Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Rolling a Snowball" by Utagawa Kuniteru

On this winter's day
Pink children run, shout, and laugh
Barefoot in the snow.

"Snow in the Countryside" by Kamisaka Sekka

Crunch, crunch, the snow on the ground is up past his ankles and more is tumbling down from the sky in a steady swarm. He leans in to the wind using a narrow walking stick for support. The trail behind him sweeps up and pushes him forward, but toward what? All in front seems a gray chasm. To make this journey is to be consumed by the frozen moment, like an animal driven by instinct, with no memory of the past or thoughts of the future. In seeking cover from the elements, he becomes anonymous - a human being reduced to solid planes of black and white. We think we have choices, when truly we're at the mercy of forces greater than we can comprehend. And yet we struggle. We trudge on.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"View from Interstate 83" by Robert Patierno

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of Robert Patierno's work can be found at his website. 

Wood and metal beams, wires, pointed roofs, and uneven shafts of light have sliced up what would otherwise be an inviting view of gently rolling, moonlit hills under a star-speckled sky. The electric pulse that powers the artificial light hums like the motor of our car. The street lamp's glow competes with that of the moon, though only the lamp confuses moths and other flying insects, luring them to their doom. Three birds on a wire, another three on a lamp are echoed by three crosses on a distant hill. A couple birds take flight as two missals soar. Nature is mirrored by death and destruction as if it has gazed into some sort of fun house mirror. Zooming by, I see all and remain unmoved. After all, I've become accustomed to executions and forgotten the beauty of stars.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Winter in Aizu" by Kiyoshi Saito

It is a tremendously cold day. The sky is grey and overcast, so there will be no shining reprieve from the sun. The closest structure bulges like the bow of a ship stuck in a frozen sea. Bare, black tree branches wearing white stripes of snow curl and reach, then flop over, weary from exertion. Icicles line the roofs like rows of predatory teeth. And while the landscape is layered - mountains, buildings, trees, snow-covered ground - the people seem to almost live in a two dimensional world; a wide, flat man trudges across the scene while two stick-figures moving away slip into the cracks of their own silhouettes. Anything to get away from this cold, bleak, motionless scene.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"The Memory Inside Bone" by Joshua Norton

Image posted with the permission of the artist. Since I last wrote about one of Joshua Norton's works, he's completed a residency at the MN Center for Book Arts where he created some wonderfully creepy screenprint popout constructions. He's also featured in the newly published book Low Tech Print. Check out his work on his website here.

This cyclops eye is my gift to you. A memento of what we once shared. Do not cry for me, for my history is spread out like a coded tapestry lined with tentacle tusks and embroidered with layers of sediment. It got pretty complicated there toward the end, but when we boil it down, it gets pretty basic. Basic as primary colors. Basic as a handful of particles. Ooo, ouch, but the blood is still pouring out from where that spear struck, and I gotta go. The next Ice Age is on the horizon. Take my hide and keep warm.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"The Dancing Queen" by Seong Moy

There's a big, ol' toad
(ribbit, ribbit)
Sitting between the
Twirling grasshopper and
Dancing Queen with
Long, blonde hair, in a
Short, red dress, and
He's smiling.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Warm and Green Horse" by Alisha Houtchens

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of Alisha Houtchens's work can be viewed and purchased on her Etsy store

As it is freezing cold, I inch closer and closer to the fire to get warm. But my muscles tense as it crackles and spits. The flames form the face of a horse - a once wild beast that we have domesticated, dominated, put to our own use. Horses were the companions of history's greatest conquerors. Depictions of their muscular form can be found in every art museum. The Houyhnhnms, or "perfection of nature" from Gulliver's Travels take the form of these noble creatures. 

If I get too close in the wrong way to a horse, I'm liable to be kicked, just as I could be burned by this fire. If I get kicked, it will be my own fault, for I, unlike him, have made the decision to be here. 

A light in the darkness is always welcome. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Joyce Wan's Wonderfully Deceptive Digital Illustrations

Click to enlarge the photo and more clearly see the
wood grain texture in the sky, water, and flowers.
This week I pulled a picture book off the shelf in the children's section of the library that I felt convinced was made with woodcuts. It was Frog & Friends, a board book for toddlers from Joyce Wan's What Am I? series.

In an interview with Brianna's Book Stop, Joyce Wan talks about Frog & Friends and her other new release, Owl & Friends. Answering the very first question, the artist speaks of her love of wood textures, and explains the process by which she created the wood grain texture in these books:
The textures were created by scanning actual wood and then incorporated into the art using Photoshop.

What am I, indeed! The whole thing was created digitally! Welcome to the new age. And I don't mean that in any anti-digital, sarcastic way. Regardless of how Wan achieved it, I am enthralled by the results.

The wood grain texture in Frog & Friends takes these pictures to a level beyond the perfect geometric shapes and clean lines. Without the textures and the play they introduce between geometric and organic elements, these illustrations would strike me as pretty, but lifeless. The role the wood texture plays in these adorable pictures is why I bothered to check the book out, and why I enjoy reading it to my two-year-old.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Five Books to Share the Magic of Woodcuts With a Child

 Many woodcut and linocut artists have illustrated children's picture books. These books are a wonderful way to introduce children to this medium, with its irregular marks, visual economy, and flat shapes of color combined with surface textures that seem tactile. Jil Casey gives a good sampling of picture books illustrated with woodcuts on her blog The Art of Children's Picture Books. Today I'll focus on five of my favorite picture books that incorporate woodcuts or linocuts.

First up, Stephen Huneck's Sally's Snow Adventure. Huneck was a self-taught folk artist. He wrote and illustrated a total of seven children's picture books featuring his black lab Sally. Currently the Stephen Huneck online store is having a 35% off sale.

I own and love all the Sally books, but I'm in the mood to write about this one because outside my window the street, houses, cars, and trees are covered with a blanket of newly fallen snow.  Snow simplifies the landscape. It emphasizes the shapes and colors of that which is still visible after it has concealed all else. Stephen Huneck's prints are like a snow-covered landscape, clean and simplified. He gives us everything we need to understand, and no more. And a little dog-lover's humor to boot.

Margaret Chodos-Irvine has illustrated many picture books with her bright and cheery linocuts. Browsing the shelves at the local library, I discovered Ella Sarah Gets Dressed, a Caldecott Honor book. The story was about a little girl who, like many small children, wants to pick out her own clothing, regardless of the opinions of her parents and older siblings. The images of this headstrong girl are bold and lyrical, and almost tumble off the page. As I read, the curvy gestures of all the characters swung and bounced my eyes around the pages like a leaf in the wind. Occasional patterns, some subtle, some whimsical, added depth and humor. Before long I was searching on Google, hoping for more. There are several more books illustrated with Chodos-Irvine's distinctive linocuts, listed here on Amazon.com. The artist herself has a website, online store, and regularly updated blog here.

I have quickly become a fan of Erin Stead, a newer arrival to the scene of picture book illustration. Stead made a big splash right away, earning the 2011 Caldedott Award for her first book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee (authored by her husband Phillip Stead.) For this work, Stead printed the color shapes with wood blocks, then added outlines, shading and more details with pencil. The result is an ethereal world where the most important people and objects zoom into focus, while other forms become flat and translucent, and others disappear into a white void. It is an exquisite and understated dance of color changes and surface textures. 
Since the success of her first book, Stead has been working away, publishing and then it's spring, Bear Has a Story to Tell, and if you want to see a whale. I've read my kids all these books, and what I find thrilling about seeing them in succession is that while Stead's overall style remains consistent, she's continuously experimenting with different media and creating subtle changes in the surface of the flat, printed areas of color. When she works with linoleum instead of wood in if you want to see a whale, she still applies the ink in a manner that emphasizes the speckled surface, and thus effectively alludes to both the depth of the sea and the elusiveness of finding something rare. In Bear Has a Story to Tell, the colors are painted and so not only are more variations of color in the autumn leaves achieved, different brush strokes produce even more variety of textures. I simply can't get enough of this artist's work, and I can't wait to see what she publishes next. 

Kazuno Kohara has authored and illustrated a handful of picture books with her cheerfully stylized linocuts. As with Sally's Snow Adventure, I'm featuring the one that fits best with winter, in this case, Here Comes Jack Frost. Kohara's images are limited to 2-3 colors, (including the color of the paper), although in Here Comes Jack Frost she uses a gradation of blues to describe the cold, wintery outside. The weather is further described by swirling ribbons of wind, splatters of snow, a spattering of oversized snowflakes, and stick figure trees. The characters - a boy, his dog, and Jack Frost - are sprightly and iconic. The boy in this story could be any boy, just as the girl in Ghosts in the House! could be any girl. I have a large, hard-cover copy of this gem, and delight in sitting my girls in my lap to read it. Especially on days such as today. 

I first wrote about John Lawrence's work in this post. I have since read This Little Chick to my toddler countless times, and as she giggles at the chick who learns to speak in cow and duck and sheep, I delight in the dazzling array of busy textures: not only woodgrain, but speckles, spirals, and zigzags. And so many stripes! Feathery stripes, grassy stripes, jagged stripes, and more! Lawrence's use of color is so subtle and sophisticated, I feel like I'm in a flower garden in spring.

It's worth explicitly noting that picture books are not just for children. The prolific woodcut printmaker Mary Azarian, for example, has illustrated many picture books suitable for or even aimed at an adult audience.

We can't all afford to cover the walls of our homes with original artwork, but picture books enable us to possess little galleries right in our homes for relatively little money.

Have I persuaded you? Will you go out (or online) right now and purchase a little gallery for a child in your life (or an adult, or yourself) today? I hope so. After all, we artists need to eat, too.

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Angora Cat" by Norbertine von Bresslern-Roth

She is perched on a grey wave of fabric. Her feather duster tail follows the arch of a bulging pillow. Tufts of fur the color of vanilla ice cream lazily lean in this and that direction, resembling overgrown grass. Her pale form stands out from the dark corner like bio-luminescent sea urchin.

Something has caught her attention. The eyes of the predator are sharp, focused. Do not let this luxurious coat fool or distract you. She is more than fluff.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Invitation to Ritual

Here's the info for the exhibition Ritual, for which I created three single sheet books: Scarlett, In My Yard, and Four Cats. Check out the online catalog for the show to see all the submissions by clicking here. 
110 CHURCH gallery invites you to retreat from the cold into our gallery, transformed into a reading room. Be surrounded by stories, engulfed by pages, dazzled by over two hundred books. Books on shelves. Books on tables. Books hanging. Walls covered with books on display. Take books down, curl up and read. Fall in love with a book, buy it, and take it home.
Each of these books has been constructed from a single-sheet surface that is no larger than 11 x 17 inches. Over one hundred artists submitted books, addressing the theme: ritual.
RiTUAL. A ceremonial act ~ Rites used in the course of worship ~ The performance of ceremonial acts ~ The prescribed form of conducting the ceremony ~ A method of procedure that is followed without variation ~ performance with gestures, words, and objects, often in a sequestered place.
Pricing: $20, $75, $250 or free.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
3 - 6 pm
Friday, December 6, 2013 through
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Friday, December 6, 2013
Friday, January 3, 2014
5 - 8 pm

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Last Leaves of Autumn" by Viza Arlington

Image posted with the permission of the artist. Click here for links to Viza Arlington's blog and Etsy store.

Someone says the word winter, and we think of snow. But snow - oh lovely snow, bright, airy, and playful! - is not a constant presence everywhere there is winter. Often it's just cold and dry and bleak. The trees stand naked, and I desire to run out to the discount store to buy them some fleece blankets, or if I'm truly devoted, knit them sweaters. On such winter days I yearn for nature's dazzling cover of snow.

A month ago, to look at trees was to be enthralled by a towering spectacle of color. Now, as autumn wanes, I watch the trees strip down, day by day a little more exposed. Some are already leafless, scrawny, and embittered by their shame. Beside them stand the hopeless diehards. Their spattering of cheery reds and other warm hues against an ice-blue sky are like the last bite of the most moist, rich, and fragrant chocolate cake I've ever enjoyed. Savor it, pay the bill, then walk away.