Studio blog of Annie Bissett, an artist working with traditional Japanese woodblock printing (moku hanga)
31 January 2010
Grabbed some time this weekend to print the petroglyph block in a brownish color on top of the tea stained background. More layers to come before I overprint the Eliot Bible text.
29 January 2010
American Bible Story in Philadelphia
Philagrafika 2010, Philadelphia's 10-week celebration of the role of print in contemporary artistic practice, The Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University is exhibiting International Print Center of New York: New Prints 2009/ Autumn, including my American Bible Story print. If you're in Philly I hope you'll stop by the gallery.
Leonard Pearlstein Gallery
33rd and Market Streets
Gallery Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am-5pm
Leonard Pearlstein Gallery
33rd and Market Streets
Gallery Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am-5pm
27 January 2010
English Tea On Japanese Paper
Just trying this out. I'm painting some strong British tea onto this Nishinouchi to stain it before I start printing with woodblocks. Nice color. I do hope it doesn't eat the paper - I didn't do any research on how tea affects kozo fibers.
Tea wasn't actually brought to America until the 1650s, but John Eliot's Indian Bible was printed in 1663 so there was already a bit of tea floating about. Americans embraced tea with gusto, as we often still do with new things. I want a new Apple tablet.
25 January 2010
For thousands of years Native American peoples have carved symbols, signs and images on rock surfaces. The first of the New World petroglyphs to be brought to the attention of European settlers was Dighton Rock, a 40-ton quartz-sandstone boulder found on the east bank of the Taunton River in southeastern Massachusetts.
Dighton Rock was first recorded in 1680 by a clergyman named John Danforth, who made a drawing of the figures and symbols and wrote a brief description of them. Since then, the rock has been studied perhaps more than any other petroglyph in North America. Over 30 theories have been advanced about the origins of the markings, including the idea that the glyphs were created by Native Americans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Vikings, the Portuguese, and even the Chinese.
I'm going with Native Americans as the creators of the markings, and I decided to use some of the Dighton Rock symbols as models for a background under my Eliot Bible facsimile.
And here's the completed text block, ready to print:
20 January 2010
No surprise here: I'm still carving my page from John Eliot's Indian Bible. I have about two more day to go, I think.
Just to be clear about my process, although I began the project using a traditional Japanese toh (straight blade), I soon changed tools and began using a #2 X-acto blade.
#2 X-acto blade (top) and traditional toh (bottom) compared
I know that there are some awesome carvers out there who could do this with a toh no problem. I thought I could do it given that I've finally mastered the art of sharpening my toh, but I found the thickness of the blade to be problematic with these tiny letters. Because I'm using plywood, it's awfully easy to pop off the little dots on the i's , commas, accent marks etc. The blade of the toh, although just as sharp as an X-acto blade, gets thick as you move away from the point. The angle of the blade is less acute (less pointed) than the X-acto, too, so it feels blunter and clunkier to me.
The X-acto blade, on the other hand, is uniformly thin. I've found it much easier to handle the twists and turns of tiny Roman letters with this shape. There are drawbacks, though. The point of the X-acto blade is actually too sharp. It breaks off very easily in the wood, so I've taken to carefully breaking off a tiny piece of the point at the outset with a scrap piece of wood.
After making the initial cuts with the X-acto knife, I then begin to clear along and between the letters, making little "release cuts" with the toh. Then I use successively larger gouges to continue clearing. And of course, I'm wearing magnifying glasses.
And of course, I'm making mistakes and popping off some little dots on the i's , commas, accent marks and even whole letters. I make repairs when I see a clear way to do it, but I'm also letting some of the mistakes go. Only about 10 people alive today would notice. More on that later...
18 January 2010
Back to the Bible
Not much to say here. I've resumed carving the first page of John Eliot's Bible. For a reminder about this print see an introductory post by clicking here.
09 January 2010
10 Little 9 Little Indians - Final Print
10 LITTLE 9 LITTLE INDIANS
Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Paper size: 15" x 11" (38 x 28 cm)
Image size: 13" x 10" (33 x 25.5 cm)
6 shina plywood blocks
16 hand-rubbed impressions
Edition: 25 (for the Print Portfolio "10") plus 5 Artist's Proofs
In 1634, John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote these words to a friend in England regarding the epidemics that had wiped out nearly 90% of the native population of New England:
"But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection." (emphasis mine)
The figure in the center of my print is taken directly from the 17th century seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Indian holds his arrow facing downward in a gesture of peace and yes, coming out of the mouth of the Indian are the words "Come Over and Help Us." This was the Puritan vision: an American Eden, ripe for the taking and full of pagan natives eagerly awaiting the good news of the gospel. Of course it was not the gospel that most affected the natives, but diseases and the colonizing force of boatloads of newcomers staking out land claims.
One need only contemplate Vice President Dick Cheney's 2004 statement that U.S. forces would be "greeted as liberators" by the Iraqis to see that the "Come Over and Help Us" vision of our founding fathers still undergirds our actions in the world. It's worth noting too that the Indian whom the English came and helped still holds his downward facing arrow on the 2010 Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, although he no longer speaks.
In my re-creation of the engraved 17th century seal, I deleted the outer circle, letting the red smallpox virus take its place, and I enlarged the words to break out of the circle. Once I had carved the figure I realized that I would have trouble printing it moku hanga style -- that the amount of water required would cause the wood to swell and close up the tiny white areas.
So I used Akua intaglio ink and a small roller instead. I masked off the area, since I'm not very practiced and skilled with a roller. I then used a baren to take the impression and am pleased with how that worked out.
As I mentioned earlier, this print will be part of the portfolio "10." I'll show you the other prints when I receive my set!
07 January 2010
World Upside Down
In the late 1500s there was a race going on among the European powers to establish settlements in the new world. Spain was way ahead, with a strong presence in Central and South America, and England was severely behind with no settlements at all. Between 1584 and 1590, English aristocrat Sir Walter Raleigh sponsored a series of exploratory voyages to the coast of "Virginia" (now called North Carolina) to drum up support for a colony among British investors. Raleigh sent an artist named John White on five of those journeys to "drawe to life" the area's natural features and inhabitants.
The watercolors that White produced detailed, among other things, the native Algonquian peoples -- their ceremonies, villages, meals and modes of dress. His paintings gave England its first glimpse of America and his work to this day remains vital for colonial scholars.
For the next layer of my "10 Little 9 Little Indians" print, I referenced a figure from the John White painting of dancing Indians at the top of this post. Here's the figure upright. I added a few feathers to the arms.
I then repeated the figure, arranging them in a circular pattern to echo the circular dance arrangement in the White painting, then turned the pattern of Indians upside down for my print. Here's the result after I printed the block.
For those of you who are interested in such things, this block was tough to print. Because of the amount of space between the figures, I felt I needed to ink each one individually, then lay down the paper and carefully burnish them with the baren one by one. There are 14 separate figures, so this inking and burnishing was very slow. It took me most of the day to do a run of 35 prints (I'm running 5 test sheets at the front of a run of 30 prints). Here's a shot of the block being inked and the neat little surikomi bake (brush) I used.
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