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.