31 January 2006

Back to the Drawing Board

New Knot Sketch new sketch

I'm going to do a new version of the "Loosen the Knots" print. I really appreciate all the feedback. It helped me realize that although there are some technical problems with the first version (color balance isn't too good and the linework I added at the end is heavy), my main reason for disliking the print is about the content. The print, especially the background, doesn't say what I want it to say. I'm thinking of this knot being in the heart, and that background just didn't look like the heart to me. I also want the birds to be more artful, less graphic.

So I begin again. I've analyzed this sketch for 4 blocks and started carving today. Then I'll do some test prints.

Believe it or not, I test printed the last print too, and I thought it was OK in the tests. I think part of what happened for me on that print was that I was longing to find a process that felt more spontaneous and organic than cutting a block for every color area, so I simplified too much. I did enjoy playing with stenciling. I know that will come in handy again. Meanwhile, I won't be throwing that print away - who knows whether I might grow to love it. Or maybe I'll use it for collage!

25 January 2006

Not This, Not This

With A Black Outline

I decided to try a black outline on the birds. It was fun to carve. I wanted it to be off-register, and since the prints had alread dried, I tried printing one dry just to see how much off-register it would be. It's off a lot! Amazing how much the paper expands when wet.

At any rate, this print isn't "right." This is an interesting statement to make and consider, because how in the world do we as artists know when our work is right or not right? "I like it" or "I don't like it" is only the tip of the iceberg. What I experience is that there's some kind of inner touchstone that creates a felt sense of rightness when I reach it. There's a feeling of "yes" when the image hits the spot. But what exactly is "the spot?"

Big questions. At any rate, I know I'm off the mark on this one. It's too heavy, there's too much pigment. I'm trying to capture my sense of how it feels when the "knots of the heart" are loosened and the heart begins to open. This is too much about the knots and not enough about the loosening. I want it to be lighter. I want it to be more beautiful.

It's also a little hard to let you see my "mistakes" and struggles. It's embarrassing. But I know I learn so much from seeing other people's struggles. When Lynita Shimizu showed me that she has stalled, unfinished and unloved prints I was so relieved. I felt more permission to fail, to learn by trial and error.

Anne Lamott wrote in her book Plan B: "You never know exactly where the knot is going to release, but usually, if you keep working with it, it will."

So I will keep working with it.

24 January 2006

What If You Go Too Far?

I've finally stopped worrying about whether or not I'm doing moku hanga "right" and I've begun just experimenting. I may have gone too far, but I got the idea that I wanted to make some light "knots" in the background of this print. I wanted the lines to be kind of rough and scratchy, so I tried a nail, then a screw driver to draw with, but the lines weren't deep enough to print so I ended up carving with a gouge:
Carving #2

And then I printed this block with a gray-green:
Print 5

I didn't like it. It looked pretty muddy. Too bad; what's done is done. So I went ahead and printed the birds, which I had carved on a separate block:
Birds Printed

I was hoping that this would be the end of the print, but I'm not happy with it. Not enough contrast between the background and the birds. I'm going to have to pause and live with it for a day or two, try to figure out how to fix it.

Or maybe start over!

23 January 2006

Inking Through a Stencil

I finally found some time over the past weekend to do some printing. After printing the first "Loosen the Knots" block in a light green, I used a stencil to apply round areas of violet. Here's the ink being applied to the block through the stencil:
Inking Stencil

And here's how the block looks when the stencil is removed:
Block Inked

I found that if I used a fair amount of rice paste, the circle edges remained quite crisp:
Print2 Paste

And if I used water only, no paste, the edges were very soft:
Print2 Water

Then I used another stencil to apply a blue pigment:
Print3

It took one full day to get to this point with a run of 20.

19 January 2006

Nick Wroblewski

nothing1 © Nick Wroblewski

I recently happened upon the web site of Minnesota-based woodcut artist Nick Wroblewski and fell in love with his work, especially the series above, which he calls Flat White Nothingness.

15 January 2006

Carving Is the Easy Part

Carving#1

It's certainly not true of every block I've carved, but carving was the easiest part of this one. Everything I've carved away here will remain white, so the pigment I put on this block will define the background of the piece. I plan to continue experimenting with stencils, since I had such a good time working with a stencil on my last print.

I thought I'd have some free time for woodblock printing in the coming week, but a bunch of illustration work came in over the weekend, so it looks like I'll have to wait even longer before I can get rolling on this print. Balancing my moku hanga pursuits and my illustration work is difficult. Moku hanga necessarily takes a back seat to my paying jobs, but it's hard to keep setting aside the creative energy that gets stirred up every time I start to work on my prints. I feel like I have a huge backlog of ideas and enthusiasm for my prints. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to contain a tidal wave. I have 4 or 5 additional concepts for this series as well as a vision for another big series, and I'm chomping at the bit to keep the momentum going.

One interesting thing that's happening, though, is that I'm seeing a cross-pollination between my illustration and my printmaking. Last week I completed a job for This Old House magazine and it had a hummingbird in it as well as water falling in a way very reminiscent of the vertical lines in this rope. I wish I could post the illustration for you to see, but because it's for their March issue and because I've licensed "first North American publication rights" to them, I can't publish it until after they do.

10 January 2006

Loosen The Knots - New Print

Loosen the Knots - Sketch

This is a sketch for a print I've been mentally working on for about 6 weeks. It's the next in my 36 Ways To Use Your Lifeline series, and I call it "Loosen the Knots."

I continue to be amazed at how long the process of composing a woodblock print takes from start to finish, especially when compared to doing a digital illustration. I've literally been working on this design for weeks, but all I have to show for it is this sketch. The rest of the work is only in my head.

A couple of weeks ago I started reading Hiroshi Yoshida's book, Japanese Woodblock Printing, which is posted in its entirety on the Baren Forum, and I was delighted to hear Yoshida describe the slowness of the process just as I've experienced it. Here is an excerpt.

The outstanding feature of print-making is analysis. The ability to analyze is the most essential part of the print-artist's work. In order to do this well, he must first have a complete picture in his mind, analyze it, and produce the necessary blocks for the colours, etc. Nothing like it is to be found in the painter's work. ...

When the drawing is ready, the artist must not be hasty in pasting this sen-gaki on the block and proceeding to cut lines. One should hang it on the wall for a number of days and contemplate it, thinking about the later processes which must eventually follow. If one is too hasty, and it is found necessary to alter or add something afterward, it will be extremely difficult to make the change. It is very essential that one should give all the thought possible just here, before pasting the sen-gaki on the block for cutting. I usually keep it hung up for many days and think about the colour blocks and the different modes of printing to be employed.

04 January 2006

Reba Stewart

Reba Stewart Print

The brief career of Boston-based artist Reba Stewart was cut tragically short when she died of malaria in 1971 at the age of 41. MIT's Program in Women's Studies has a scholarship established in her name and the web site shows many fine examples of Reba's work including 7 woodcuts. Interesting too is a 1960 letter written by Reba from Japan, where she studied woodblock printing, telling of her stay at the home of woodblock printer Toshi Yoshida.

02 January 2006

Thoughts On Blogging

It's six months since I started this blog, and I've been taking stock on this squeaky-clean new year's morning. I started Woodblock Dreams at the prompting of my friend Cindy Woods, whose illustrated blog I've always enjoyed immensely. When I told Cindy that I was going to be learning moku hanga she said, "It's an awful lot of work and you probably wouldn't want to do it, but that would be a perfect subject for a blog. Plus, it would give me the chance to look over your shoulder and watch you learn."

I was skeptical, as I don't like very many blogs, and my overall goal is to get away from the computer, not to get even more involved with it. But I gave it a try and I have to say, it's been a pleasant surprise. Here are some of the benefits I've found:

1. I get feedback on my work. And much of the feedback is real, solid, useful information from printmakers who have studied hard and know the techniques really well. These printmakers live all over our planet, yet they can "see" my work and help me. That help has been an amazing benefit, and I'm grateful.

2. I learn a tremendous amount simply by writing about my experiences. Articulating what I'm doing or trying to do and what does and doesn't work really helps anchor the experience for me.

3. I have all my musings as well as photo documentation of my explorations here in one place, so it's easy to go back and find links or info when I need it.

4. I'm meeting some really nice people.

Disadvantages? Only that it's time-consuming. All told, it's been worth the effort.
So I guess I'll keep doing it.