21 September 2016

The End (Maybe) of Virtuoso Carving

Detail of Block #5 carving

Working from the photograph of Ty's fur I showed you in the last post, I used Photoshop to help me separate the image into six distinct colors, then transferred the separations onto six 12 x 9 inch blocks (30 x 23 cm). I started carving around September 1 and have been carving ever since, today being the 21st. I'm happy to say that I'm on the 6th block now. (The print is due October 15.)

In my own mind I call this very detailed, very tiny, very tight type of carving "virtuoso carving." I've worked like this quite a bit in my woodblock career — see my carving of page one of the Algonquin Bible, or the recent halftone Relics prints for example — and it's totally in keeping with the traditional Japanese method of woodblock printing (think ukiyo-e prints). It's also physically demanding and intense to carve this way. I've developed arthritis in my neck as I've aged and it's uncomfortable for me now to spend 100+ hours at my carving desk, even though I use an easel-like setup and a good chair. I never say never, because I know how I am, but this print may be my "virtuoso carving" swan song.

We'll see about that…  Meanwhile, I know the feeling I want this print to have. I want it to look just like my beautiful Ty's fur. I want it to look soft and inviting. I want it to cry out to be touched. And I think that requires hewing closely to the photo.

I made a mistake on block #5 and had to fix it. Obviously, a small slip of the knife on a print of swirly fur can often be ignored, but I slipped on an area where it really would have glared. Superglue to the rescue, as superglue doesn't soften with all the water needed in mokuhanga.

As tough as this carving job has been, I don't anticipate that the printing will be much easier. It will be an edition of 21 prints, per the portfolio specs. I have to pause before printing to get ready for Northampton's Printworks 2016! I'll tell you about that in the next post.

14 September 2016

Hair of the Dog

Before I continue the story of the woodcut I'm making for my dog Ty, I want to clear up one thing. Something I wrote in the first post led several people to believe that I'm doing a series of prints about Ty. No. Just one. I'm making one print that will be part of a portfolio with Zea Mays Printmaking.

In my last post I showed you some Photoshop sketches I made playing with the idea of doing a paint-by-number portrait of Ty. I landed on the idea of doing a winter scene with small figures representing me and Ty walking into the distance and I sat with that image for quite a while. Finally, though, I let it go. It felt too cliché. Something I learned as a commercial artist is to push beyond the cliché. People recognize and identify with clichés, but a visual cliché also allows a viewer to glance at the image, think to themselves "oh, right, I know that," and move on. I think the best images use cliché for connection but then add a twist to make a viewer look again.

More importantly to me, though, the iconic mid-century paint-by-number look just felt too silly and ironic. It didn't match my feelings about losing Ty. So I began again, trying to locate an image that would better match the whole "felt sense" of my relationship with Ty and how it feels to not have him with me any more (see note* below for more about felt sense). I looked through my photos of him, and this one jumped out at me:

This is a photo of my favorite part of Ty's body. It's above his left front leg, I guess you'd call it his shoulder, where the fur of his "mane" became the more regular fur of his hind quarters, and I loved the way it swirled right there. My eyes often landed on this part of his body when we were at rest together.

This is the image of Ty that clicked inside me as "right"— as being true to my feelings about him. It expresses the intimacy of the relationship, the physicality of it. I'm a very mental and visual person, and I learned so much from Ty about being physical. He demanded that I inhabit my body fully. He wanted me to run and hike and throw balls and play and he wanted us to always be touching some part of each other when we rested. It's that physicality, the athleticism of him, and the warm comfort of touch that I miss so much. My fingers miss the beautiful softness of his fur and the strength of the muscles under the fur. So this is my starting point for the print.

* Felt Sense*
This is a term from a psychotherapeutic technique called Focusing. A felt sense is a body sensation that is meaningful and that points to and somehow matches a vague, elusive and usually pre-verbal inner experience. I think that locating the felt sense of any particular experience or situation is useful for artists and is in fact often used by artists intuitively — that moment of aha, when an image just feels right.

09 September 2016

"Traces" Portfolio for the E/AB Fair

Print portfolios are a tradition in printmaking, I've learned. A portfolio is a group of prints, usually united by a theme or technique, presented in a case of some kind. A portfolio can be created by a single artist, or more often by a group of artists. Sometimes the portfolio is an exchange, where each participating artist receives a complete portfolio, and sometimes the portfolio is designated for sale. For me, there are pros and cons to participating in portfolios (we can get into that in the comments if you all want to), but I was invited to participate, along with 19 other artists from Zea Mays Printmaking (ZMP) studio, in a portfolio that will be showcased in NY in November 2016 at the Editions/Artists Book Fair and I jumped at the opportunity.

The portfolio is called Traces, named after a poem by ZMP studio member Annie Rogers which acts as the prompt and unifying theme. It's a strong poem with a lot of visual word-images that could be used as inspiration, and it contains themes of memory, language, loss, and childhood. As I wrote in my last post, my mind and heart were fixated on the loss of my dog Ty and when I read the poem I became also fixated on the mention of a paint by numbers kit.

Vintage paint by number paintings are an iconic mid-century art form — low-brow and democratic, much like many types of printmaking. Paint by numbers is also a pretty perfect description of the traditional Japanese process of making a woodblock print. In this method, most of the major decisions about the image are made in the sketch phase. The carving and printing are executions of the sketch and literally involve carving areas for each color based on a drawing and then laying those colors down in the printing. Click this link to see an example of how the colors build during the making of a print, much like filling in a coloring book, and much like painting by numbers.

So I started looking at vintage paint by number kits.

Deer are a very popular motif in paint by numbers.

Rivers are also popular, and Ty loved his rivers!

I photoshopped a picture of Ty onto a river-themed paint by number just for fun.

There's quite a bit of Asian-themed imagery in paint by numbers, too. That could be cool, to reference the Japanese roots of my chosen art form.

Ha ha ha, here's Ty in Japan.

Or why not just do a straightforward paint-by-number style dog portrait like one of these?

Snow scenes are also popular paint by number themes. The top image here is a Kiyoshi Saito woodblock print (I love Saito). I was surprised to see how much the Saito looks like paint by number. A snow scene would also work with the poem "Traces," which talks about snow and a blizzard.

This is one of my favorite Saito images, "Winter in Aizu." The solitary figure is so lonely and haunting. Maybe I could do a Saito-style winter scene of tiny me and Ty walking.

The winter scene is where I landed and I spent a long time pondering what the scene might look like. In the next post I'll tell you about a subsequent shift in my thinking.

08 September 2016

My Dog Ty

Three months ago my 13-year-old yellow lab Ty died. Actually, he was 13 years and 1 day old. We didn't even know he was sick, and the day before he died, on his birthday, I had a fantastic time with him. We went on a long walk at his favorite local place, the Mill River, and he had some canned tuna to celebrate his big day. The next morning I awoke to find him pacing around in the kitchen and I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong. After some visits to the veterinary hospital, it was determined that a tumor in his abdomen was bleeding and there was nothing they could do to save his life, so we euthanized him.

They say that losing a beloved pet is emotionally and psychologically as difficult as losing any other family member, and that feels true to me. I'm coming around now, but one of the things I've had on my to-do list while the grief is still fresh has been to design a print for a portfolio I'm participating in with Zea Mays Printmaking this fall. With Ty on my mind so strongly, I found that as much as I tried to not make my portfolio print about him, I couldn't get my attention to go anywhere else. So I'm working on a print and it's about Ty.

I started by looking at some photos of him. Here are a few pix, and I'll post again tomorrow to share the specs for the portfolio and how my ideas have evolved.

Ty was not allowed on the furniture. Except sometimes.
Ty as a youngster.

01 September 2016

New Book: Relics

I just received an author copy of my new book Relics and I'm happy to say it's proofed and available to be ordered. Relics is a 68-page soft cover print-on-demand book that showcases the entire group of prints and scrolls from my "Relics" series. In addition to high-quality reproductions of the art, the book includes a section illustrating how the prints were made, plus text that was written especially for the debut show of these works at Oxbow Gallery in Northampton Massachusetts in August, 2016.

Below are a few page spreads. You can see a preview of the entire book here on the Blurb Books web site. And you can order copies at this link.

Each of the halftone prints is shown at three different sizes to replicate the gallery experience of viewing the works at varying distances.

Each scroll is shown in its entirety and also with a detail shot revealing small text.