Saturday, February 5, 2011

Eucalyptus and Winter Leaf

It's been quite a fest here at the studio for the last 24 hours and counting. Not coincidentally, my hubby left for a glorious bike training camp yesterday morning. Since then my mind has been occupied with thoughts of projects ongoing, projects on the to-do-list, the website, the seller permit (which I found out I got, but never received the packet). He took the good laptop so I couldn't continue working on the website, so ---- it was time to for me to carve. Backing up a little bit, yes the day was filled with school, kids and their playdates, homework gestapo (that's me) and the usual stuff. After the kids went to bed I started carving and I haven't really stopped aside from sleeping and taking a tea break in the morning (and writing this blog).

I revisited this eucalyptus piece, which is based on a card design (2nd series and not even successfully printed. Ink was oil-based so it totally ruined my paper about 50 of them!!). I like the design alot so I decided to make a larger print, not for use in cards. Now I am thinking about using it for the hand-bound journals/books I will be making. This was fairly brainless task, but fun to do nonetheless.

I also carved a new design of a single leaf on a piece of wood. Recently my friend let me dip my hands into his pile of scrapwood at his cabinetry shop, so I am experimenting using different kinds of wood. Carving into wood is tricky because of the natural grain. Depending on which direction and angle  I carve (along or against the grain or anywhere in between), I get a different carve mark. This probably sounds more cool than it actually is right now. My brain refuses to keep track of how each mark is resulted, so everything seems kind of random. Keeping track should be simpler, but my mind and hands are occupied with carving out an image from this very tough piece of wood! Perhaps in time I will just get it...

When I carve wood it is very laborous and my arms hurt afterwards. This is why I don't carve wood very much. And I think about how those Edo Period craftsmen carved out such exquisite lines to make the woodblock prints that I love so much.

I also think about my friend I used to work at the art restoration studio. She carved giant wood panels which she made giant prints out of. Some of her artwork hung inside a church in SF, some 25feet high (or more? can't remember exactly). It was a spectacular sight, especially with her composer friend conducting an orchestra with the image as a backdrop. Anyhow, she'd show up to work with bandages around her hands and she'd tell me she cut herself the night before. While I am carving I think about how that must have hurt!

So I get really excited when I do something for the fist time. And with this leaf carving, I decided to try  my own method of burnishing. I read about this when I learned about Japanese furniture lacquering. Traditionally, lacquer is collected from a particular type of wood and is considered very poisonous. The substance is so toxic (while it is wet) that only certain people, like family of the lacquering business, has tolerance for it. There was a time when my restoration master talked about sending me away to Japan to study lacquering under one of these people and boy was I scared! I was so certain that I would die a horrible death from either breathing in or touching this toxic substance.

Anyhow, about burnishing. One does not have be working with lacquer to burnish, actually I think it just means applying pressure to the wood grain to compact the surface. The old lacquer guys used a special wood charcoal stick to do this, but I look around the house and decided to use this ugly bottle opener -- it is metal and has smooth edged point, and has a good handle (duh!). So after the wood has been carved there's lots of chipped areas, uneven edges, etc. I did use a sanding paper before but this bottle opener did the job! Now the wood surface is smooth and shiny, and pretty enough for a photo! (No photo now because hubby took it with him to bike camp) I am really happy and excited about this result.
**OK I later took this photo with my phone. Photo is not very sharp, but you get the idea...

Thanks for reading. I realize now that I tend to let my mind wander when I work....


  1. I am dying to see photos of the work in progress. Did that husband of yours take the good camera with him too? ;>
    Love you, Yoshe.

  2. Is the technique somewhat similar to Kamakura-bori (one without lacquer burnish)?