especially this week, I am filling in for a co-worker that had to leave for a week and a half on a family emergency, in addition to my normal workload. My job isn’t that physically exhausting, after all I sit at a cubicle for 8 hours, but it is mentally exhausting.

It actually doesn’t matter how busy I am at work, I still get home exhausted. Just being somewhere and having to have my brain turned on and ready to think for 8 hours is tiring.

I’m not in good shape when I get home. The work day leaves me tired, unfocused, and hungry. This is a problem, since the evening is when I work on my art. Being worn out, tired, and looking to sit down, eat dinner, and relax is not a productive way to be.

I don’t have much of a choice, however. Great art does not make itself, and I will not be a great artist as a weekend warrior, only working on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend may work for those of you that are hobbyists, but I do have aspirations to be a professional artist. That takes time.

In fact, I consider art a second job. The difference between my art career and my engineering career is that my art career is completely dependent on the amount of time that I spend working. My engineering career requires pretty much just 8 hours a day.

If you are building a small business of any sort, or getting serious about a creative passion, you probably run into the same problem that I have, finding the time. In hopes to help, here are 3 things that have had a major impact on my ability to get to work, after work.

First, Take A Break

If you work a long day, the first thing required is a break. Last night, I arrived home from work at 6pm. I put on some left over home-made chicken soup on the stove, and put some bread in the toaster. I changed into warm, comfortable clothes (it is unusually cold in San Francisco this week), sat down with dinner, and read some comics.

Eating dinner and reading comics is an activity that relaxes me. I can get absorbed in the activity, without it requiring too much thought. After an hour, I felt refreshed and ready to work on something, much more so than if I hadn’t taken the hour off.

My activities during this break effect the rest of my evening. When I spend an hour on my computer, or watching a TV show or 2, I don’t feel quite relaxed afterwards. Reading relaxes me, and is different enough of an activity that I don’t feel like I am still working.

The key is to do something you enjoy for an hour. That may be reading, spending time with family, talking on the phone with people, folding laundry, or just about anything. I know what works for me, and I’m pretty sure what works for me won’t work for everybody, so this requires some brainstorming on your part.

This hour is my transition hour, and I take full advantage. I relax, eat, take care of chores like dishes or laundry, and remove distractions.

Removing distractions has been so important it gets an entire subsection. Look:

Remove Distractions

There is no greater enemy to productivity than my computer. This is strange to say, because my computers are indispensable tools for everything I do (this is an internet business after all). My entire sales, marketing, and success plan depends on both me and you (my customer) using computers all the time.

My computer is incredibly useful, sometimes. For others, like making art, it is a distraction. When my computer is on, I usually have iTunes open, my email running, Twitter open, my RSS reader waiting, and if I am a real glutton for punishment, I’ll have Facebook fired up.

Being so connected keeps me from getting anything done.

In fact, when I sit down to write in the mornings (like I am doing now), I don’t fire up any applications other than text editors. I know that if I even glance at my email, I have lost time. My attention shifts to that, and it takes time to get it back, if I get it back at all.

My computer is my Number 1 source of distraction. I know I have to remove this to get anything done. Your distraction may not be a computer. It may be television, a family, the telephone, or even that pile of unfolded laundry that you keep thinking of.

During your relax time and your work time, get rid of distractions.

Facilitate Work with Cleanliness

I have been stopped stopped dead in my tracks from working on my art by a big mess.

I have two main work areas in my small studio apartment. The first is in the main room, I have a work table set up. This is where I do my printing, and anything else that requires a lot of flat surface space. When I work at that table, I usually use my coffee table and surrounding floor as a staging area, and secondary storage.

My second work area is my desk next to my kitchen area. My apartment is quite small, about 450 square feet. Pretty much everything in here has to pull double or triple duty. This desk is my work desk, kitchen table, and drawing table all wrapped in to one. When I draw or carve a block, I work at my desk.

Both of these areas are often overcome by one of my less desirable habits — I am messy.

My apartment is entropy in action, slowly changing shape from order to chaos. I have to continuously work to keep it clean. I take stuff out, don’t put it away, move stuff around, and generally make a mess.

When my work area is a mess, I am far less likely to get any work done, because I know I have to clean up, and I rather dislike spending time cleaning up.

When I constantly put a little diligence into keeping my work areas clean, it is far easier to come home after a long day at DayJob and get to work for the evening.

If you can dedicate an area of your home just to working, that is best. You can make that space be the “work only” space, and not use it when you are not building your business part time. If you have to use your every day areas of your home, keep them clean, and it will be far easier to get to work.

What About You?

Are you building a new business part time? Using your hours after work? What do you do to maintain energy and focus after a long day at work? Let me know in the comments.

Thinking in layers, Part 2: Order Matters

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Now I’m gonna really mess things up.

Last time I talked about how colors mix together on paper after they are printed, which increases the total number of colors you can get from any number of blocks. By overlapping the areas that blocks print, 2 blocks can print a total of 3 colors, 3 blocks can print 7 colors, and 4 blocks can print 15 colors.

The order that those blocks are printed influences what the mixed color is, as well. If one color is printed on top of another, the color created by the overlap of those two colors isn’t the same if the printing order is reversed.

This quickly ads up to a whole lot of possibilities and choices to make.

Here’s a look at this phenomenon:

Colors mix differently with different printing orders

Colors mix differently with different printing orders

The picture above shows the same two panels of color, but on the left, the green panel is on top of the orange panel. On the right, the orange panel is on top of the green panel. The resulting color created where these two colors overlap is different depending on which color is on top.

In the above example, the mixed color can be a brownish shade of either of the colors. The trick is, it can’t be both. One of the artistic decisions of a printmaker is which order to print the blocks, and which colors will be on the print as a result.

Typically, an artist/printer will print a number of trial prints, trying out different color combinations until settling on a color combination for the final edition. These trials can be as lengthy a part of the printing process as printing the edition, but it is worth it.

The final print often benefits from this type of experimentation. Colors do not always mix the way that we intend them to in our mind, the only way to figure out how two colors will look is to mix them up and put them on paper.

Some considerations:

1. The colors will mix differently based on how transparent the colors are. In the above image, the transparency of each panel of color is set to 67%. This isn’t the exact equivalent of working with inks, but it is close enough to convey the concept. Printing inks are mostly opaque out of the tube or can, transparency is created by adding a transparent medium. I consider this transparent medium the most important can of ink that I have.

A more transparent color has less effect on the colors beneath it

A more transparent color has less effect on the colors beneath it

The more transparent medium I add to the ink, the more transparent it is (duh). The thing to keep in mind is that if a very transparent color is printed over another color, it won’t effect the color underneath much. It will show up a bit on the white of the paper, but the pigment underneath it will overpower the transparent color.

The image at the left is the same two colors as above, but the transparency is increased quite a bit on the green color. This image was created with photoshop, so it does not completely represent how inks behave when printed on paper. If this was printed on paper, the light green color would probably be more visible where printed on the white paper, but hardly perceptible where printed over the orange. If this were printed on paper, the areas where the very transparent green ink overlaps the orange would probably look more like a glossy coating over the orange than anything else.

2. Some colors print more strongly than others. The CMYK process colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) are usually printed in that order. If a yellow ink is printed underneath a blue or red hued ink, it will not be very visible. The other colors printed over the yellow ink will dominate it and wash it out. Yellow is usually printed on top of the other colors to give it a fighting chance.

Yellow seems to be the weakest link amongst ink colors. Green and Orange can inherit some of this weakness as well, if those colors are created by mixing yellow ink. (Greens and oranges straight from the can or tube can be a bit stronger than home mixed versions)

Ok, enough color science for today. I’ve gotta go to work at DayJob now!

Thinking in Layers

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I’ve been working on a new block for a couple days now, and this one has been a bit of a challenge. I know that this block is going to have a companion block that goes with it, and the two will take advantage of how colors mix when they are printed in layers.

Two separate colors

Two separate colors

One block for every color

Generally, with woodblock printing, for each block, you have one color that is printed. To create a print with three colors, three blocks are needed.

You can see this to the left, in the beautiful image I whipped up to demonstrate this. It would take two woodblocks to print this beautiful work of art.

(Aren’t the colors lovely? Well, at least they demonstrate the point well)

With opaque ink, one-block-one-color is true. Each layer of ink will cover up any other layers of ink under it. With out-of-the-tube ink from your local art store, this is the sort of behavior an artist can expect from their ink.

This is a bit limiting, and luckily for us there is a way to get more from our blocks and from our color by using a little bit of transparency in the ink.

I cheat the system 

My most important ink I have is transparent. It is just ink medium, without any pigment. I add this to my other inks, which are opaque, to add some transparency. The more transparent medium I add, the more transparent the ink becomes.

This creates opportunity, and along with opportunity comes complexity.

Two colors overlap to create a third color

Two colors overlap to create a third color

Transparency allows the ink to mix on the paper, so that one color will show through another color a bit. They mix to create a third color.

This neat little image on the right I whipped up in Photoshop shows how this works. When two blocks overlap, and transparent ink is used, a third color is created where they overlap. Using this technique, 2 blocks can print 3 colors.

Extending this out to more blocks, 3 blocks can print 7 colors. 4 blocks can print more colors than I care to figure out (11 15, I think, but it is early in the morning).

This hurts my head to think about

My current block is giving me quite a challenge, because I know that it will be printed with another block, and the two will interact to create a third color. When I carve the block, I have to keep in mind that some areas that I carve will be left white on the final print, and some areas will be filled in with the second block. Some areas will be defined by how the two blocks overlap, and I have to leave those areas intact, so that the two colors can print together.

It is interesting to carve a block in this way. Often, I carve blocks with a “black and white” frame of mind. Color will print on the block, except where I carve away.

With this block, I am considering the shapes that this block will print, the shapes the second block will print, the areas where they overlap, and the areas left white by the paper.

I finished carving the first of these two blocks last night (took 3 evenings). I have a busy couple of days coming up, keeping me from my art through the weekend, so I won’t get to the second block till early next week, but look for updates then.