24 November 2008

Hanga Workshop Report

This past weekend I taught moku hanga for the first time at Zea Mays Printmaking in nearby Florence, MA. There were 9 participants and we had a lot to do in just two short days, so it was a jam-packed weekend. I asked the students to come with several copies of an image prepared to size so that we could get right down to business.

Zea Mays is a great environment for a class. The studio is in an old factory building with large windows and sunlight streaming in. We had a big table for demonstrations:


And each student got their own table to work on:

Front to back: Martye, Kim, Adele

Most of the participants came with a lot of art experience, and many had done other forms of printmaking. There was a lot to learn all around.

Kim Rosen, another Northampton illustrator

Leslie Moore, an artist who does animal and pet portraits in ink and black and white woodcut, came down from Maine.

It was great to see the group start to bond and I was particularly touched when I noticed Fran Kidder, a local painter, helping Dayna Talbot, a painter from eastern MA, with her kento.

I spent most of the weekend just wandering from table to table, troubleshooting problems when needed and just enjoying watching these 9 women discover the intricacies of moku hanga.

Puzzling with Kristen over her first block.

Dayna carving an intricate keyblock.

Adrienne discovers finger printing! Sarah, seated behind Adrienne, carved just two simple blocks but experimented with them so that no two prints were quite the same.

Leslie wielding a baren.

Unfortunately I couldn't concentrate on photographing, so I didn't get a picture of each person's print. If any of you who participated read this post and want to send me a photo of your print to add, please do -- I'd love to have it. Missing are Martye's print (an ocean scene with a very interesting overlay pattern), Fran's (very loose and expressionist, like her paintings), Dayna's (mountain scene), and Kim's (woman with flowing hair). Here are a few shots I was able to get:



Adrienne used a simple keyblock image with color fills.



A carved keyblock by Kim.

Thanks to you nine wonderful women who came to the workshop and thank you to Zea Mays studio for hosting us so well.

20 November 2008

I Like It


Here's a proof of the Mayflower block. It's a little mottled because I didn't feel like mixing up a whole batch of rice paste just for a few proofs. I used a green tint that was already mixed up from another print and took the opportunity to test a new paper called Kozoshi that I bought from Graphic Chemical and Ink. It's a thin paper and I'm not sure how well it would hold up over multiple impressions, but it's sized, it's a pretty color and it's kind of parchment-like. I'm going to bring it to the moku hanga workshop I'm teaching at Zea Mays Printmaking this weekend so the students can give it a whirl. I'm also bringing Shin Torinoko from McClain's Printmaking Supplies, which hanga artist Mary Brodbeck recommended as a good reliable student paper. Here's the Mayflower printed on Shin Torinoko. It's a fairly heavy, bright white paper that takes the ink beautifully, even without rice paste.


I'm looking forward to teaching this weekend. There are 10 people signed up, a full house! I'll let you know how it goes...

19 November 2008

Cindy Woods

Edgar Meyer by Cindy Woods

About 4 years ago, when I was so sick of sitting in front of a computer I considered just giving it up, I discovered an online web site that gave me an opportunity to begin to "reinvent" myself as an illustrator and an artist, a site called Illustration Friday which offered a weekly illustration challenge. Back in the early days of that site, there were less than 100 submissions each week (now there are 700 or more) and the community that formed was very strong, friendly and intimate. One I-Friday participant whose brilliant work I noticed right away was Cindy Woods of Richmond VA, and we struck up an online relationship that has lasted to this day. Among other things I owe to Cindy, it was her insistence on the value of blogging that pushed me to start Woodblock Dreams. We've met in person on several occasions and she's as wonderful as her art.


Cindy is in hospice care now, in the final stages of a battle with cancer. A few weeks ago I received a package from her and inside I found two beautiful books, an art book of the works of Munakata Shiko and the book pictured here, Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century. The reproduced woodcut illustrations in these chapbooks are crude but totally delightful, and I'm using them as a reference and inspiration for this new series of pilgrim prints. Once again, Cindy's kindness and generosity have sent me off on a new journey.

I wish Cindy all love surrounding her as she embarks on her own new journey.

You can see a whole lot of Cindy's work on her Flickr site.

Added 11/23/08 - Cindy passed away on 21 November, peacefully and surrounded by family and friends. She will be missed by many many people, those who lived close to her and those who knew her only from her online presence. Godspeed, Cindy.

18 November 2008



During this long presidential campaign, as one difficult and contentious issue after another arose, I found myself wondering what my ancestors would have thought about all of this. I come from a New England family that traces its ancestry back to the Plymouth Colony. My branch of the family ended up in rural Vermont in two small towns, Rockingham and Saxtons's River, that lie about an hour north from where I now live. Most of my Vermont forbears survived as farmers, merchants and clergymen. It's a genealogical treasure trove to visit these towns, as I can study 200 years of my lineage just by visiting a couple of cemeteries.

The older I get the more I realize how deeply I carry these people within me, so now that the election is over and I can breathe again, I'm exploring the idea of doing a series of prints about my pilgrim people. I plan to use images carved in the style of 17th century engravings and woodcuts and I decided to start at the beginning with the Mayflower.

I made a drawing with a Sharpie so the lines would be bold and rougher than my style tends to be, then scanned it, reversed it and pasted it on a block. After I finished carving and washed off the paper sketch, I saw that I wasn't finished - many of the cut lines needed to be widened, so I went back and carved again:


Tomorrow I'll proof this block.

17 November 2008

IFPDA Print Fair 2008

A couple of weeks ago I went to the IFPDA Print Fair for the second year in a row on a bus trip sponsored by the Smith College Museum of Art. It was a little less fun this time simply because I had been there before and I knew what to expect, but I learned some new things nevertheless. I knew a few folks on the bus trip this year too (last year I traveled alone), so it was nice to have traveling companions.

One print that caught my eye was Helen Frankenthaler's Essence Mulberry, shown by Leslie Sacks Fine Art of Los Angeles, CA. This 25" x 19" (63.5 x 48 cm) print was published by Tyler Graphics Ltd. (Bedford, NY) in 1977. Here's a description of the print from the MOMA web site where you can zoom in closely on the print:
With Essence Mulberry, duly inspired by the faded colors of hand-painted fifteenth-century prints seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a lushly ripe mulberry tree on Tyler's property, Frankenthaler set out to re-create the look of painting with mulberry juice. She carved four blocks, one each of oak, birch, walnut and lauan, all having different printed effects.
Works by the British modernists were popping up everywhere, probably because of a recent exhibit of British prints organized by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As usual there were lots of Japanese woodblock prints to see, mostly ukiyo-e prints which I totally admire but don't especially like. I'm partial to the sosaku hanga of the early to mid 20th century, but not a lot of the IFPDA dealers stock sosaku hanga. A notable exception is The Verne Collection, who this year introduced me to an interesting Japanese artist named Hidehiko Gotou. The Verne web site says that Gotou is also a master baren maker! Now there's a dying art...

I love the web site of Davidson Galleries of Seattle and had looked for them at last year's print show, but they didn't attend. I was happy to see them there this year. It was especially fun to see them because I had met them in October when I visited my show at Cullom Gallery.

William P. Carl Fine Art Prints of Northampton MA showed the lovely white-line print by Ada Gilmore Chaffee posted above.

And I saw a couple of Gustav Baumann prints at The Annex Galleries booth for tens of thousands of dollars that made me want to sell my condominium so I could buy them. I first became acquainted with Baumann's work when I lived in Taos, New Mexico in the early 1990s (Baumann lived in Santa Fe, NM in the early 20th century). His print A Lilac Year was always especially meaningful to me because during my first spring in Taos I was shocked and delighted as a New Englander to discover that the town was full of lilac bushes. Seeing A Lilac Year in person was a huge thrill.

12 November 2008

Great Wall - Final Print

Click image for larger view


Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Image size: 14" x 22" (35.5 x 56 cm)
4 shina plywood blocks
27 hand-rubbed impressions
Paper: Echizen Kozo
Edition: 10
Based on a satellite view of the Great Wall of China at Jyonguan.

With the addition of a few disappearing nomads, I feel satisfied with this print as it is. Although the population of China overall is over 90% Han Chinese, the western provinces are populated with ethnic minorities, most notably Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs, groups whose language, culture and religion are distinct from those of China's Han majority. Both the Tibetans and the Uighurs complain of a colonial-style Chinese presence in their territory which imposes tight religious and cultural strictures. They also insist that economic development in their regions has disproportionately benefited Chinese migrants. Han Chinese, on the other hand, say that they are bringing progress and economic opportunity to backward areas and don't understand why anyone would complain. As I've said before, it reminds me of the westward expansion of the United States in the 1800s and the way that "progress" decimated the native American peoples and their cultures.

11 November 2008

Abhaya Mudra - The Upraised Hand


Mudra is a Sanskrit word describing a symbolic or ritual gesture, usually of the hands and fingers. Mudras are often seen in the iconography and spiritual practice of Hinduism or Buddhism.

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness, and the abhaya mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear. The gesture is made with the hand raised to shoulder height, arm bent, and palm facing outward, and can also be deciphered to mean that the hand is empty of weapons thus indicating friendship and peace. According to Buddhist tradition, the historical Buddha made this gesture immediately after gaining enlightenment.

To western eyes, the abhaya mudra looks like the gesture meaning "stop" and the juxtaposition of these two meanings of the gesture captures for me the essential conundrum of trying to understand China -- the double message of "look at us" (the Olympics, the tremendous economic and technological growth, China's venerable ancient cultural contributions) and "get out of our business" (human rights, product safety, Tibet).

I created this policeman figure using the reduction method. Here's the build:

Some spots of red

Gradually building up the green uniform. When I first started doing moku hanga I used to try to get heavy solid color all at once. Everyone told me that it was better to build up the color slowly, and I think it's true.

Here I cut away some "shirt" and added more green.

And more green.

More cutting and a darker green.

10 November 2008

Adding the Wall


It feels so good to be making progress on this print! Of course, having enough time to do all this printmaking means I don't have so much illustration work on my desk. Unfortunately, my fortunes as an illustrator tend to rise and fall with the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

But tonight I happily added a couple of layers to define the Wall.

09 November 2008

Buddha in China


Although the People's Republic of China is officially atheist, historically China has been deeply influenced by Buddhism as well as Confucianism and Taoism. Buddhism was introduced to China in the first century and was transformed by the existing Chinese culture to emphasize filial piety and the contributions of an individual's search for enlightenment to society as a whole. Buddhism rose to prominence during the during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), but persecution began in 845 when Emperor Wuzong ordered the destruction of 4,600 Buddhist monasteries and 40,000 temples. Wuzong argued that Buddhism was an alien religion, which is the reason he also persecuted the Christians in China. Chinese Buddhism never fully recovered from this persecution.

Today there are five religions recognized by the state: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. In recent times, the government has expressed actual support for Buddhism and Taoism, religions which the state sees as an integral part of Chinese culture.

This little Buddha was created in four impressions of various golden tones. Here are the first three impressions:

Rather than carving 4 different blocks, I did all the work on one block with the reduction method. Here's how the last reduction of the block looked before printing:

I love how the "Insects and Flowers" portion of the Great Wall print turned out, with the brown ukiyo-e style linework and subtle colors, but my favorite way to work is this process I used with the Buddha -- just big swaths of color layered on top of each other with no outlines.

06 November 2008

The Sea Turtles


The millions of Chinese citizens who study in the west and then return to China are called "Hai Gui" or "Sea Turtles." In a recent column, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote of the Hai Gui, "The biggest force for democratization isn’t the Group of 7 governments, but is the millions of Chinese who study in the West and return — sometimes with green cards or blue passports, but always with greater expectations of freedom." I wanted to include a Hai Gui in my little tableau of life inside China. I think of these insects, flowers and birds as a depiction of the wild and unregulated communist-style capitalism that is developing in China.

Here's how this area of the print developed:

I added a few more spot colors first

Carved out the linework on the same block

And printed the linework in a dark brown