31 December 2011

Happy Year of the Dragon

2011. What a challenging, strange, difficult and sometimes wonderful year. Here in New England we had big snow, tons of rain, a tornado, a hurricane that washed out roads, and a freak October blizzard that felled many beautiful old trees (Lynn and I spent thousands of our 2011 dollars dealing with water and weather issues). I attended an unsettling number of funerals this year, and watched some friends, including friends in Japan, go through difficult times. In the political world there were revolutions and protests everywhere, and here in the U.S. the sudden urgency of Occupy Wall Street. Meanwhile, the economy continues to feel frighteningly unstable.

Yet 2011 wasn't all bad. I got to go to Japan for the First International Mokuhanga Conference in 2011. I started a new print series that looks like it will continue well into 2012. My family and I are all healthy and employed and doing OK, and I have a large "family" of friends as well. I'm grateful to have good people in the river with me as we ride these waves of change together.

Overall I'm glad to see 2011 go. But I worry that 2012 won't be any easier, and when I found out that 2012 is The Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac my uneasiness was not relieved. This article in the Japan Times echoes my own feelings about 2012. The author writes,
The year of the dragon, which is now very nearly upon us, certainly looks to be a year that will bear all of the fearsome characteristics of its zodiac namesake. It seems to me that much of what happened this year had the air of a preview, or a rehearsal perhaps, for the actual drama set to unfold next year.
I hope that's not true, but just in case, I'm cultivating my warrior spirit. For me, that means resolving to keep my body healthy and in shape, to stay flexible and open to spontaneity and surprise, to stay close to my loved ones, and to use my resources wisely. For my Year of the Dragon nengajou postcard (above) I decided that rather than picturing the dragon I'd focus on the knight/warrior who faces the dragon, not knowing if it's friend or foe, not knowing what will be demanded in the encounter. You may recognize the "fire" that tickles the knight's face -- it's from the print I made earlier this year called Great Wave. The curlicue design is from the back of a US $1 bill.

I wish us all courage, wisdom and, yes, joy as we face this new year. Let us find rest and comfort in one another and let us learn, finally, that we're in this together.

love, Annie

05 December 2011



Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
Image size: 35" x 21" (89 x 53 cm)
Paper size: 38.5" x 25" (98 x 63.5 cm)
1 shina plywood block, 2 birch blocks
10 hand-rubbed color layers
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 7

Pyramid and eye are enlarged from the back of a U.S. dollar bill.
Figure is from a found 1880 etching of migrant workers in a field. __________________________________

The pyramid image found on the back of the U.S. dollar bill is part of the Great Seal of the U.S. and is, as my friend Mary so aptly put it the other day, "kind of strange." The eye, which I find especially odd, is said to indicate that God, or Providence, favors the U.S. enterprise and will watch over it.

I moved the eye farther away from the bottom portion of the pyramid and inserted a small human figure between the two to give the meaning a different twist. The figure is from an 1880 etching I found of a group of African American migrant workers in a cotton field, their labors watched over with care by a white man.

I love the posture of this figure. To me the man looks weary, as if he just arrived at the top of the 13 steps, and he seems to be in the act of turning towards the eye, maybe just realizing that he's not going to get there from where he is. The way he's holding his right arm almost looks to me as if he's about to raise it, in defiance or in frustration. Even though the drawing is from 1880, the pose looks modern to me and it feels like an accurate posture for expressing the feeling you can have when you've worked really hard for something and fallen short. Or the just-waking-up feeling embodied in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The sky and star trails were very difficult to print, so the sky is a little different in every one of this edition of seven. I guess I'm still nowhere near being a master printer, but I sure enjoy making these prints. Hope you enjoy them too.

01 December 2011

Printing the Drill Drawing


This week I printed the sky portion of the Pyramid print, which I had previously drawn on the block with an electric drill. I printed three layers of color, and because the drill lines weren't very deep the printed lines closed up quite a bit.


Fortunately the last layer, the blue, was a strong color, so it came out OK. Next up is the final linework (keyblock).

28 November 2011


Here's some progress on my Pyramid print made over the Thanksgiving long weekend. There are 5 layers of color (the two areas of blue are slightly different and printed separately).

If you look at the original pyramid and eye motif on the dollar bill (left), you'll see that I've enlarged the amount of space between the bottom of the pyramid and the "eye of God" that hovers above it. You'll also see that I've given the God's eye some skin tone and iris color. There will be a small human figure standing in that enlarged space, on top of the unfinished pyramid. But first, I'll be working with the "sky" and the falling stars.

22 November 2011

Drawing With Power Tools


Sometimes it's hard for me to loosen up my drawing hand, so I decided to force myself into looseness by using a power drill to draw on my wood block. Not sure how this will look once it's printed, but I'm hoping it will look like falling stars.

16 November 2011

Carving Can Be So Slow

Gradually making progress. Here's the pyramid sketched onto the board:


And here's a closeup of the carving in progress:


06 November 2011

NY Print Fair 2011

I always love going to New York during Print Week, and I was happy to make it again this year. Here is just a taste of what I saw yesterday on my whirlwind tour. Most of the photos I took were of woodblock work, but I also snapped a few shots of other work that I enjoyed. Hope you enjoy it too.

My first stop was the Editions and Artists' Book Fair in Chelsea. I neglected to take photos there, but you can see a slideshow in this online article from Art in America to get a flavor of the event. The one shot I did take was the one here, Daniel Heyman's large 65-part etching called When Photographers Are Blinded, Eagles' Wings Are Clipped. I also enjoyed the work at Anchor Graphics. Check out their website to see their impressive roster of artists.

My second stop was IPCNY for New Prints 2011/Autumn. Of all the shows I saw, this was my favorite. IPCNY exhibitions always run the full range, from hugely famous artists to emerging artists and covering pretty much all the techniques available to printmakers. Here are some of the works I saw, focusing on woodcuts.

Trevor Banthorpe, color woodcut

Matthew Colaizzo, woodcut

Susan Goethel Campbell, woodblock and perforations

Alex Katz, moku hanga woodblock

S.V. Medaris, mounted woodcuts
I was also happy to see work by my cyber-friend Rick Finn on the wall at IPCNY. My photo was blurry, but you can see his winning "Buddha (mourning drape)" here.

I finished my day at the IFPDA Print Fair at the Armory. Here are a few photos, again focusing on woodblock prints.

These reduction woodcuts by Tom Hammick were some of my favorites at the fair. They struck me as both light and brooding, both simple and complex. They made me linger even though my eyes were tired, or perhaps because my eyes were tired.

These woodblock prints by Fang Lijun were astounding. They looked so much like ink paintings. Very beautiful and haunting.

I've recently gotten acquainted with artist Sarah Brayer, who lives and works in Japan, and I looked for her work at the fair. I found it at the always-jam-packed Verne Gallery booth where I was unable to take any good photos, but check out Sarah's web site to see her latest handmade paper works, some of which contain luminous pigments.

Thanks for reading!

xo Annie

02 November 2011

American Pyramid

EyeSketch The series about money that I'm currently working on, Loaded, is based on designs found on the back side of a U.S. one-dollar bill and I think it's safe to say that no examination of the symbols on the bill could ignore the Great Seal. Finalized in 1782, the Great Seal is basically the coat of arms of the United States and has appeared on coins, stamps, uniforms, passports and other government issued items. The "front" of the seal shows an eagle bearing a striped shield with the motto "e pluribus unum (out of many, one). The "back" of the seal, an image of an unfinished pyramid topped by "the Eye of Providence," is the image that I'll be working with for this next print.

On this pyramid side of the seal there appear two sets of Latin words. Above the Eye is written Annuit Cœptis, meaning "He approves (or has approved) [our] undertakings", and below the pyramid it says Novus Ordo Seclorum, which means "New Order of the Ages." The pyramid, which appears to be unfinished, has thirteen steps, representing the original thirteen states and the future growth of the country. The lowest level of the pyramid shows the year 1776 in Roman numerals. The Eye of Providence, like the pyramid, can be traced back to Egyptian mythology and the Eye of Horus, as well as Hindu and Buddhist iconography. In Christianity the Eye is usually surrounded by a triangle and is said to invoke the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The implication of the combined images is that Providence, or God, favors the establishment of the United States and will watch over its development.

One of the designers of the seal, Charles Thomson, said this about the pyramid.
The pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: the Eye over it and the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause. The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it signify the beginning of the New American Era, which commences from that date.
The Eye of Providence is a symbol that became associated with Freemasonry in the late 18th century, and conspiracy theorists make the claim that the Eye in the national seal indicates the influence of Freemasonry in the founding of the United States. I did a little research on the Freemasons and as far as I can see the worst fault of the Freemasons is that they don't allow women into the lodges. I'm not sure why conspiracy theorists would dwell on the pyramid and eye, but maybe I'm missing something. If anyone knows more, feel free to enlighten us in the comments section.

Meanwhile, I can think of plenty of other associations that the pyramid might have with our modern day economy, things like "pyramid schemes" for example...

I'm now in the carving stage, which will take a few days.

25 October 2011

Print Raffle 2011

Every year, in conjunction with "Print Fair North" open studios, Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, MA, holds a print raffle to benefit the Ruth Chalfin Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund allows individuals who have financial constraints to take printmaking classes.

There are some great prints this year, including two works by Barry Moser, an internationally recognized illustrator and master wood engraver. Also included is my Blessings Kite print (seen at left) and works by studio member artists Anne Beresford, Liz Chalfin, Scott McDaniel, Pam Crawford, Meredith Broberg, Lyell Castonguay, Maya Malachowski Bajak, Lilly Periera, Claudia Sperry, and Joyce Silverstone.

The raffle prints can all be seen at this link. Tickets cost $10 each or 3 for $25. You can buy as many tickets as you want, and can direct them all towards one print, or spread them out over several. Tickets can be purchased in person during studio hours or, if you're from out of town, by phone.

The drawing will be November 13, 2011.

19 October 2011


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
Image size: 35" x 21" (89 x 53 cm)
Paper size: 38.5" x 25" (98 x 63.5 cm)
2 shina plywood blocks, 1 birch block
10 hand-rubbed color layers
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 5

Car image is from a news photo of a burned-out automobile in Iraq.
Smoke design is adapted and enlarged from design on the back of a U.S. dollar bill. __________________________________

I meant to invoke all the money that the United States has wasted on war for the past 10 years, but as I worked with the image I began to see other meanings as well -- the money we spend to maintain our petroleum culture, the collapse of the auto industry, the costs of both war and oil relative to our environment. Maybe there's more. I'm trying not to over-think this series, trying to follow my initial self-assignment of using a dollar bill as my starting point and allow images that appeal to me to be just that -- images that appeal to me. This one felt right.

On a technical note, and this is one of the big drawbacks of publicly blogging my process, many of my fellow printmakers commented on the beautiful wood grain that appeared in the smoke after four layers of brown. I hadn't expected that, but I liked it and I was upset and conflicted when it disappeared upon adding the carved dollar design. It was a really hard decision for me to go ahead with the carved design, but I felt that without it the piece didn't say what I wanted it to say. I wanted to talk about money, not wood grain and not woodblock printing. So the wood grain is gone. And if I hadn't blogged it, you would never have known it was there… At least now I know how to control -- and not control -- wood grain. Always learning.

The other thing I'm grappling with is that I started Loaded, this series about money, on July 7 and on September 17 Occupy Wall Street began. I like to tackle topics that are timely, but this is maybe a little too timely. I feel a lot of pressure now. Yet here I am.

Here's the series so far:

16 October 2011

Lots of Brown

BrownSmoke Last week I added four layers of brown to my "Smoke" print. One more layer to go and the print will be finished. I think.

11 October 2011

Show in Worcester MA

Two of my prints, Borders #1: U.S./Mexico (left) and Borders #2: Great Wall (right), have been accepted into a show at Worcester State University called The Global Perspective. I'm also happy to announce that Great Wall has received an Honorable Mention from the judges. The recently remodeled Worcester State Gallery features 2500 square feet of exhibit space and is building a reputation as a primary gallery for arts in central Massachusetts. I'll be attending the opening on Thursday, October 20, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and I hope if you live in the area you'll join me!

The Global Perspective: Understanding the Past, Looking to the Future
Ghosh Science and Technology Building, First Floor
Worcester State University
486 Chandler Street
Worcester, Mass

Opening reception, Thursday, October 20, 6-8 pm

Gallery hours: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 1-4 pm
On view September 11 – December 2

28 September 2011

Car Completed

Third layer of color applied. Car_4Layers
Black layer applied.

This image is based on a news photo of a burned-out car in Iraq. The car is complete, but the full image is not finished yet. Next I'll be using a new piece of wood to create some smoke and fire.

23 September 2011

A Car by Reduction Method

The traditional Japanese method of woodblock printing calls for carving one block for each color, although in practice a printer will often designate areas for more than one color on a block if the areas are far enough apart to be inked accurately. But for the most part, it's one color per block.

As I've begun to work with very large prints and blocks of wood, more and more often I've found myself seeking ways to save money and time by consolidating my materials, and one way I've found to save on wood is to use the reduction method whenever possible. The reduction method involves carving a block, printing that block on all the sheets of paper in the planned edition, then carving ("reducing") the block more, printing again, carving again, and so on until the image is completed.

Last week I started a new print in my "Loaded" series of prints about money, and I'm using the reduction method to create an image of a car that will be central to the print. Below are photos of the first two printed colors from the initial reductions, plus a photo of the block carved for a third time and ready to print. There will be one more reduction after this one.

First, a pale blue impression of the whole shape of the car. Then I went back and carved again.

Next I printed a gray layer.

Today I finished the third "reduction" and tomorrow (hopefully) I'll print it using another tone of gray.

13 September 2011

Pilgrims In Journal of the Print World

Several friends have told me that my portrait of John Alexander and Thomas Roberts, the gay Pilgrims from Plymouth Colony, was on the cover of Journal of the Print World but I was unable to find a copy. Today my printmaker friend Melody Knight Leary sent me a link to an image of the cover online, so I've finally seen it. Thanks, Melody. And thanks, Journal of the Print World!

06 September 2011

Storing Large Prints

HangingPrints The last couple of prints I've made are too big for my flat files, so I've been at a loss for how to store them. Right after the Great Wave prints were completed I rolled them and put them in a tube, but I was concerned that the curl would be hard to get rid of so I started thinking of other options.

I was considering setting up something in our basement, but we took in a couple of inches of water during Hurricane Irene so I'm very leery of using the basement now. Buying larger flat files is the obvious solution, but my spare-bedroom studio in our not-very-big ranch house is already feeling cramped with the flat files I have, so I'll need to figure out where I can put more. In the meantime I put out the question to the Baren Forum listserv to see if anyone had any ideas and I got some great responses.

For now, until I figure out something better, I'm hanging the prints on the back of my studio door simply using skirt hangers and some strips of foam core (photo) as suggested to me by printmaker Barbara Mason. You can see that there's still some curl at the bottom of the prints from being in the tube for a few weeks. There's also not much room on my over-the-door hook, so I'll need to upgrade that as I make more prints.

Woodcut artist Maria Arango pointed out that there are products made for hanging architectural drawings, so I'm looking into that option. I'd like to find a wall-hanging unit of that type, since I'm lacking in floor space.

Some folks seemed to think that rolling the prints isn't really a bad option. That would make it very simple if it were true, so I may try keeping a set of prints rolled and see how it works over time.

My favorite response came from Mexican artist Guadalupe Victorica who has a friend who stores large prints between 2 plywood boards under the mattress. Now that's a good use of space! Under the bed is possible too, although my dog likes to sleep there.

Of course, I could just sell all the prints! That would completely solve the storage problem.

I'm open to any other ideas if you'd like to leave a comment. Thanks for the help! xo Annie

01 September 2011


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
Image size: 21" x 35" (53 x 89 cm)
Paper size: 25" x 38.5" (63.5 x 98 cm)
2 shina plywood blocks
13 hand-rubbed color layers
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 9

Based on a much enlarged section of the back of a one dollar bill.

Honey bees have fascinated human beings for millenia. The honeybee, honey and hives are emblems of sweetness, wealth, and industry. Like us, bees have elaborate societies, they work hard, and like us they are suffering from strange maladies in this century. These creatures, who sting and yet are able to transform beauty into sweetness using their own bodies, have been cited in religious texts for thousands of years. Here's a small sampling of the ways that bees and honey have been linked to God in various traditions.

The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. (Bible, Psalms 19:9-10)

Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it. (Bible, Proverbs 25:16)

Your Lord revealed to the bees: "Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow." From inside them comes a drink of varying colours, containing healing for mankind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect. (Quran, 16: 68)

Just as though a man were at a crossroads pressing out pure honey and a large group of people were poised in expectancy, so too, when the recluse Gotama is teaching the Dharma to an assembly of followers, on that occasion there is no sound of his disciples' coughing or clearing their throats. For then that large assembly is poised in expectancy: "Let us hear the Dharma the Blessed One is about to teach." (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha)

O noble one, the wise always offer a handful of flowers humming with bees in the direction where Bhagavan is awake. He is the eternal witness of the drama of the rise and the dissolution of this universe. (Shree Guru Gita, verse 51)

Interestingly, John Eliot, who translated the Bible into a Native American language in the 1660s, noted that there was no Native American word for wax or honey. Eliot claimed that the Indians used the term ‘White Man’s fly’ to describe bees. It seems that the native Americans were more in tune with the sting of the bee than the honey, as bees were interpreted by tribes farther west as a dark omen and harbinger of the white man's arrival. I guess this links bees with the expansion of capitalism in America.

This morning I'm thinking of this little edition of 10 prints as a handful of flowers humming with bees.

31 August 2011

God On Money

I've been wanting to make a series of prints about money for a long time, maybe since 2007 when Lynn and I experienced something of a reversal of fortunes and decided to downscale our lives before life did it for us. My usual approach to art making, researching a topic until I feel I have enough understanding to begin, didn't work this time. I audited a class on the history of American economics which did nothing to inspire me, and my own ambivalent feelings about money also didn't help me. But I've finally found a way in to the topic, a way which is purely visual.

This new series, called Loaded, is based on a simple conceit. Each print begins with an image isolated from the back side of a one dollar bill as the starting point. In the first print, Great Wave, the wave design came from below and to the right of the pyramid motif. For this print I've worked with a tiny crop that includes the word "god" from the "in god we trust" motto at the top of the bill.

Carving on a 24" x 36" shina plywood block by Annie Bissett

The words "in god we trust" have appeared on American coins since 1864, but have been written on paper currency only since 1957, and the words are controversial, as are all things having to do with religion in the United States. As I worked with the image, at first all I could see was the cynical view that we in the U.S. actually worship not God but Money. Which is certainly true in many ways.

But then I began to think about all the ways that money perhaps is sacred: the trust we have in each other and in our economic system that is essential to its functioning, the hopes and dreams that we all hold and that money can help us attain, money as a symbol and exchange for honest labor, money offered to another out of a desire to help and serve.

This morning, when I pulled a couple of dollars out of my wallet at the post office to send my mother news clippings about flooding in her beloved home state of Vermont, that was love in the form of money.

These have been my thoughts as this print emerges. Today I'll be adding the bees I carved yesterday.

Woodblock print in progress by Annie Bissett

30 August 2011

25 August 2011


I spent the past 3 days at Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence MA at a silkscreen workshop taught by Jennifer Cooke of Raeburn Ink. It was a really fun workshop and I was very surprised to discover that I could make silkscreen look like watercolor by using extender in the inks. Here's one of the pieces I made at the workshop.

Experimental silkscreen print by Annie Bissett

I think silkscreen will come in handy when I want to include text in a woodblock print and I don't want to carve it. Or printing on fabric. Or...

21 August 2011

Another Week, Another 3 Colors


This is another shot of my current print in progress. There are 8 layers of color shown here, printed with a mostly uncarved block of plywood (just the little "stars" are carved). Now I'm carving more on the same block to create a design that will be overprinted. This is the second print in my series about money. The series is tentatively titled "Loaded."

I'm going to be taking a silkscreen workshop at Zea Mays Printmaking for the next 3 days so I won't be working on this print, but I'm excited to try another printmaking method. I can imagine silkscreen and woodblock being super compatible.

15 August 2011

Recent Printing

©2011 Annie Bissett

I started working on a new print last week. It's another full-sheet print, so the paper is about 25 x 38 inches (63.5 x 96.5 cm). I'm trying another new-to-me type of paper, this time a machine-made paper I bought from Hiromi Paper called Shikoku White. So far I've applied 5 separate all-over overprints of color, so the paper is taking quite a beating but it's holding up under the baren as long as I use an ategami (a protective backing paper used under the baren to keep the print paper from abrading). It's a thin paper, but not as thin as the Kizuki Kozo from Japanese Paper Place that I used for the Great Wave print.

The photo at the top is how the print looks after 5 applications of color. I shot the photo while the paper was still wet, which is why it looks wrinkled. I've done all of this with a block that's basically uncarved. The only carvings are the little "stars" which I carved out just so I could know where they're located. I've used yellow, red and blue on top of each other to allow a complex color to emerge. I've been surprised to see that the grain reacts differently to each pigment. Below is a closeup of the grain beginning to show through. I expect that there will be at least 10 more color layers, and soon I'll begin doing some carving.

©2011 Annie Bissett

08 August 2011

Sometimes I'm Married, 2011


2-color Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
6” x 8” (15 x 20 cm)

The 2011 installment of an ongoing series in which I track the state of my own gay marriage. I’ve made an updated version each year to celebrate my wedding anniversary, August 15, 2004 — the first year that gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Someday this will be a one-color print.

See the whole series on my web site.

30 July 2011

Mokuhanga Show In Scotland

Opening today in Edinburgh Scotland is an exhibition curated by Scottish artist Elspeth Lamb RSA titled IN JAPAN, a large survey show of woodblock art from around the world. My print American Bible Story will be included along with work by approximately 45 other artists, including work by Helen Frankenthaler! The show will be up through September 18.

IN JAPAN: Highlights of Academicians' projects in contemporary Japan
30 July - 18 September, 2011
RSA Finlay & Projects Room
The Royal Scottish Academy
The Mound

Opening Times:
Admission Free
Mon-Sat 10-5pm
Sun 12-5pm

28 July 2011

Great Wave

Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
Image size: 22" x 37" (56 x 94 cm)
Paper size: 24" x 40" (61 x 101.5 cm)
3 baltic birch plywood blocks
12 hand-rubbed color layers
Paper: Kizuki Kozo
Edition: 7

The wave design is referenced and much enlarged from the back of a one dollar bill.

25 July 2011

24 July 2011

Last Week's Printing Progress

Having gotten my three large pieces of birch plywood carved, I spent the next few days starting the printing process. I've never used this paper before, Kizuki Kozo from The Japanese Paper Place in Toronto. It's sized, but it's fairly thin for mokuhanga, so I was nervous about how it would hold up with multiple overprintings. So far so good, although it's starting to stretch and distort a little. I'll see at the end if I can get it flat again or not.

Anyway, the paper is 24" x 40" (61 x 102 cm) which is the largest piece of paper I've ever tried to handle. Short of hiring an assistant just to help me get the paper onto the block, I knew I'd have to try something new. Friends on the Baren Forum had once suggested rolling as a possibility, so I tried that and it worked pretty well. I just picked up the roll, guided it into the kento, and then let it unfurl onto the inked block.

Here's how the print looked after three passes.

I still have to deepen the reflection under the hills before I move on to other areas of the print.

19 July 2011

Prints In Wales

I'm excited to be part of a show in August with printmakers of Zea Mays Printmaking called Prudent Prints at Aberystwyth University in Wales. The image on the announcement is by the awesome Lilliana Pereira.