26 November 2018

Start Where You Are

I'm still poking around this topic of water, trying to find my way. I have friends who have been on top of the climate crisis for decades now, sounding the alarm to a mostly-indifferent world, and I don't know how I'll ever catch up with them. But I can start now and I can start where I am, knowing that I won't catch up but trusting that I'll find my way.

What I mostly do in my art practice when I begin a new topic is read. Often I simply read the news and begin from there. This month I started to notice articles about sewage and flooding and water treatment plants. From Austin, Texas, to Raleigh, North Carolina, to the Merrimac River valley in Massachusetts, cities and towns all over America are having to cope with new threats to clean water that are being caused by a combination of aging infrastructure and more frequent flooding. Obviously, coastal water treatment plants are at risk from sea level rise, but hundreds of inland water treatment plants are located in flood plains and are also at risk.

In this early portion of my series I'm looking for images that can stand in for a whole constellation of issues/problems and that also might be beautiful as prints. For the issue of water/sewer treatment, I'm going with an image that will call up the ubiquitous and rarely-discussed action that most westerners perform an average of five times per day: the toilet flush. Toilet flushing is the single highest use of water in the average home. Clean water, that is — water that must then be processed before it can go back out into the environment. People who know more than I do might have some ideas for better ways of treating human waste. I hope so.

This print will be a simple three-color print. Unlike the Fiji Water print I just completed, which required a lot of printing tricks (blends, wiping, etc.) this one will rely on very detailed carving. Here's the first impression, which is just a background color for the whole shape:

Then I traced outlines for the second color using carbon paper, and now I'll start carving:

17 November 2018

Water: A Tough Topic

So I'm on the theme of water and I thought at first that I would, you know, make pictures of water. But then I started thinking of artists I know who make gorgeous pictures of water (examples: Frances Ashforth and Michael Mazur) and I choked. What do I have to add to the canon of gorgeous water pictures? And what do I want to say about water anyhow?

I'm still sorting that out, but I can offer myself some partial answers. First is that I'm afraid of water. Every house I've lived in as an adult has leaked at one time or another. My house in Somerville MA leaked in a hurricane. Our roof in super-dry Taos New Mexico leaked in a rain storm. Each of the three houses we lived in in Northampton MA sprang a leak at one time or another, whether from ice dams or hurricanes or torrential rain. Water inside my house makes me exceedingly uncomfortable (said the woman who just moved to the Ocean State and found a leaky roof) and it seems to be my karma to get water inside my house. So there's that.

I also love water. I love the ocean, I love to body surf, I love lakes and streams, I love a hot bath, I like to fish, I love boats, and I love to drink a tall glass of cold water on a hot day. Large natural bodies of water relax us and offer a kind of mental balm and solace that can't be found anywhere else. Water is life. We all know that, but do we really? How for granted do we in the so-called western world take it that when we turn the faucet, the water that comes out is clean and plentiful? So now I'm back to my fear. I'm afraid of water not being clean, not being plentiful, afraid of local and state governments privatizing water which should belong to us all, afraid of more Flint Michigan type disasters, afraid of super-storms, and afraid of the water shortages that are already happening all over the globe.

It's hard to live in a place where the tap water is good and where the beaches are beautiful and to fully comprehend the tragedies that loom in our future: too much water, not enough water, and the extinctions and migrations (both human and animal) that will follow as our climate mutates. It's hard to even begin to understand how much our way of life impacts the water cycle. So maybe that's the essence of what I want to explore in this next series of prints — the notion that much of our relationship with water as human beings lies beneath our awareness.

So I'm starting another image and we'll see if it goes anywhere. I really don't have this planned out the way I planned the fire prints.

The photo at the beginning of this post shows a block ready to be cut for the first stage of the image. I jerry-rigged a funky cheap table-top easel that I got from Dick Blick (I don't think they sell this anymore) and a bench hook from McClain's to keep the block upright while I do the detail carving. Then I lay the block flat on the table for clearing.

More soon…

13 November 2018

Fiji Water (1.5)

Watercolor woodblock print (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 1 block, 15 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 8 on Yukimi paper

After completing my "Fire" series I found myself wanting to go on and do some water prints. At the time (last winter) I thought of calling a series about water "Blue Wave," but I was afraid that the title would be too situational with regard to the 2016 US midterm election. And then it was spring and my partner and I started talking about moving, so I dropped everything.

But the topic stayed with me. Water. I read a book called Rising by a Rhode Island writer named Elizabeth Rush (recommended) and I'm now reading Cynthia Barnett's book Rain. The devastating report on climate change that was just released in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, plus the fact that the roof in my new house is leaking, have kept me on the topic of water, so I'm taking a poke at it here.

The first time I ever saw Fiji Water was in the 1990s. I remember my first thought was "it can't really be from Fiji." But it really was from Fiji, and I always saw it as a kind of awful commentary on the whole bottled water business—1990s yuppies "hydrating" themselves with (magical?) water from an exotic tropical island, transported thousands of miles in an ocean-contaminating plastic-is-forever bottle. Ugh.

Turns out that Fiji is one of the Pacific Island nations that won't survive warming greater than 1.5°C, which is the warming target that the cheery new report from the IPCC says would require humanity to abandon coal and other fossil fuels in the next decade or two in an economic transition so abrupt that it “has no documented historic precedents.

Island nations across the world, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, have adopted a slogan, "1.5 to stay alive," to reflect the grim reality they face. I included that slogan on the label.

As usual, here are some process shots. I started simply with the yellows. Printing with a lot of white space is difficult, because of the care you need to take to keep the paper clean:

Next I worked on the plastic bottle. I did it reduction-style, where you print a color, then carve a bit and print again, then carve more, etc. :

I developed the flower the same way, by printing a layer of light pink, carving a bit and printing a darker pink, carving again and overprinting a darker magenta:

Next I added a simple bottle cap:

And then I had to face the scary part: a large bokashi (color blend) with white text carved out. Making a bokashi can be kind of messy because it involves water and paste and wide sweeps of the brush. I often do bokashi in several steps, but with white text I didn't want to be double-registering if I could help it. I resolved to do this bokashi in one pass. Because I needed to use a large brush for the blend, I decided to make a mask to protect the white paper around the bottle. I used a heavy drawing paper taped to the top of the block:

Here's a shot of the brush I used (purchased from Kremer Pigment). The tape at one end reminds me that that's the side where the lighter color is. You can see how far from the raised area the ink travels and why the mask is helpful:

All of this was done on one block, using a floating kento (registration board). Here's the block after I was finished with it: