Studio blog of Annie Bissett, an artist working with traditional Japanese woodblock printing (moku hanga)
25 February 2006
Food For Thought
Wow, the comments on my last print, "Loosen the Knots," gave me lots of food for thought. It was good, because I had to get more conscious about my choices and look at why I did that print the way I did it.
As I said in a comment, the birds are red because I had a dream in which the birds were red. So the birds are red. But a lot of folks also seemed to want to see the birds have more (or less) depth, body or dimension. I can see that. But there's another thing I'm working with, which is that the print is part of a series. The working title of the series was 36 Ways to Use Your Lifeline but I'm now calling it 36 Views of Meditation so that it's clearer what it's about. It's based on a comment my meditation teacher made a couple of years ago, "your practice is your lifeline." So the series is about meditation as a lifeline, and what holds the prints together is this image of a lifeline, a rope, that appears in each print. The lifeline is made out of nothing. It's the part of the wood that's carved away. It's the white of the paper. Emptiness.
The lifeline is the "star," the main character. The other characters that populate the prints - the feet, the climber, the birds - are secondary characters. The white rope is the consistent element. So I guess that's why I haven't made a great investment in making the characters look "real" or embodied.
The other reason is that I'm not interested in working with that kind of detail right now. In addition to exploring this theme with this little series (who knows how close to 36 I'll get!) I'm also exploring the medium. I'm a beginner. Totally. So my goal is to get comfortable with the general techniques - carving, how paste and water affect the printing, improving my bokashi, getting colors more balanced, what size brush to use when, stuff like that. I don't want to get to the level of how fabric looks if it's wrinkled or those kinds of representational isues. Being kind to myself, I'd say I'm trying to keep my task manageable. Being more ruthless, I could say it's my lazy streak showing!
Please know that I'm not mounting a defense of myself. Rather, I'm responding out loud to your comments and sharing what my thoughts have been. I'm wanting to acknowledge that in blogging about my journeys in moku hanga I've invited you all to watch and also to participate as you want to. So please do! I appreciate all the comments and I definitely ponder everything you say.
22 February 2006
18 February 2006
Song: For Illustration Friday
The Illustration Friday prompt this week is song, and the first thing I thought about was the church choir I've been singing with for the past year. Lately we've been doing a lot of a capella pieces, and I've marvelled at the skill of our conductor, David Kidwell. He knows how he wants each piece to sound, and I love how he coaxes it out of us with his eyes, his hands, his whole body. He's a magician of sorts, which is what I wanted to convey. I've also wanted to try working faster and more spontaneously with moku hanga, so I decided to try doing a woodblock portrait of David. I printed about 8 of these and tried a few different colors. It all took just about a half a day - a far cry from these week-or-more printing sessions I've been having. It doesn't quite look like David, but it sure was fun.
16 February 2006
Loosen the Knots
Here's the final print. I'm much happier with this version than with the first one. It says what I wanted to say much better. Of course I see things I wish I'd done differently, but heck, I'm a beginner. I'm learning so much as I go along. Today is a beautiful sunny New England day so I'm going to go for a walk with the dog!
15 February 2006
Today I added the petals. Finally there's a reason for these little birds to be hanging around that old knot - maybe something sweet is in there. Getting these close colors to be different enough to be distinguishable has been challenging. I feel like I won't know if the color balance is right until I add the final birds block, because the colors change relative to one another every time I add a new layer. Lately I've been thinking about concept and not-concept in art. I've been watching Marissa Lee's printing blog and have been amazed at how differently we're approaching the same craft. Marissa's prints are lovely and I admire how abstract, spontaneous and experimental they are. She says that her most successful prints are ones that she doesn't think about too much beforehand. My work, on the other hand, is almost the opposite. This morning I had a conversation with an illustration client that helped me understand why I approach woodblock the way I do. The client and I were discussing a sketch I had sent for an article about end-of-life decision making and we were going back and forth about whether the central figure should be looking straight ahead as I had drawn it or looking downward. I realized that for 20 years I've been having conversations like this with clients, and I've learned that I need to be able to explain and defend every gesture, every color choice, every element of a drawing. I don't know if this is an obstacle or an asset, but I can't fathom how to make an image without being that deliberate. Maybe watching Marissa's blog will give me a hint.
13 February 2006
Unfreezing the Knot
Last week I had 10 jobs on my desk, so I literally had to put my printing on ice - I put the paper in the freezer, as I was advised on Baren Forum. Worked over the weekend and whittled my work load down to 4 jobs, so I spent a half day today printing. The photo above was taken after 6 passes: 1 the hourglass shape in a pale turquoise 2-5 four bokashi edges on the same shape 6 reprinting the curly shape block to make it darker Two more blocks to go!
08 February 2006
A Circular Bokashi
This was hard! I wanted to darken it up around the knot, but not have sharp edges; kind of a soft round bokashi. Using the same block I started with, I put some water on the area I wanted to darken and then added pigment in the middle of the wet area and circled a brush around its center axis to mix the water and ink on the block. It took a few tries to get it looking close to how I wanted it to look, and I had to work to keep the bokashi from spreading too wide as the printing went on. I've transferred the hourglass shape onto the same block and I'll carve that next for some more printing:
07 February 2006
I printed a second block last night. This one was really fun to carve. I was afraid it wouldn't print well, afraid that the wood would swell with the water and close up the fine radiating lines, but it came out pretty well. A couple of blotchy spots, but most will be covered by subsequent printing. I'm loaded with illustration work this week, so I feel like I'm "stealing" time to work on this print every evening, but I can't stand not to work on it! I'm trying to put the "free" back in "freelance."
06 February 2006
Here are the first few impressions for the new "Loosen the Knots" print. I printed the pale background color twice. I wanted it to be very pale, but I think it was too pale the first time around. Getting the color balance right is really hard, especially because each new color you add changes the quality of the colors that are already laid down. Maybe someday I'll have enough experience so that it comes more naturally. Or maybe not! Anyhow, I added the darker green with a stencil. I like using a stencil for these rope pieces because then I'm sure that the white area will register properly for subsequent overprints. If I were to carve the rope strands on several different blocks, I'd be very apt to carve a little differently each time. That might look good on some prints (I like a little misregistration sometimes) but not this one. Here's how the stencil looked on the inked block:
02 February 2006
Print Viewing at Smith College
The Smith College Museum of Art, a short walk from my house, has an office called the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs which houses over 18,000 original works of art on paper incuding, of course, some woodblock prints. I just recently found out that the general public is welcome to make an appointment there to see up to 15 works at one sitting, so today I had my first of hopefully many appointments and I was able closely study 10 prints the staff had pulled for me by artists Richard Diebenkorn, Neil Welliver, Antonio Frasconi and Helen Frankenthaler, including the Frankenthaler piece above, called Cedar Hill. This is a piece that Frankenthaler created in collaboration with master printer Tadashi Toda of Kyoto. She first created the piece as an acrylic painting, but as the collaboration with Tadashi Toda progressed, the work emerged as an entirely different piece than the original painting. The print is made with multiple blocks of mahogany, a wood which has a strongly striated grain. As you can see in the larger view, the delicate layers of multicolored striations give the print a glowing quality and a depth that I found quite captivating. This was my favorite of the 10 prints I saw. Interestingly, the only artist I saw today who did not collaborate with a master printer to make their work was Antonio Frasconi. I'll do a post on him in the future.
I'll definitely be going back to the Cunningham Center many more times for a look at more prints.