09 March 2006

Find The Wood

I've learned so much about moku hanga in just a few short months. I'm happy about that, but I'm also feeling really restless and dissatisfied with the prints I've made.

Part of the problem is that I could just as easily... no, way more easily... have done most of them digitally. Here's the problem in a nutshell:

Looking at it this way, choosing a medium is kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?

Yet, it's not just about the picture or the time involved. It's also about the wood, the pigments, the beautiful paper. I like using my hands, I like the resistance of the wood, I enjoy wrestling with it, I love the bright pigments and I adore the Japanese paper. But there's something missing in the process for me. I've been doing all my creating in the first few hours, and then just reproducing what I created in the sketch phase. It's the process I've learned to follow as a commercial illustrator - do a loose sketch, do a tight sketch, get it approved, then color it. So I'm "doing moku hanga," but I'm not making pictures that could only be made with a block of wood. And I'm not really experiencing the wood as I work. I'm not really interacting with it; instead I'm trying to subdue it or master it.

What I want to do is find the wood. I want to make pictures that can only come from wood and I want the whole process to be alive and interactive and full of surprises and energy. I have no idea where to start.

No, wait, of course I know where to start! Start with the wood! You want to find the wood, start with the wood.

OK. Off I go. I'll get back to you soon...

P.S. - I'll happily take suggestions if you have any thoughts. Thanks.


Keng said...

I was stuck for a while with my printing until someone close to me explained that as art, you shouldn't have a goal in mind when you start. Instead, take the print where the process leads you, not where you lead it.

Personally, I admire and wish I could fully embrace the Zen aspect of the great Ukiyo-e masters, but I'm not that disciplined. That discipline I found worked well in conceiving ideas and in learning to print, but the thought process that I described in the first paragraph might have been closer to the way some of the great European printers worked (such as Nolde, Kollwitz, or even Munch).

Hope this helps!

Keng said...

One last thing:
This was a good show locally:


Nene is a good example of modern Japanese woodblock work...I wish they had more of the other works that I loved and not just the more traditional work.

tom said...

Hi Annie,

When I carve a set of blocks I spend a couple of days playing with them. I try to forget about the digital design. Sometimes the colour scheme changes radically. Sometimes I carve new blocks. Usually I discard one or two blocks, bringing more of the paper back into the print. I don't do reduction prints because I want to keep the option of changing my mind.

Perhaps you could try carving a design straight on the block. If you start with a dark block you can then take a fresh (slightly damp) impression and transfer it to another (slightly damp) uncarved block. Simply carve a kento, drop the print down and rub with the baren. Then you have a clear guide from which to carve a second block. In this way you can build up a multicoloured image without going near a computer, or a pencil for that matter.

I like your bee print, and I think the woodblock has much more life than the digital sketch. You could probably do more with the honeycomb, maybe loose some of the bee bodies. You could take this print any number of places. If you have the time.

Annie B said...

Ken, thanks for the link. I was interested in the work of Margaret Johnson, which I've never seen before. Unfortunately, it's really hard for me not to have a goal in mind when I start to work. I think a lot, for better or worse.

Tom, again you remind me to be patient! My impatience is my worst enemy. I really get it that doing reductions doesn't help me with that, either. It locks in my decisions when what I could really use is some room to breathe and reflect and experiment and start anew. Hey, have you considered doing a blog? I'd sure like to watch you!

The bees are OK, but in my mind they don't "deserve" 14 hours. I want to make pictures that deserve that kind of time and that reflect and show that kind of time. Good thing I'm stubborn or I'd be giving up right about now...

tom said...

Hi Annie,

14 hours is a small investment of time provided you think you are heading someplace you want to go. Obviously if you dislike a print it might feel like a waste of time. So, you need a strategy that makes it more likely that you will produce prints you are happy with. For me the strategy is to just push on regardless. I find it hard to drop a print until I am happy enough with it. As I said before, you need to be prepared to undo work to know that it is right. For instance (hypothetically), you were excited by the honeycomb block, maybe you need to find the point where the print lost that magic feeling. Go back to that point and plan another way forward.

If you have several prints in development at the one time, it gives your ideas a chance to grow. With design by Photoshop it is too easy to come up with a design that is good but not thrilling. It will probably improve if you can keep toying with it. Obviously a good print is built on good composition. Maybe it is not the woodblock that is taking too long, but the Photoshop that is too quick?

If I did a blog I am afraid my incremental approach would be too painful to watch. Could you really stand a month watching one print twist and turn?

Anonymous said...

annie, your work is gorgeous. i think the woodblock version has alot more character. perhaps one reason why you're getting frustrated with the amount of time each version took is that you really cannot fairly compare digital to woodblock, imho. and i'm an x-graphic designer! after i found woodblock, i gave up graphic design. to me its much more satisfiying to create my own design rather than for a client.

Maria Arango is one who is really in touch with the wood. i'm sure you're familiar with her work thru Baren.

Don't 'bee' so hard on yourself and don't discredit the time invested in the woodblock. you're doing a fine job progressing with moku-hanga and you're an excellent artist!

i love reading your blog. thanks for sharing your works with us.

bette wappner

Anonymous said...

Find the good in ALL your work. Never feel disappointed in what you do. Each endeavor makes you grow. Each project is a good one, even if it contains mistakes. And, to top it all off, the one you think is a masterpiece, will undoubtedly be disliked by some anyway. Ones person's masterpiece is another person's "what the heck IS that?"

You do fine work and you enjoy it. That is what matters.

Forget about the digital comparisons. It's not about time when creating something for your own growth process. Time only comes into play when you're worried about getting paid for it and have a set amount you think you should earn in an hour.

That is what time is for, to account for something. Account for where you're supposed to be...account for when you should finish...account for how much money an hour is worth, etc. etc.

There is an old saying..."you can't rush art".

So think, create, enjoy.

Leigh said...

Annie, I love your blog and I have learned so much. I am an ex-graphic designer. I'm glad you brought up the issues you are having as I am struggling with the same. I look forward to seeing how you resolve your feelings.

Beth Zentzis said...

I woke up this morning mulling over this issue of time investment. You know I've been reading your blog a lot lately, revving up to reduce my intimidation about really giving it a go. I copied & pasted to my desktop the Plato quote you posted somewhere here on your blog, "The beginning is the most important part of the work."

So speaking of breathing, and knowing that you've done some prints on Tai Chi, I wonder how much you've explored the practice. I read that you meditate, but Tai Chi is different in that it incorporates a specific chain of motion, a discipline to "do" together with focus. Anyway, I have been practicing Tai Chi for several months now, and one of the very first lessons that began to sink into my psyche was the concept of patience married with discipline. It was quite enlightening, still is, and I thought I had patience and discipline already. What's cool too about it is that lately I am beginning to feel the "chi" move with fluidity and the pull into the greater world, so to speak. In this, Tai Chi is different than yoga (very self-contained) or meditation, which usually has no specific sequence of physical activity.

So why am I going on and on about this? Well when I began to perceive the deeper, necessary patience, I realized that I was experiencing a very non-Western mindset about time. My teacher would teach us just very small pieces of a series of moves, and at first, cynical me, I thought I was getting ripped off & he was trying to draw out the lessons for extra tuition. Not so. I wonder if this non-Western mindset isn't something to consider when approaching the time-consuming woodblock printing.

Today I'm going to order a kento-nomi and some rice paste & a few other things from McClain's. I'm also going to take your advice and actually get the blocks ready to carve, break through my fear. There I said it. I'm committing. The blocks are not of uniform size, so I have to first take care of that...


Annie B said...

Hi Beth,

I don't actually practice tai chi. I practice hatha yoga and meditation yoga, both of which require discipline of various kinds. But everything, every action, requires discipline if you think about it -- driving a car, playing an instrument, cooking, making a bed, even walking. Many of the things we do effortlessly without even thinking about it are things that we once had to practice diligently. I always try to rush getting to the place of mastery, but being a beginner at something is a great place to be. Beginners possess a kind of fearlessness born of naiveté that's very precious. Beginners don't yet know what's "impossible." I hope to remain a beginner for at least another couple of years!