Saturday, January 15, 2022

The only tool I have is a hammer and ALL of my problems look like nails....

If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 


This was an etegami that never was. I had the idea to do a postcard of an old hammer and the text was already there, the 60's-era quote from the psychologist Abraham Maslow that "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". But I never did the sumi postcard, since I had rapidly sketched an imaginary hammer, and liked how it came out, so modified it to use as a sample print for a workshop demo. The simple line drawing was easy to turn into 4 separate plates and to show how to transfer the image and to demonstrate carving.

But that was in NOVEMBER, and with just 4 blocks, and rather straightforward colors, this print should have been done in just a few days. But times are strange, and between Covid lockdowns, waves of infection that kept me out of the studio, the need to take care of garden/outdoor projects or to assist with family matters meant that the prints got started, then stashed in the freezer multiple times. A small loss of line in a key block I wasn't sure I was going to use needed a repair, and further work was delayed by the Winter and New Year Holidays. But I finished one set of proofs, shown above. You can see very pronounced goma-zuri (speckling) that I think was due to me using either too strong a size (too much alum) or mistakenly sizing the same sheet twice....the background block should have printed the shina grain. But I like how this came out.
The top photo is a proof I finished today. It was printed on Awagami heavyweight kozo, a machine-made paper to which I've added additional sizing--there is another set, on natural-color kozo that I hope to finish early next week and on which I want to try the original idea--a version without a keyblock, using just the overlapping color plates to create defining borders to separate the shapes and forms. Either way, and despite starting this in November, this is my First Print of 2022.....

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Brayer Paintings-trace monotypes and drawings


"And Just Like that It was over. "

I have a folder of work that I've been creating, off-and-on, for a half-dozen years. These odd, mostly abstract or vaguely recognizable images I've been calling brayer paintings but they are more correctly referred to as transfer monotypes and/or ink drawings, created by drawing or painting directly onto the paper with a brayer, or indirectly by the transfer of ink off a glass plate by rubbing or marking a sheet of paper from the back, while it is face-down on a inked glass slab.  

 While I mostly work with water-based pigments and the Japanese method of woodblock prints,  I make traditional western prints too--drypoints and etchings and also occasional works incorporating letterpress text, all of which are printed using oil-based relief inks, usually rolled onto a slab or glass plate, and then transferred to the plate or mobile type. After the day's work is over, clean-up means getting the excess ink off the plate,  first by scraping it off with a piece of scrap cardstock or by placing newsprint on the plate and rubbing that to get the ink off before using vegetable oil and soap and water to wash the plate and brayer. 



Untitled, (Failing Memory)

But as I noticed that I sort of liked the newsprint or paper towels that I lifted off the glass, the ink transferred to the face down surface, it was an easy thing to start making them on purpose,  using clean pieces of bond paper--acid free printing (xerox) paper--and deliberately working to pull off ink in a semi-guided way. I could lay the clean paper face down on the inked slab, and then rub it with my fingers or fingernails, the back handle of a paintbrush or any simple implement.On others, I worked directly with the brayer, using it to draw on the paper directly and layering thin and thick layers of ink.


"Sleep and Death" (two doors).


I liked the results, but realized that I should try to use good paper rather than copy paper.  However using paper of better quality made it much harder to work freely. With good Japanese paper,  there is always a hesitation and fear of "wasting" an expensive piece of handmade paper by making a mistake or ruining a promising start, and that hindered the spontaneity and directness that made these simple works interesting.  

I solved that by (for the most part) by cutting down whole sheets into A4 size and having a folder--at hand--and reserved for just this purpose. With a folder full of paper, it's been a little easier to work without worrying too much about making a mistake.  So at the end of my occasional oil-based projects, I usually find time to make 1 or 2 pieces using the leftover ink and the wet brayer. 

I consider these part drawing, part painting, and part printmaking. They start off as abstract markings, but gradually they start to get pushed into a direction guided by the evolving image.  Like passing clouds that take on the likeness of animals or figures, my ink-slab drawings start to suggest subjects and titles. 

"Passing Storm" 2020  


Well see how far these can go.  I'd like to work a little bigger--try with a bigger brayer and a full sheet of paper--or go even bigger but with both bigger and smaller brayers or ink rollers....the key is to keep making them, without thinking too much. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Inclined Plane: (What will it take to move me?).


The Inclined plane is one of the 6 simple machines, used since ancient times to aid in construction or move masses of stone, or materials up or down.  By increasing the distance traveled, the amount of force needed is decreased when compared to hauling the same weight straight up or down. Blocks of stone were hauled up long ramps to build the pyramids and the blocks of Italian marble were slid from the quarries, miles to the sea using sloped ramps and rolling logs and teams of oxen to ship by boat to Rome and the rest of the world. The forces acting are gravity, pulling downwards, inertia, a body's resistence to movement based on it's mass, and friction, the resistence to sliding based on the nature of the materials and their surfaces. Increasing the slope, decreasing the coefficient of friction (by oiling or wetting the surface), or applying an outward force (pushing or pulling) will all aid in moving any object up or down the ramp. 

But this was intended as a metaphor and not a physics problem.  I've been stuck for a while, not with creative block, I have a book of ideas of prints and images I want to explore, but with something else.  I can't seem to get anything done.  I've a desk and studio full of unfinished work and many more never started.  And the BIG things, changes I need to make in my life and for my career, sit in a stack, getting taller as it also gets buried, by all the things that I let pile up and take precedence over the important, or distract me, long enough, so it's too late most every day to even think about tackling my problems.

So, it's been a long time since I really worked on a new woodblock print. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantines and lockdowns and the political upheaval in the USA and Italy have had me fairly paralyzed, glued to the computer trying to figure out what's happening next or wondering about the future.  So when the Barenforum called for participants in their next print exchange,  in a simple format and without a theme,  I decided to take the hint, and sign up, hoping that the deadline would help push me to start working again. 

This was meant to be a simple image of a dark block, sitting on a steep slope at the borderline of what would visually feel like it might want to move, or slip, on it's own, or with a little help. One has to imagine the forces preventing any movement--inertia, maybe laziness, fear of failure or habits of self-sabatoge, the frictions of daily life: my duties as parent or husband, taxes, a mortgage, family conflicts very near and far away, ageing parents and troubled children, the quiet and odd newness of an ageing body and the subtle return of hints of illnesses known but never really conquered or new, disquieting symptoms that whisper menace with all the things that any little thing might portend. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                What to do?

 I can increase the slope. Sooner or later, I'll start to slip and then accelerate downhill.  I can try to smooth the rough parts on the path, make the rough and irregular road, smooth and slippery. Or I can wait for some inevitable, eventual, external force--maybe positive: such as an invition to participate in a print exchange or residency, or a commission, or an exciting idea that just begs to be worked on, or negative one--a major life event or disruption--that forces me finally to change or startles me into flight.  But either way, like it or not, I have the sense that once it comes, and I start to slip and accelerate downhill,  it may not be possible to control how fast or far I go, or stop if I want to.

"Inclined Plane" "What does it take to move me?"  8" x 10" Mokuhanga watercolor woodblock with handwritten text. Edition Vari√©, 30 copies on off white or beige Japanese kozo paper.  9 color impressions from six plywood blocks with Sumi ink, watercolor pigments and rice paste. 


An early sketch



Sunday, March 29, 2020

Year of the RAT

NOTE: I started working on this little print in November 2019 and finished mailing them out in late February....just as the COVID-19 was just beginning to migrate out of China and into Italy.  I certainly didn't expect that the epidemic that started in Wuhan would spread so far and so fast, and my folded-paper, mouse/rat was supposed to be an innocent and gentle reminder of the fragility and transient nature of all things....

 The Rat is the first of the 12 animals that make up the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac and as this year also marks the beginning a new decade, it was supposed to be a year of good and auspicious beginnings.  I began working on this print in November--as I used it as a class project for my beginners' woodblock class in Florence's art and culture center,  L'Appartamento.  Using the traditional method of working in which the carvers and printers would have worked from a simple sketch--I provided the students with my drawing of an origami rat (mouse) and the students became first the carvers and then the printers of the blocks that were needed to print the color print version. Along the way I got to show them the hanshita method of image transfer that allows a reliable way to ensure that the multiple color blocks will register to the black and white keyblock, much as they would have done in the Ukiyo-e workshops of Japan 150 years ago.

 I was able to combine my student-cut color plates and with my key block (with the addition of another color block to allow some bokashi gradation printing) using the combination of plates to print this year's "YEAR of the RAT" greeting card.

Shina plywood key block (before removing the corner marks).

An early proof in B&W and gray

I also printed them on a mix of papers, although the majority were printed on Western papers--Magnani incisioni, Fabriano Artistico and Arches 180lb cotton etching papers instead of Japanese washi.   That let me have cards that had a thick, postcard-like heft but also gave them the slightly grainy, textured look that mokuhanga prints get when they're printed on Western papers.

Of the 125 copies I printed, about 40 went to the Baren Zodiac exchange, another 40 to colleagues and collectors, and about another 40 to family and friends.

As I wrote above, my little zodiac print was supposed to represent a good-luck, origami mouse--but this was not the kind of luck or 2020 I was expecting.  I hope the current international health and social disaster ends soon and that the toll on human life and suffering of all things in the natural world are not greater than we can bear and that we remember to help each other through the difficult times ahead--the more fortunate assisting those in need. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Of Purple Cows II-The Hard Part is Going Home Again. Williams College Reunion Print-Idea to Completion.

Here is the finished print (one of almost 200 copies) and the accompanying essay that enclosed the print inside the gift envelope.

As I alluded to in my last post, in addition to providing some graphic work for the T-shirts and other goodies for my 35th college reunion, I was really intrigued by the idea of making a small print to include as a reunion gift.  Originally I thought that would allow me to skip attending--I'm too far away after all--yet still let me participate in a meaningful way.
I was really interested in the Purple Cow for all the possible ways it could be imagined and it fit so well into my odd collection of animal prints.  I spent a fair amount of time thinking and doodling possibilities: I really liked the idea of working with a porcelain cream pitcher and putting together a interior vignette with a limited palette (√† la P. Vallaton):
or less ambitiously, two cows chatting/gossiping about the returning herd, "Why is everyone here so OLD?" or "Everyone seems to be Vegan Now" or "I think Bob had his horns done..".

 Fortunately, there was a gift committee, and although I realize now they would have been quite happy to give me free rein to come up with a finished thing, I was reluctant to risk giving unsolicited art object to such a large audience without a little feedback (I was afraid my work would be a little too odd or possibly somber or bizarre).  So I sent them written ideas and thumbnail sketches and they worked through them and helped choose from among my ideas something that was consistent with the idea of Reunion, still representative of my "style", a little bit funny and pretty enough that it would be a gift people would be happy to receive, yet without (I hoped) becoming trite or banal.
An acrobatic cow--getting closer....

Family, the Reunion Committee and even strangers liked this idea the best: It would get reworked extensively before I committed it to the block(s).
I put the original sketch together on my flight back from Tokyo, and although I originally imagined a more athletic, acrobatic bovine (with a hoof that poked through the border) the final design focused more on the purple hills, and included a recognizable Williamstown landmark and the Purple Cow at a size that I could manage to carve both the text I wanted to include, as well as the small "84" on the ear tag (the limiting factor for my carving ability) from my cherry key block.  It also allowed me to pick out woods with grain patterns that would enhance the cow hide and vertical "trees" of the hills (mahogany) and the idea of clouds and swirling in the sky (Shina/linden plywood).

Below are various process shots of the key block and color blocks and some intermediate steps.
The keyblock with the drawing glued down but before carving (cherry wood).

Carving of the key block mostly done.
Detail: key block.
from the finished keyblock, prints were taken to do the color separations. These get glued down to new blocks that will become the color plates. 
Back hill and steeple shadows. (the rest got eliminated).
This plate was printed yellow first: ear tag/chop/steeple brass bits, then it was inked and printed again with the brass color for just the metal parts--so two colors printed from the same plate in separate inkings and impressions.

From the block above after 2 color impressions (Yellow and "brass").
color plates (udder/hills/hooves/chop)
Color plates: yellow bits, sky, purple hills and cow.
Sky block with gradation (bokashi) printing.

The print with all the color plates printed waiting for the black final impression.

The 9-10 color impressions (from the 7 blocks).

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Of Purple Cows--Part 1

The winning bovine.
I was contacted by my old college suite-mate a few months ago to ask if I would consider doing some original art work for our 35th college reunion.  I went to Williams College, a small, liberal arts college in western Massachusetts where I was a studio art major--getting a degree in 1984 in Fine Art--but I also managed to fulfill all the science and math classes needed to satisfy a pre-med major.  Consequently, I was almost always in one of the art studios, the science labs, or the library studying--and I never got to meet,  nor know most of my classmates that made up our year.  I have mixed feelings about my college years.  Much of who I am now is due to my years at Williams, but the choices I made there and the trajectory of my life since has been so unlike what I imagined when I was a student that I had misgivings about being able to attend reunion or to be able to say much that would be appropriate for a Reunion get together. We traded emails back and forth for a bit, I'm not a commercial artist or illustrator and lack that skill set but I am a visual artist and since the school mascot--the Purple Cow--appealed to me, I said yes.
For the next few weeks I doodled various interpretations of cows and hills, eventually settling on a couple of ideas that I liked as a logo for the 35th Reunion.  The Reunion Gift committee was pretty helpful in helping choose among the drafts and ideas I put together things that seemed to be suited to the purposes of bringing back alumni that would not have normally considered returning and made the process much easier than I had thought it would be.
A purple cow flank OR the Purple Hills? The numbers came from a photo I saw years ago of butterfly wings showing color patterns that resembled arabic numerals and the English alphabet.

But during our initial discussions I also suggested that while I am not an illustrator I AM a printmaker, and the particular technique I have adopted was particularly suited to making color multiples suitable for a small gifts or momentos and what did he think about the idea of doing an original mokuhanga print as something to include in the gift bag instead of the usual fare.
I'll write more about where those discussions went in my next post.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tokyo Diary: Flowering plums

I have just returned from a one-month artist residency in Tokyo, Japan. Along with fellow mokuhanga artists Mara Cozzolino, Laura Boswell and Paul Furneaux, we were group participants in ArtsChiyoda3331's joint residency, sharing an apartment and a large studio space in the antique books section of Tokyo--- Jimbocho. It was a paradise for mokuhanga artists; there were antique Ukiyo-e prints in the book shops, Ukiyo-e prints in the museums, and we had contacts and lists of artists, material suppliers and shops, and craftsmen making tools, paper, blocks, sharpening stones and more.  I wasn't sure what I was going to work on-but I wanted it to have a subject that would tie in with my presence in Japan, but still reflect my artistic interests of etegami and woodblock prints.

While all Tokyo and much of Japan was eagerly awaiting the Sakura blossoms--the cherry blooms. I was carrying a drawing I did this time LAST year, of an old, stunted plum tree, in bud and starting to flower.

That drawing was an etegami--a loose sumi ink brush drawing to which watercolors were added and then text.
And since along with the Japanese Quince, the plums are among the first of the blooms to open, they were blooming when I left Florence, and I found them blooming--in lots of places in Japan too.

On my first morning in Tokyo, I found them on the way to Ueno park in a streetside garden,  I found them again, on a scroll in a shop selling calligraphy supplies, and I found them again inside the museum, depicted over and over again.

So I was happy to throw myself into this long and noble tradition.   This is the original drawing/etegami from which I created the resulting print.

I added the background and there is some variation in color and gradation intensity across the 30 print edition. 
"What if I'm not ready?"

Japanese woodblock print: Edition Varie of 30. Printed from 8 Shina blocks,
12 layers of color with watercolor, sumi ink and rice paste on mixed Japanese papers.