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.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Four Cats (Finished Book)

 Here is the third, finished book  to  submit it to Ritual. The entire sheet of paper is 11" x 17" making each page when folded 4.25" x 5.5". Each printed image is 3" x 4". They are all white line woodcuts which means the lines were carved in a wood block and then each raised shape was painted with watercolors. I printed each by spritzing the entire painted block with water and then rubbing it onto the paper with a wooden spoon. It took approximately 10 hours to draw and carve all eight images, and another 3 and a half hours to print a single book. 

The first photo here is the front and back covers. Next are the following three double-page spreads. And the last photograph is of the entire single sheet of paper unfolded. 

The subject for this book is in fact my four pet cats, Aubrey, Horatio, Sasquatch, and Kubaba, and all of the drawings are from photographs I took of them around the house. 

Together, apart...

begging, glaring...

peeking, crouching.

"Feeding Time" (proof)

This is a proof of the back cover of the third and final single sheet book  I plan to  submit it to the exhibition Ritual. The image is 3" x 4" and a white line woodcut. This means that the lines are carved out of the block and then I paint in all the raised areas with watercolors. (The second photo is of the block after I printed from it.) Traditionally white line woodcuts are printed shape by shape. But that process is impractical for the printing of this book, so I'm trying another method which I read about on this post of printmaker Viza Arlington's blog. It involves painting the whole block first and letting it dry, then spraying it with a mist of water to reconstitute the paint for printing. Arlington used a press in her post (she was doing a large edition for a fundraiser), but since I'm only doing one-offs and small editions and I don't have a press in my studio, I'm using wooden spoons and elbow grease to print these kitties. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In My Yard (Finished Book)

I finished the second of three single-sheet, 8-page books which I plan to  submit it to the exhibition Ritual

The whole sheet of paper measures 11" x 15", so when it is folded each page measures 3.75" x 5.5". It is printed on 120 lb watercolor paper. Each image is printed from a carved wood block with oil-based black ink and then hand colored with watercolors (see below for what it looks like before being colored.) It took me 2 hours to print 2 books and another 2 hours to hand paint one of those books. 

In My Yard is also for sale on my Etsy store for $75. (Same price it will be at the exhibit.) 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In My Yard: "Ladybug"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)
For sale here. 

This is the seventh in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. This book will be submitted to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

My four-year-old daughter stopped to point out a little ladybug on a pumpkin on our porch this past October. I love the combination of the warm colors of autumn in this image. Again I played with the scale a bit to make it work, increasing the size of the ladybug. This will be the cover for the book; I deliberately left room at the bottom for the title. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In My Yard: "Cabbage White"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)
For sale here. 

This is the seventh in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. This book will be submitted to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

Nobody seems to get all that excited about these butterflies, I suppose because they are everywhere (at least in Philadelphia) and just plain white. But they are lovely, especially when they land on a brightly-colored flower that sets off their delicate, white wings. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In My Yard: "Bumble Bee"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image) 
For sale here. 

This is the sixth in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. This book will be submitted to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

I love the bees that the flowers in my garden attract. In addition to helping pollination, they keep the riffraff away. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In My Yard: "Painted Lady"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)
For sale here. 

This is the fifth in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. This book will be submitted to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

This is my second print of one of the painted lady butterflies that graced our garden all summer long. (Here's the first.) I like the more dramatic, sunburst composition and bright color of this one. I played with the scale a bit and made the butterfly a little bigger relative to the flower, and I enjoy how its placement in the center makes it almost seem as if the flower pedals are an extension of the butterfly's body 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In My Yard: "Leopard Slug"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)
For sale here. 

This is the fourth in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. This book will be submitted to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

We find leopard slugs all over our neighborhood. These slugs are really quite pretty (you know, for slugs). But they are an invasive species in this part of the country, so at one of the nature centers we go to we enjoy catching them and feeding them to the turtles. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In My Yard: "Summer Finch"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)
For sale here. 

This is the third in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. This book will be submitted to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

The first summer after we bought our current home I planted a forest of sunflowers in the front yard (see below photo.) I wanted to make my mark on the block. The result was that finches who resided in the large tree across the street began regularly feeding on the sunflower seeds. It was delightful to hang out on my front porch and watch these brightly-colored birds (American goldfinches turn yellow during the summer) fly back and forth and nimbly perch on the thick stems of my ten foot high flower garden. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Scarlett" (Finished Book)

I finished the first of three single-sheet, 8-page books which I plan to  submit it to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. I have some from this limited edition of only 6 for sale also on my Etsy Store, click here. I'm definitely going to keep one with the idea that I might scan it in the future and make high quality reproductions which could be sold much cheaper. 

The whole sheet of paper measures 10" x 17", so when it is folded each page measures 4.25" x 5". It is printed on white Subi paper. The images are created entirely of hand-carved, hand-printed woodblock prints. The whole thing took about 32 hours of work over 9 days. 

Front Cover

Pages 2 and 3

Pages 4 and 5

Pages 6 and 7
Back Cover

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Proof of "Scarlett"

This is a little 4" x 4" color woodcut I made using four blocks. My intention is to make a small book with 6 different versions (using the same blocks but different colors) and submit it to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. I printed this proof so I could get a better sense of what I have and can decide what colors I should use for the 6 different versions. The title is because this is meant to depict a little screech owl named "Scarlett" who was rescued (she is blind in one eye) and is kept and used for educational shows at the Briar Bush Nature Center.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Butterflies in Black and White (Student Work)

These are three images printed from woodblocks carved by middle school students enrolled in SNAP through the Wagner Free Institute for Science. I've been working with kids doing the visual art component of the program, after school at Meade Elementary. It was only a 6 week session, and I worked with the kids for a total of 6 hours. Not a lot of time to teach kids how to carve and print wood blocks. When these three kids didn't make it to class the day of printing, I just had to print them myself to see what they looked like on paper. So glad I did. These are some pretty freaky-awesome butterflies!

In My Yard: "Garden Spider"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)

This is the second in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. The idea is to submit it to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia. 

I think I found a nice balance between light and dark in this one. A bit busy and lots of chaotic texture to give the sense of having to focus and squint to see the spider and web, but she is still clearly there, being highlighted by her yellow, striped legs. My favorite part is how the silhouette of leaves in the bottom left quadrant suggest a shadow cast by the spider. 

Happy Halloween! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Joshua Green's "Bats"

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of Joshua Green's work can be viewed at his website Subjective Designs.

One bat with huge ears like a rabbit seems to scream as it flies. The second bat, furry like a rat, hangs upside down with his wings out, as if startled by his companion. Their long, skeletal fingers bend and curve like branches, and the webs in between them twist and wrinkle like bark. The sky is made busy with the movement of countless bits of debris, fog, small bugs, who knows what else. It is amazing that we even catch a glimpse of these winged rodents, much less a good, hard, and detailed look. But there they are, osculating, but clearly discernible. Oh, these creatures that  prowl in the night and seem like myths, absurd chimeras only based on truths. But no, these beasties are real!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Self Portrait" by Oscar Guajardo

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More or Oscar Guajardo's work can be viewed on his Etsy store.

We all feel this way
Sometimes, and if we're lucky
The fire quickly dies.

Monday, October 28, 2013

In My Yard: "Millipede in Hand"

Black ink with hand coloring with watercolors
3" x 4" (image)

This is the first in a series for a single sheet handmade book called In My Yard. The idea is to submit it (and hopefully 2 others) to the exhibition Ritual taking place in December in Philadelphia.

I like that it looks like a child's hand, not only in relation to the size of the millipede, but in the finger proportions. And I mostly like that the lines to mark certain shadows in the fingers mirror the segments of the millipede. The color here is too orange. Needs more pink. But this was just a tester. In fact, some of the black ink bled because I printed this proof in water-based ink and then watercolored over it. I'll do the final version with oil based ink.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Companions" by Paul Kidder

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of Paul Kidder's prints can be viewed at the Etsy store KG Crafts, where he sells his work alongside that of Katie Galbraith.

Sitting together to stay warm. You are right here - my tail encircles you, my blackness embossed by your snowy pelt - but I am distant. I am gazing in the same direction that my whiskers, paw, and tail reach. I am obsessed with something which has nothing to do with you. You, sleeping so content and oblivious to my state of mind. Yet I am strengthened by the heat of your body, calmed by the vibrations of your purr. I am not thinking of you, and yet your presence has caused me to hesitate. Despite the heat we create, I am frozen, entranced by the object of my obsession, and anchored down by intimacy.