Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shapes/Postures woodcut--color proof

Last night I pulled the color proofs of the Shapes and Postures woodcut....I'll look at them a few days before cutting and printing on good paper. There were a few color variants but this was the one I'll go with. There is still a bit of trimming to do to eliminate some unwanted spotting of ink off the edges of the block and around the letters. The paper size is 11"X14 and the image about 11X12.
My scanner isn't quite big enough to fit the picture so the edges are cropped a bit. My attempts to cut and paste half the image at a time just wasted two hours of computer time......someday I'll have to learn how to use photoshop.......The composition is a bit off....the price of sketching directly on the block.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shapes and Postures--a new woodcut

Here's a black and white proof of a print I just started working on. It is about 11"X13" or so and was carved on a solid 3/4" plank of poplar from the local building supply store. The idea was to try and sketch directly on the board rather than work from a finished drawing that I simply reworked in woodcut. So using an earlier sketch as a starting point and the bathroom mirror as a visual aid I sketched this out quickly in pencil on the board. Carving was a bit ragged to start until I got a better feel for the poplar and had resharpened my knives.

Here's the doodle from my sketchbook that prompted the woodcut. I have these yellow triangle people popping up from time to time in the corners and borders of my sketchbooks over the last 25 years or so. When I have enough money saved up for psychoanalysis I'll explore their origins more carefully (one of the early ones showed a Gullivers Travels-type figure surrounded by lots of these little triangles on the sand). But I'd rather get the works done first before I spend any real energy solving the issues that produce them. My wife, Benedetta, looking over my shoulder announced, "that is really repulsive"
so I know I'm on to something.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making Bad Wine

2005 was a bad year for the Marignolle vineyard.
In a usually unsuccessful attempt to balance the tied-to-the-land needs of a small farm and other family/marital duties we usually spend some months during the Summer away from Florence in Santa Cruz, California. While the Monterey bay area is a paradise for good food and organic vegetable and fruit production-not to mention great wines, being there in the SUMMER while our small farm is mostly abandoned is always a disaster.
When we are away, the vineyard is mostly abandoned to chance. Attempts to have "helpers" look after the vines have mostly failed. One sprayed a "little bit of pesticide" on my organic grapes "just to be safe" killing all the beneficial spiders and ladybugs and other insects that a few years of non-spraying had brought back. Another helper, a local farmer with much wisdom and years of experience just didn't like the way I was doing things and so pruned the grapevines during my absence to a different geometry, setting me back again by a year or so.
But 2005 was particularly bad. Another helper decided to "shorten" the vines to get rid of all those unnecessary leaves.
He cut the vines back to just above the grape clusters. So I returned to find these stubby little vines with a stem, a leaf, a grape cluster and then nothing.Since the sugars in the grapes come from the photosynthesis in the leaves, no leaves meant no sugars. Tied in with a cooler than usual late Summer the grapes hung on the vines and did......nothing. They didn't get riper, they didn't get sweeter. Even the birds wouldn't eat them.
We waited as long as we could; they were mostly ripe but bad weather was predicted and we thought it best to harvest.

We had the kindergarten class come out that Saturday to pick the grapes and it was a great day. We had a big picnic and the kids and their parents picked the grapes and tossed them into plastic crates. Usually we pick very carefully, picking off, cluster by cluster, any spoiled or damaged fruit, picking off the leaves or is the one real advantage we have over commercial wineries. But these were 5-year-olds. So leaves, spiders, branches and all the grapes all went in the box.
And it didn't really matter. While there was no mold, the grapes were unevenly ripe with lots of little green berries in what were supposed to be black bunches of grapes. But the worst was yet to come.
We usually and deliberately use very traditional methods. We crush by foot, ferment in small batches and intervene fairly little in the winemaking process. But we are very clean as mistakes mean spoiled wine or vinegar. We scour out the buckets with hot water and make sure everything that comes into contact with the grapes is as clean as possible. In this case it meant scrubbing the legs of lots of little kids too, anyone brave enough to hop in the crushing vat. Shoes off, legs scrubbed, clean socks put on, carried to the vat, socks pulled off, in you go. Crush, Crush, Crush. It was a great party.
But quietly, off in a corner one child discovered my compost pile. And seeing us dumping grapes in the vat crate after crate she decided to participate too. She managed to find a small bucket and a handful of compost and before anyone knew what was happening in went a bucket of finished compost into the freshly squeezed juice.
Winemaking isn't a sterile process. Wild yeasts on the grape skins are responsible for the fermentation and the grapes aren't washed so there are bits of soil, dust, bugs and spiders in every vat of wine made everywhere and the rising alcohol levels--we usually reach 13-14% alcohol levels are pretty protective. But compost in the must isn't a great idea.
But it was too late.
The choice was either dump it all out or make the wine anyway. We can't sell it anyhow and it seemed a shame to just pour it all out. So we made wine anyway.

Vino Rosso di Marignolle 2005. Marignolle (our hill and house name) 2005 Table wine. Alcohol 12% (those low sugar levels). Ruby red, very astringent, notes of blackberry branches, pruning shears, children's laughter and a hint of something else...........that I just can't place.
It's actually not that bad and since I made it I drink it, When we have friends over who insist on tasting it they always say it's good but I always notice that for the first time since we started making wines, there is always still half a bottle left on the table when dinner is over.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lydia, a woodblock diversion

While in medical school 20 years ago, to take a break from the work and single-mindedness of purpose and my peers I ran an informal life drawing group. We had 5-10 people and found a model and divided the cost among the participants.
There was one model who was particulary wonderful. Very skinny, long hair, an ex-student of dance and very, very comfortable with herself and her physical presence. The whole group couldn't do a bad drawing of her.
But after a session of careful, one-hour poses. I got a bit fed up and grabbed a fine line marker and dashed off this gesture drawing in about a minute. Then took a fat-tipped marker and scratched in her long hair and the axillary and pubic hair.
That drawing has lived in a sketchbook for the last 20 years, but I always thought it had a "Japanese" look to it and thought it would eventually make a nice print.

This was carved on two blocks of cherry. One for the thin lines of the body and another for the thicker areas of dark.
It was printed in 4 passes for an "edition" of 20 copies on Japanese handmade paper.

P.S. In Florida in the 80's, despite the hedonistic environment, the drugs, the tiny bathing suits, the students who would drop classes to spend more time in the gym, it was almost impossible to find nude models, male or female. Lydia was unusual in that she was already experienced as an art model and for Florida in the 80's, unusual in that she didn't shave.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Year of the Rat

Last year we mailed out Year of the Boar greeting cards to all our family and friends. We celebrated the Asian zodiac/calendar for 2 reasons. First, celebrated in early February it allowed me to procrastinate further before sending them out and 2nd, I had recently started learning Moku Hanga--the technique of Japanese, water-based woodcuts and this was an excuse to practise on another print.
So, I went to the internet to look at wild boar pictures (cinghiale in Italian) and spent a good week with thumbnail sketches, layout, multiple designs before setting on a design I liked. Once they were carved, printed, glued onto heavier card stock for mailing I got the family together to sign them before they got mailed out.
Sami, then 7, wasn't really interested in signing someone else's card and asked if he could make his own. He sat down, looked at mine and proceeded in about 5 minutes to dash something off. We scanned it into the computer and colored it in.
As we stuffed envelopes. He looked frustrated and started to cry. When I asked what was the matter he said that he can't do anything right and wished he could draw as well as his father. I started to laugh which made him even madder until I explained that I wished more than anything that I drew as well as he did now at age 45 as he did at 7. He didn't believe me but I promised that he would be able to design next year's card, this years Year of the Rat.
So Sami designed our 2008 family greeting card and my job was just to faithfully carve and print his drawing.
Both prints were in loose editions of about 60 and were sent via the Italian postal service to family and friends.
We still draw together. Each of us looking over the other's shoulder and trying to make our drawings look like the others.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Here's what the remaining bottles look like. And here is what the process is like.