Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Ai" from Hiroshige's set of "large fishes"

 This past weekend I went to a flea market at the Awbury Arboretum and had the good fortune to come across a book titled Hiroshige: A Shoal of Fishes for only $2. It's a modest-sized accordion style book that contains reproductions (each image covers a 15" x 10.5" double-page spread) of twenty woodcuts from Hiroshige's first of two sets of fish. In the back of the book is the list of titles, suggested seasons represented in each image by the plants included or animals' behavior, and the poem which accompanies the image. The poem for this print is translated:

While the noisy autumn rain falls
     on the river
the trout swim in the shadows

It's definitely not Hiroshige's most earth-shattering work, but the reproductions are very good, and it is a real treat to be able to leaf through a complete set of related images that possess all of the tiny details and imperfections of the originals. Also interesting to go online and find different color variations on the same prints. This image (above) of trout didn't make me think of trout swimming downstream. It's hard to say why - they just seemed too blue. Blue makes me think of the ocean, sharks and whales. With trout and streams I think more about greens and browns, pebbles and plants.

This second variation is my favorite of all the ones I found online. The contrast between the color of the trout and the water make me feel that the trout are moving especially fast, just slicing through the water. The water seems still cool, but not as cold as in the above image. The golden trout seem both regal and ghostly. I also find the subtle wood grain in the background stunning.

If anyone else out there reading this is interested in the book, I see plenty of used copies on Amazon for as little as $7.95, and new copies for as little as $35.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Swallows and Poppies" by Matt Underwood

Learn more about the stunning work of Matt Underwood at his website.

The interacting colors so playfully describe the light. Orange halos and dabs of red lunge forward and purple sinks, while green and blue stand a little straighter. A cool grey whispers from even farther beyond. Here is an economical arrangement of organic shapes. The bird at the top directs my eye into the scene. My gaze is gently caught by the highest flower, then zig-zags downward like a pinball, where it swoops across the back of another bird, and it shot back up toward the orangest flower. I rest a moment in the serene green rectangle in the right, top quadrant, then return to the action. I feel there must be a breeze because this garden is full of movement.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Watching Seagulls"

4" x 4" inches (image)
7 layer reduction
Oil-based inks on white paper

She's watching seagulls
Soar in circles round the sky,
Her face bathed in light.

This is a portrait of my younger daughter. I don't know what I think of it right now. Too soon after making it I suppose. I'll have to put it away and look at it with fresh eyes later.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Dreams of Strawberries" (Millipede)

Woodcut reduction (6 layers of color), 4" x 4".
Available for purchase here. 

My daughter has pet millipedes. Most people (adults and children alike) have an "ew" reaction when she pulls them out, but she thinks they are cute. I think they are cute too. They have little faces, it tickles when they crawl on us, and when they are frightened, instead of biting or stinging or even crawling away at an alarmingly fast pace, they curl up like a little shell. I wanted to make a print of a millipede that was cheerful and pretty. I think this works.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Painted Lady Butterfly" (color)

Here's the hand-colored version of yesterday's print. Every time I do a black and white print and then hand color it I feel like it would be better if it was a color print with no or hardly any pure black in it. Something about it feels flat and kind of dirty. Right now I'm also working on a little 6 color reduction of a millipede. Will post that tomorrow.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Painted Lady Butterfly"

This whole school year I'll be teaching woodcut printmaking to middle schoolers in Philadelphia through the Wagner Free Institute for Science's SNAP after school program. Specifically, the kids will be making small woodcuts of insects.

In preparation, I made this little 4x4 inch woodcut of one of the painted lady butterflies that keeps hanging out in my front yard. I picked the image, drew it on the block, carved it, and printed it in an edition of 4 all in the span of 2 hours today. I did this just to see how fast I could do it, because if I can't do it in a couple hours, the kids won't be able to do it in the total 5 hours they'll have allotted to them.

I am reminded of some wise words from a fellow teaching artist who worked with me at the Mural Arts Program. He said that if we were asking the kids to do something creative that might take us a long time, the kids would do it in 2 minutes. But that if it was something technical that took us 5 minutes it would take the kids at least a half hour. The more creative part of this that would have normally taken me a long time is the thinking through the image itself and then drawing it. So instead I just cropped a section of a photograph I took and copied it onto the block, which took about half an hour. The kids will have an hour for that part. The actual carving and printing (the technical part) took about an hour and a half, so it might be pushing it to expect the kids to be able to do that part in just 4 hours, but if I keep them focused and help the more meticulous students, I think we can pull it off.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"Bathing Beauty" by Maekawa Senpan

The room she occupies is sturdy and small, yet made airy with light hues and tall ceilings.This stark but lovely image harmonizes the organic and geometric. Lines of floor boards, wall panels, and beams form patterns that recede in a predictable manner. And yet the subtle textures of wood grain and unevenly applied ink along with the curves in the woman's body and water ripples breath life into the picture.

I hear the sound of the water flowing and smell the scent of pine. The woman's isolation is downplayed by her skin colored the same warm, washed-out hue as the bare wood  of the room. Instead of being the main focus of the scene, her presence is part of a particular location and moment. She sits on the edge of a tub, her legs submerged in water, and appears as firmly planted as a tree. The tub is set into the floor and perfectly square. Squares often symbolize plains, fields, and the earth itself. Natural light from a narrow window is brightly reflected in the pool. The bather sits opposite to the window, sitting up straight and facing the only source of light. It is as if she is in a shrine, facing an altar. The window, or perhaps what lies beyond it would be the object of worship. Though this image depicts an interior scene, I feel that it is about what is outside.