29 January 2007

Final Print - Raping Darfur

Raping Darfur:

13 x 19 inches (33 x 48 cm)
5 wood blocks, 2 plastic plates, 11 impressions
echizen kozo paper.  

The gunmen made Mohammed Aadam lie with his face in the dirt while his sister was being raped. He had been sitting in his hut that morning, playing cards with friends, when the Janjaweed attacked. "The Janjaweed were shooting and people from the village were running into the forest," said Aadam, aged 23. "They ordered me and some of the other men to lie down on the ground. They had captured some of the women, including my sister, and we heard the women cry out as they were raped." (December 5, 2004, The Observer) 

According to the UN, thousands of women have been raped as their villages were razed by the government-backed Janjaweed militias which have devastated western Sudan since 2003. Women in refugee camps as well as foreign aid workers are also targeted for sexual assault. In this print I've worked with imagery depicting the various forms of rape involved in the Darfur conflict – the military helicopters that come to bomb the villages first, the janjaweed on horseback, the circular rings that remain after the Darfurian huts are burned, the land itself with its scarce resources, and the foreign oil companies with interests in Sudan (logos along the garment’s hem)

25 January 2007

Working a Press

Today was my press day at my local printshop, Zea Mays. Things ended up well, but only after I worked out some kinks. The beautiful Takach press I used (above) did not like my idea of making a plastic kento on my plates. The kento was too thick, and when I ran it through the press it wrinkled my paper as well as threatened to ruin the blanket. I had applied my plastic kento with superglue, so getting them off was difficult; I cracked the corner off one of the plates. I then made new guides out of masking tape, just thick enough to tap the paper against. 

Rather than do the red plate and then the black plate, I inked both plates at once and then ran them in quick succession for each print. I used water-based etching ink from Akua Color. Below are the two plates inked and ready to run through the press. You can see that I traced the outline of the woman's shape onto the plate. I did this because I wanted to wipe all the ink from outside the shape so there wouldn't be any plate tone on the white paper. 

And here's the result (sorry, the photo is very washed out): 

I have one more pass to do, putting down a strong black for the woman's face. I wanted to save that for last, for fear that the black ink would get all over everything.

24 January 2007

The Oil Companies

Oil is only one of the natural resources being fought over in the Darfur struggle, but oil is the resource that brings other countries into the fray. I've decorated my Darfurian woman's garment with the corporate logos of some of the oil companies that are working in Sudan.

23 January 2007

The Attack

I want just a little bit of color under the plastic-plate intaglio drawings of the soldiers, so I did these colors carefully with a little watercolor brush, playing with the method I've read about that white line printmakers use. These colors may be too weak, in fact, but I won't know for sure until I see how the plastic plates print. I can always go back in and heavy up these colors more afterwards. 

I also experimented with trying to make the helicopters look "colored in." I put some glycerine in the gray ink to help keep it wet longer and used the end of a pen as a burnishing device. Here's a closeup of that texture. Not quite what I envisioned, but it is different than if I had simply used the baren to take the impression. I wasn't able to get the same effect on the soldiers and horses, probably because they're too small. 

22 January 2007

The Land

This is the third and final layer defining the physical landscape for this print. I chose to depict an area of Darfur where attacks have occurred and, as you can see from the map below, there are also refugee camps near this location. The red square on the map shows the approximate location of the satellite map I used for reference. 

Another reason I chose this location is because it shows an important geographical feature, the wadis. Wadis are seasonal watercourses ranging from small rivulets that flood only occasionally during the wet season to large wadis that flood for most of the rains and flow hundreds of miles west to Lake Chad. Most of the villages are located near the wadis. 

Land use is a large part of the conflict in Darfur. According to Sudan's land laws all unregistered land belongs to the state, which can allocate leases without reference to who is actually living on the land. These land laws have disadvantaged rural communities at the expense of commercial farmers and state development schemes which have not brought benefits to the local population. This is one reason that the local population has felt marginalized by the government and has taken up arms.

18 January 2007

Getting Started


Not much to say. I started printing the Darfur blocks today. It took most of the day to get these two impressions laid down. I'm doing a run of 20 pieces of paper. This is a large print for me -- the paper is 13" x 19" -- so it takes a lot of arm strength to get a good impression. I'm glad I got a ball-bearing baren, which lets a weakling like me get lots of pressure in spite of my skinny arms.

16 January 2007

Polyethylene Terephtalate Glycol (PETG)

In October I took a workshop on printing with plastic plates, and I'm planning to put some of what I learned to use now. A couple of the things I want to accomplish in this print are things that would be difficult (impossible, even) if I used only woodblock. For one thing, I want to show how the Darfur villages look after they're burned down by the janjaweed -- scorched rings in the earth is all that remains of the destroyed huts. I think that carborundum applied to a plastic plate can be used to achieve this effect. The other thing I want to replicate is the look of a child's drawing of the janjaweed horsemen. I want this part to look like it's drawn in pencil or pen and colored with crayon. Drawing/etching into a plastic plate is how I plan to create this linework, called drypoint. 

The plastic that we used in the workshop is PETG plastic. It's completely clear like acrylic, but a bit softer and more flexible. It looks blue in the photo below because I've left the protective peel-away plastic film on the back to keep it protected. PETG can be rolled, can be cut with a knife or even with scissors, and is easy to carve into. 

I began my preparations by pasting my sketch onto an already-cut woodblock. That way I can put the plastic plate over the wood plate and "trace" through it to be sure that everything will line up. I also cut out some strips and a couple of corners. I'll glue these to the plastic plate to guide the paper placement, exactly where the kento guides are on the wood plate. 

First I made a plate with carborundum. 

Carborundum is an industrial abrasive made of silicon carbide, but it's used in printmaking for collagraphs. You mix it with acrylic gel medium and just paint it onto the plate. Here's the block with the plastic taped in place and the carborundum painted on: 

Then I put a new plastic plate into position on the same block and did a drypoint rendering of the child's janjaweed drawings. Here's that plate. 

I'll be printing these plastic plates on a press next Thursday, after I've printed the 5 woodblocks from the previous post. Nothing like a deadline to get a person moving!

15 January 2007

Five Blocks Ready

I've carved five blocks for my Darfur print. I plan to also add two plastic plates, which I'll be preparing in the next couple of days. The plastic plates will require a press, so I've made an appointment to go to Zea Mays studio to use a press on January 24. That leaves me just 10 days to get all the woodblocks printed before I go into the studio, so I'd better get to work!

11 January 2007

Robert Blackburn

"Red Inside" - woodcut by Robert Blackburn

In February of 2003, the Library of Congress had an exhibit called Creative Space: Fifty Years of Robert Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop and although the exhibit is over, information and samples are posted online. Introduced to lithography at the Harlem Community Art Center, in 1948 Blackburn opened his own studio in Chelsea, printing for artists and encouraging his friends to experiment in lithography. Although many of the pieces displayed on the website are lithographs, there are also quite a number of woodcuts and lino prints. The Print Workshop appears to have survived into the 1990s. Robert Blackburn passed away in 2003 at the age of 83.

07 January 2007

Slow Work, Fast Work

After almost two years, I'm finally getting comfortable with the pace of printmaking. It's such a sharp contrast to the pace of my illustration work, where a client often needs an image turned around in a day or two. Even 20 years ago before the internet speeded everything up, I often had only a couple of days before I had to Fedex a final for publication. This moku hanga way of spending weeks or months on one image has created a kind of revolution in my artmaking experience and has made me realize how stressed I've been by the pace of my life for the past few years.  

I found a quote this weekend that reflects on the pace of handcrafting. This was attributed to Rosemary Hill, a British potter and art critic. She says "To make objects by hand in an industrial society, to work slowly and uneconomically against the grain is to offer, however inadvertently, a critique of that society." 

It feels grandiose to say that by working in woodblock I'm critiquing society, but I do feel that I'm working against the current. I feel the way someone might feel who has spent hours and hours riding rapids in a raft and then suddenly steps out of the raft onto a boulder, to sit and watch the water stream by. When I was young, in my 20s, I made a vow (one I couldn't keep) to someday live "in a house where I knew where everything came from." I wanted to make everything I used, or know who made it. I wanted not so much to be self-sufficient as to be intimate with my surroundings, not to feel so removed from the source of things. 

 I'm enjoying this slowing down, this taking care, paying attention to craft, to process, and to my thoughts as I work.

03 January 2007

Carving Landforms

I haven't had time to post to my blog since before the holidays, not so much because of the holidays themselves but because my five-year-old Mac is finally dying. I've been in what I can only call "computer purgatory." But I did manage some carving before the new year.  

Using reference satellite photos from Google Maps of an area in Sudan where villages have been burned, I made a sketch to guide my carving of the landforms. I printed the sketch, pasted it face down to my plate, and then peeled off the top layers to reveal the (now inverted) sketch. A little bit of mineral oil can be used to make the remaining paper completely transparent. 

Here's how the block looked after I carved it. After this I'll wash off the remaining paper and move on to the next block.