29 October 2008

Back to the Great Wall

It's been almost 5 weeks since I've added any ink to the Great Wall print. I have a hard time getting back into the studio when too much time goes by. I begin to feel nervous, afraid that the creative moment / impulse has passed, that I won't be able to get back into the flow, that I'll mess up what I've started -- all sorts of blocks (walls!) start popping up. I've slowly carved this next plate over the past 4 weeks and this morning I finally found the time and the energy to go print. What a relief!

First I put down a brown wash on the entire block:

Then I hand painted some areas where I wanted to have some spot colors. This is actually more akin to the Chinese method of woodblock printing than the Japanese method, I think:

I did the green and the red in separate impressions:

Now I need to carve this block some more.

25 October 2008

Blogging from Nagasawa Residency Program

Some of my favorite woodblock artists (Daniel Heyman, Eva Pietzcker) are individuals who at one time or another had the opportunity to attend Nagasawa Art Park on Awaji Island in Japan, a two-month residency program that teaches moku hanga. A British man who I know only by his blog handle, coldcell, is attending the Nagasawa program right now and is blogging about it. What a great opportunity to get an inside look at the program.

Click here for coldcell's Jason Oliver's blog, Distant Mountains.

Added 26 October: coldcell is Jason Oliver.

More Smith Print Studio Shots


I went back to Smith College yesterday to watch Jiha Moon's four plates come together. The printmakers were involved in a flurry of activity trying to get a good proof before the end of the session. Above is my friend Peter Pettengill wiping a plate. He's amazing. Watching him was like watching a dancer, such economy of motion yet his entire body was involved.

Here's a shot of one of the proofs (not the final):

I really enjoyed watching these master intaglio printers at work.

23 October 2008

Smith College Print Shop

Peter Pettengill

Master printer Peter Pettengill of Wingate Studio working on a plate at Smith College, Northampton MA. Peter is working with Jiha Moon, visiting artist for the 2008-2009 Smith College Print Workshop. The three-day print session is open to the public, so I've been visiting for an hour or so each day to watch the progress. Here are a few photos of what's going on there.

Jiha Moon working on an aquatint plate.

Raphael Griswold of Wingate Studio hand wiping Jiha Moon's aquatint plate. When it comes to his own work, Rafi does woodcuts so we bonded over that. I was impressed when he told me that he worked with moku hanga artist Keiji Shinohara at Wesleyan University.

Jillian Dy of Wingate Studio applying some stop-out to Jiha Moon's sugarlift plate before it goes in the acid bath. Jillian was very patient in explaining the sugarlift process to me.

Raphael setting up the inked aquatint plate on the press bed to take a proof. Behind Raphael in the plaid shirt is Dwight Pogue, Founder/Director of the Smith College Print Workshops.

I plan to go back tomorrow for day #3 and will post a few more photos, hopefully of the finished piece.

21 October 2008

A Day at Commonwealth College

I spent today on the campus of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst where I was a guest speaker at two classes taught by my friend Gloria DiFulvio. The course, called America at the Turn of the Century is offered through the Commonwealth College of UMass, an undergraduate honors program, and it offers an interdisciplinary look at turn-of-the-century issues including immigration. Gloria is familiar with the way my work addresses social issues and she thought it would be interesting for the students to see how an artist works with these topics. I brought my U.S./Mexico Border print as well as the Three Prophets series to discuss.

I have to say, I had a great time at both classes. The students were engaged, easy to talk with, thoughtful, and very insightful in their questions and comments. I enjoyed the campus, too, which is like a small city with its student population of 25,000. Even though it's a 20 minute drive from where I live, I've rarely visited UMass, but my experience there today made me want to go back again. There's a map room in the 28-story library that I'll definitely go back to see!

After the class, Gloria invited students to write briefly about any thoughts, reactions or questions they had and I'd like to take some blog space to respond to a few of the questions.

Do you ever do art without any message to convey? Do you ever do art for the hell of it?
Not often enough! Because I do art for a living, sometimes art is the last thing I want to do "for fun." But I do occasionally enjoy doing art without a purpose -- my favorite way to do that is to rip up some magazines and do collage or grab a crayon and draw like a kid. It's good for loosening up.

Is there anything you would never talk about when it comes to your identity?
Do you mean like things that I consider too private to talk about? Sure, some things are too private to talk about. And where that "too personal" line is depends on who I'm talking with. For instance, I wouldn't try to have a meaningful conversation about being gay with someone who was holding a sign saying "God hates queers." That would be too painful. But when there's a clear opportunity for dialog I try to rise to the occasion even if it's scary.

Do you have a favorite print?
Usually whichever print I'm currently working on is my favorite!

Do you ever mess up or feel that it isn't your best work? Do you fix it and start over or leave it?
I mess up plenty. I hate when it happens, but the flaws are part of the process. Occasionally I get totally frustrated with a print and I don't finish it, or once it's finished I dislike it so much that I cut it up and turn it into business cards. Sometimes I finish and I'm not sure if I like it or not. When that happens I just quietly put it away and wait awhile until I can see it with fresh eyes. I'm pretty critical of my own work and I'm aware that I'm not really the best judge of whether it's good or not.

Do people ever suggest ideas they would love to see you turn into a print?
Sometimes, especially family members! Do you have a print suggestion? Feel free to leave it here!

After you've spent so much time on a print do you immediately want to start working on another, or do you take time to reflect before you move on to the next?
I often take a little break between prints, but not for long because I usually know what I'm going to do next even before I finish what I'm working on. The pressure to get moving on the new print usually wins out over my desire to take a break.

What researching sites do you use the most, or is it all Google?
I do tend to start with Google, but you know how one thing leads to another. There are some great image sites that I also use, like Library of Congress and NY Public library. And I like books. I take out library books on some topics.

Many thanks to all of Gloria's students for having me in your class today and for your great comments and feedback! I enjoyed talking with you.

15 October 2008

Accepted in Boston Printmakers 2009 Biennial

I'm happy to say that my woodblock print Borders #1 - U.S./Mexico (pictured here) has been chosen for inclusion in the Boston Printmakers 2009 North American Biennial. The show will be held Feb. 15 - Mar. 30, 2009, at 808 Gallery at Boston University. I'm excited that I'll be able to go to the opening, since I live just a couple of hours away from Boston.

12 October 2008

12 Days Away From the Studio

With last week's trip to Seattle plus a pile of illustration work waiting for me when I got back, I haven't been in the studio for 12 days. Feels like a long time. Today I eased back in to the work on the Great Wall of China print by firming up my sketch for the bottom section. Here's some of the pencil work:


The sketch is based on examples I found of a specialized Chinese brush-painting motif depicting birds, flowers and insects. This popular motif seems to have started around the year 900. The various types of insects and flowers carry rich symbolism drawn from Buddhism and Confucianism, or sometimes from plays on words. I haven't researched the specific symbols, though. Rather, I've copied the tradition but made it a little darker, making what looks at first like a beautiful nature scene into a dangerous world where survival is at risk and decay is evident -- a "survival of the fittest" sort of place.

Now to work on the color separations. Here are some examples of the painting tradition that I'll use to guide me in the color selection:

09 October 2008

Great Gallery (Cullom), Great City (Seattle)

photo by Beth Cullom

The photo above is a view of Cullom Gallery where my first solo show is currently hanging. I spent 5 days in Seattle last week to attend a First Thursday Art Walk reception at the gallery as well as give an artist's talk on the following Saturday. All of it was surprisingly enjoyable.

I say "surprisingly" because I really wasn't sure how I would like it. I'm mostly an introvert and can be socially awkward (can't we all?), so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to relax enough to interact well with gallery visitors. Luckily, though, when I'm really enthused about something -- like moku hanga, say -- I can get past my shyness, so I had a great time talking with the people I met.

Aside from a couple of group shows, my gallery experience has been very limited, so I was keen to meet owner Beth Cullom and talk with her about the work she does. It quickly became clear to me that Beth's knowledge of Japanese printmaking runs broad and deep and her contacts in the art world are extensive. I was impressed with her attention to detail, her ability to interact with all sorts of people, her knowledge, and her professionalism. Best of all, she's also a really nice person.

In my 20+ years as an illustrator I've never had a rep. I've been very hands-on with my own commercial art business, doing everything from accounting to marketing to web site creation myself. I've been doing many of those same tasks with my woodblock work, too, but fine art is a market that I know much less about, so I'm delighted to find the support of a gallery. The show has been selling very well, and that isn't something I could have accomplished on my own. I've heard artists complain about the "gallery system" and probably there are things to complain about, but at least for this show the "system" feels like a mutually respectful partnership that benefits both me and the gallery.

As for the great city of Seattle, my partner Lynn came with me on the trip, which made it a real vacation. When we weren't at the gallery, we spent hours exploring the city -- museums, galleries, restaurants. Oddly enough, one of our favorite places was the Seattle Public Library! In this energy-efficient 10-story building designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Levels 6 to 9 are configured as a "Book Spiral." These four floors of book stacks are connected by gentle ramps where one can quite literally walk through the Dewey Decimal System. Lynn and I felt like we were strolling through the sum total of all human knowledge! Combined with the fact that libraries are one of the last great American public spaces, democracy at its best, the experience was quite moving.

We had a wonderful time in Seattle. Check out my ferry-boat smile: