This print and Shell Game were the output of the mokuhanga woodblock printmaking course I took this winter at Portland Community College. My goals for this particular project were twofold: to incorporate laser cutting in the process, and to experiment with goma zuri (Japanese for “sesame seed,” a technique that results in a dappled color texture). While I still have a lot to learn on both fronts, it was fun to experiment, and the bright colors helped bring some cheer to an otherwise uncertain time. (I created this print right when schools and businesses began shuttering in Portland due to COVID-19.)
Using the laser cutter at the PCC Maker Lab was particularly exciting for me because it lent itself well to my existing process, which involves a lot of digital sketching. Although I don’t create much digital art these days, the ease with which I can “try on” different layering approaches and color palettes helps me figure out how I want to approach the actual print. I find it particularly useful when creating a reduction print, such as this one, to confirm which areas to carve away at each stage. This particular image was created in Inkscape (an open-source alternative to Illustrator), so it was particularly easy to prep for the laser cutter – I simply had to drop the colors and invert everything so that the laser would burn away everything I wanted to preserve as white in the final image. Once everything was aligned and ready to go, it took all of 40 minutes for the laser to burn the image into my block – slightly faster than I would have been carving out all those tiny lines!
As an afterthought, I decided to emboss an additional dandelion tuft into the final prints by laying the still-damp paper rightside-up over one of the tufts on the original printing block. It took me a bit of trial and error to get a clean emboss, and it’s mildly impossible to capture well with my horrible photography set-up, but you can see a detail of it to the right.