21 August 2014

View of Fuji from Mt. Holyoke

View of Fuji from Mt. Holyoke after a Thunderstorm (after Thomas Cole)
White line woodcut on Rives heavyweight

I wanted to try one more white line print before I teach a workshop at Zea Mays in October, and this time I wanted to try something a little more moody, since I was previously disconcerted by the relative brightness (and happy tone) of my white line experiments. If you've ever seen Thomas Cole's "View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow," then you'll know what I mean by moody.

My white line print certainly can't compare to Cole's painting, either in mood or in skill. But it's a view of the same scene (the Oxbow of the Connecticut River at Northampton, Massachusetts) and it perfectly encapsulates my feelings of longing to go to Japan next month for the Second International Mokuhanga Conference. Alas, I can't go, so I will pretend that I can see Mt. Fuji from Mt. Holyoke when I look westward.

On a technical note, I carved this print on birch plywood instead of shina. I'm not fond of carving birch ply – it chips more than shina and the glue is hard on tools – but the grain was fun to work with.

I sent a jpeg of this print to my friend Mariko who lives in the Tokyo area thinking that she would appreciate the sentiment. She did appreciate the sentiment, but I was amused when her feedback included the word 'akarui,' which can be translated as 'bright' or 'cheerful.' I guess white line prints look cheerful in any language.

11 August 2014

Report: Karen Kunc Workshop at Anderson Ranch

Anderson Ranch: view from the porch of the print shop building
I've just returned from a week-long workshop at beautiful Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado, where I took a workshop with Karen Kunc, an artist, printmaker and Cather Professor of Art at University of Nebraska - Lincoln. It's hard to say a thing like this after only a few days, but I'll say it anyway: I think this workshop was a life-changing experience for me.

The workshop, titled "From Text and Image Into Book," had a two-part design. For the first couple of days, Karen introduced a number of low-tech and simple methods of generating printed works that could be made into book pages later in the week. We did woodcuts, collagraphs, monoprints, paper litho, and pressure prints and used stencils, rubber stamps, typesetting and pochoir to print. It was fun, but for me it was also stressful because I've worked almost exclusively with moku hanga (Japanese style woodblock) for most of my career. The methods Karen introduced us to were all new to me: using a press (instead of hand printing with a baren), working with litho inks and Akua intaglio inks (instead of water-borne pigments), printing intaglio -- all of these materials and processes were new to me, so I was on a steep learning curve all week. Even doing woodcut felt unfamiliar, as the wood we used was a thin birch ply with shellac on it and it felt entirely different under my chisels than the shina I usually use. Below is the 8 x 30 inch woodcut I did, a very stylized series of images from the JFK shooting in 1963, that I planned to make an accordion book with. It was all done with oil-based litho ink on a press, so I was way out of my element.

I also generated twenty 6 x 6 inch squares using a combination of woodprint, stencil pochoir, cardboard printing, letterpress and rubber stamp for another book. Here are a couple of those pages:

The next days were devoted to learning some basic book binding techniques. Over the course of three days Karen showed us how to do a basic accordion book, an accordion form called leporello, a bradle binding, and a couple of different sewn bindings. We learned to cover chip board with book cloth or other papers, learned to use an awl and PVA glue, how to wrap corners, how to attach pages to each other, how to make a spine. Again, these were all new techniques for me so there was a certain amount of stress, but I was absolutely thrilled with the results. I made two accordion books, one called 1963 and one called Beloved. They're very imperfect and I don't care! Here are photos.
So how was this workshop life changing? I think because I stretched so hard. I got through a whole bunch of hurdles and fears. I had been afraid of taking my prints apart, afraid of folding them, afraid of messing things up with glue, afraid to try book making because it looked so complicated, afraid of oil based ink and printing presses, nervous to experiment and try new things on my own. Karen gave so much permission to just play, to fool around, to try things. We had SO much paper and so much time and so much support among the nine artists in the workshop -- one just couldn't help but be swept up in the spirit of play and discovery. I feel like I've come home with a huge new toolkit for making things and a whole new attitude towards balancing work and play.

Sample books that Karen brought

If you ever get a chance to go to Anderson Ranch (I got a scholarship from Boston Printmakers, who give one out every year), do it! It's a gorgeous place and the classes are top notch. And if you ever get a chance to study with Karen Kunc, do it! She's a great teacher. In fact, she just opened a studio called Constellation Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she teaches classes and offers opportunities for residencies. Take a look at the web site.

On our last night together, Karen took us all on a hike in the nearby mountains. We had bonded pretty strongly and it was a sweet ending to an amazing week.