17 July 2021

Sumi Fusion Show in Japan

From November 30 – December 4, 2021, the Fourth International Mokuhanga Conference, called "Sumi Fusion," is scheduled to take place in Nara Japan. It's uncertain at this time whether the conference will be mostly online or a hybrid in-person/online event, but either way there will be a show called "Sumi Fusion" that will take place both online and in person in Nara. Nara is renowned as a center for the production of sumi ink, and the conference and the show will celebrate the versatility of sumi in woodblock printing and explore the presence of black and how it relates to color.

I wanted to submit something sumi-related for the show but I didn't have time to work up a print from scratch, so I went back to a block from one of my halftone prints in the Relics series and decided to experiment with putting down some colors as a base layer it and then printing the halftone block on top of the colors with sumi ink. I chose this block to work with:

This is the print from the Relics series that I made from this block, which I called "Our Lady":

 

For my Sumi Fusion print, I decided that it would be fun to also do an East/West fusion by using the uniquely American method of woodblock printing known as "Provincetown" or "white line" printing for the colors and then printing the halftone block Japanese style with sumi ink.

I began by laying some tracing paper over one of the Our Lady prints and making a sketch of where I wanted to place the colors. Then I reversed the tracing paper and used carbon paper to transfer the drawing to a piece of wood for the white line print. In white line, a v-gouge is used to make thin lines in the wood that will guide the placement of the inks (I used Guerra pigment dispersions but you can use watercolors or gouache). 

The block is pink because I had used it previously for the background colors in the Relics series.
 

Here's what the print looked like before I put down the sumi layer:


 
 And here's what happened when the sumi was added:


 I'm titling this print "Matrix," both because of the word's meaning as "mother" and also because it's the second time I'm using this particular carved matrix, and using it in a different way.
 
Since this was just an experiment, I made a small edition of four. I always love seeing these prints at varying distances—the way the image comes together and comes apart depending on how close you are to it.

The deadline to submit work for the Sumi Fusion Show has been extended until July 31, so if you want to submit the link is here. At US$50 the entry fee is admittedly high. I feel OK about that because I see it as a way to support the International Mokuhanga Association. The international panel of judges is impressive, which is sometimes a good reason to spring for a fee as well. Judges include Leonie Bradley (artist and editor of Printmaking Today), Hiroko Furuya (professor at Tama Art University), Takuji Hamanaka (awesomely creative mokuhanga artist living in the US), and Yasu Shibata (master printer at Pace Editions).

07 July 2021

For My White Line Students - V. 2

Here are a few examples of white line prints to help students prepare images for the White Line Woodblock workshops that I teach. Hopefully this will give you a sense of what is possible with this method and help you as you prepare your drawings.

The white line woodblock method was founded in the early 1900s in Provincetown, Massachusetts, by a group of artists who were interested in Japanese printmaking but grew tired of the tedium of cutting a block of wood for every color as that method demanded. These Provincetown artists, including Blanche Lazzell and Edna Boies Hopkins, developed a way to make a polychrome print from a single block of wood.

Monongahila by Blanche Lazzell

Canoes (Swift Water) by Edna Boies Hopkins

In the white line method, a simple line drawing is incised on the block with a knife or gouge creating v-shaped cuts, which become white lines when printed.

A white line carving in process
Colors, usually watercolor pigments, are then applied to the carved areas with small brushes, one area at a time, and a hinged piece of paper is flipped over onto the damp paint to receive the impression, whihc is taken with a spoon or other burnisher.

Printing in process

Below is a gallery of white line prints showing a range of the kinds of prints that can be made with this method. Note that although white line woodcuts have historically been figurative, since they are drawing-based there is no reason why they cannot be as abstract or expressive as any other form of drawing. Your sketch just needs to be simple enough to transfer to a block by tracing with carbon paper. (Or you can draw directly onto the block.)

B.J.O. Norfeldt, who is said to have invented the method in 1915

Edith Lake Wilkinson, who may have actually invented the method in 1914 (see the documentary Packed in a Trunk)

Mabel Hewit

Ada Gilmore (Chaffee) - a particularly painterly application of color

Florence Cannon, active in the 1940s

Karl Knaths, a Provincetown artist

Kathryn Smith, a contemporary artist with family ties to the original Provincetown Printers

William Evaul, a contemporary Cape Cod artist who has taken white line VERY large

Ray Heus, another contemporary artist with ties to Cape Cod. Ray also does mokuhanga printmaking

Joseph Vorgity

Katherine Lovell, a Rhode Island painter and printmaker

Four works by Annie Bissett that all use the same block matrix, just with different colors (plus some toner transfer)

05 April 2019

Court Cards Part Two


I’ve settled on names for the four character cards in each of the suits:
The Page becomes The Novice
The Knight becomes The Evangel
The Queen becomes The Mentor
The King becomes The Paragon
Although gender in the tarot is symbolic rather than literal, I’ve always wanted words for the People Cards that don’t immediately conjure a gender. I feel like the words I've selected are pretty neutral and they’re mostly words that don’t carry a lot of other baggage (for instance, I considered calling the Knight the Zealot, but the word zealot felt too loaded). Here is a brief description of each of the People Cards.

The Novices in each suit are young or inexperienced. They’re usually enthusiastic, childlike, excited about learning. They see the world with fresh eyes.

The Evangels are full of energy and are hands-on and headstrong. They have some experience under their belt, which they will promote and defend, but they can be wild and impetuous and prone to extremism.

Mentors are people who have developed a mature understanding of themselves, of others, and of the energies of their suits. They express these energies from the inside out, influencing others without imposing on them.

The Paragons are experts and leaders, having mastered their suits after years of study, dedication and practice. Paragons want to control the energies of their suits and make a mark in the world.

Now I have to figure out how to design these cards. Do I show people? Silhouettes? Not sure. I'd like to depict these people without depicting race, gender, or even personality, but take those things away and the depiction rapidly becomes cartoon-y. I have work to do!

30 March 2019

The Court Cards

The traditional Rider-Waite Deck court cards

Traditional tarot decks, like the playing cards to which they are related, have four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen and King. The court cards usually stand for people in readings, whether the person asking the question or people in the querent’s life. These court designations feel archaic and hierarchical to me, though, and the way they’re gendered leaves only one female, the Queen. I don’t want to follow suit (a little joke there) but what to do instead? I just purchased the small deck pictured below, called the Mesquite Tarot, that shows an alternate approach to the court cards. The Mesquite Tarot calls the court cards “character cards” and the designations they’ve chosen are Novice, Student, Knower, and Leader. Those don’t quite work for me (I especially don’t think that “student” captures the force and action of the knight card), but I like the idea of a progression, from less to more experience and accomplishment.


I’ve been working closely with a thesaurus and consulting with a friend who knows the cards quite well and he’s helped me get clear about what I’m looking for in naming these four characters. I want words that are evocative and poetic, that work with the traditional meanings of the cards, that hang together as four related words, that aren’t gendered, and that don’t carry a lot of baggage. Tall order, but we’re getting there.

21 February 2019

Starting With Air

The Rider Waite suit of swords and some study materials

The tarot is divided into two sections, the 22 cards of the Major Arcana (macrocosmic archetypal images) and the Minor Arcana (four “suits” that describe more everyday situations and energies). I asked my Rider Waite cards which of the four suits I should tackle first for my tarot deck and the cards told me “swords.” Rather than using the traditional suit names—swords, cups, wands and pentacles—I plan to use the four elements for my deck’s suit names. Swords are associated with the element Air, so I’ll be starting with 14 cards in the suit of Air. The Air cards represent the mind, including thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and communication. That seems like a fitting place to begin.

This will likely be the slowest suit to produce simply because I’m doing it first. Most of the design decisions for the entire deck will be made as I work on this suit.

Something that has bothered me about my Rider Waite deck is that there can be a lack of coherence as one goes through the suits. The Major Arcana tells a story as you go from one card to the next, and there’s no reason why the smaller suits couldn’t do that as well. So my first design decision is to make borderless cards with a background for each suit that travels lengthwise through all 14 cards to help unify them. I only know of one deck that does this— the Prisma Visions tarot. Pictured below is a woodblock print of a wind map that I’ll be using to pull together the Suit of Air. I’m planning to create all of the artwork for this deck by hand and then scan the pieces and assemble each card digitally for production purposes.


14 February 2019

Tarot Mea Culpa

A few randomly chosen depictions of one tarot card, the Ace of Swords

Tarot is an odd mishmash of symbols, numbers, traditions and ideas. As I previously mentioned, the Rider Waite deck (upper left) is the classic standard, but every deck-maker puts their own spin on it, as you can see in the random samples above.

There are a lot of tarot aficionados who know way more than I do about it, so this is my mea culpa post — I’m not a tarot expert, just a tarot admirer and on-and-off user since the 1980s. I don’t do readings for other people and I don’t use the cards to tell fortunes or predict the future. Mainly I use the cards as prompts to help me focus on questions and worries I have about my own life and to help me externalize my own answers. The cards work remarkably well for that purpose.

Why make my own deck? Mostly because I’m an artist and image making is what artists do. I also like the huge challenge of making 78 cards and deepening my understanding of the cards through this project. And of course, I’ll be adjusting some of the traditional imagery, adding my own spin to suit my understandings of the various systems embedded in the tarot. For instance, I’d like my deck to be more gender neutral and universal, with less Camelot-Victorian imagery, approachable and intuitive, and beautiful. Most importantly, though, a deck needs to feel “alive,” and that’s something that can’t be planned, only intended. I want my deck to feel alive. Of course, what feels alive to one tarot reader may not feel alive to another. One of the wonderful things about the explosion of available tarot decks is that almost every reader can find cards that speak to them. I hope that my deck will have a unique voice that will speak to others.

As of now I’m hoping to produce a small run of 500 decks if my design project is successful. I’ll keep you posted on that—it’s early still and my risk of failure is high!

12 February 2019

Conjuring Up a Tarot Deck

It's been five months since I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, after 23 years in Northampton, Massachusetts. I have to admit that I've been a little adrift here in the Ocean State. This is especially true as far as my work as an artist is concerned. I've been having a tough time, both before and after the move, finding a project that I can really connect with and sink into the way I like. It's hard for me to be patient, hard for me to keep coming to the studio without any notion of what I'll do there, hard for me to wait for myself to feel comfortable in my new surroundings.

My work in the past has generally been topic-driven — about money or politics or history, rather than being about place or landscape — so I've been surprised to see how this change in my surroundings is challenging me. Even though it's less than 100 miles away, my new home in tiny little Rhode Island is most definitely not the same as my town in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. The weather is different, the air is different, the light is different, the people are different, and the whole feeling is different. It's like how Vermont and New Hampshire feel totally different even though they're right next to each other, separated only by the Connecticut River.

One of the first things I bought for myself when I first moved to Providence was a book from Tashen Publishing called The Book of Symbols. I saw it in the window of a neighborhood store while I was walking my dog Zuzu, and I kept walking but the book haunted me. For three or four weeks I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I finally just walked up the street and bought it. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to me, but the book has been moving around the house with me, on my desk or next to my bed or in the living room by the fireplace. And now I think I finally know where it’s leading me. There seems to be a tarot deck inside me, waiting to be born.