Primary Tools & Materials:
block printing, data visualization
Additional Tools & Materials: pencil, paper, Speedball Speedy-Carve rubber carving block, Speedball carving tools, ink, brayer, tray, maps, inkjet printer
Today's matchup was between analog printing and data visualization. I chose to print using a hand-carved rubber block, and use antique maps (from the New York Public Library's fantastic digital collections) as my data visualization. Now I will be the first to admit that this is not a very strong hybrid. The maps are beautiful, and they make a nice texture behind and through the negative space of the letter, but they fade into the background more than I had intended, and don't really do much to affect the actual form of the letter in any substantial way. Maybe if this carved letter had more negative space, or I had chosen a semi-transparent ink, the maps would have been more prominent. As it is, they're really only serving as visual background.
That being said - I had so much fun carving this rubber block. I had never done this before. You may recall that I've used a carved block print before, back on Day 20. However, that time I created my design by hand, scanned it in, digitized it, then cut it out using a laser cutter. So I really had no idea how this material would react to the tools, or how difficult it would be to work with by hand. I found it a joy to work with - and so easy to manipulate that I even went "off-script" a few times, deviating from the sketch I transferred to the block for reference.
This letter is hand drawn by me, inspired by the ornate woodcut style of the 1800s. I wanted it to have depth and decoration, but most of all a rough, imperfect handmade quality. Looking at it now, the unevenness of the lines, the drifting angles in the shadow, and the inconsistent ink coverage all add to this letter's perfectly imperfect handmade appearance.
The aspects of this letter most unique to this way of printing are first, the variation in line weight that different cutting tools can transfer to the print, and secondly, the effect of high to low ink coverage on the stamp. In image 3 and 4 you can see the differing strokes and directions created by three different cutting tools used to carve away rubber. In images 5, 6, and 7 - you see the ink coverage transition to over-inked (number 5), adequate ink (number 6 - along with pressure applied to the margins to leave a faint imprint of the negative space around the letter), and low ink in number 7. Too much ink creates peaks, splotchy edges, and a bumpy texture on the dry ink surface. Uniform ink creates a smooth, matte texture, and clearly defined line edges. Too little ink can look blurry, as though the print were out of focus, leaving bare spots in parts of the print. None of these is right or wrong - it just depends on what effect most suits the context in which this letter is being used.
I'm curious about what different tools applied to this material could do to define different types of line weight. What could I use to get a dotted line? Perhaps a perforating rotary blade? What about a way to transform shapes or textures in their entirety - cookie cutters? Could something like a cheese grater cover large areas with a uniform texture evenly? Could a pizza cutter give me a fine, uniform line? (Is anyone else getting hungry right now?) I think the possibilities are vast, and if I do another hand cut letter in this series, I'd like to try some of those techniques.