21 August 2008

China Mountains

In this print I want the area above the Great Wall to look like snowy mountains, so I start with the satellite map screen capture I showed you yesterday:


and I open it in Photoshop. Photoshop is an amazing program that I firmly believe can do anything at all, but what I want to do here is very simple. I want to carve a block that will print the shadows of the mountains and leave the rest of the paper white and snow-like. So I use Photoshop's "Threshold" slider which converts the image to stark black and white and play with the amount until I get the look I want:


Then I print it out. In this case I print it on 3 tabloid size sheets of paper and tape them together because the print image area is 14" x 22" (35.5 x 56 cm). I trace the design onto the block using carbon paper and I'm ready to start carving:


20 August 2008

Beginning the Great Wall Print

Click image to enlarge

For the past 5 or 6 weeks I've had very little illustration work, which has given me an opportunity to feel what it would be like if I were a full-time printmaker. I like it! But lately the day job is ramping up again so I'm back to being a printmaker in my spare time.

Tonight I started on the Great Wall of China print in the Borders series. China is one of the world's oldest continuous civilizations, dating back more than six thousand years, and its history is dense and, for me, daunting. I'm a Japanophile, though, and much of what I love about Japanese culture came to Japan via China - Buddhism, the writing system, and many of the traditional crafts including my beloved woodblock printing. So at least I have that connection to begin with.

The Great Wall was built over the course of many centuries, but it was begun by China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in 221 BCE to defend the country from marauding bands of nomadic horsemen from the north. Hundreds of thousands of men were mobilized, and an unknown number died building this 3,000 mile long barrier. You can find more history of the Great Wall at this link.

To begin my print, I located a satellite view of a section of the wall that appealed to me to use as a starting point. I liked the mountains north of the wall and the cultivated land south of the wall in this view. This location is somewhere north and west of Beijing. Unfortunately I didn't make a careful notation of the exact spot and now I can't find it again.

16 August 2008

Mass MoCA: Badlands

Yesterday Lynn and I drove west to Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) to celebrate our anniversary. We had no idea what was showing there, we just wanted to get out of town, so I was surprised and thrilled to find two exhibits that dovetailed nicely with my latest woodblock work. One exhibit, there until April '09, is titled Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape, a show that purports to "reinvent the genre [landscape] to produce works that look beyond vast beauty to address current environmental issues." There were a number of pieces that dealt with microcosmic and macrocosmic views of the land. My favorite work of this type was two large pieces by Leila Daw who works a lot with mapping.

Also currently at Mass MoCA is a group show about China, Eastern Standard: Western Artists in China. Much of the work was photography or video-based. I particularly enjoyed a video by Catherine Yass called Lock (2006) that takes viewers on a barge traveling through the Three Gorges Dam’s massive lock. The view from the front of the barge is projected on one wall and the view from the back projected onto the opposite wall, so you really feel like you're on the boat. It made me want to see the film Up the Yangtze.

My preparations for the Great Wall of China print have been slow. Part of the slowness is because of the Olympics. There's so much information about China in the media right now -- my own feelings and views about China have felt very fluid in response to all the input. My sketches are firming up this weekend, though, so I may be starting on the print soon. If so, then this will be the first time I've ever worked on more than one print at a stretch, as I've also started on a print called "The Well" (see previous post). It will be interesting to see what it's like to work on two projects at once, or if one falls to the side in favor of the other.

13 August 2008

Deep Water Print


About 5 years ago, after many years of illustrating full time on a computer, I got to a point where I just needed to get off the machine. I wanted to find a way to make images using real materials, I wanted to make something I could hold in my hands, and I wanted to get my hands dirty in the process. The first medium I tried was collage, and I had a great time with it. I think one of the things I really liked about collage was ripping up magazines, since much of my illustration work over the years has been magazine work.

The drawing above is based on a collage that I did back in 2004. I've been wanting to make it into a woodblock print for a while now. I'm working on sketches for a new "borders" print about The Great Wall of China, but it's not ready yet, so for now I'll be working on this water print.

12 August 2008

Sometimes I'm Married


On Aug 15, 2004, my partner Lynn and I, who had already been together for 13 years, were married in our home in the company of 60 friends and family. This was three months after our right to marry had been affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which found that there was no "constitutionally adequate reason" for denying marriage to same-sex couples. Although they received very short notice, almost every person we invited made it to the ceremony and it was a fantastic, warm and wonderful celebration.

I love being married. But until this year I was only married in Massachusetts, which makes for some interesting (and confusing) situations. For example, Lynn and I file our state taxes jointly, but we file our federal taxes as two single people. The U.S. census does not count us as married. If I were to die today, Lynn would not be eligible to collect on my social security the way other married couples can and she would have to pay federal inheritance taxes on half of our joint properties. Whenever we leave the state, Lynn and I always joke that we aren't married any more, but the question of whether or not our marriage is valid when we travel out of state is no laughing matter if something bad happens. (Our lawyer advised us to carry a copy of our marriage license when we travel!) And which box do we check when asked if we're married on an insurance or other type of application form?

So in honor of Lynn and my four-year wedding anniversary (and 17 years together) I thought I'd start a little woodblock print about the state of our marriage. Here's the design transferred to a block:


And here are two prints in what will probably be a very slow reduction series:


You can see that we're now married in both Massachusetts and California. I haven't noted states that offer "civil unions" as I'm unclear on what exactly "civil union" means. I think of it as a sort of semantic trick -- even though some or many of the rights of marriage may be conferred in a civil union (or civil partnership, registered partnership, domestic partnership, etc.), the semantic difference between marriage and civil unions has no purpose I can discern other than to continue to stigmatize and isolate same-gender relationships. But on the 2008 map I've noted New York, where Governor David Paterson has directed state agencies to recognize all policies and laws pertaining to same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, and New Jersey and New Mexico which recognize same-sex marriage conducted abroad, so possibly will recognize marriage from other states as well.

I plan to revisit this very gradual reduction print every year around our wedding anniversary until all the states are one color. Then we can frame the series and hang it on our nursing home wall.

07 August 2008

Three Prophets Folios


Today I picked up the folios that were made for me by Easthampton, MA, bookbinder Sarah Creighton. The cloth Sarah used is a Japanese book cloth, and in addition to the luscious blue and maroon folios shown above, there's also an orange-gold version.

Unfortunately, Sarah doesn't have a web site, but her studio, located in an old factory building that has a river literally running underneath it, is magical. The first time I visited I could barely concentrate on what she was saying I was so enthralled with all the little books and boxes and tools and papers lying about. Among her other numerous credits, Sarah and another bookbinder along with 10 apprentices spent three years binding 450 editions of the Bible that Barry Moser illustrated, which was released in 1999.

Sarah made 15 folios for me, so prints 1–15 of each of the Three Prophets will be sold in these folio sets. Each folio also has a letterpress printed title sheet with artist's notes written and designed by me and printed by Art Larson of Horton Tank Graphics in Hadley, MA. I picked up the title pages today, too.


I'm extremely happy with how these folios have turned out. Tomorrow I mail out prints and folios to Cullom Gallery for the show in September-October.

06 August 2008

More Uses for Rejected Prints

Previously I blogged about making business cards from less-than-perfect prints rather than throwing them away. Today I used some of the rejected Three Prophets prints to make labels for the portfolios that I'll be picking up tomorrow.

First I carved a small block (this is 4" x 6") with the title. Backwards, of course. Then I marked the centerlines in pencil.


Next I cut up some of the old prints. The final labels will be 2-1/4" x 3-1/2" so I cut the paper about an inch larger than that, to be trimmed down after printing. I marked the centerlines on the backs of the labels as well so that I could line them up with the marks on the block.


Here are the printed labels.


I'll wait until tomorrow when I have the folios in hand before I trim the labels down, just to be sure the dimensions are correct. Then I'll glue the labels onto the folio fronts.

04 August 2008

Show In Seattle


Another announcement for this fall that I'm very excited about: from September 4 through November 1, 2008, I'll be having a show at Cullom Gallery in Seattle. Cullom Gallery is a small gallery located on the mezzanine of Davidson Galleries (a gallery devoted to antique to contemporary prints) in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood. Owner and director Beth Cullom opened Cullom Gallery just last year, but she's been involved in the Japanese print world since 1994, when she started working at Carolyn Staley - Fine Japanese Prints first as a Gallery Assistant and later as Manager and Assistant Director. Cullom Gallery offers ukiyo-e, modern and contemporary Japanese prints and other works on paper, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to show my work there.

Needless to say, I've been very busy this summer preparing for the show. Later this week I'll be visiting a local bookbinder to pick up some hand-made portfolios for my Three Prophets triptych that I can't wait to show you, and I hope to finish one more new print before September 4. (We'll see about that!) I'll be visiting Seattle in October and will be giving an artist's talk on Saturday October 4, so I hope all of you Washingtonians will come and say hello when I'm there!

Do check out the Cullom Gallery web site this month (or the gallery if you're nearby) -- there's an exhibit right now of a suite of 11 woodcuts by Naoko Matsubara called Solitude, inspired by Henry David Thoreau's essay of the same name. The prints are simple and beautiful.

03 August 2008

Teaching in November


Those of you who are located in New England or the Northeast may be interested to know that I'll be teaching a weekend class in moku hanga this fall at Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, Massachusetts. The class will be on Sat.-Sun. November 22-23, from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm each day. For more information and to register, please visit the Zea Mays web site and see the Course Schedule page. Classes at Zea Mays are limited to 8 participants, so early registration is recommended. Hope to see you there!