17 October 2018

Making Art After a Long Pause

It's been nine months since I finished Playing With Fire, and since then I haven't made much art to speak of. I've been mostly consumed with everything that was required for our move to Rhode Island, including making some extra money via my freelance illustration day job. So how to get started again after such a long down time?

Fortunately, I have a 20-year freelance career to draw from. A few tricks and techniques I know about for revving up the creativity engines:

Dress for It
Pajamas or sweat pants or sometimes even blue jeans can make me feel schlumpy and lazy. Getting dressed for work, putting on some clothes that make me feel attractive and sharp and powerful, can really help raise the energy.

Keep to a Schedule
Having a dog who loves her schedule helps keep me on schedule too. We take a long walk in early morning, I do some errands if needed, and then I try to be in the studio by 9:30 or 10:00. Once I get started the flow is easier, but getting started can be hard for me so I focus on the morning.

Make a List
Juggling house tasks, dog needs, and freelance jobs can feel overwhelming. I make a proioritized list at the end of each day so that it's on my desk when I arrive in the morning. Turns out that making a list at the end of the day also helps me sleep better.

Studio Time Is Sacred
Other tasks will almost always win out over studio time unless I make an effort to carve out specific art-making time, so that's part of my scheduling and, once scheduled, my studio time is sacred.

Don't Wait for the Muse
Once in the studio it doesn't matter if I "feel like it" or not. Working only when inspiration hits is a recipe for not working. Inspiration and light-bulb moments more often than not come from trying and failing and trying again.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered paper and wood. The wood came yesterday and the paper is en route. Today I got out my calendar and blocked out my studio time for the rest of the week. Engines ready!

Do you have any tips to share?

04 October 2018

I Am Here

Hello blog readers. Greetings from Providence, Rhode Island! My family and I arrived here three and a half weeks ago, and just today I finished unpacking my studio space. I thought I'd give you a look around.

Here's my new house. The little upstairs balcony is accessible from my studio, a nice feature.
The door, which goes out to the balcony, plus the large window let in a lot of northern and eastern light. After living in a ranch house for the past eight years, it feels good to be up high again in my studio. I'm also happy that the room is big enough for a tall book shelf. The blue ring on the floor belongs to my dog Zuzu.
As in my previous studio, inks and brushes hang on the wall above my work tables. Flat files and a light box continue to the corner of the room. That blue paper on the wall is a map of the East Side of Providence where I live.
On the opposite side of the room is my computer station where I do my illustration work. That little door behind the printer goes to a small room which probably was designed to be a nursery back in the 1930s when the house was built. We're going to remove the door and have it drywalled over.
A deep closet lets me keep art supplies tucked away.

So I'm ready to get to work again! Today I ordered some paper and wood. I'll keep you posted.

11 July 2018

Back to Almanack

Remember the series of prints posted below, called Almanack? I started them three years ago, shortly after a month-long residency at American Antiquarian Society, where I studied 18th- and 19th-century printed images. The three prints I've completed so far haven't been very well received (translation: many rejection letters plus lack of enthusiasm from family members) but I still like them, dammit. So I'm starting another.

One of the things that really stood out during my research at American Antiquarian Society was, well, the whiteness of it all. Colonial history was documented and told by the colonists, and they were pretty darn Euro-white up here in new England. When I started these prints I began by reproducing colonial images and putting them together with invented environments and text from 18th century "science" books and almanacs. I didn't entirely know what they were about when I started them, but when I look at them now they sure look to me like a depiction of white status anxiety.

Here's a recap of the three Almanack prints from 2015-16.

(above) WIND – An anthropomorphized sun based on an 18th century almanac illustration and a little city taken from a 1762 woodcut whose original context I can't locate are superimposed on a wind map found online. The quote comes from "The New Book of Knowledge" (1767):
Wind is an Exhalation hot and dry, drawn up into the Air by the Power of the Sun, and by the weight thereof driven down.
This is an example of the science of America's founders, based on Aristotle's natural philosophy and the Aristotelian concept of "exhalations," which are ill-defined but seem to be a way of describing the invisible flow of things such as wind and water.
The 2014 death of Eric Garner and his awful last words "I can't breathe" were very much part of the air in 2015.

(above) EARTHQUAKE –
An earthquake is caused by means of wind that be enclosed within the caves of the earth and can find no passage to break forth.
– The New Book of Knowledge (1767)
A woodcut said to be an illustration of the Boston earthquake of 1727 is combined with petroglyphs from Utah and hand prints such as are found in caves all over the world. History lives in layers under our feet, it courses through our blood, and it is present in our thoughts and conceptions of the world. Sometimes history haunts us. Sometimes history rises up seeking justice. These little Puritans can feel the quake, but seem unaware of exactly what it is that's shaking their world so.

(above) HORIZON –
The horizon is a circle that divideth part of the world seen from the part that cannot be seen.
– The New Book of Knowledge (1767)
The image of the fisherman comes from a grammar book called A New Guide to the English Tongue, published in Philadelphia in 1770. This picture was used to illustrate a fable called "The Fisherman and the Fish" in which a captured fish asks to be released, promising that she will come back and allow herself to be caught when she's grown larger. The fisherman says no, and the moral of the fable is "Never let go a Certainty for an Uncertainty."
The sea monster is a European image, from the mid-1600s.
We tend to believe that every generation expands its horizon line of knowing a little more, when in fact the unknown remains always on the horizon. Hopefully, as Rilke said, "everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love." Or at least it wants our attention.

30 May 2018

And Now, Stencils

I'm still working on my "palm-leaf" style book, and in the process I had an idea, which lead to another idea, and the next thing I knew I was making stencils to use on my book pages. The designs above are all adapted from Japanese katazome stencils. Katazome is a process for printing designs on fabric where a rice paste resist is applied through stencils and then the fabric is dyed with indigo. I cut my stencils with an X-Acto knife, except for the one with circles which I made using a Japanese screw punch, and I used a kind of paper called oil board that I got from Dick Blick.

I have to admit that I'm intending these stencils for a dual purpose. I'm going to take a workshop with Judith Kruger in June in basic nihonga, traditional Japanese mineral pigment painting. Seeing that I'm in no way a painter, I thought that having a few stencils to play with would help me if I need some structure in the face of blank paper or canvas. I'm hoping to learn how to make mineral pigments that might work for woodblock printing, but I'm also open to learning something I don't even know I need to learn. I'm very willing to be surprised.

15 May 2018

A Book of Awe

Ancient Indian palm leaf manuscript
I've been making some pages for my "palm leaf" style book and I thought I'd start showing them to you now that I've completed four.

The topic is the emotion we call awe, which has recently become an object of study for psychologists and brain scientists, most notably Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, who wrote a 2003 paper on the subject and who define awe as "a feeling induced by vastness that requires some sort of mental accommodation to overwhelming new information." Further studies have found connections between the experience of awe and enhanced creativity, improved health, a sense of belonging, and an increase in pro-social behaviours such as kindness, self-sacrifice, co-operation and resource-sharing. According to a 2017 article in Psychology Today, awe is also one of the few emotions that can reconfigure our sense of time and immerse us in the present moment.

Palm leaf books were one of the earliest formats for Buddhist texts, so I decided to begin my book with the Sanskrit word kathamcid, which means "somehow or other." This may become the title of the book, I'm not sure yet. The pages are 6 x 15 inches. On a desktop, you can click on the images below to enlarge them.

I don't know right now if this is the order of the pages or not. Things are very fluid at the moment (not usually how I work!). I'm using old woodblocks, pochoir (stenciling), and rubber stamping to make these. More to come…

13 May 2018

Pressing Matters Magazine

There are two printmaking magazines that I've been devoted to ever since I started making prints: Printmaking Today out of the UK and Art In Print from the US. I love both of these magazines and have always felt that between the two of them I was staying closely informed about this field. Both are somewhat academic, especially Art In Print which often takes a historical view as well as focusing on contemporary art and collecting. Printmaking Today has a bit more emphasis on print process than Art In Print, which I've always appreciated.

 But there's a new printmaking magazine on the scene and it's filling a gap that I didn't even realize existed. Pressing Matters, now on its third issue, is all about contemporary print artists, both well-known and lesser-known, and it's a beautiful publication.

The first thing I notice about Issue 3 (my first time seeing the magazine) is the paper stock — it's not shiny. It's uncoated and fairly heavy and it feels like… well, like paper. Like the kind of paper we printmakers might want to print on. Clocking in at almost 100 pages, the magazine is well designed and feature articles are given generous space, running from four to eight pages, interspersed with large well-printed illustrations. Artists and art lovers are clearly the intended audience and, let's face it, we're in it for the pictures.

There's a strong craft, DIY, and interdisciplinary focus in Pressing Matters. Graphic design, fabric prints, ceramic screenprinting, letterpress, relief printing, intaglio, some registration tips, work spaces — all of these topics plus four or five lengthy artist profiles appear in issue 3. Below are a few spreads so you can see more. I'm definitely in for a subscription to round out my printmaking library.

Opener from a feature on the oversized photo-realistic reduction linocuts of Dave Lefner.
Opening spread from an interview with Houston-based printmaker Delita Martin.
Tips and tidbits like this are interspersed.
Oh, and maybe the best thing of all? This magazine smells like real ink.

08 April 2018

Thinking About a Book

Now that the Fire Series has gotten me through Year One of Trump, I'm feeling a strong need to re-evaluate some things for Year Two.

First of all, I've made some personal resolutions for 2018 with the hope of improving my mental state. I developed some bad habits in Year One, including a propensity to utter, either mentally or aloud, the word “f-k” way too many times per day. This might make you chuckle, and maybe you can identify with it, but I've found it to be a very unhealthy habit, like a bad mantra. I'm resolving to replace it with a better, more uplifting mantra. The things that slide off my tongue that have just the double meaning I'm looking for are “lord have mercy,” "bless your heart" and “heaven help us,” so I'm starting there. I'm also looking to rein in my media/news habits a little more. This is something I've already been working on, but there's more to do.

On the art front, I'm still not 100% sure what my next project will be, but I want it to be similarly uplifting. It's probably not possible for me to do work that's free from political content, but as I clean up my mind and my media habits, perhaps the focus and clarity of my work will follow a similar track.

Right now the idea that has the most traction for me is making a book. Except for an excellent workshop I took at Anderson Ranch a few years ago with the wonderful printmaking artist Karen Kunc, I've never made a book. Nevertheless, many of the print series I've done end up being narrative, at least in my own mind, so I feel confident that I can do a book. And if I can't figure out binding, there are an abundance of bookbinders in my area. I'll keep you posted.