22 December 2007

Happy Holidays


Thank you for all your visits and comments this year. Wishing everyone the peace of deep winter, the promise of a new year and the eternal wonder of now. Happy holidays and safe travels to all. xo Annie

18 December 2007

What Is Art

Aardman Animations, the studio that produces the work of award-winning British animator Nick Park, produced a show for CBS called Creature Comforts which was unfortunately pulled after just 3 episodes. In the show, ordinary Americans were interviewed on various topics and their responses placed into the mouths of a variety of animated animals and insects. Below is a 7-minute clip titled "What Is Art?" Please take special note of the Printmaker!

16 December 2007

Bethlehem Final Print


"To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Carl Sagan, 1996, on a photo taken from deep space.

This afternoon, tucked inside my studio with snow swirling outside the window, I finished the Bethlehem print. Just in time for Christmas.

I tried to write about my complicated relationship with Christianity, the religion of my childhood and of my ancestors, but I think I'll just let these pieces (Bethlehem, Mecca, Lumbini) speak for themselves. Like Carl Sagan said, looking at our world from a distance brings human follies down to their actual size. In this turbulent time, with religious extremists all claiming to speak God's truth, I like remembering that Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha, all of whom must have been great beings to have legacies so enduring, were once babies. They had mothers. They were human beings who lived in real places on this planet. That much is indisputable.

I used blues for this print because I associate the color blue with Jesus' mother Mary. The blue and white also looks wintery, the season I correlate with celebrating Jesus' birth. The image is 11" x 28 1/2" and the edition will be somewhere around 25 (I used 30 sheets of 13" x 30" Rives heavyweight).

11 December 2007

Repeating Pattern


I think this is the first time I've carved a repeating pattern. There were some patterns in "Locusts In Babylon", but those patterns didn't repeat like this one. I found that carving this pattern went pretty quickly. It was easy to get into a rhythm with it and just go. I still have some more clearing to do and then I can print.

05 December 2007

Carving the Border Block



Each of these three Birthplaces prints will have a border and a symbol at the top for the religion that began with the birth. For the Bethlehem print I've chosen to use the earliest form of the Christian cross, called the "Greek cross." This cross, with its four arms of equal length, predates the Latin cross. While the Latin cross represents the crucifixion, the Greek cross was an abbreviation for the name "Christ" and also represents the four directions, implying the spread of the gospel.

What I especially like about the Greek cross is that this style of cross is said to date to ancient Babylon, that cradle of all civilization now known as Iraq.

29 November 2007

Edna Boies Hopkins


Edna Boies Hopkins (1872-1937), a protege of Arthur Wesley Dow, created a large body of woodblock prints until her career was cut short by severe arthritis when she reached her early 50s. Although she is best known for her prints of flowers, I'm smitten with some of her figural works like the white line print above. It's so easy to overwork lines in a woodcut, so I like the way Hopkins' line retains the quirkiness and character of a hand drawn line. I've been thinking that I'd like to try using the white line method in some of my commercial work.

The Columbus Museum of Art (OH) will be showing fifty of Hopkins' color woodblock prints, from December 14, 2007 - March 2, 2008. The exhibition will travel to the Springfield (OH) Museum of Art March 15 - June 1, 2008 and to the Provincetown (MA) Art Association and Museum June - August, 2008.

28 November 2007

Printing the Third Reduction


In traditional Japanese woodblock prints, a keyblock was often used. The keyblock was usually a black outline of the artwork to which all of the color blocks were registered. This third reduction of the block in my Bethlehem print is acting as a sort of keyblock in the sense that it gives the piece its definition. I used a very red purple color which came out more violet when it overprinted the blues underneath.

One more block to carve and print. This will be a border that I'll cut on a fresh block.

25 November 2007

Bethlehem: Third Reduction


I've had so much illustration work to do the past couple of months that this print has had to take more of a back seat than I'd like. But I'm plugging away at it. Of the 3 "birthplaces" prints (Bethlehem, Mecca and Lumbini) I chose to do Bethlehem first so that I would be working on it during the Christian season of Advent, the four weeks before the celebration of Christ's birth on Christmas. I do expect to have the print finished by then.

18 November 2007

Bethlehem: Printing Second State Block


Early last week I cut the index finger of my left hand rather badly. I'm quite careful when handling woodcut tools, but I'm very cavalier about x-acto knives. Holy cow, those things are sharp! I was cutting a mat. More proof that matting and framing should be left to the professionals.

Anyway, my finger is on the mend and I was able to fit in a printing session on Saturday. Above is the next layer on the Bethlehem print. I've left the full border visible so you can see the little notches I've cut in the paper for registration.

I think this is all I need to print with this state of the block, so it's time to carve again for the next reduction.

09 November 2007

Ready to Print Again


I took some time this morning before work to do the last section of the second round of cuts for the Bethlehem print. Not sure when I'll have the opportunity to print again, as I have a lot of illustration work to do. Maybe toward the end of next week I'll be able to make some time.

08 November 2007

Map Lovers Unite (In Chicago!)


Knowing of my love for maps, a friend from Baren Forum, Sharen Linder, recently alerted me to The Festival of Maps Chicago, a city-wide celebration of maps that will be going on for the next couple of months. The Field Museum is having a huge show of maps titled Maps: Finding Our Place in the World which explores the history of wayfinding across time, space, and cultures.

Other participating institutions include The Adler Planetarium (Mapping the Universe) and The Chicago Botanic Garden (Rare Maps: Journeys of Plant Explorers), among many others.

I think a trip to Chicago is in order!

print by Sharen Linder: phone book map in chine colle under an etching

06 November 2007

It's About Time

Back in the 1980s when I was first learning to use the computer to draw (Adobe Illustrator Version 1.0), I would lie down at night after a long day on the machine with strange visions of manipulating time and space as I fell asleep. I would see the world before me begin to get larger and larger, as when zooming in on the computer screen, or I would watch as an imaginary scene would dissolve into overlapping colored shapes. It was as if my mind was continuing to explore the mesmerizing new world that had been opened to it even as I slept.

Twenty years later we've all seemingly become accustomed to the mesmerizing world inside the screen-window, but I don't believe it's any less mesmerizing than it was back then. I can still "lose" hours at a time while pursuing a topic on the internet, or futzing around with a thorny software problem, and I still have trouble talking on the telephone if I'm sitting in front of a computer screen. And I see myself more and more expecting immediacy -- expecting to find anything I'm looking for, expecting that anything I purchase online will be delivered next day, expecting immediate responses to my emails, expecting immediate feedback to almost every action I take.

Which is why woodblock is so challenging for me. I can hardly think of a more labor-intensive, grueling technique for making a picture. Unlike digital picture-making, where the feedback is immediate and any action can be un-done, a polychrome woodblock print can take many weeks to accomplish, and the unforgiving marks made by a knife on wood are indelible. The contrast is stark.

German artist Christiane Baumgartner makes large scale woodblock prints that explicitly examine this contrast. She takes video stills as her source material, tiny micro-second slices of time, and painstakingly reproduces them in wood, carving horizontal lines of varying widths into birch plywood -- "an irreversible deceleration process," as critic Roy Oxley notes. I love this stuff!

04 November 2007

IFPDA Print Fair Report


Located just a short distance from New York's "Museum Mile," the Park Avenue Armory is a great location for the International Fine Print Dealers Association's annual print fair. I spent six hours on the exhibit floor on Saturday poring over prints from all eras, from works by Dürer and Rembrandt to early Japanese woodblock prints to hot-off-the-press contemporary editions from well-known publishers such as Crown Point Press and Shark's Ink. I learned a lot about printmaking, saw some knockout woodblock prints up close, and overheard some interesting conversations. Following are some highlights from the day.

Women Who Map
Given my obsession with maps, of course I was drawn to any map-like prints that I saw. Two really stood out for me, the work of Yvonne Jacquette (these are woodcuts):



and the work of Suzanne Caporael:

lithography and pochoir


Arthur Wesley Dow and Friends

There were many gorgeous examples of some of my favorite early- to mid-20th century woodblock printmakers from the American northeast, including Arthur Wesley Dow, Blanche Lazelle and others. Most of the lovely little Dow woodblock prints I've ever seen have been very intimate pieces, often only a few inches in size. The piece at the top below was on display at the Hirschl and Adler Gallery booth and was quite large - about 7 inches wide!



Woodcuts by Women: Anne Ryan

The Susan Teller Gallery had a wall devoted to modernist woodcuts by women, and I was delighted to be introduced to the work of Anne Ryan (1889-1954). She made prints on black paper, giving the work great depth and complexity.


Kiki Smith


A book at the Arion Press booth caught my eye immediately as I walked by, a volume titled "Sampler" which contains 200 Emily Dickinson poems illustrated with images by Kiki Smith. The book was letterpress printed and hand bound in an edition of 400 and it was so hot off the press that Kiki Smith herself had not seen it yet. I was fortunate enough to be present when Smith arrived for her first look, so I was able to watch her face as she viewed the results of many weeks of labor. I think she liked it.

Other Woodcuts of Note


Keith Haring's Totem
This was huge, framed in 3 pieces, maybe 7 or 8 feet tall.


John Buck's Needles
About 4 feet high.

I had just one disappointment, which is that Davidson Galleries of Seattle, although a member of ifpda, didn't attend. They carry some of my favorite contemporary printmakers and I would have loved to have seen some of that work up close.

01 November 2007

10 Hours Later


Ten hours of carving, and it looks like I have about 10 hours more to go.

Appropriately enough, tonight in my email inbox I got the latest McClain's newsletter featuring an interview with Northampton's famous engraver, Barry Moser. Asked why he loves engraving, given that he himself describes it as "excruciatingly frustrating" and "relentlessly unforgiving," Moser replied, "I have a tenacious personality. If something pushes hard against me, I want to push all that much harder against it." I can relate to that!

31 October 2007

Viewing Prints In New York

Hideo Hagiwara

Early Saturday morning I'll be boarding a bus at Smith College Museum of Art for a day trip to NY City to see the 17th Annual IFPDA Print Fair. The 5-day Print Fair, which started today and is held at the Armory in the upper East Side, features exhibits of prints from all periods and from around the world. There are over 90 print dealers represented, including several dealers who specialize in Japanese prints, so there should be plenty of great prints to feast my eyes on.

29 October 2007

Carving Again


Time to whittle down the block some more. Now I'm carving away all the areas that I want to see remain light blue. Given the limited amount of time I have available this week, I'll be lucky if I can get this finished before the end of the weekend.

25 October 2007

Prints from First State of Block


What you see here is four impressions from the block in its first state. I plan to study it for another day or two, just to be sure I'm satisfied with things at this stage, and then I'll cut the block some more for a second round of printing. Once I cut into the block again there's no going back!

This Bethlehem print, part of "Love Songs for a Small Planet," is the first in a trio of prints - Bethlehem (birthplace of Jesus), Mecca (birthplace of Mohammed) and Lumbini (birthplace of Buddha). Yesterday I ran across a serendipitous news report about Condoleeza Rice visiting Bethlehem. Here's a screenshot of a portion of the article (the part with pictures, of course). Click image for larger view:

23 October 2007

Working With Large Paper

Seems as though every time I get myself ready to start a new print I get a flurry of illustration jobs. That happened again this week, but this morning I took some time before work and printed a round on my new Bethlehem print. It was a test of my new kento system, and happily it worked well. Here are photos of placing the paper on the block.

The paper is grasped with two hands in what is called a "scissor grip." I place my thumbs on the notches I've cut that correspond to the two kento guides.

I hold the paper in a curved shape to keep it from dropping into the ink on the block.

First I bring my left hand down and line up the paper notch with the matching kento notch. Then, keeping my thumb on the paper to hold it in place, and maintaining the overall curve of the paper, I guide the edge of paper in my right hand into the other kento guide.

Keeping my thumbs on the kento and paper, I let go of the paper with my other fingers and allow it to fall onto the block.

18 October 2007

A Different Kento

When printing with the moku hanga method, one typically places the paper on the inked block by holding the paper in a "scissor grip." One hand holds a corner and the other hand holds an edge, and the paper is guided into corresponding corner and edge registration marks (kento) on the board. The paper for this print is so large (13"/33cm x 30"/76cm), though, that I've been concerned that I won't be able to get the paper onto the block without dragging it through the wet ink. A photo I saw on David Bull's web site gave me an idea, so I'm trying a different kind of kento.


Here you can see that I'm using two kento marks along the long edge of the board. They're about 15" (35cm) apart, so I can hold the paper in a u-shape, supporting it in the middle as I guide it onto the board.

One of the kento marks is straight, but the other is notched so that a corresponding notch in the paper can ensure proper placement.


Usually I cut the paper, but for this series of prints I want torn edges. After tearing the paper, I need to cut both a notch and a straight edge along one side to fit perfectly into the kento.


I'll place the paper's notch into position first, then bring the straight edge into position and let the paper fall onto the board. Tonight I'm preparing the paper -- lots of it, as I'm bound to mess up a few prints working with a new method!


16 October 2007

Islands of White


I still have a couple of hours of carving to do on this block. All the little dots make me think of the Aleutian Islands, which I've drawn a few times in my illustration career. Lynn says that if we ever visit Alaska she expects me to spend the whole time moaning about how hard that coastline is to draw. I do always complain about it, but now I know that carving it would be even worse. Why do I make these incredibly tedious projects for myself?!

Anyway, this will be the first step in my reduction print. It will print as little white dots in a field of pale blue.

11 October 2007

Trying a Reduction Print

The "reduction method" in relief printing is an exacting process where the artist uses only one block. As in any woodcut, the artist begins by cutting a block and printing a color. But instead of carving a new block for an additional color, that same block is cut further (hence the term "reduction") and used again to print a second color over the first. The artist continues to cut and print this one block until all the colors have been printed.

One of the big drawbacks of this method is that there is no opportunity to go back to a previous color and make changes, since the wood has long since been cut away. For this reason, the method is also referred to as a "suicide print."

I've done some partial reductions on various blocks in past prints, but never a real "reduction print." I think that it might be a good method for the print I'm attempting here, though. Here's a drawing on one of my blocks for the first stage of a reduction:


The web site of reduction printmaker Don Gorvett shows the amazing detail and richness that can be achieved with this method.

09 October 2007

$6 Hanshita

I've just started working on a new print that will be the largest I've attempted so far: 13" x 30" (33 x 76 cm) paper size. It's a map-based print, so I need some precision in my sketches (hanshita) for each color. I thought about using my laser printer, but it can only print a maximum of 11" x 17". I finally ended up printing out my sketches at 50% and going to my local copy shop for an oversized xerox. It cost $1 per square foot, which came to about $6 for each of my four hanshita. Here's one of them:


This print, the first in a series of three, will be based on a satellite view of Bethlehem. Here's the view I'm using for inspiration:


08 October 2007

Randi Bull

Just back from a short but rejuvenating trip to Cape Cod. Nothing like the ocean to calm the nerves and feed the soul.

Looking over my emails when I got back, I saw an announcement about an exhibit currently showing at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, CT:


Of course I wanted to see more of her work, but I was stopped short when a Google search revealed almost nothing more about her. It showed me how much I rely on (and expect) the internet to contain information on absolutely everything. It was good to be reminded that it doesn't.

Here's one more sample of Randi's work:


And this blurb from The New Canaan Advertiser:

“Randi Bull: Retrospective, 1959-1989” is on display through November 17.

Ms. Bull moved to America from Norway as a baby and grew up in and around New York City. She began printmaking in the 1950s, and when she pulled her first woodblock print, she realized that this would be her preferred medium. She was already an accomplished printmaker when she encountered Japanese woodcut artists and their tools — the knives, gouges and baren.

She applies oil-based inks, rather than the water-based inks traditional in Japan, to the carved blocks, a separate block for each color. Then she places paper on each block in turn and rubs it by hand with the baren, a flat disk covered with a bamboo leaf. For greater definition, she uses a wooden spoon to strengthen a line or particular area. Because each woodcut involves so much meticulous handwork, she limits them to editions of 35 to 50 prints.

“I like everything about making a woodcut. I like the knives, the feel of cutting the wood, the white of the paper, the wonderful colors, and the luminosity the white paper and the black key block give. I like the shapes which materialize when you cut freely, both the shape you cut out and the shape that remains. I like the struggle with the grain of the wood, the fact that it has a life of its own. I like the step-by-step working out of the final print and the exciting transparencies of color over color. The logical or sometimes topsy-turvy solutions at times are quite different from the initial plan of colors. I love the mystery that arises when a print suddenly seems to work.”

The exhibit is curated by Laura G. Einstein of New Canaan.

Center for Contemporary Printmaking is located at 299 West Avenue in Norwalk.

05 October 2007


Well, the inks don't act just like cmyk (of course) but it was a fun experiment. Here are some variations:

Red and Blue

Yellow and Blue

All three colors

Left: 4 drops blue; Right: 3 drops

04 October 2007

Mixing Colors

I've been an illustrator for over 20 years, yet I know almost nothing about mixing paints. What I do know about is mixing process color on a computer, the color model that's used in commercial printing. Process color uses four inks -- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black -- in varying amounts to create a full spectrum of color for offset printing. I'm so used to using CMYK that I can look at a color and estimate the amounts of each of the four inks that would be used to create it. What I can't easily do is look at bottles of paint and figure out what color I'll end up with if I mix them.

In this print, I'm experimenting with mixing three colors -- blue, red, and yellow -- to see if they behave at all like cyan, magenta and yellow. Here's the red layer by itself:


And added to the yellow:


Now I'm drying the prints before I re-wet them to add the blue.