28 January 2009

Toh-less Carving

I've been invited to participate in an exchange print portfolio by a group of Boston-area illustrators called "Limited/Unlimited." The image area (8" x 9"), paper size and type (12" x 16", probably Rives), and ink colors have all been chosen. Interpretation of the theme is up to the artist.


The ink colors are red and blue, which I've found VERY limiting. I just can't stop seeing Shepard Fairey's Obama poster in my mind's eye. I've always wanted to try doing a portrait, and I have some portraits coming up in my Pilgrims series, so I finally decided to give in and try a portrait.

Rather than do Obama, I've decided to work with Lincoln as he is portrayed in the Lincoln Memorial statue. I found a photo online and used it as a base for my carving, pasting the printout right onto the block. Here I'm peeling away the back of the paper to reveal the image:


Then I wipe on some mineral oil to make the image completely visible:


I've always carved my blocks with a toh, a flat-blade knife, in the ukiyo-e style of carving but for this print I'm using only gouges. This is more western style, especially reminiscent of the German expressionists, and I'm trying to do a loose kind of drawing with the gouges right on top of the printout reference.

Here's a closeup of the hair and forehead:


And some swirls in the beard:


Using a proof of this block as reference, I'll carve two more blocks, one for areas of undercolor and one for background.

26 January 2009

Getting Educated

In the hopes of finding out more about Massachusetts' early settlers, tomorrow afternoon I'm going to start auditing a Smith College American Studies course called The Material Culture of New England, 1630-1860. Using the collections of nearby Historic Deerfield, a museum of New England history and art, the course explores New England's history through a wide variety of objects -- architecture, furniture, ceramics, and textiles. I'm looking forward to this perspective on looking at history and historical artifacts.

22 January 2009

Worried About the Kids



Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Paper size: 10.25" x 14.5" (26 x 37 cm)
2 shina plywood blocks
6 hand-rubbed impressions plus spray paint
Paper: Nishinouchi
Edition: 12

Here's the final print with the clump of Pilgrims added. Bradford's words once again:

"But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents... so that they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and to be corrupted."

I have another setting planned for this little group, on the other side of their voyage. Here's a detail of the group:


18 January 2009

Spray Paint

The Separatists' theology was mainly Calvinist. They believed in the absolute sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and salvation through divine grace (not self-effort or good deeds). They considered themselves God's elect, specially chosen by God for redemption. Therefore, they saw themselves as exceptional, and they carried a sense of exclusivity that separated them from the rest of the world, whether in Holland or in England.


To show this sense of separation, I decided to stay in the vernacular of graffiti and use "spray paint" around the area where I plan to print the group of Pilgrims. Using a can of Krylon spray paint like the taggers use wasn't possible, as I wanted to use sumi ink on top of the spray, so I needed to use waterbased pigment. First I tried watering down some white pigment and squirting it from a plastic spray bottle, but the coverage wasn't opaque enough and the nozzle clogged too quickly. So I ended up dipping a fingernail brush into the paint and using my thumb to push the bristles back to release a fine spray. It was a little wild to control, but definitely fun!

After the spray, I added an impression of gray paint along the edges to make the color a little more dirty and dingy. It's a subtle difference, but here's a before and after comparison:


Next I'll be carving some Pilgrims.

14 January 2009

Woodblock Graffiti

In Of Plimouth Plantation William Bradford gives four reasons why the Separatists wanted to leave Holland and make the treacherous journey to America:
  1. Financial - they saw little room for improvement in their employment situation in Holland
  2. Security - they were afraid that Holland and Spain would soon be at war
  3. Evangelism - their move would provide an opportunity for propagation of their faith
  4. For the sake of the children - they were worried that their children were becoming more Dutch than English and that they were being tempted into sinful behaviors.


These are the causes that still motivate immigrants across the globe. I was particularly struck with the incentive of moving so that one's children will have a better life. I have many friends who once they became parents uprooted themselves from favorite urban settings or paid more than they wanted to pay for a house just so they could live in a more highly-rated public school system.


In searching for a visual device that would suggest the temptations of youth, I settled on graffiti as a fast-read symbol for urban crime and youthful rebellion. Juxtaposing the Pilgrims into a modern setting is something I envisioned when I first thought about this series, so this print is a test of that concept.

The graffiti I referenced comes from the streets of Amsterdam. What it actually says isn't relevant to the print - it's just a tag (someone's name) as far as I can tell. It will also be further obscured in the next step. I did add a little crown symbol, as the poor Separatists were always fearing that James I was after them, which he often was.

12 January 2009

In Danger to Be Corrupted

A second impression of burnt umber added after some additional carving of the block.

A tremendous amount of study and scholarship has been done on the Puritan settlers of colonial America. This makes my research very easy, but it also makes my artistic task difficult. I want to work from actual texts and historical facts, I want to be as accurate as possible, but I'll never be a historian and my overarching intention with these prints is not historical representation. My intention is actually very personal -- to have a dialog with my ancestors, to ask them some questions, and to see where they take me in that boat of theirs.

So far I've been referencing three sources, the previously mentioned book Mayflower, William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation, and a book by James and Patricia Scott Deetz called The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love and Death in Plymouth Colony. I picked up the Deetz book several years ago in Provincetown on Cape Cod, where the Pilgrims first landed, but I never read it until now.

The quote I'm working with for this print is William Bradford's description of one of the reasons why the Pilgrims, who had taken shelter in Leiden, Holland for 12 years, were keen to get out of that country and head for America:
"But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents... so that they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and to be corrupted."

11 January 2009

Tightly Knit


The Puritans who came to America on the Mayflower were members of a Separatist congregation that was formed in 1606 in the hamlet of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England. (An interesting side note: one of my online printmaker friends from Baren Forum, Harry French, lives very near this place and has exhibited his work in Gainsborough Hall where the Mayflower Pilgrims sometimes worshiped.) The Separatists were Puritans, who believed that the Church of England needed to be reformed, but they were extreme Puritans who chose to remove themselves completely from the the Church of England and form their own congregations. The Separatists were a very tightly knit group, both because of the intensity of their beliefs and their ideal of Christian fellowship and because of the fact that their worship was illegal and had to be done in secret. When they moved to Holland in 1608 to escape persecution by James I, they became even more tightly bonded in their exile. I wonder, if the Separatists existed in this day and age might we label them "cultish"?

At any rate, they were a tight community, and this next print I'm working on features a tight little clump of Puritans. Pictured above is a closeup of a portion of the first impression, a wash of burnt umber.

07 January 2009

Little Woodcuts for a Client


Whew, I just spent a long day making up these little "travel stamps" for a client project. Here's the block before printing:


I printed about 7 pages of these and then, since I have to deliver them digitally, I scanned the best ones and cleaned them up a little in Photoshop. The stamps will be incorporated into an illustration as well as being used alone in the article.

05 January 2009

They Looked Behind - Final

Click image for larger view


Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Paper size: 14" x 29" (35.5 x 73.6 cm)
2 shina plywood blocks
9 hand-rubbed impressions
Paper: Nishinouchi
Edition: 9

Happy new year! I hope you all are safe and happy after the holiday season. I had a relaxing couple of weeks during which I managed to add this somewhat anticlimactic last layer to the latest print. I think I need to get these people to land!