04 March 2017

Playing With Fire

Many people agree that the year 2016 was a crummy year. We lost beloved celebrities (Prince, Bowie, Gwen Ifill, Leonard Cohen, John Glenn…), Brexit happened, and Donald Trump was elected president. For me personally it was a crappy year, too, as we lost both our beloved dog Ty and my partner's father. But I have to admit, the election of Trump hit me hard and for several months I couldn't make any art.

Pantone, the makers of a color matching system used worldwide in design, announces a "color of the year" every winter, and the joke meme above enjoyed a brief but viral appearance on social media at the end of crappy year 2016. (The artwork is a 1562 painting called The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.) As it turns out, this feeling of burning seems to be following us into 2017, and in that spirit I've decided to do some woodblock prints exploring the element of fire.

More soon…

09 February 2017

Your Land

YOUR LAND (click photo above to enlarge)
Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga) with colored pencil, pochoir, and rubber stamp
11 x 30 inches (28 x 76 cm)
Edition of 27 + 2 A.P. on Japanese Shioji paper

I spent the first six weeks of 2017 making a large (for me) edition of prints for a print exchange portfolio that will be shown at the SGCI Printmaking Conference in Atlanta in March. The portfolio, called Train of Ink, metaphorically retraces the journey of 72 Indians who were captured at Salt Fork, Oklahoma, and brought to St. Augustine, Florida, from 1875-1878 by train. This portfolio, organized by John Hitchcock, is the second work I've made on this topic. The first was a drawing which has been part of a touring exhibition called Re-Riding History.

For this print, I chose to create an actual map that focuses on two conflicting movements: the motion of the text and train from from left to right (west to east – the opposite of the movement of colonization) in contrast to the movement of the horse from right to left. I also worked with depth, layering from bottom to top to depict colonization as a superimposing of one experience of geography on top of another. The undermost layer is a litany of Native American place names that are still in use to this day from the states that the train passed through in 1875-78. A map of U.S. state lines and the colonial place names that the train passed through are overlaid.

"This Land Is Your Land" is not a popular song in Indian Country, but I think it gains new meaning when I, a descendant of European colonizers, say it in this context.

This land is your land.

Here are a few process shots.

The first carved block was the text for the Native American place names.
I first printed a light tan tint using an uncarved block, then printed the place names in a darker tan on top. I left the edges uncarved on both blocks so that I could have brush stroke edges rather than sharp lines.
Next I printed some blue to define the ocean in the map. That's Florida over on the lower right.
Next, a horse runs from east to west. This was a carved block which I printed three or four times to get the dappling and the darker edges.
I used colored pencil to add the state lines. (No way was it worth it to carve those lines!)
Next I printed the train route, from Oklahoma to Florida. You can see from the block above the print that I used the same block for several printed parts. I simply added kento registration marks wherever they needed to be to get the element onto the paper in the correct spot.
I hand cut an acetate stencil and used it to add the large black text. For ink I used Guerra lamp black straight out of the bottle and applied it with a stencil brush.
Finally, I used a rubber stamp alphabet to add the train stops as the train made its way to Florida.

15 December 2016

Happy Holidays

Watercolor woodblock print
10 x 7.5 inches on Japanese Shioji paper

Hello, dear blog readers.

It's been awhile since I've posted, largely because it's been awhile since I've made any prints. The sudden death of my father-in-law in November, plus emotional fallout from the U.S. presidential election, locked up my creative juices for a time, but I'm easing back into my studio with this small holiday print.

Wishing you light, warmth, love, and peace as 2016 draws to a close and a new year comes to us. Happy holidays to all.

xo Annie

13 October 2016

Paint By Number Yellow Lab

Watercolor woodblock print
Six hand-carved blocks
10 hand-printed applications of color
12 x 9 inch image (30.5 x 23 cm) on 15 x 11 inch (38 x 28 cm) Echizen Kozo
edition: 15, plus 5 artists proofs and 1 "poet's proof"

Made for a 20-print portfolio called Traces (named after a poem by Annie Rogers which contains themes of memory, language and loss) this print is a tribute to my 13-year-old yellow lab Ty who died in June. After working for many months on the Relics dot prints, and then spending six weeks on this print of Ty's fur, it seems to me that the more closely you look at something, the less sure you become that you know what it is.

The print and portfolio will be showcased by Zea Mays Printmaking at the Editions/Artists Book Fair in NY, November 3-6, 2016, so please go check it out if you're in NY!

Here are photos of the print in progress:

21 September 2016

The End (Maybe) of Virtuoso Carving

Detail of Block #5 carving

Working from the photograph of Ty's fur I showed you in the last post, I used Photoshop to help me separate the image into six distinct colors, then transferred the separations onto six 12 x 9 inch blocks (30 x 23 cm). I started carving around September 1 and have been carving ever since, today being the 21st. I'm happy to say that I'm on the 6th block now. (The print is due October 15.)

In my own mind I call this very detailed, very tiny, very tight type of carving "virtuoso carving." I've worked like this quite a bit in my woodblock career — see my carving of page one of the Algonquin Bible, or the recent halftone Relics prints for example — and it's totally in keeping with the traditional Japanese method of woodblock printing (think ukiyo-e prints). It's also physically demanding and intense to carve this way. I've developed arthritis in my neck as I've aged and it's uncomfortable for me now to spend 100+ hours at my carving desk, even though I use an easel-like setup and a good chair. I never say never, because I know how I am, but this print may be my "virtuoso carving" swan song.

We'll see about that…  Meanwhile, I know the feeling I want this print to have. I want it to look just like my beautiful Ty's fur. I want it to look soft and inviting. I want it to cry out to be touched. And I think that requires hewing closely to the photo.

I made a mistake on block #5 and had to fix it. Obviously, a small slip of the knife on a print of swirly fur can often be ignored, but I slipped on an area where it really would have glared. Superglue to the rescue, as superglue doesn't soften with all the water needed in mokuhanga.

As tough as this carving job has been, I don't anticipate that the printing will be much easier. It will be an edition of 21 prints, per the portfolio specs. I have to pause before printing to get ready for Northampton's Printworks 2016! I'll tell you about that in the next post.

14 September 2016

Hair of the Dog

Before I continue the story of the woodcut I'm making for my dog Ty, I want to clear up one thing. Something I wrote in the first post led several people to believe that I'm doing a series of prints about Ty. No. Just one. I'm making one print that will be part of a portfolio with Zea Mays Printmaking.

In my last post I showed you some Photoshop sketches I made playing with the idea of doing a paint-by-number portrait of Ty. I landed on the idea of doing a winter scene with small figures representing me and Ty walking into the distance and I sat with that image for quite a while. Finally, though, I let it go. It felt too cliché. Something I learned as a commercial artist is to push beyond the cliché. People recognize and identify with clichés, but a visual cliché also allows a viewer to glance at the image, think to themselves "oh, right, I know that," and move on. I think the best images use cliché for connection but then add a twist to make a viewer look again.

More importantly to me, though, the iconic mid-century paint-by-number look just felt too silly and ironic. It didn't match my feelings about losing Ty. So I began again, trying to locate an image that would better match the whole "felt sense" of my relationship with Ty and how it feels to not have him with me any more (see note* below for more about felt sense). I looked through my photos of him, and this one jumped out at me:

This is a photo of my favorite part of Ty's body. It's above his left front leg, I guess you'd call it his shoulder, where the fur of his "mane" became the more regular fur of his hind quarters, and I loved the way it swirled right there. My eyes often landed on this part of his body when we were at rest together.

This is the image of Ty that clicked inside me as "right"— as being true to my feelings about him. It expresses the intimacy of the relationship, the physicality of it. I'm a very mental and visual person, and I learned so much from Ty about being physical. He demanded that I inhabit my body fully. He wanted me to run and hike and throw balls and play and he wanted us to always be touching some part of each other when we rested. It's that physicality, the athleticism of him, and the warm comfort of touch that I miss so much. My fingers miss the beautiful softness of his fur and the strength of the muscles under the fur. So this is my starting point for the print.

* Felt Sense*
This is a term from a psychotherapeutic technique called Focusing. A felt sense is a body sensation that is meaningful and that points to and somehow matches a vague, elusive and usually pre-verbal inner experience. I think that locating the felt sense of any particular experience or situation is useful for artists and is in fact often used by artists intuitively — that moment of aha, when an image just feels right.

09 September 2016

"Traces" Portfolio for the E/AB Fair

Print portfolios are a tradition in printmaking, I've learned. A portfolio is a group of prints, usually united by a theme or technique, presented in a case of some kind. A portfolio can be created by a single artist, or more often by a group of artists. Sometimes the portfolio is an exchange, where each participating artist receives a complete portfolio, and sometimes the portfolio is designated for sale. For me, there are pros and cons to participating in portfolios (we can get into that in the comments if you all want to), but I was invited to participate, along with 19 other artists from Zea Mays Printmaking (ZMP) studio, in a portfolio that will be showcased in NY in November 2016 at the Editions/Artists Book Fair and I jumped at the opportunity.

The portfolio is called Traces, named after a poem by ZMP studio member Annie Rogers which acts as the prompt and unifying theme. It's a strong poem with a lot of visual word-images that could be used as inspiration, and it contains themes of memory, language, loss, and childhood. As I wrote in my last post, my mind and heart were fixated on the loss of my dog Ty and when I read the poem I became also fixated on the mention of a paint by numbers kit.

Vintage paint by number paintings are an iconic mid-century art form — low-brow and democratic, much like many types of printmaking. Paint by numbers is also a pretty perfect description of the traditional Japanese process of making a woodblock print. In this method, most of the major decisions about the image are made in the sketch phase. The carving and printing are executions of the sketch and literally involve carving areas for each color based on a drawing and then laying those colors down in the printing. Click this link to see an example of how the colors build during the making of a print, much like filling in a coloring book, and much like painting by numbers.

So I started looking at vintage paint by number kits.

Deer are a very popular motif in paint by numbers.

Rivers are also popular, and Ty loved his rivers!

I photoshopped a picture of Ty onto a river-themed paint by number just for fun.

There's quite a bit of Asian-themed imagery in paint by numbers, too. That could be cool, to reference the Japanese roots of my chosen art form.

Ha ha ha, here's Ty in Japan.

Or why not just do a straightforward paint-by-number style dog portrait like one of these?

Snow scenes are also popular paint by number themes. The top image here is a Kiyoshi Saito woodblock print (I love Saito). I was surprised to see how much the Saito looks like paint by number. A snow scene would also work with the poem "Traces," which talks about snow and a blizzard.

This is one of my favorite Saito images, "Winter in Aizu." The solitary figure is so lonely and haunting. Maybe I could do a Saito-style winter scene of tiny me and Ty walking.

The winter scene is where I landed and I spent a long time pondering what the scene might look like. In the next post I'll tell you about a subsequent shift in my thinking.