Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Rabe im Landeanflug" by Hans Neumann

Raven swoops into a day of rich, yet muted color.
The amoebic sky drifts above calm, grey waters.
Sunlight wanes and turns rocky cliffs to moldy cheddar,
Green earth to a parched ghost town.
Head low, Raven's eyes fix upon some seeds, carcass, 
Or lonely traveler.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

White Line Woodcuts by Middle Schoolers

I did an Teaching Artist residency at Solis Cohen Elementary School this fall through the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Delphi Art Partners program. I taught white line woodcuts to one class; they made woodcuts of leaves on small blocks of Shina plywood. Here is a sampling of the lovely results.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Mount Rainier in Winter" by Yoshida Tōshi

Yoshida Tōshi was the son of another noteworthy Japanese printmaker, Hiroshi Yoshida. I wrote about two of the father's prints early this year: Above the Clouds and Goshikibara.

This is a quiet, stately work with muted colors. I stand at attention and listen. The wind is barely audible. The potential for catastrophe is palpable. Maybe an avalanche, or terrible freeze. I cannot muster any fear of it, for what purpose would fear of a sudden downpour cause in a butterfly flying freely across a wide open field? Majesty is always before us, death, always just behind.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Turtle Collographs By My 5-Year-Old

 My daughter was hanging out in my studio today while I was printing some proofs. She wanted to do some printing. Usually I just give her one of my old blocks to play around with. But I had a pile of cut up cardboard and I've been doing collographs with middles schoolers lately, so I had her make her own plate to print from.

She drew a turtle on a piece of cardboard, and I cut it out and taped it to another piece of cardboard. I'm pretty impressed with how well proportioned the little guy is - see the head, tail, large claws in the front and two smaller claws in the back? He's obviously some kind of aquatic turtle.

She printed with magenta and black water-based block printing ink. One of the prints turned out all faded (the ink was drying) so she drew all over with pastel pencils and markers to make it look like he was a shadow swimming under the water.

I really like these, and I think I might make the print for my next print trade based on these.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Screen Print Studies of Nautilus and Ammonite

I spent another weekend with C. W. Brooks in their studio at the University of Maryland. This time they talked me into trying something new: screen printing! The process is so antithetical to what I normally do with woodcuts. No laborious carving, no grain to battle against or yield to, no splinters - bah.

Just to get started, I made two studies comparing one of my beloved, extinct ammonites to one of its living cousins, a nautilus. I want to eventually develop them into characters for a picture book (that's all I'm sharing about that right now.)

If I go back and try more screen printing, I'll probably attempt some landscapes. Those flat fields of color produced by the process just seem so far away. Another thought I had was to look at a lot of prints and wall hangings by Inuit artists because their unique ways of depicting figures in space lends itself well to screen printing.

Brooks was also screen printing. They look good in blue.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


I made this for yet another exchange, the 5th Annual Day 2 Day Print Exchange. It's yet another ammonite fossil. I had fun making this print for the last exchange, and wanted to do another on black paper with white ink. I tried to loosen up the linework and make it look a little more like a soft organ, as if this thing that is only a fragment of a creature long-dead somehow has renewed life (hence the title.) 

This image is 3" x 4" and the paper is 6" x 9". It is printed in white, oil-based ink on black, Stonehenge paper. So far I made 1 edition of 14. 

"Writing stories was not easy. When they were turned into words , projects withered on the paper and ideas and images failed. How to reanimate them? Fortunately, the masters were there, teachers to learn from and examples to follow. Flaubert taught me that talent is unyielding discipline and long patience ." -Mario Vargas Llosa 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Water Shake" by Leslie Evans

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More prints by Leslie Evans can be viewed and purchased at Sea Dog Press

A moment comes, when burdened by so much precipitation, action is taken. Muscles engage and send the body into so much convulsion that the weight of wetness is driven out in all directions. In the center of the sailing mists emerges the silhouette of a being reborn.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Late Autumn" by Gordon Mortensen

Yesterday we had our first snow of the season, so it's a white Thanksgiving. Even though winter is my favorite season, I always get a melancholy feeling this time of year because the autumn foliage is so beautiful, but now the leaves are turning the color of mud, then falling to the ground, getting mashed up, and literally turning into mud.

Before winter is officially upon us here in Pennsylvania, here's one of Gordon Mortensen's woodcut reductions. Mortensen's prints are jaw-droppingly amazing in terms of the technical challenges; he often does dozens of layers of color and spends months making a single edition. For me, the result of his painstaking process is that his images of nature seem utterly frozen. Otherwise fleeting moments, here preserved for all time.

If you want to learn more about Mortensen and find his limited edition prints for sale, here's a link to his profile at Davidson Galleries.

I am both drawn to and a little frightened of this place. Are there monsters lurking in the hazy, purple distance? Are there creepy crawlies teeming beneath the smattering of golden leaves? Do equally breathtaking wonders lies beyond the forest's edge, or perhaps there is nothing more than a brightly lit oblivion. What sounds would my steps make if I dare walk across? A crunch? A squoosh? Or eerie silence, as if I were a phantom in a world no longer my own? Like a cake in the bakery's display window, I desire a taste, but am loath to disturb its aesthetic perfection.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Collographs in Acrylic Paint on Canvas

I did these three studies (each is approximately 12" x 18", acrylic on unmounted canvas) as examples for a project students from Solis Cohen Elementary school are doing with me as a Visiting Artist-In-Residence.

They have already seen examples of my work and done collograph and white line woodcut printmaking in class, and now they are working on their big project, which will be a 21' x 9' wall hanging of a world atlas. The wall hanging is broken up into four equal panels. They are finishing up using the grid transfer method to draw a basic outline of the continents onto the four panels.

Next will be painting in the backgrounds with acrylic paint, making collograph stamps with imagery inspired by patterns found in artwork around the world.

For these three studies, I drew a grid (each square being 3" x 3") and drew the same shape (an ammonite, just because I like ammonites.) Then I painted in the background and foreground areas (the left and middle one I painted in solid colors, the third uses a two-tone checkerboard pattern.) I made four 3" x 3" collograph stamps using chipboard, yarn, and craft foam, and then printed them onto the canvas by painting on the acrylic paint with a brush and pressing the stamp onto the canvas firmly with my hands. To prevent the background and foreground prints from overlapping, I masked off areas by laying down paper before pressing down the stamp.

I also did black outlines for two and no outline for one just to see how it looked. The students' wall hanging should be finished before winter break, and I'll post an image of the final work to this blog at that time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Autumn Storm" by Ogata Gekkō

I first wrote about Ogata Gekkō in January of this year. If you are interested, check out that post where I wrote a bit about the artist's work and included links to relevant websites.

Descend, she must, even if it is against the wind. Dried up ginko leaves, carried up by the wind, make their assault, to no avail. This warm, orange glow is a deception; her bare feet press up against planks of wood that feel much cooler than they did yesterday. The fire is dying, the colors bleaching away. There is no time to lose. Ignore the fairy-ghosts that float through the air. It is time to prepare.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

White Line Woodcut Class at Allens Lane

Today I finished teaching a White Line Woodcuts workshop at the Allens Lane Art Center through the Mount Airy Learning Tree. It is the second time I've taught the workshop, although it might be the last, at least for a while. I do enjoy teaching the classes, but I have too much on my plate these days to continue for the time being.

This workshop was a nice way to go out. The people who took it were so ambitious; they each made more work than any other student who has taken this workshop with me previously, and one even brought in watercolor crayons for us all to experiment with. (The crayons added an interesting texture and allowed us to work more quickly.) This small group of people made some lovely pieces and were a joy to spend time with six hours over two Saturdays.

The last image displayed in this post is my own work, and the rest were done by four adult students enrolled in the workshop. The print of the person walking in the rain is a miniaturized copy from a white line woodcut by Mabel Hewitt. I include documentation of some of the painted blocks, as they are often stunning works of art in their own right.

If you want to learn more about the white line woodblock printmaking process, I recommend Jeanne Norman Chase's illustrated article found here and Viza Arlington's take on it found here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Midsummer" by Hung Liu

Last week I went to the Hung Liu exhibit at the La Salle University Art Museum (press announcement here). It was amazing to see the print Winter Blossom (that I wrote about last year) in person. The only other woodcut in the show was this portrait, which explains why I'm writing about a piece titled Midsummer in chilly November. (It also helps that the color scheme in this image reminds me more of autumn than summer, the pink blossoms notwithstanding). 

Her eyes smile, and she seems to know something, possess some leverage. Her face glows and peers through a veil of rain and whispers. Everything else fades like a ghost or dissolves like sugar, but her face remains solid, colorful, lively. A breathing statue. An immortal angel blowing us a kiss. 

Hung Liu says of her portraits such as this: 

"I am looking for the mythic pose beneath the historical figure -- and the painting beneath the photograph." 

If you want to see the show (and if you can, you should!) it's up until December 5th. 

Also, there is a bit more information about Liu's unique printmaking process for making a woodcut at Magnolia Editions, here

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Ammonite (Temple Ruins)"

Woodcut, 11.5" x 12" (image) 15" x 17" (paper), four layer reduction, oil based ink on white Stonehenge paper, limited edition of 2.

Walkin' to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly had a nice long toke
But he's a-heading west from the Cumberland gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
I gotta get a move on before the sun
I hear my baby calling my name and I know that she's the only one
And if I die in Raleigh at least I will die free

"Ammonite (Firebird)"

Woodcut, 11.5" x 12" (image) 15" x 17" (paper), four layer reduction, oil based ink on white Stonehenge paper, limited edition of 2.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
Like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue. 

-Pablo Neruda

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Ammonite (Rhythm of Slack and Supports)"

Woodcut, 11.5" x 12" (image) 15" x 17" (paper), four layer reduction, oil based ink on white Stonehenge paper, limited edition of 2.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

"Ammonite (Forebear's Ascent)"

Woodcut, 11.5" x 12" (image) 15" x 17" (paper), four layer reduction, oil based ink on white Stonehenge paper, limited edition of 2.

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”    

― Edward Whymper

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Ammonite Fossil"

I made this for a print exchange: [Baren] Exchange #62. The image is 4" x 4" and the paper is 6" x 6". It is printed in white, oil-based ink on black, Stonehenge paper. So far I made 2 editions, one of 30 for the exchange, and one of 4. All printed by hand with my trusty wooden spoon. So I'll be wearing my hand brace tonight.

I'm really stuck on making prints of ammonites lately. I keep going over it in my mind, and I've decided that there are three main reasons why ammonites are captivating my interests at the moment:

1. They are extinct. They died out during the same mass extinction as the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But obviously they aren't nearly as famous as the dinosaurs. Nonetheless, they were this whole category of animals that were incredibly plentiful and prolific, and they were wiped out. They were something beautiful and unique and very much alive, and now they are nothing more than impressions of shells. We don't even know what the soft parts of their bodies really looked like, and probably never will. Such a thing seems worth exploring, noting, and sharing with an audience.

2. When I look at fossils mainly found in museum collections, they are often fragments or pieces, and also often have scratch marks on or around them. I think about all the painstaking work scientists in the field have to do, carefully digging and then scratching around fossil in order to expose these precious pieces of the past. And it reminds me of what I do with my wood blocks; how I carefully carve out the impression of an image I have drawn, while deciding how much to let the knots and wood grain influence the final impression.

3. Ammonites are in a spiral shape, which is just, plain awesome. So many plants, animals, and other things found in nature, from spider webs to whole galaxies form spiral patterns. Spirals are both mathematical and lyrical. Bruce Nauman had the right idea.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Ammonite: Fissure"

Twelth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, burlap, lace, chipboard, and string. 

“What the fissure through which one sees disaster? The circle is unbroken; the harmony complete. Here is the central rhythm; here the common mainspring. I watch it expand, contract; and then expand again. Yet I am not included.” 

“Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more.”  

Both quotes from Virginia Woolf

"Ammonite: Atoms"

Eleventh in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, burlap, chipboard, bubble wrap, and string. 

"The television screen, so unlike the movie screen, sharply reduced human beings, revealed them as small, trivial, flat, in two banal dimensions, drained of color. Wasn't there something reassuring about it! -- that human beings were in fact merely images of a kind registered in one another's eyes and brains, phenomena composed of microscopic flickering dots like atoms. They were atoms -- nothing more. A quick switch of the dial and they disappeared and who could lament the loss?" -Joyce Carol Oates  

"Ammonite: Process of Elimination"

Tenth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, and string. 

"The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed--it is a process of elimination." -Elbert Hubbard 

"Ammonite: Filigree"

Ninth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, lace, and string. 

"Life is a filigree work... What is written clearly is not worth much; it's the transparency that counts." -Louis-Ferdinant Celine 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Ammonite: Smoke"

Eighth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, bubble wrap, and string. 

"Maybe it's like becoming one with the cigar. You lose yourself in it; everything fades away: your worries, your problems, your thoughts. They fade into the smoke, and the cigar and you are at peace." -Raul Julia

"Ammonite: Incompleteness in Absence"

Seventh in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, burlap, and string. 

"We are incomplete like a book in two volumes of which the first has been lost. That is what I imagine love to be: incompleteness in absence." -Edmond de Goncourt

"Ammonite: Orange Peel"

Sixth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, and string. 

"Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words 'for ever.' But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don't like doing it." -Marian Keyes

"Ammonite: Fault Lines"

Fifth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, burlap, and string.

"The defects and faults of the mind are like wounds in the body; after all imaginable care has been taken to heal them up, still there will be a scar left behind, and they are in continual danger of breaking the skin and bursting out again." -Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Ammonite" by Ieuan Edwards

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More linocuts by Edwards can be found at his website, The Black Gold Press.

The young man in this image is not smiling (his face is serious, even skull-like.) But I am. I know it's done from an old photo taken to show off, in terms of human scale, the tremendous size of this ammonite fossil. But the background print makes me think of old-fashioned wallpaper, and instantly I associate this image with a high school band geek in uniform being compelled (probably by his mother) to stand beside his sousaphone for a nice, family album photo.

And really, in the grand scheme of things, what is the difference between a bored teenager's sousaphone and the fossilized husk of a creature that went extinct millions of years before humans were even a whisper on the breeze of the African savanna?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"Celebration" by Bridget Mary Henry

Image posted with the permission of the artist. I first wrote about Henry's work in 2012Check out her website to see more of her work, including an amazing wheat paste installation.  

It is a grey and rainy day, and I need some seasonal color. In the words of Albert Camus that have stayed with me, "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."  

She jumps for joy, I know not why. But I suppose it is either pride over the accomplishment of amassing such an enormous heap of leaves, or the youthful exuberance enjoyed as one leaps into such a pile. The soles of her shoes are camouflaged against the scratched earth. Footless, she flies. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Ammonite: Wearing Away"

Fourth in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, and string. 

Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing away of oneself and an eventual extinction. -Jean Dubuffet 

"Ammonite: Shore"

Third in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, and string. 

The Nautilus and the Ammonite 

The nautilus and the ammonite
Were launched in friendly strife,
Each sent to float in its tiny boat
On the wide, wide sea of life.

For each could swim on the ocean's brim,
And, when wearied, its sail could furl,
And sink to sleep in the great sea-deep,
In its palace all of pearl.

And theirs was a bliss more fair than this
Which we taste in our colder clime;
For they were rife in a tropic life—
A brighter and better clime.

They swam 'mid isles whose summer smiles
Were dimmed by no alloy;
Whose groves were palm, whose air was balm,
And life one only joy.

They sailed all day through creek and bay,
And traversed the ocean deep;

And at night they sank on a coral bank,
In its fairy bowers to sleep.

And the monsters vast of ages past
They beheld in their ocean caves;
They saw them ride in their power and pride,
And sink in their deep-sea graves.

And hand in hand, from strand to strand,
They sailed in mirth and glee;
These fairy shells, with their crystal cells,
Twin sisters of the sea.

And they came at last to a sea long past,
But as they reached its shore,
The Almighty's breath spoke out in death,
And the ammonite was no more.
So the nautilus now in its shelly prow,
As over the deep it strays,
Still seems to seek, in bay and creek,
Its companion of other days.

And alike do we, on life's stormy sea,
As we roam from shore to shore,
Thus tempest-tossed, seek the loved, the lost,
And find them on earth no more.

Yet the hope how sweet, again to meet,
As we look to a distant strand,
Where heart meets heart, and no more they part
Who meet in that better land.


"Ammonite: Maladjustments"

Second in a new series of collographs. Here's the first. The plate was made with cardboard, chipboard, string and burlap. 

Frank Lloyd Wright's inverted oatmeal dish and silo with their awkward cantilevering, their jaundiced skin and the ingenious spiral ramp leading down past the abstractions which mirror the tortured maladjustments of our time. -Robert Moses