September 2007


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I have always liked the idea of having a tree planted in honor of a loved one. I feel something spiritual in the presence of trees. Something about the rustle of the leaves in the wind and the sway of the branches takes me to a different plane and I feel connected with past and present. Last year I had a tree planted in David’s name as a Christmas gift for his brother’s family out in California. It didn’t cost very much, so I am sure the tree is just a little sapling somewhere out there in L.A.

Anyway, as I worked on this piece I started thinking that this is how I imagine David’s tree will look someday, standing in silhouette against a moving sky.

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A fellow artist/blogger Gregorio Perez joked to me that one reason he wants to move to woodblock printing is that he’s tired of people telling him that they used to do linoleum block printing in grade school. I think it’s possible that wood may get more respect than linoleum, but he got me thinking about all of the virtues of woodblock printmaking.

I started using wood in printmaking because I saw some real life examples of moku hanga and I was completely blown away by the beauty of it’s transparent color and visible woodgrain. I was excited that I could use some of the knowledge that I had gained from years of working with watercolor to this new medium. On the practical side, wood is a renewable resource and it is relatively inexpensive (especially if you consider that you can carve both sides of a piece of wood). It is also quite forgiving and can be glued and sanded. You can even remove small dents with a little water and heat.

On the down side, wood can be a bit difficult to work with as it varies in hardness and has a grain. It requires very sharp tools and a patient and careful hand. Mark Krecic, the woodshop studio coordinator at the UM School of Art & Design, once told me that he hated it when students would tell him that the wood didn’t do what it was supposed to do. He taught me that the wood always does what it’s supposed to do. It’s our job as artists to learn to understand that.

But the simple fact is that I’m in love with this artform. It takes my meager ideas and transforms them into something I could never have envisioned. I look at the way the carved grooves enhance the quality and excitement of something as simple as the shape of a cloud and I am breathless.

I started out my attempt to learn how to create a color gradation in moku hanga, by reading the method described in The Art and Craft of Woodblock Prinmaking.

I started the process by moistening the wood with a wide brush and letting it soak in.
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I added drops of watercolor pigment (I used Winsor yellow and alizarin crimson) to the top and bottom of the block respectively.
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Then I added the nori or rice paste between the drops of pigment.
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Next I used the maru bake brush to blend the pigment and the nori. I swiped the brush in small circles at first and ended with a side to side motion, gradually moving toward the center of the block where there was no pigment and only nori and water.
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It took a few prints before the block became “seasoned” enough to print well. I noticed that too much water caused spots in the print and too little water cause lines. I had to practice to get the right combination. Things got a bit messy as I swiped the brush from side to side, so I used masking tape to protect the edges. I still had to wipe the sides off, but the tape helped keep things under control.
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Here is a print of the gradation. This will provide the background for the tree and clouds.
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As an American traveling in India, one of the striking things to me was the number of stray dogs roaming around the city. Instead of being locked up in shelters or euthanized, Indian stray dogs are left to fend for themselves. Who’s to say which system is better. Unlike with the American system, the number of dogs wandering around serves to constantly remind us that they are there and they are in need. I learned fast from my Indian family that you do not touch strays as they may bite or carry disease. But I cannot resist watching them and wondering about them. On my last day in India this summer I broke down and gave this fellow one of my biscuits. He was so grateful and gentle – you can see it in his eyes. I regret that I didn’t reach down and pet him on the head.
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This painting will be on display at From There to Here: the A&D International Exhibit

An exhibition highlighting creative work completed by A&D students faculty and staff while working, visiting, and/or researching abroad during the Fall 2006- Summer 2007, and international students studying at A&D.

September 7th – October 5th
Jean Paul Slusser Gallery, 2000 Bonisteel Blvd.
Opening Reception: Friday, September 7 6:00-9:00pm

This week I have been working on an idea for a new woodblock print.

My inspiration comes from this color woodcut entitled Blue Gums by William Seltzer Rice – Elvehjem Museum of Art (photo from in the book American Color Woodcuts: Bounty From the Block, 1890s-1900s).
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I had taken this photograph of a tree sometime ago with the intention of using it as reference for an artwork. I felt that this tree might be able to come to life using a technique similar to that used to create Blue Gums.
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I worked out this image in colored pencil, but it looked too similar to the Blue Gums piece.
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I tried experimenting with the clouds . . .
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I liked this experiment best. It was done in watercolor to simulate the overlapping colors in a reduction block print. I will need to further experiment with printing gradations before I can make it work as a woodblock print.
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