Tom Huck Woodcut Bootcamp Day 5: The Water Park

This is Huck’s $30,000 handmade press after two bootcampers take it over. Part art desk, part grocery aisle. And yes, that is an empty wine bottle in the back right by the roller. I’ll take the blame for that one.

This is Huck’s $30,000 handmade press after two bootcampers take it over. Part art desk, part grocery aisle. And yes, that is an empty wine bottle in the back right by the roller. I’ll take the blame for that one.

As far as Huck lectures go, this day was light, no lectures planned, and most of the day was spent carving. Well, carving…and the water park.

In our bootcamp instructions, one item we were required to bring was a swimsuit. Since arriving, there had been rumors of a trip to a water park. The Six Flags water park had been mentioned, or a city water park hinted at, all with the promise of getting cleaned up. None of it made sense to me. There was simply no time for an excursion to Six Flags. I couldn't imagine a city water park letting us quasi-shower among playing children.

Around midday, Shannon announced we were to change into our swimwear and line up. Nice! We were finally going to see what this water park was all about.

Look who’s first in line, and with a bar of soap. Wanting to be fresh does not make me a princess.  (Pic by Ian Chalgren)

Look who’s first in line, and with a bar of soap. Wanting to be fresh does not make me a princess. (Pic by Ian Chalgren)

After much waiting, speculating, and joking, we were led, single file, through a series of doorways and long halls that ran along the back of the building and eventually outside to a parking lot. Here was the great water park. “Water” being a kiddie pool and a hose; “park” being a parking lot. And to be honest, after 4 days of no real bathing, it was amazing. Several of us jumped in, lathered up, and had a wonderful time as Huck's daughter blasted us with the hose, Pulp Fiction style. (Later Huck said the film gave him the idea.)

If you were hoping for swimsuit pics, cell phones were not allowed (thank god). But Shannon Cousino caught this pic of Huck and his daughter preparing the water park.

If you were hoping for swimsuit pics, cell phones were not allowed (thank god). But Shannon Cousino caught this pic of Huck and his daughter preparing the water park.

After the great hosing off, I spent most of the day finishing up the record player and fire around the devil’s face. You can see my very crude attempt at crossing hatching on the right side of the record player and around the devil’s fingers.

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To see what you can do with well executed cross hatching, here is the crazy mad skills of my desk partner, Trisha.

Some exquisite cross-hatching drawn on the board.

Some exquisite cross-hatching drawn on the board.

It’s one thing to draw it, but quite another to carve it. She’s a technician on both counts.

It’s one thing to draw it, but quite another to carve it. She’s a technician on both counts.

Trisha turned out to be the perfect table mate for me. She was strong in all the skills I was not. She taught me many tricks and tips. My favorite being the mantra, "adapt." “Adapt, Matt. Just adapt,” she would say when I’d groan over a misstep. Wood is not a forgiving medium. You must internalize the mindset of 'adapt.' (Kind of works in life as well.)

Something else that helps when carving isn’t going so great: The bar next door has a wonderful selection of local brews. Here are two of my favorites. If you like IPA’s, see if you can locate these gems.

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Now back to my board. Initially my intention was to make a border around the main composition made up of repeating eyes (the spirits are always watching), skulls (death, a bit too obviously), and hour glasses (time is running short, my friend). But once I went to carve the border, it struck me that what I really needed was something very simple and crude, the opposite of the high contrast craziness going on within the picture. I started calling my little mini scenes, voodoo haiku. This added a bit more creative work as I wanted each border scene to be unique. But it also allowed me to procrastinate on the devil’s face, which at this point, I had no idea how I was going to handle and was very leery of.

Other ways to procrastinate…

Walk around and see what everyone else is up to. That’s our den mother, Shannon, throwing the devil horns, btw. (Pic by Bryan Raymundo)

Walk around and see what everyone else is up to. That’s our den mother, Shannon, throwing the devil horns, btw. (Pic by Bryan Raymundo)

Check out the websites of other artists, like Michael Sommers (more on his work later), and Kellen, sporting the wireless headphones. We always had music blaring in the print shop. Kellen decided to opt out. (Pic by Bryan Raymundo)

Check out the websites of other artists, like Michael Sommers (more on his work later), and Kellen, sporting the wireless headphones. We always had music blaring in the print shop. Kellen decided to opt out. (Pic by Bryan Raymundo)

Another way to procrastinate carving is to admire shop signs. This is one of my favs.

Another way to procrastinate carving is to admire shop signs. This is one of my favs.

Pro Tips (this section is for those interested in the technical aspects of woodblock printing):

Today’s Pro Tip is actually a review of the Futatsu Wari Moku Hango To 1.0mm U gouge. Because I broke the Josei Moku Hanga To 1.0mm U gouge, I decided to spend the money on the ‘professional grade’ version of that size. (Huck felt I broke the blade because I was abusing the angle of that particular size. 1.0mm is very tiny and therefore somewhat delicate.) I bought the Futatsu Wari gouges from Mcclain’s Printmaking Supplies. They carry individual gouges as well as sets. They are hand made. From what I can tell, the Japanese steel in the Futatsu and the Josei are the same, but the handles are crafted differently and of different wood (birch for the Futatsu, Silver Magnolia for the Josei). The Futatsu also has a brass square ferrule (below the steel blade itself) which can be pulled off, allowing the handle to split apart. Inside is the blade, which can be re-positioned or replaced. As you can see, the gouge is already cut short to fit the hand. I love this gouge. It’s extremely comfortable. The brass ferrule does make it a bit tricky to sharpen as the angle required to swipe the blade against the leather (or stone) is nearly matched by the bump out of the ferrule. I did get the hang of it. If (god forbid) I break any of my current Josei Moku Hanga To gouges, I will probably replace them with the Futatsu.

That being said, I’m writing this review a few weeks out from getting home. The block I’m currently working on was cut almost exclusively with a 3.0mm V gouge. Huck uses a V for almost everything. I saw many bootcampers using the V (including my desk partner) in amazing ways. So I decided it was time for me to embrace the V. (For some reason I started with the U gouge and just never looked back.) Well, now I’ve turned completely around. If you’re just starting out, learn on the V. You can get very small detailed lines or nice thick lines with the same blade depending on the depth you go. You can lean it on it’s side for quick large cuts. I just find it to be very versatile, so much so, that I don’t really need the 1.0mm U gouge. I can do all it’s work and more with a 3.0mm V. Live and learn. My next Futatsu will be a V.

Futatsu Wari Komasuki, u-gouge knife, 1.0 mm

Futatsu Wari Komasuki, u-gouge knife, 1.0 mm

Tom Huck Woodcut Bootcamp Day 4: Show and Smell

This is the kind of flat file print nerds dream about. It also holds much of Huck’s most famous work. Double magic!

This is the kind of flat file print nerds dream about. It also holds much of Huck’s most famous work. Double magic!

On for today’s agenda, "Show and Smell," Huck's title for an up close and personal view of his art. Until now, I've only seen Huck's work from Google searches on my cell phone. It's not exactly a fair way to evaluate art, especially his, as the punch of his work comes largely from its size and audacity.

Huck starts out by placing a large black folio on the table. This is Huck's first opus. Entitled “Two Weeks in August: 14 Rural Absurdities,” it contains 14 prints documenting 14 tales from his hometown, Potosi, Missouri. Right out of grad school, Huck completed the set over the course of 3 years while living in his parent's basement. During that time, he did nothing but eat and sleep his art. Once completed, he scraped together enough money to make two complete sets. If you go to Bootcamp, you will hear the amazing story of how he then sold both sets to the top two print collections in the United States, Harvard's Fogg Museum, and the New York Public Library. This was the start of his art career.

This set of 14 prints has long been sold out. Huck is able to borrow the one we are looking at from a collector who lives nearby. Please excuse my photography. I was trying to shoot quickly while he spoke. Also, a quick warning: Huck's work is for mature audiences. Some of the pictures, or my descriptions of them, may offend.

BED OF BONES To this day, Huck’s most popular print; the true story of two locals who lived among the decomposing carcasses of deceased pets.

BED OF BONES To this day, Huck’s most popular print; the true story of two locals who lived among the decomposing carcasses of deceased pets.

CHILI DOGS, CHICKS, AND MONSTER TRUCKS A common occurrence in the Midwest, the monster truck rally. Huck warned us to always double check the reverse image that printing causes. In this print, he missed the fact that the steering wheel would be on the wrong side of the vehicle.

CHILI DOGS, CHICKS, AND MONSTER TRUCKS A common occurrence in the Midwest, the monster truck rally. Huck warned us to always double check the reverse image that printing causes. In this print, he missed the fact that the steering wheel would be on the wrong side of the vehicle.

THE CROSSING GUARD The story of an escaped convict, disguising himself as a crossing guard in downtown Potosi.

THE CROSSING GUARD The story of an escaped convict, disguising himself as a crossing guard in downtown Potosi.

HIGH WATER HOG BLUES Documenting the flood of 1993, where a hog farmer returned home to find several dead and bloated hogs in his living room.

HIGH WATER HOG BLUES Documenting the flood of 1993, where a hog farmer returned home to find several dead and bloated hogs in his living room.

THE MARRIAGE OF JIM AND DOLLY The marriage of an actual Potosi illegitimate brother and sister.

THE MARRIAGE OF JIM AND DOLLY The marriage of an actual Potosi illegitimate brother and sister.

FRIED EGGS AND ARSON A local chicken house burned for the insurance money. The town smelled of fried eggs for weeks.

FRIED EGGS AND ARSON A local chicken house burned for the insurance money. The town smelled of fried eggs for weeks.

CATWALK: HERE THEY COME! An annual period Gala and Fashion Show that quickly derailed into an all out striptease due to the misunderstanding of some of the local boys.

CATWALK: HERE THEY COME! An annual period Gala and Fashion Show that quickly derailed into an all out striptease due to the misunderstanding of some of the local boys.

MAD DASH FOR CASH A yearly crash up derby where the last car standing wins $1000.

MAD DASH FOR CASH A yearly crash up derby where the last car standing wins $1000.

EXHUMING MOSES Probably my favorite piece in this series. Under the cover of darkness, a group of Texans came to exhume the founding father of Potosi, Moses Austin. Austin’s son, Stephen, founded the state of Texas and some Texans believe the remains of the two should be together. Half way through the illegal unearthing, the men were caught.

EXHUMING MOSES Probably my favorite piece in this series. Under the cover of darkness, a group of Texans came to exhume the founding father of Potosi, Moses Austin. Austin’s son, Stephen, founded the state of Texas and some Texans believe the remains of the two should be together. Half way through the illegal unearthing, the men were caught.

PARTY TIL SHES CUTE Line dancing at the local Polosi drinking establishment.

PARTY TIL SHES CUTE Line dancing at the local Polosi drinking establishment.

KOHLER CITY REVISITED A local store that sold used dentures in a large barrel.

KOHLER CITY REVISITED A local store that sold used dentures in a large barrel.

MARTHA AND THE GREASED PIG My other favorite, two sisters who enter the greased pig contest every year and compete against the kids. They dress in full formal wear and combat boots.

MARTHA AND THE GREASED PIG My other favorite, two sisters who enter the greased pig contest every year and compete against the kids. They dress in full formal wear and combat boots.

PLAYLAND: THE GREAT SHARKBURGER SHORTAGE OF ‘95 When a well known fast food chain moved into the town, people waited for over 2 hours to get food. Eventually they ran out of burgers. Mayhem ensued. (The same restaurant was only a 30 minute drive away in the next town.)

PLAYLAND: THE GREAT SHARKBURGER SHORTAGE OF ‘95 When a well known fast food chain moved into the town, people waited for over 2 hours to get food. Eventually they ran out of burgers. Mayhem ensued. (The same restaurant was only a 30 minute drive away in the next town.)

Huck talking us through the collection that started his career. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

Huck talking us through the collection that started his career. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

If you counted correctly, I only posted 13 prints. Yes, THE NRA SQUIRREL HUNT was missed. You can view the entire collection (beautifully photographed) at evilprints.com/two-weeks.

After examining Huck’s first major work, he took out the much newer, Electric Boloneyland. This was the first piece of Huck’s I’d ever seen. It was the one he was working on during the Youtube video that started me down this path, so I was quite excited to see it in person. Like many of his later works, Electric Boloneyland is a triptych, the entire piece being made of three separate prints put into panels (like those frequently seen in medieval religious art). Electric Boloneyland is also a chiaroscuro print, a technique using more than one block to print different colors onto the print. Electric Boloneyland is the largest chiaroscuro print in history and it took him 4 years to complete.

The piece is based on Huck’s childhood memories of county fairs combined with his commentary on the proliferation of weapons in the United States. Huck recalls a time in the early 1980’s at the county fair, as do I, when a kid could win bullwhips, machetes, and throwing stars at the gaming booths. Packs of kids left the family friendly event armed to the teeth. To him, it is not a large leap from that period in time to the state of gun violence today. Again, here is my feeble attempts to capture these great (and huge) prints as they were laid out before us (it is worth your time to go to evilprints.com/baloneyland to see it as intended):

This gives you a scope of the size of these prints. Here is the centerpiece and one of the flanking panels (pic by Shannon Cousino).

This gives you a scope of the size of these prints. Here is the centerpiece and one of the flanking panels (pic by Shannon Cousino).

A bit of a closeup on the center panel. This is the Statue of Liberty captured in a noodling competition.

A bit of a closeup on the center panel. This is the Statue of Liberty captured in a noodling competition.

And the third panel, shoot ‘em up heads of state.

And the third panel, shoot ‘em up heads of state.

While talking about Electric Boloneyland, Huck mentioned that fans of his work are usually attracted to the humor, the satire, and the pop culture references. But to him, something like Electric Boloneyland carries a heaviness and a sadness with it. Sadness is exactly what I picked up on when I first saw it, and it made me feel better to hear him say so. It’s the same experience I have if I watch South Park. Brilliantly funny, astute in its observations, scathing in its commentary, but I can't watch episode after episode like some of my friends can. The accumulative weight of it is just depressing. I think it's because of the social commentary, the honing in on and exaggerating of the worst in our society in order to bring attention to the subject matter at hand. To me, sometimes the exaggerations feel not so much like exaggerations, but more like a glimpse into a not too distant future. That's probably where my sense of unease comes from.

After Electric Boloneyland, Huck brought out the triptych, Tommy Peeperz. Much more on the humor side, these 3 panels are about the time, as a 9 year old boy, Huck saw his first pair of breasts at the public swimming pool. As Huck was underwater with a scuba mask, a high school girl dove into the pool, losing her top and searing everything about that day onto Huck’s brain.

The middle panel of Tommy Peeperz. Of special note, the hand cut boarder of sperm.

The middle panel of Tommy Peeperz. Of special note, the hand cut boarder of sperm.

This panel of Tommy Peeperz recounts Huck finding his father’s adult magazines. He was caught in the act by his mother. Why the plungers, you ask? Huck was the oldest of five children, and he once overheard his mother say to his father, “Jesus Joe, it’s like I got plungers attached to both my tits 24 hours a day! “ Magazines weren’t the only thing Huck found under the bed. There was also a book about the European countryside. In it, Huck saw his first ever Durer print. The print changed his life.

This panel of Tommy Peeperz recounts Huck finding his father’s adult magazines. He was caught in the act by his mother. Why the plungers, you ask? Huck was the oldest of five children, and he once overheard his mother say to his father, “Jesus Joe, it’s like I got plungers attached to both my tits 24 hours a day! “ Magazines weren’t the only thing Huck found under the bed. There was also a book about the European countryside. In it, Huck saw his first ever Durer print. The print changed his life.

After printing Tommy Peeperz, the papers were stained with a mixture of coffee and tea to make them look old. (Pic by Shannon Cousino.)

After printing Tommy Peeperz, the papers were stained with a mixture of coffee and tea to make them look old. (Pic by Shannon Cousino.)

I did not get a picture of the third panel which is a riff on Huck and his brother’s destruction of their sister’s barbie dolls. For a good look at all three, go to evilprints.com/tommy-peeperz

Next up, The Transformation of Brandy Baghead. This was Huck’s first triptych and was inspired by the short lived reality television program, Swan. The TV show took a group of women who were not considered beautiful, subjected them to 24 hours of cosmetic surgery, and then had them compete against one another in a beauty contest. In Huck’s version, Brandy Baghead is transformed into a chicken to compete in an ice-skating competition.

The middle panel depicting the transformative surgery.

The middle panel depicting the transformative surgery.

Brandy Baghead, the watermelon queen. Huck said cutting the watermelon was technically the most difficult woodblock carving he’s ever done.

Brandy Baghead, the watermelon queen. Huck said cutting the watermelon was technically the most difficult woodblock carving he’s ever done.

Apparently I have an issue getting pictures of the third panel. For a complete look, go to evilprints.com/the-transformation-of-brandy-baghead.

After seeing the massive triptychs, Huck brought out some of his smaller pieces:

Huck is currently working on a small set of prints about global warming (in addition to the Monkey Mountain Chronicle). Themed after the four seasons, here is summer.

Huck is currently working on a small set of prints about global warming (in addition to the Monkey Mountain Chronicle). Themed after the four seasons, here is summer.

WAR MADILLO. A play on Durer’s famous Rhinoceros and Huck’s comment on the current immigration policy. The first edition of the print was immediately purchased by the Library of Congress.  Huck was stunned to learn they hung it alongside Durer’s Rhinoceros.

WAR MADILLO. A play on Durer’s famous Rhinoceros and Huck’s comment on the current immigration policy. The first edition of the print was immediately purchased by the Library of Congress. Huck was stunned to learn they hung it alongside Durer’s Rhinoceros.

I love this photograph. We four bootcampers are intensely examining a dog penis that took Huck several days to carve in this print that was part of the Bloody Bucket series. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

I love this photograph. We four bootcampers are intensely examining a dog penis that took Huck several days to carve in this print that was part of the Bloody Bucket series. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

Of course, we did not see every print Huck has ever done. Here are several from his Hillbilly Kama Sutra collection. You can see this entire collection and nearly all his work at evilprints.com in the Gallery section.

Of course, we did not see every print Huck has ever done. Here are several from his Hillbilly Kama Sutra collection. You can see this entire collection and nearly all his work at evilprints.com in the Gallery section.

I have no right or credentials to play art critic with Huck's work. But hey, it's my blog, and it's something I've been thinking about, so I guess I'm gonna.

Why is Huck's work important? Why is it collected in museums? For that matter, why would a museum want to display a print of a pimple-assed man fucking a woman over a shit-stained toilet in an outhouse while a dog humps his prosthetic leg? (I rewrote that sentence several times, trying to be more eloquent, but when you see the print, I think you’ll agree it’s the most accurate description. The print is entitled Anatomy of a Crack Shack and is part of the Bloody Bucket series.)

First, Huck’s work gives voice to the America where he lives, among people he affectionately describes as 'hillbillies.’ I grew up and live in that same America (about 3 hours away from Huck’s). Our hills are too small for us to consider ourselves hillbillies, so we prefer ‘rednecks.’ As such, we do not usually see our particular demographic represented in modern works of art or museums. Visually, this makes Huck unique.

Secondly, Huck is a brilliant satirist. At first glance, his art seems to exploit the preconceptions of middle America, of rural life, of bumpkinly tropes living in the sticks. If this leaves us feeling superior or sophisticated, realize that the joke is on the viewer. The larger statement is about America at large, the collective, about what we’ve become, and what we are becoming. Hillbilly imagery is merely the vehicle to drive the point. Tom Huck is Samuel Clemens with a gouge and a block of wood (and yes, that is Huck’s real name.)

But for those who might be put off by his subject matter, or his opinions, it’s Huck's mastery of the art form that leaves little doubt of his place in the history of printing. And this is really all that Huck cares about. He spoke many times as to why he creates his art. He wants to be part of the history, a through-line that he sees connecting himself directly to Durer. (Fun fact, Durer was born in 1571 and Huck was born in 1971. Huck does not think this is a coincidence, but rather his destiny, that he and Durer are cosmic brothers.) Huck is obsessed with, passionate about, and pays homage to the history of printmaking. The price of admission to this lineage, as Huck sees it, is to do things with the medium that have never been done before, to continually push the art form and his abilities, just as the masters did in their day.

It is this combination of technical machismo, the unique shock and awe of his subject matter, and the bite of his satire that makes art academia pay attention.

Naturally, after seeing so many incredible prints, we were pumped to get back to our own projects. I spent the rest of the day and into the night carving a record player.

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Huck spent a very hot evening grilling us dinner out on the sidewalk.

(pic by Shannon Cousino)

(pic by Shannon Cousino)

Tom Huck Woodcut Bootcamp Day 3: Learning To Carve Huck Style

Huck gives us a carving lesson (pic by Shannon Cousino).

Huck gives us a carving lesson (pic by Shannon Cousino).

Shannon, our Den Mother, told us we'd fall into a routine after a couple days of bootcamp chaos. And that's pretty much what happened. Officially we are to be up by 8am. Shannon does this by blasting our morning wake up song. The first morning it was Crazy Train. That's the only one I remember; well, and the last song on Sunday, Poison’s Home Sweet Home. Even though I was only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep, I was usually up by 6:30am, trying to stumble quietly to my work station and get to carving. I'm typically a 9 hours of sleep necessary guy. So it was really interesting to get by on half that. Part of it was driven by terror, the possibility of not being ready by print day. The other part was excitement. I discovered jumping out of bed to do something you love is quite a bit different than waking to go do something you don't. For the rest of the week, this was my routine:

1. Wake up, look around and see if anyone else is working (Bryan was always up. He was in the military. Guess early to rise stuck with him.)

2. Brush my teeth

3. Work on my piece until Shannon unlocked the front door (we were locked in at night).

4. Walk 5 minutes down the street to this amazing grocery store called Fields where they have a coffee bar, a beer bar, a sushi bar, a sandwich bar. I've never seen anything like it; clean, everyone friendly, just fantastic. It's a little like Fresh Thyme where I'm from, but on steroids. So I'd get my coffee, some fruit, then head back to the print shop.

5. At 8am, the wake-up song would play. At this time we are to pack up all our sleeping gear and stow it in our assigned place along the wall and out of the way.

6. Onto the shower (or lack there of). On the list of items to bring, one was “lots and lots of baby wipes.” What is this for, I pondered. For removing ink, most likely. Well, yes, they're good for that, but mostly they're for a bath when you don't have a bath. A bit awkward at first, but by mid-week I was quite adept at a full body baby wipe rub down. Put on some fresh clothes, pick out a black ironic t-shirt, a hat, spritz a little acqua di gio and I'm a new man. Back to the carving board looking dandy and smelling fresh.

7. Eat breakfast (usually fruit and a bagel) while carving. Yes, my board has peanut butter on it.

Looks disgusting, right? This is our bathroom sink. I like this sink. This is an art sink, stained with ink , paint, and creativity tears. We all learned how to wash our hair in this sink.

Looks disgusting, right? This is our bathroom sink. I like this sink. This is an art sink, stained with ink , paint, and creativity tears. We all learned how to wash our hair in this sink.

In fact, I dig the whole bathroom. Some killer art in here.

In fact, I dig the whole bathroom. Some killer art in here.

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Love this piece by the toilet. Somebody know who did it, message me!

Love this piece by the toilet. Somebody know who did it, message me!

Love this one too!

Love this one too!

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On this day 3 of our lord, Huck was to give his carving lesson. Arriving at the shop mid-day, he walked around the room, looking at our board drawings. He made comments, gave encouragement. Inspecting my work, he picked up a pen and made some shade lines on the devil's hand. Yep, Tom Huck drew on my board. Pretty sweet. (I'm such a fan boy.)

This is Ian, very accurately emoting what it’s like to have Huck draw on your board. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

This is Ian, very accurately emoting what it’s like to have Huck draw on your board. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

Gathered round for the carving lecture.

Gathered round for the carving lecture.

As much of Huck's carving lecture is nitty-gritty technical, I'll give the overview here for the casual reader, and then for all you shop rats, I’ll put the juicy details in the pro-tips section at the bottom. (“Shop rats:” an affectionate term for printing nerds. Pretty great, huh? You should see the shirt! Sadly, I couldn't get one. JT, I'm size large, just sayin'...)

So, a brief overview of old school printing: Back in Durer's day (the God of all printing), and we're talking late 1500's here, wood blocks were made from the hardest of hardwoods; cherry, pear, and apple. The blocks were solid pieces of timber (not laminated press-board like we use now) and they weren’t much bigger than our standard paper size. The blocks needed to be so hard because the presses of the time stamped downwards from above (not like the pressurized rollers currently in use). Due to the brutality of the presses, the raised edges of a soft wood block would be pulverized after just a few printings, so you needed hard wood to take the abuse. Also, they printed the bejesus out of the blocks. There were no 'limited edition’ runs in Durer's day. It was more about making as many prints as possible for as long as possible so they could make money selling them. These hard blocks of wood were carved (gauged) with long, metal V gauges that were beat into the wood with a hammer. Considering that Durer's technical skills are rarely matched to this day, the fact that he used such crude tools makes his work all the more mind blowing.

Homework: Want to get to know some of history's most notable print makers? Here's Huck's top 5:

Albrecht Durer, Jose Guadalupe Posada, William Hogarth, Kathe Kollwitz, Honore Daumier

Huck's favorite print of all time? He waffles between two:
Durer's Knight, Death and the Devil and Durer’s Rhinoceros (make sure you read the story behind Rhinoceros)

After the carving lecture, Huck invites us behind the mysterious black curtain where he has magically appeared and disappeared the last two days. Down a short hall and to the left is the cozy space that is his personal studio. It's also the space where they shot the YouTube interview I've watched so many times. At the time, Huck was working hard on Electric Baloneyland. Now, he is drawing out one of the panels in his new epic work, A Monkey Mountain Chronicle. Huck spends the next half hour explaining the details of the drawing (all about American gluttony and greed). His studio is filled with the great knickknacks of a collector, memorabilia, books and art. There’s also a full sized slot machine against the wall (that I never got around to asking him about).

Huck’s studio in the back of the print shop. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

Huck’s studio in the back of the print shop. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

A Monkey Mountain Chronicle (back panel) nearly finished days later. Huck will carve this block in Scotland in the coming weeks. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

A Monkey Mountain Chronicle (back panel) nearly finished days later. Huck will carve this block in Scotland in the coming weeks. (pic by Shannon Cousino)

The back wall of Huck’s studio. Check out the killer painting by Valerie Wallace hanging above the bookshelf. Love that piece (minus the unfortunate glare). You can follow her on Instagram.

The back wall of Huck’s studio. Check out the killer painting by Valerie Wallace hanging above the bookshelf. Love that piece (minus the unfortunate glare). You can follow her on Instagram.

After Huck's lecture, it’s finally carving time for some of us. I get out my big red sharpie and go to town. (Wonder what the red sharpie is all about? Check out pro-tips.)

Last step is complete. On to carving—finally!

Last step is complete. On to carving—finally!

The rest of the afternoon and into the night I spend carving. I begin with the letters in the upper left hand corner. I like carving around letters and I wanted to start in familiar territory to get in the groove. Before going to bed, I had ‘Red Hot Devil Music’ completed.

Pro tips (this section is for those interested in the technical aspects of woodblock printing):

1. Drawing like Durer: Why is Durer such a master? Part of the answer has to do with the way he penned shapes and figures. Yes, he had a profound grasp of such pen staples as cross hatching and stippling, but there is another technique to his genius. Durer did not typically outline his forms. He let the differences between shadow gradients create the form, just as they are created in real life. In the picture below, look at the top box, and then the upper left quadrant of the box. Huck uses shadows to create the shape of the box, not a line of demarcation. When carried throughout the drawing, this technique adds weight to the objects and their relationship to one another.

The bottom box is how most folks draw a cube, outlining all the edges of the shape. Durer lets the shadows define the edges of the shape, just as they occur in real life. This is one reason why Durer’s images are so dynamic.

The bottom box is how most folks draw a cube, outlining all the edges of the shape. Durer lets the shadows define the edges of the shape, just as they occur in real life. This is one reason why Durer’s images are so dynamic.

2. Picking out your block: Most woodcuts are printed from Birch Plywood blocks. Birch is a semi-hard hardwood, can hold very detailed lines, stands up well to the rigors of a press, and is fairly economical. Where to get it? Huck warns against getting your block at box stores like Lowes, Menards, or Home Depot. He gets his from Mom and Pop lumberyards or flooring specialty stores. That said, our blocks for bootcamp came from Home Depot. Also, for some of us (like yours truly), Lowes is the easiest, closest place to get it. So, if you are purchasing from a subpar lumber retailer, you can do a couple things to improve the quality of the material. First, get 3/4 Birch Plywood rather than 1/2 inch. 1/2 inch is just fine for carving, but the 3/4 inch is considered ‘cabinet grade’ and so will be a better product. Second, inspect the edges of the plywood. The problem with laminated plywood is that sometimes the plywood sheet sandwiched between the birch laminate will contain gaps where two pieces of plywood don’t quite butt up together. You can see these gaps if you look at the sides of the board. The gaps will usually run the entire length of the board and if you hit one while carving, you will encounter a hole that cannot hold your line. Also, it is not uncommon for these gaps to lead to a silver dollar sized hole that you will discover only after you've carved into it. For my work, running into one of these holes is not a big deal. I can adapt or use it as part of the piece. (See close up of my bat print, for an example of a discovered gap.) For technical masters like Huck, a hole or gap can ruin years of work. Yes, you can touch up the print by hand if necessary, but it's really better to avoid the hassle from the get go. So look at the sides of the wood you're considering. If you see a gap, look for a better piece. Also, look for a side of the board with zero to very minimal wood knots. Knots tend to crumble as you carve into them. Again, a pain. For these reasons, Huck has actually switched to carving on cherry blocks. Because it takes him 3-4 years to carve a piece, he simply can't afford issues with material. But rest assured, for most of us, birch is just fine.

You can see the unplanned gap in the halo around the bat’s head in my block, O Negative. For my work, gaps and holes can add to the aesthetic. For technical virtuosos like Huck, these defects are a nightmare.

You can see the unplanned gap in the halo around the bat’s head in my block, O Negative. For my work, gaps and holes can add to the aesthetic. For technical virtuosos like Huck, these defects are a nightmare.

3. Carving tools: Huck still uses wood gouges from a set he received 20 plus years ago. Taken care of, a good set of gouges will last a lifetime. Huck feels strongly that Japanese steel is the very best steel. He largely uses Josei Moku Hanga To gouges obtained from the online retailer, McClain's Printmaking Supplies. Because I watched Huck's YouTube interview, I too, purchased the same tools from McClain's. (I'll take a moment to give McClain's some love, mostly so that everyone buys from them and they stay in business. I've since bought all my supplies from McClain's: inks, brayers, barens, their many beautiful papers, practically everything but the wooden spoon I use to hand rub prints—which I stole from our kitchen. They have excellent service and they publish tons of free information on how to choose, use, and care for your equipment. Sign up for the catalog, which is fantastic and also full of wood print art. I get the same thrill looking through the McClain’s catalog as I do the seed catalogs we get in the springtime. Check them out!) If you don't want to spend $200-$300 on a set of Hanga Tos, you have a couple choices. You can buy gouges individually. A 3mm V gouge, a 3mm U gouge, and an exacto knife can get you pretty far . In fact, you'll probably find, as I did, that you have a favorite gouge and use it for almost everything. (I watched one very talented young lady at bootcamp carve her entire intricate block with a V gauge that was huge. It must have been at least 6mm.) Personally, I almost exclusively use the fore mentioned 3mm gouges, exacto knife, and a 1mm U gouge that I'll review in a future blog post. Another option is a brand of gouges called Power Grip. These very affordable gouges come in sets around $50 and use Japanese steel. Huck gives this brand a thumbs up due to the quality of the steel, especially for students.

4. Carving with gouges: The best way to learn how to carve is to just do it. If you have some scrap birch plywood (or you can use the backside of the board you plan on printing), draw something simple and go to it. You’ll quickly learn the feel and the response of the wood to different pressures, the difference of feel when cutting with the grain verses across grain, using an exacto knife to score, etc. But here are some general pointers:

You hold the gouge in your dominate hand and push with your arm to sink the gouge tip and power it along in the wood. To protect your hands from muscle strain on long carving sessions, learn to use your arm to power the gouge forward, not the muscles of your wrist and fingers (you will use them sometimes, but get in the habit of using your arm). You use your opposite hand to steady and direct the gouge. Obviously, scoop away from you, not towards you. This just protects you from accidents. A nice sharp gouge will slice through wood like butter. It’s a great feeling. Just mind where the sharp part of the gouge is headed. V gouges tend to give you very fine detailed lines depending on how deep you go. The deeper you go, the wider the line becomes because of its V shape. They also do better cutting across the grain without splintering (you can sometimes run into splintering problems with a U gouge cutting across the grain). U gouges give you a wider path which does not get much wider the deeper you go. An exacto knife can be used to score the edge of a cut if you want to be sure to get a clean break (like around the letters on my block, for example). How deep to go is always a concern for first time carvers. The answer is not very deep. If you need a measurement, probably a millimeter or so. The white parts of the print do not become more white because you carved more deeply. (Depth of carving can get a bit more complicated with large white areas and I’ll cover that when we talk about inking.)

5. Where to carve: You will be carving away all the white areas of your drawing and leaving all the black lines you’ve drawn. These Sharpie lines will become the inked parts of the print. This is called 'black line' carving, when you transfer your drawing to the block and then carve around all the black parts. There is also another approach called 'white line' carving. This is when you stain the block black, make a quick sketch with white chalk or a white pencil on the block, and then carve out the image in a much more ‘winging it’ fashion. The German Expressionists loved and exploited this technique. Most modern woodcuts will use both black and white techniques. I ended up using the white line approach on the devil's face (something I will talk about more specifically on that blog day).

Finally, to make your carving life much easier, here’s a little trick: You will notice when you gouge out a white area of wood, it is difficult to distinguish the carved area from an uncarved white area of wood. To easily see carved vs uncarved wood, the old masters stained their blocks a light red or orange color. Now all the areas to cut can be easily differentiated from the drawn black lines AND the areas already cut (which will be white). Today, we use a big red Sharpie to do this, the magnum-sized one. Before you start to carve, cover the entire block with red sharpie. (Yes, cover over the black parts too. It’s quicker and easier to red the whole block. The black will show through the red just fine.)

6. Sharpening your tools: You will need to sharpen your gouges at least once a day. Huck likes to do it in the morning before getting started. Huck sharpens on a leather belt. This is usually called the strop method. It’s the same method old time barbers used to sharpen their straight razors. A leather belt, or a strop (which is a short leather belt for barbers), or a piece of wood with cow or horse hide adhered to it, will all work well for this type of sharpening. You will also need polishing compound. It comes in a stick, about the size of sidewalk chalk, usually green. Take the polishing compound and rub some on the leather. Now you are ready to sharpen. I will describe the process, but because this is highly visual, looking at a Youtube video or two might be helpful.

Starting with a V gouge (because it’s the easiest to master), put the green sharpening compound on a section of the leather and place the V gouge on the compound on one side of the V at a 35 degree angle, the tip pointing away from you. Pull the gouge toward you through the compound maintaining the 30 degree angle. (You will pull it about 4-6 inches.) Lift the V gouge and place it back at the point where you started. Repeat the process. You do not push the gouge forward. It will cut into your leather. You can put a little pressure on the blade as you pull it. You can pull it quickly. You will notice as you continue this process, the polishing compound will turn from bright green to dark green. Some people like to count strokes, like 50 for example. Others prefer to do it for a specific time, like a minute. After one side is finished, flip the gouge so that the opposite side of the V is against the leather. Now do this side just the same. Congrats. You have sharpened your V gouge.

The U gouge is a little different. You pull it toward you and push it away from you in a figure 8 pattern. Because you push it away from you, the angle is a bit more crucial. Too steep an angle and you will cut into the leather on the forward motion. I suggest starting with an angle around 20 degrees or so and increase it as you get more comfortable with the motion. Again you can count the cycles or do it for a certain amount of time. Like anything, you will quickly get the feel and be able to tell the difference between a sharp gouge and a dull one and the quality of your sharpening.

As mentioned, Huck feels that leather sharpening is the best and easiest method for keeping tools sharp for life. There are, however, other methods of sharpening you may run across, like sharpening with stones. Huck uses stones if a gouge gets a nick in the blade or some kind of unusual damage that needs to be ground out more aggressively than leather can accomplish. There are two common types of sharpening stones. Both work well. Water stones, which are soaked in water for 30-45min before sharpening, and oil stones, which use 3-in-1 oil on the surface of the stone as lubricant. The same motions are used for sharpening as with leather. If you use a water stone, however, make sure the tools are well dried afterward to avoid rust. A little 3-in-1 oil can be wiped on the blades to further protect them.

And while on the subject of gouge care: Don't toss your gouges or drop them. Don't keep them in a box all jumbled together and rattling around. This is how blades get damaged and nicked. Gouges should be kept rolled in a pouch (McClain's sells nice ones cheap), and their tips should be capped with the rubber tubing they are shipped with. This will ensure a lifetime of use.

7. Miscellaneous: Here are a few more tidbits that Huck has incorporated into his carving routine, largely in response to the wear and tear of long carving sessions on his hands and body.

Typically, Hanga To gouge handles come long and you cut them to fit your hand (they come with instructions on how to do this). Huck does not shorten his handles. This is because his first set came as a gift and he didn't know he was supposed to. By the time he found out, he'd gotten used to the long handles. He finds there is an advantage of the long handle when his hand and arm get tired, he can move his hand back on the handle for a bit more leverage. Being a disciple of Huck, I too, keep the handles long. I like them this way. That said, I have a new short handled gouge and I like it just as well. If you keep your handles long, I will warn to be careful with that extra leverage on thinner blades, like 1mm gouges. I've broken the blade because of the extra pressure you can exert.

Huck now wears gloves when he carves. He uses a brand called Impacto that makes gloves for construction workers and frequent box cutter or knife handles. He finds the box cutter version has pads that give him support in all the places that wood cutting demands. Over the Impacto gloves, he wears open-fingered weight lifting gloves.

Because the hand must grip harder on narrower objects, Huck also wraps his gouges with hockey tape. The tape increases the diameter of the handle (less grip required) and hockey tape specifically contains a grit agent for better gripping. When the tape gets worn or ratty, he peels it off and replaces it with new.

Few of us may find ourselves with a gouge in our hand for 8 or 12 hours daily for days on end. It is important, however, to pay attention to any aches and pains you might develop while carving. And so to end this block post, here is a quick warning story from yours truly:

This posture got me in trouble.

This posture got me in trouble.

This is how I stood for much of my carving time. I'm right handed, so I'm leaning on my left hand. For hours. For days. Leaning on that hand. I noticed some tingling in my left hand after a couple days. I ignored it and pushed on. By the time I got home on Sunday, my pinkie and ring finger would not move. They weren't swollen, they just wouldn't move. I play lead guitar in a local band and with a couple festivals coming up, as soon as I got home, I went straight to a guitar. I couldn't play it. My fingers wouldn’t work. I freaked out and called a friend who does hand nerve testing. She said I'd stressed the ulner nerve at the elbow by ignoring the warning signs and now the signal path was disrupted, the impulses not getting through to my fingers. Fortunately not permanently. Ice 3 times a day at the elbow and wrist. Rest the arm. I'm writing this a week and a half since Sunday. It's better, I can move all my fingers, but it’s not close to 100% yet. So don't ignore those warning signs, friends! Find a better table height or lean the board against a wall like Huck does. Take breaks. Stretch your hands and arms daily (you can find simple hand stretches on Google. The ones that work for office workers who type a lot are good for carving).

Tom Huck Woodcut Bootcamp Day 2: Huck Shows Us The Morgue

Pencil sketch of my idea for a woodcut

Pencil sketch of my idea for a woodcut

I'm up at 6:30am, partly because I just can't sleep. I figure I might as well draw. The real wake up time isn't until 8am. I find some coffee down the street and come back to get to work. At some point I need to develop an idea on paper. I didn't come empty handed as I was afraid I'd freeze under pressure, so I'd been thinking on it for the past few weeks. There is a story I heard from an interview with Howlin' Wolf's guitar player, Hubert Sumlin, (probably my favorite guitar player), where Howlin' Wolf left Chicago to visit his elderly mother in Mississippi. The two had been estranged and he wanted to show her how successful he'd become. At some point in their conversation, Howlin' Wolf took a wad of cash from his wallet, a few hundred dollars, and gave it to her. According to Hubert, she took the money and threw it on the ground, saying she wanted no part of his devil music. Howlin' Wolf left devastated and the two never reconciled. This story has stuck in my craw since hearing it and I've had this image in my head of the devil hanging out in his furnace lair listening to all of Howlin Wolf's incredible music and somehow getting the credit for it. So I ran with this idea, and spent the day drafting two renderings, one small and not exactly the right dimensions, just to flesh something out, and then a second at half scale. I'm more of a composition guy than an "meaning behind" guy. So while I might have a spark of an idea from something that hits me, the visuals of the piece need to take over at some point. When playing with different titles for the album the devil is listening to, I realized the perfect title is simply my favorite Howlin' Wolf song, Down in the Bottom. While the song is not about hell, it coincidentally adds multiple meanings. Can't pass something like that up.

Huck at the big green table where he delivered most of his lectures. (This photo was taken by Shannon Cousino, our den mother. And no, that is not my purse. And yes, I am wearing new all black converse high tops because they are cool and total rock and roll, which incidentally, is the vibe I was hoping to give off. Turns out they squeaked at every step. Not so rock and roll.)

Huck at the big green table where he delivered most of his lectures. (This photo was taken by Shannon Cousino, our den mother. And no, that is not my purse. And yes, I am wearing new all black converse high tops because they are cool and total rock and roll, which incidentally, is the vibe I was hoping to give off. Turns out they squeaked at every step. Not so rock and roll.)

Huck arrives for his first lecture and we gather around the big green table. He takes a seat against the large windows that look out over the street. This session is to be about the ways in which he comes up with the ideas for his art.

Huck is a big believer in notebooking, a tradition, he tells us, that stretches all the way back to Leonardo Da Vinci. No matter how brilliant you are, he says, no one can remember every great idea they had for a drawing, a painting, or whatever is your craft, so it must be written down in a notebook. And anything can be used as a notebook; the artbook types, the moleskin types, the spiralbound school paper notebooks that are sold for cheap during back to school sales, or for the down and out 'starving artist' with no money to spare, grocery sacks obtained from the local grocery store, cut into uniform sizes, and stapled together. For Huck, there is simply no excuse for not keeping a notebook.

In his notebooks, Huck writes just as much as he actually draws. As his pieces are sometimes political, satirical, and topical, he daily records anything that strikes his interest (or disgust), from things he's witnessed personally, to things he overhears, to things he digests in news and television. A radio spot about the remake of the old Battlestar Galactica television series will morph in his brain into the title of his next big tryptic work, Battlescar Craptaptica, a commentary on failed U.S. military operations. Simply writing the title into the notebook was all that was needed to launch his imagination for the content of the three future panels. His brain, he says, works in three distinct categories; the title of the piece, the imagery that supports the title, and finally the marriage of the two, the construction of the compositional narrative. The notebook helps him make that third crucial step, the 'narrative leap,' binding seemingly random ideas into a singular, powerful image.

It doesn't take long listening to Huck talk about his notebooks to get a sense of the catharsis he derives from putting these sudden ideas out of his brain and onto paper. As I would get to know him better over the coming days, the man has a steel trap mind that is difficult to keep up with. It is definitely not out of forgetfulness that he has adopted this method. It is a habit that brings him comfort, or as he calls it, a lifeline. Huck told us the story of how he used to carry notebooks that would fit in his back pocket, convenient, and always at hand. Then one day his notebook accidentally found it's way into the washing machine. Several years worth of ideas disintegrated in a single spin cycle. He described it as one of his darkest days. And even though unreadable, he still keeps the pages of that notebook in a plastic bag, hopeful he might someday be able to recover some of his entries.

So boiled down, Huck sees three crucial benefits to using a notebook:

1. The continual cataloging of ideas for your art. You never know when you will need an idea quickly. It is an insurance policy against creative block.

2. Practice. Constantly drawing in the notebooks improves drawing skills. Besides cataloging ideas, Huck does lesson drawings from other artists' work or sketches out bugs in pieces under development.

3. Profit. Once full, Huck sells his notebooks to collectors after he's photocopied the contents. Huck will also sometimes screen print directly from the drawings he's made in his notebooks.

After reading random entries from his latest notebook, Huck moved on to a small file case which he calls, The Morgue. Opening the top of the metal case reveals several file folders inside. Each folder is written with the title of an artwork. This is what I would call Step 2 in the fleshing out of the final work. After an idea has sufficiently gelled from his many notebook entries, Huck will create a file folder into which will go any and all materials to help finalize the layout and details. Frequently these are visual, pictures from magazines or newspapers, photographs from sessions with hired models, anything that can be used as a reference for the actual work of drawing. Huck is constantly on the hunt for photographs with facial expressions that are difficult to draw, or unusual physical poses, or uniforms and costumes, or landscape backdrops. All these references go into the folder.

Tom and I are about the same age, both of us growing up in the 80's and living most of our lives without digital technology. While notebooking has not been part of my artistic process, I completely understand 'The Morgue.' Back in the day, when a quick google search wasn't a thing, magazines were the best place to find (er...steal) image ideas for referencing. I kept similar folders myself, stacks and stacks of torn out people, expressions, outfits, etc. My parent's National Geographic collection was riddled with missing and scissored pages. Now, I tend to take screen shots from my phone and organize them into folders, but there is a feeling of comfort and permanence in the way Huck does it. I do wonder if it becomes harder and harder for him to find magazine material as the medium slowing disappears and is replaced by everything on the phone.

The Bible. Huck’s well worn copy of the complete woodcuts of Durer.

The Bible. Huck’s well worn copy of the complete woodcuts of Durer.

Later in the afternoon, we are finally given our wood blocks to draw on. We spend the rest of the day/night, redrawing the image from our paper to the 36"x24" block. Woodblock printing, at least in the tradition of Albrecht Durer and Tom Huck, are heavily powered by strong pen and ink drawing skills. These are skills that I am seriously lacking. In school, I was obsessed with painting and painters, turning my nose up at, what I considered at the time, the lowly ink pen. I'm paying for it now. More on this later, but fortunately Huck would direct me to the school of woodblock printing known as the German Expressionists. Here be my people, a bunch of crude drawers who love to print. But for now, when asking Tom about crosshatching and shading, he quickly disappeared to his back studio. When he returned, he announced to the class that he held the bible in his hand, and would leave it out for us to study. It is the complete works of the master printmaker and carver, Albrecht Durer.

Here is a man ready to draw on the block. This would be my station (on the big press!) for the next several days. The gal in the background, Tricia, would later join me. Good thing too, as she is a carving wizard and taught me a few things. (Pic by Shannon Cousino)

Here is a man ready to draw on the block. This would be my station (on the big press!) for the next several days. The gal in the background, Tricia, would later join me. Good thing too, as she is a carving wizard and taught me a few things. (Pic by Shannon Cousino)

Drawing on the board with pencil in painstaking reverse.

Drawing on the board with pencil in painstaking reverse.

Time to put down some Sharpie

Time to put down some Sharpie

Drawing finished and almost ready for carving.

Drawing finished and almost ready for carving.

Pro tips (this section is for those interested in the technical aspects of woodblock printing):

1. For notebooking, Huck likes to use Micron pens; 1 (0.25mm), 3 (0.35mm), 5 (0.45mm), and an 8 (0.5mm). He doesn’t like sharpies for notebooks as they tend to bleed through the pages. For pencils, he finds the Ticonderoga pencils to be the best, especially for drawing on blocks. And to blow your mind, Huck uses a drafting dry erase bag for removing pencil marks. Not familiar with this? Google it. They are amazing! They remove pencil lines with ease and without abrading the paper. They can also be used to remove the pencil under-drawing from the block after the ink is laid down and for cleaning up a print of unwanted marks (called “curating” in printing lingo).

2: On transferring the drawing to the block and the reverse image conundrum: So yes, your print is going to be backward from how you carve it into the wood. Depending, you may need to account for this when you transfer your drawing to the block. I say depending, because as Huck says, if the composition is balanced, it will work just as well in reverse. Everyone 'freaks out' on printing day when they see the reversed image of the print only because the brain has gotten so used to seeing it the other way. But given time to adjust, a well balanced composition will also look just as good flipped. So you don’t necessarily have to reverse the image. However, if you have text in your drawing, or things like steering wheels that need to be on a particular side of a vehicle, or simply want the print image to look like your drawing, the reversal will need to be accounted for.

Huck does reverse the image. He can draw from his sketches onto the block in reverse without any tricks. He's just been doing it so long. He wanted us to do the same, hand draw from our sketch in reverse onto the block. As I have a lot of text in my drawing, I had to be very careful that the lettering came out correctly. There are a few tricks to help (if you want to use tricks). You can shoot a picture of your drawing with your cell phone, reverse the image in your phone's photo app, then redraw it by looking at the reversed picture, OR get fancy and use a projector to project the image onto the wood and trace it directly. For my piece, I drew it by hand, but took many pictures with the my cell phone, reversing the image, and then checking and adjusting the drawing based on what I saw. This took some time, but ultimately was a great reference. Another old school trick is to check your block in a mirror.

3. Once the image is finalized on the block with a pencil drawing, you will draw over it with a Sharpie. (A fine pointed Sharpie can be used for fine line work.) We use Sharpies because the ink is permanent and not water based. You will notice the lines you make will spread a little as you draw on the wood. You get used to it and adjust accordingly. You may use a few Sharpies on a big block. Just buy them by the box. Make a mistake with a Sharpie? You can’t erase it, BUT…you can use a Uni Posca white paint marker. I’m sure there are other brands, but this was the one my table mate had and it was amazing, whites right over that Sharpie mark.

Tom Huck Woodcut Bootcamp Day 1

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Evil Prints is located in downtown St. Louis.  The print shop has that great vibe of part tattoo parlor, part rock bar, and also a place where art is made.  The music is nice and loud, the smell is a pleasant reminder of my high school days.  As a high-schooler, I was fortunate enough to spend four years worth of Saturdays at Heron School of Art as part of their Saturday school program.  During breaks I'd wonder around the empty studio spaces where the real Heron students did their work, taking in the turpentine fumes and the amazing, crazy and wicked paintings.  Evil Prints feels and smells just like that.  Good times.  This day was largely spent waiting for the 13 "campers" to arrive.  Many are BFA grads getting ready to go back for their master degrees, but more than a few of us are here just to learn from Huck on our own private quests.  I spend a lot of the day talking to other campers.  They come from all over; Boston, New York, Minnesota.  Last year someone came from Japan.  Tom Huck is not in the shop, but his employees are, and they guide us through the paperwork and housekeeping. I meet our ‘den mother,’ Shannon. She will stay with us the entirety of the 10 days, making sure everything runs smoothly. 

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When Huck arrives (he goes by his last name), he takes quick charge of the room, sitting at the large green table that will become our gathering space for his lessons.  Huck was an art and printmaking professor for a decade.  He's got the teaching knack.  A bit intense, wickedly funny, and straight to the point.  Expectations are laid out.  We are warned there will be exhaustion, tears, blood, crankiness, and lots and lots of sweat (this is one of the hottest heat waves in his memory, he says, and keeping the shop cool with this many bodies is not going to happen).  Oh, and there's no shower, so use deodorant liberally.  He lays out the week's itinerary.  As this is Evil Prints fourteenth year of bootcamp, like any camp, there are traditions and some extra surprises (if we all get our work done in time for printing day).  That means carving from sun up to sun down for 6 days.  Huck does huge woodcuts and he has huge presses to handle them.  We will be doing large pieces also, 36"x24".  Fortunately that's the size I'm used to working with, so no trepidation here.  After Huck's introduction we go to the bar next door (Bootleggin' BBQ) for drinks and a "get to know one another."  Huck doesn't stay long, he's got an hour drive home.  As we have only tomorrow to sketch out our plans, many of us stay up until lights out (2am) getting a jump start on our pieces.  My cot is wedged between a wall and one of the presses (it's actually fairly private). The rest of the campers are scattered around the studio space on air mattresses.  A couple sleep on the concrete.  I feel a little like a diva with my jumbo cot, a sleeping bag, 2 pillows, and a blanket.  I offer the sleeping bag to one of the girls sleeping on the cold concrete.  No longer a diva, but now a good Samaritan, I lay there worrying over how I can go without a shower for 10 days.

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Tom Huck and Evil Prints 7/18/19

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I learned to woodcut from a 40min YouTube interview with reknown St. Loius artist and printmaker, Tom Huck. I've watched that interview at least a dozen times, learning such things as where to buy printing tools and supplies (Mcclains), where to get birch plywood for carving (mom and pop lumber stores, not the box stores like Lowes or Maynards), or the many types of paper options (handmade thin Japanese papers being my favorite right now). Tomorrow, I am walking into Tom Huck's studio and printshop, Evil Prints. I am here to meet the master, and to spend the next 10 days learning directly from him. For those who are interested, I'll be posting everything I can, as well as what I'm learning. Stay tuned for some crazy woodblock printing knowledge!