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 (à 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.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Year(s) of the Boar--an Old boar for a New Year.

S's original 2007 drawing/prototype.
February 5th marks this year's Chinese New Year.
According to the Asian Zodiac, 2019 is the year of the Boar, the last Pig year being 12 years ago in 2007, and THIS year, I've decided to reproduce a drawing done 12 years ago by my younger son, S.
It's a story that many know already.
In 2007, I had just started making woodblock prints and I had intended to join that year's Baren Forum Zodiac Exchange (the sign-up closed before I could join so my print wasn't included).
As is my usual working method, I made thumbnail sketches, redrew and redrew while looking at multiple images from the internet. The prep stages took a couple of weeks before I decided on an image that was then carved and printed for the Year of the Boar, 2007.  But S wasn't really interested in signing a family card and said he would make one of his own. So he disappeared for about 25 minutes and came back with the image you see above. We were thrilled with his drawing and photocopied it to include inside the envelope with my card. But he was clearly unhappy and he became more and more disturbed until he finally burst into tears, distraught and inconsolable over the idea that he couldn't draw as well as I did.
I made it worse by laughing at the obvious--and I tried to convince him what I knew to be the truth, that his drawing was original, and funny, and wonderfully creative and perfect and much, much, much better than mine. (He didn't believe me).  I promised then that the next year (Year of the Rat) he would design the family card (and he did).

Now it's 2019 and S. is now 18. He doesn't draw as much as I'd like, and he's into Manga, so much of what he does draw looks a little too much like rather anonymous Japanese or Korean manga. But he's also learning Japanese and hopes to visit Japan next year after he finishes high school. And 12 years later I still think his boar is fantastic and he accepted my proposal to use it for this year's greeting card.  He made a couple of adjustments, adding the Kanji symbol for "Boar" and the "new" year-- 2019.  And I removed the text at the bottom to make it easier to print and carve.
The new key block, from tracing the old and carving it from a linoleum block.

Two of the color blocks printed.

2019 Year of the Boar (Proof)

 I tried to keep it as close as possible to the original sketch. There is a linoleum key block and 3 additional wood blocks for the color plates. (Yellow(background), Brown (Boar body/head), and a mixed block to print the pink snout, the tan trotters and the bokashi-stained tusks of our spirited boar. All were printed with watercolors, sumi ink, and rice paste using a baren. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

I may never finish my novel....

The blue-gray of the ferrule isn't showing up in the scan.
  This print began as an etegami--another of the small Japanese mail-art cards I make.  It was done during my first Etegami workshop, where I used a small pencil stub to make 3 different simple sumi ink and watercolor drawings, with added text.  I knew right away one would become a print.
I also have a novel and probably a few short stories in me--although I doubt any will ever get written.

This is a simple image, but getting it carved and printed has posed a few hurdles.
I enlarged the size of the work from postcard-size (3"x5") to an easier to carve 8" x 10" to make it less likely that I'd have too much trouble cutting the text but I still had the top half of one of the "e"s pop off;  I had to re-glue and re-cut a repair 3 times due to glue failure the first time, wrong glue (too elastic) the second time, and (fingers crossed) the last repair seems to be holding.  Mostly I've had a hard time getting into the studio with enough protected time to just get it done.

The above copy/proof is on Fabriano Artistico--a thick, Italian watercolor paper but there are still a few things to work out:
   The original drawing was done on a postcard--so it had a natural boundary (the paper edges) and the drawing "happened" with that scale in mind, but printed on a bigger sheet, it now has a much larger outer border of white paper--and I can either leave it like that  or print a very faint rectangle of very pale color (it's called a Beta-ban block)--that would recreate the original horizontal, small format on the bigger sheet.  This variant still needs to be finished as well as a few more that have a different block order to see if it changes the final look.

Here's the original etegami watercolor and sumi ink postcard.

This print, is pretty close to recreating the original--I did tweak the pencil in a few places, lessening the slightly phallic droop of the point. I also pushed the text over a little bit, and reversed the chop (white letter on red field).

Tomorrow, I'll finish printing the rest of the proofs. That will allow me to see what they look like with the background block before I cut down the rest of the paper and print the final version or full edition.

This set on Japanese paper is almost done. They lack just the two yellow layers of the pencil wood and the sumi ink "keyblock" and text.  I'll post a finished version of these too as soon as they're done.

You can't see the beautiful gray-blue of the metal ferrule--it won't pick up with the scanner but it really goes well with the orange-y pencil and pink eraser.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

October News-Tattoos, Mokuhanga and Etegami

October is just around the corner and I'm busy preparing for some new experiences.

DEMO: Next weekend, as a guest of the Lacrimanera Tattoo Studio, I will be demonstrating Japanese woodblock printing at the Florence Tattoo Convention.
This year the 11th edition of the Florence Tattoo Convention is partially dedicated to the history of Japanese tattoos (and their inherent relationship to modern tattoo's ever increasing interest in the works of the Ukiyo-e as subject matter.  Thanks to Ivan Pengo and Milan's Stamperia 74b and Florence's Lacrimenera Tattoo Studio, there will be an exhibit of the wonderful Adachi Institute woodblocks reproducing well-known masterpieces of the Ukiyo-e by Utamara, Kunioshi, and Hokusai and as part of that show, I've been asked to demonstrate Japanese woodblock printing during the Convention.  I'll be present all day Friday (3p-2a) and Sunday (noon-2am) and I'll have a dedicated table where I'll have blocks, prints, paper and other materials and hope to be carving and printing and working on a new print during the convention.  If I'm not too exhausted, I'll try to be there also on Saturday, and I'll be working on a new print with both carving and printing demos during the day.
So If you fascinated by tattoos, or fascinated by mokuhanga, there will be both at the Fortezza da Basso in Firenze next weekend.  I'll be at Stand 4, just inside the main entrance.

WORKSHOP Later in the month, if you are tired of just watching, you can learn how to make your own woodblock prints at my next mokuhanga course. For the weekend of  October 19-21, I'll be in Ravenna, Italy for my next 3-day, beginner's Mokuhanga Workshop. I'm hosted by Enrico Rambaldi and Ink33 and there are still places in this usually sold-out workshop in a wonderful city famous for it's phenomenal Byzantine mosaics. For information:

ETEGAMI And on Sunday afternoon, October 28th from 2pm-6pm I'll be giving an Etegami workshop at L'Appartamento, Via dei Geraldi,  in downtown Florence.   Well use sumi ink, watercolor and Japanese paper postcards to marry art and text with a lighthearted technique perfect for writers who want to illustrate their writings or artists who want to try adding text to spontaneous sketches drawn/painted on absorbent paper postcards.  Save the date and I'll post more information soon.....