20 December 2006

A River Runs Through Her

... and so does a line! 

I've had some unexpected free time this week, so I started carving blocks for the Darfur print. Here's the basic form - a woman's body, which will have map elements inside the shape. Notice the horizontal line just below the woman's throat. That's a defect in the deeper layers of the plywood. Fortunately, since this block doesn't involve any fine detail, the defect didn't cause any carving problems for me. 

This is the largest block I've used to date, 14" x 18". Any bigger and I'll have to use a different method to duplicate and color-separate my drawings, as my laser printer only prints a maximum page size of 11" x 17".

18 December 2006

A Pastel Pig

Here's my Year of the Pig print. I used just two blocks so that I could make a lot of prints without driving myself nuts. It was difficult to find two colors that would offer enough contrast, would look good when overprinted, and would still be appealing. Pink plus blue didn't exactly make purple, red plus yellow didn't make a very nice orange. I liked these colors the best, although both of them had to be diluted quite a bit to get a satisfactory overprint. It was an interesting experiment.

14 December 2006

Oil And Water

In an earlier post about Darfur I asked for comments and I learned a lot from following those leads. Much of Darfur is desert, making water, grazing areas, and firewood scarce. Some of the conflict is between sedentary peoples (like the Dinka) and Arab nomadic peoples who want to use the same resources. 

But there is also oil in Darfur, and judging from the number of companies involved (see map above) it looks like a lot of oil. It's likely that the longstanding tribal struggles over limited natural resources are being cynically used by the Sudanese government and other entities to clear the area for other uses including oil production. 

I want to somehow allude to these forces in my print.

11 December 2006

More Darfur Research

I'm still researching the situation in Darfur with the aim of making a new print on the subject. Today I discovered a powerful collection of children's drawings on the Human Rights Watch website. There are very few photographs of the janjaweed, and photos of attacks on the villages are generally after the fact, so the children's drawings actually serve as a report on the atrocities that are being committed by the janjaweed and by the government soldiers. 

As I research, I'm finding myself especially drawn to the experiences of Darfurian women and children.

06 December 2006

Japanese Printmakers In Portland OR

Print by Kyoko Sakamoto Japanese Printmakers - Contemporary Woodblock Prints December 6, 2006 - December 31, 2006 First Thursday Reception, December 7, 6 to 9 pm An exhibition of 15 contemporary artist/printmakers from Japan opens today at Waterstone Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The exhibit was curated and hand carried to Portland by teacher and artist Tosai (Richard Steiner). Included in the show is one of my favorite Japanese woodblock artists, Kyoko Sakamoto. More of her work can be seen here (scroll down).

05 December 2006

Giant Robot Print Show

Last week I shipped out five of my prints for a show called "Printed Matter" at Giant Robot San Francisco. The show will be up from December 16 to January 13. Unfortunately I won't be able to get to the December 16 opening, so please take some pictures for me if you go!

30 November 2006

Carving a Pig

For the past 5 years or so I've been making New Year's cards for my clients and friends instead of Christmas cards. This week I worked up a design for 2007, Year of the Pig, and today I started carving it. I plan to print somewhere between 125-150 of them, so I wanted the design to be simple. I'm hoping to get a 4-color effect with just two colors, taking advantage of overlapping translucent inks as well as the color of the paper. I'll show you some test prints next week.

29 November 2006

Ralph Kiggell's Book

British printshop Old Stile Press defines their mission as "designing, printing by hand and publishing books in editions limited to between 100 and 250 copies. These involve texts, whether new or reprinted, together with suites of wood engravings, woodcuts, linocuts and other relief blocks made by the artist-printmakers with whom we collaborate." 

 In collaboration with moku hanga artist Ralph Kiggell, Old Stile Press has just published a beautiful book of Chinese poems and woodblock illustrations called Leading the Cranes Home

The Old Stile web site is full of fun things to explore, including several pages of original prints for sale and a blog.

27 November 2006

Print Trade With Aaron Piziali

A couple of weeks ago Zea Mays Printmaking Studios hosted an open studio and I got to meet Aaron Piziali, an artist whose work I had noticed at an earlier exhibit in town. We exchanged contact info and decided to do a trade. I traded one of my "Everyone Everywhere Loves the Same Moon" prints for this combination woodblock and monotype print, "Hamasa #4." 

Aaron says, "The print is called Hamsa, which is an important symbol and word in the middle eastern Region. It protects and brings peace. It predates Hebrew and Arabic, but is strongly rooted in the two. Many groups working for regional peace invoke it."  

I love the flame-like quality of the hands and the colors. Thanks, Aaron

21 November 2006

The Late Autumn Lull

What I remember about last year at this time is that it was really difficult to get any woodblock work done. With family obligations for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays plus the flurry of end-of-the-year projects I usually get from my illustration clients, there was little time or energy to work on my own projects. Last year I found the lack of time very frustrating, but I'm hoping that now that I know I probably won't get much work done until the new year I can relax and enjoy the lull. (Yes, I'm a workaholic.) 

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who are celebrating it.

16 November 2006

What's Going On In Darfur?

The ideal way to work on a project is to ask a question you don't know the answer to. (Francis Ford Coppola) 

 I'd like to do another map-based print, and Darfur came to mind as a troubled region that I might focus on. But first I need to educate myself. I don't know much about the situation in Darfur. I've heard about it often, mostly in bits and pieces, but I haven't taken the time to seek out information. 

So today I did some preliminary research. I looked at aerial views of the region, including some views of burned villages. 

I also looked at photographs and read articles about the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed are the notoriously brutal unofficial militia that allegedly work for the government of Sudan. The Janjaweed raid Darfurian villages, often on horseback, setting huts ablaze, raping women, and killing the men and livestock. An article on Wikipedia states that the word Janjaweed "is an Arabicized version of Jangawee-, which stood for 'faith warriors' among the old Shia communitees of North Africa in the medieval times." That sounds like the concept of jihad, except that I think jihad is conducted against non-Muslims. In Sudan, Jangaweed and the Darfurians they kill are all Muslim. The difference between them seems to be that Janjaweed are Arab Muslim and the Darfurians are tribal African Muslims. 

Photo from BBC News

A satellite view of the land of Darfur itself is quite beautiful, as you can see below. This is Darfur at the border with Chad. 


Please feel free to share with me anything you know about Darfur.

09 November 2006

Mexican Printmakers In NY

Now through December 20, International Print Center New York is hosting a show of contemporary prints by Mexican artists called GRAPHIC REALITY: Mexican Printmaking Today. Shown above is a woodcut called Avarice by the curator of the show, Artemio Rodríguez. After IPCNY, the show will travel to Columbia College in Chicago where it will hang at the gallery of the Center for Book and Paper Arts. Dates of the Chicago exhibition are January 12th-February 24th, 2007.

06 November 2006

Locusts In Babylon

Locusts In Babylon:
10.5 x 13.5 inches (27 x 34 cm)
8 blocks, 12 colors, 15 impressions
echizen kozo paper. 

Based on a satellite view/map of the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that includes Baghdad, this print references the area called the Fertile Crescent, the biblical land of Babylonia. This is the place where the ancient Sumerians developed the earliest known form of writing, cuneiform. It's the place where the ruler named Hammurabi wrote some of the earliest known laws in the world, laws that underpin our own legal system. And this is the place where the U.S. Military has unleashed a seemingly unstoppable chaos that threatens to engulf the whole region. 

This print took two months from inception to completion. Twenty sheets of paper, each receiving 15 impressions = 300 times I put ink and damp paper on a block and rubbed it with my baren. Through each repetition, like a 300-bead rosary, my thoughts went to the people of Iraq, so many of whom are displaced and living in fear and chaos because of the policies of my government. 

I offer this print as one small attempt to do/say something about this sad and unnnecessary situation.  

**Added 7 Nov** Wow, thank you so much to everyone for your thoughtful comments and your support. It means a lot.

03 November 2006


I had to stop printing for a couple of days so I could complete some illustration assignments. Balancing the flow of work and woodblock and life in general is a never ending challenge. I used to be very afraid to set the printing aside, worrying that the moisture in the paper would change too much and I'd never get the registration right when I started back up, or afraid that I'd lose the creative flow or lose interest in the print. I've discovered that none of that is true, though, and now I even feel that taking a breather in between printing sessions works to my advantage. It allows me to spend time looking at how each layer changes the whole composition and to really contemplate the next step. 

Today I've added two layers: color for the rivers and an outline of modern-day urban Baghdad. One more layer to come.


31 October 2006

More Progress

Happy halloween! Here are shots of today's printing session.


This last green block adds so much definition. It really makes it a map. More layers still to come.

30 October 2006

Printing Babylon

Today I started to print my Iraq map, titled Locusts In Babylon. I printed brown ink, lots of water and no paste using my palm and fingers to get this texture for the bottom:

Then I added a smoother coat of yellow at the top:  

There will be a lot of overprinting on top of this layer, so the paper is now sitting in a damp stack to allow the moisture from the last printing to distribute evenly through the stack. I'm working with 20 sheets of Echizen Kozo.

29 October 2006

Drypoint With a Baren

I've found that printmakers are an especially generous breed, helpful and eager to share tips and techniques, and printmaker Meredith Broberg, who taught this weekend's "Printing With Plastic" workshop, was no exception. Since I've been working with map imagery lately in my woodblocks, I tried working with a map in drypoint. The prints below are based on a satellite view of Lhasa, Tibet. 

 Drypoint: Carborundum: Both plates combined: Although the workshop was conducted using presses, I brought my ball-bearing baren so I could try it out with drypoint and intaglio inks. Here is a portion of a print made on the press: 


And here's the same plate printed by hand with the baren:

There's a lot more plate tone and the lines are not as strong and sharp, but the image is certainly readable. I'm very encouraged about the possibility of combining intaglio on plastic with my woodblocks.

28 October 2006

Getting A Proper Education

This weekend I'll be taking another workshop at Zea Mays Printmaking Studio, this time learning about doing drypoint on plastic plates. I'm looking for methods that will allow for more spontaneous linework, that will combine well with moku hanga and that can be done in my home studio. I'm not sure if plastic plate drypoint can be printed without a press, but I'm hoping that my ball-bearing baren might work. At the very least I'll learn how to properly wipe a plate.

23 October 2006

Jay Bolotin in Rhode Island

Previously blogged musician and woodcut-artist-turned-animator Jay Bolotin will be showing his woodcut movie The Jackleg Testament, Part One: Jack and Eve at the Blackstone River Theatre near Providence RI on Friday, November 10, 2006, at 8:00 pm. The evening will feature an opening solo set of blues by Ken Lyon, a set of music by Jay Bolotin, and the RI premiere of his film. (Note: The film is not geared towards children.) The event is a benefit for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and admission is $10 plus a nonperishable canned food item.

17 October 2006

Wooden Landscape

The keyblock in a traditonal woodcut is the primary or master block, which contains the main outlines of the image. I think of this as the keyblock for my Babylon print, as it's this block that contains the physical features of the area I'm mapping and identifies the place. I love how these photos look like a view from an airplane. 

As you can imagine, this took a long time to carve.

09 October 2006

45 Degree Angles


Here I've used a printout of an Islamic mosaic pattern as the basis for my carving. The complex geometric designs often found in Islamic art create the impression of unending repetition, which is believed by some to be an inducement to contemplate the infinite nature of God. In my reinterpretation of the mosaic, I wanted to show the pattern connected and whole, but also breaking up into sectors. To this end, I had fun inverting the pattern, first carving out the lines between the tiles, then moving into carving out the tiles themselves. I plan to do a second block to add a different color for some of the deleted tiles.

06 October 2006

63 Woodcuts

Yesterday I traveled to Connecticut to visit the wonderful artist, and equally wonderful person, Lynita Shimizu. We spent the morning in Lynita's light-filled studio where she gave me a much needed lesson in matting and framing (thank you, Lynita!). Then, after a sushi break, we went to nearby University of Connecticut to see Lynita's huge one-person show. I'm here to tell you that a room full of 63 of Lynita's woodblock prints takes one's breath away. If you're anywhere near Storrs, CT, don't miss this show:  

"Moku Hanga: Woodcuts by Lynita Shimizu"
(63 woodcuts) Jorgensen Gallery
September 1 - November 16, 2006
The Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

03 October 2006

Rough Cuts

This design is based on a cylinder seal design from the ancient culture of Babylonia. The Babylonian civilization endured from the 18th until the 6th century BC in the same area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers covered by this map. Like cuneiform writing, cylinder seals were printed into clay tablets. The Babylonians studied mathematics and developed the system of measuring time (seconds and hours) that is still in use today. I wanted this design to look rough, so I held the flat to (knife) at a shallow angle and used the whole edge rather than just the point make some of the cuts. I'm hoping that it prints as rough as it looks on the block.

27 September 2006

Carefully Carving Cuneiform

The bottommost portion of the print (see sketch in my last post) will be filled with cuneiform writing. I carved the outline of the area first, did the rough clearing, and then pasted a xerox of the writing onto the block for the fine carving work. This is almost crazy, to carve this, but I want cuneiform writing at the bottom of the print, so carve it I will. 


It is one of man's curious idiosyncrasies to creat difficulties for the pleasure of resolving them. (Joseph deMaistre, 18th century philosopher)

25 September 2006

Babylon Print Layout


These are the basic areas of the Babylon map that will contain some of the patterns I posted earlier. I plan to carve some cuneiform writing in the section at the bottom of the sketch. The shape that straddles the Tigris River, near the center of the print, is the outline of modern Baghdad. The other areas will be carved in patterns from various time periods. I'm hoping that this arrangement will convey both a sense of historical time and also the idea of disparate "tribes" all existing together in a small area. I've carved a few blocks into these basic shapes and now need to transfer the patterns to these blocks for further carving.

19 September 2006

Visual Reference

I'm now calling the Iraq print the "Babylon print" because I'm interested in the ancient cultures from the area between the Tigris and the Euphrates and the ancient city of Babylon was just 50 miles south of Baghdad. I wanted to find visual motifs spanning the many thousands of years of cultures that have occupied the area and the items above are the patterns I think I'll be using in this print. Cuneiform is the earliest form of writing known, invented by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia who wrote on clay tablets using long reeds. It was originally a picture language (like Chinese characters) but when the Semites (Assyrians and Babylonians) who later came into the area adopted it, they changed it into a syllabic alphabet. Also used on clay tablets were cylinder seals, which were rolled into the clay to create relief designs. (Perfect for a woodcut.) I also want to include a more "modern" Islamic motif in this print, and I like this mosaic pattern.

18 September 2006

The Magic of Maps

"United Shapes of America," a painting by Kim Dingle based on shapes created by American students when asked to draw the outline of their country

We human beings are always making maps. It's not just those drawings that we scribble on the backs of envelopes to show a new friend how to find our house, but in our own minds, in our own ideas about who we are and where we belong, we make maps. We carry mental maps of our neighborhoods, of our city, of our country. And not only places, but we even carry mental maps of things like our circle of friends and how they overlap, maps of our own personal histories and timelines, maps of our inner feelings, our sense of our bodies. One of my favorite books about maps is You Are Here by Katherine Harmon, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Subtitled "Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination," the book is a wide-ranging collection of inventive maps of all sorts, maps of places both real and imagined. My newest print, a map of The Cradle of Civilization, begins with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I used a brush and some Sumi ink to draw the lines: 


14 September 2006

A Print for Iraq


I've been wanting to do some kind of print about Iraq, so I've been making an effort to become more visually literate about that part of the world, looking online at various motifs, designs and photographs from the many cultures that have existed in what we now call Iraq. Last week I stumbled across some online satellite views of the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, an area that includes Baghdad. When I was a kid I learned that the area between these two rivers is called "The Cradle of Civilization," for it is here that archeologists have identified the origins of agriculture, writing (cuneiform) and civic law (Hamurabi's code) -- beginnings that shaped and informed all of later Western culture. When the U.S. invaded Baghdad in 2003, one of the things that really disturbed me was the lack of foresight that allowed the looting of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 artifacts from the National Museum in Baghdad. Obviously, there are a lot worse things going on in Iraq than lost artifacts, but there's something about bombing and pillaging the very place where civilization was born that strikes me as a very very bad idea. So I think this print will be a map of the Cradle of Civilization. I have quite a love/hate relationship with maps after many years of painstakingly producing maps in my work, but I continue to be fascinated by maps. I like the view posted here, so I'll use that as a starting point.

08 September 2006

Thousands of Prints

I've been laid up this week with a bad case of poison ivy that I must have picked up while out walking the dog. It's on my face and way too close to my eyes for my liking. I decided to try to take my mind off the infernal itching with some Internet surfing, and found the web site of the Tokyo International Mini-Print Triennial. Sponsored by Tama Art University, this triennial is an invitational print competition and literally thousands of the prints have been digitized for online viewing. You can look at the prints by artist name, artist location, print type or subject. I can personally vouch for the fact that viewing these prints will provide hours of relief from whatever ails you.

01 September 2006

Tai Chi Attitude #4

Of the four tai chi prints this one has been the easiest to print. Above you can see the first two passes. Next I added an orange overprint to get a patterned costume:  


I like to go from light to dark, so I waited until this point to add the loopy linework. You can probably imagine that I held my breath as I printed the first one... 


...and I loved the results. There's some embossing in the paper from the thin ridges of wood, so in real life the lines look a bit like I drew them with a ballpoint pen. The block is a little off-register, but I kind of like it that way. Here's the final with the black added: 


31 August 2006

Mission Accomplished

Yesterday I finished carving all those skinny loopy lines. I wouldn't want to do carving like this for every print, but I'm glad to know that it's possible to carve lines that look loose and "drawn." I hope they print that way! I have a short break in my illustration workload until next week, so I'm going to try to finish carving the other blocks (4 more) today and see if I can get this print completed over the weekend.