Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Unbound Book Project

In this project, I’ve taken snippets out of my favorite essays that I’ve written over the past ten years that I've been writing, and coupled them with some of my favorite woodcuts. You might recognize some of the snippets from essays that have been published here or there in magazines and the web, but some of them are being released here for the first time.

I’ve taken this one step further, and have printed out the eight essay/prints onto heavy museum-grade parchment, and encased the set in a folio that I made myself out of hand-made papers. You can preview some of the pages on the Trout Lily Studios website.

As I'm building these one at a time, I won't have them for sale on the website, but if you're interested in purchasing one, let me know. My plans are to experiment with different materials, and to expand the number of essay/prints as I figure out just the right piece of essay for each image.

2009 Creative Drive

Trout Lily Studios will again be a stop on the 2009 Creative Drive, May 2 & 3, from 10am - 5 pm each day. The Creative Drive is a driving tour featuring the work of over 40 artists located at 6 different sites in the rural heart of Western Wisconsin.

(click to enlarge/print)

At Trout Lily Studios, I'll have my latest work from last fall and winter on display. It was a good printing year, and there are lots of new prints to show. We've printed out a bunch of Sophie's drawings, and are excited to have on hand several posters and smaller sized prints featuring her work. And we'll have on hand a large assortment of our popular greeting cards.
We're also very excited to announce that Al at the River Chocolate Company has once again agreed to display some of their fine, fine chocolates for folks to sample and purchse. We'll have a few home made wines and terrific cheeses on hand, too. We wouldn't want to risk anyone going thirsty or hungry.
It's the regular Wisconsin fishing opener, and we're right around the corner from the Rush River - make sure you bring your flyrod along. What could be better? See what's new at the studio, pick up a gift or two, eat some award winning chocolate, wash it down with a little black currant port, and THEN GO FISHING!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Butterflies...

Some more butterfly and moth images:

Acreae Moth

Laure Butterfly

Lobe-Winged Butterflies

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Small, Quiet Place; a multiple-block print

This is an artists proof, done entirely in the ukiyo-e method of Japanese woodblock printing. Each color field is printed from individually carved wood blocks. The blocks are hand-inked with brushes using water-based pigment inks; gradations are rubbed by hand.
It all starts with what's called a "keyblock": the prints black outline(s) are carved into a smooth block of hard maple (in this case, left over ends of stair treds.) Prints are made from the keyblock onto thin, strong "Gampi" paper, and transferred to each anticipated color block.

Several "Artists Proofs" are run after each color/block so fine adjustments can be made to the individual blocks before the actual print run.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reduction Process "How-its-Done": Dragonfly Print

One of the most asked questions I receive from folks is "How is this done?" The reduction woodcut process allows the printmaker to print as many colors as he/she wishes, yet only uses one block to print all the colors from. Quickly described, the reduction process sounds like a confused, intimidating mess of random carving and printing. Yet it is easily understood, and the results can be like nothing else.

This print is from a photo I took last spring of a dragon fly just hatched from it's nymphal stage, sunning itself on a rock, slowly turning into an adult. It's a striking animal - it has the body and legs of a nymph and the wings and head of an adult:

(Printed on Masa paper with Faust Aqualine ink)

After transferring the image to the block, I printed the light yellow first. I choose this as my background color; my lightest color. All the other color layers will be printed over this.

I then carved out EVERYTHING I wanted left light yellow.

I then went and printed the whole block light blue. By the time I hit black, my registration is going to be off just a little bit, but that's OK - the light blue (hopefully) will give a sense of transparency to the wings and a sense of life to the print as it peeks out here and there (that's the plan, anyway...)

I then carved out EVERYTHING I wanted left light blue.

The bug had these plum colored tail "plates", along with purplish highlights on it's body. Since I want only blue highlights in the wings, I used a narrow breyer to ink up the body.

I then repeated the carve/print/carve/print process until I printed my last color: black.
The finished print:

A Piece of Wood

It's not really much to look at. A little bit too big to call a stick, but not quite big enough to call a log, the piece of wood is a more or less straight, 8 inches long by about an inch in diameter. Black on one end, fading to gray on the other, it's splotched here and there with an ocher colored mud.

It smells funny, too.

I pulled it out of the bank of a small stream close to my home. This small stream runs through an open field, a former pasture that used to graze a herd of cattle. For what ever reason, the farmer who's land it is that the creek runs through got tired of grazing his cattle out there. The cattle went somewhere else, and all that's left now is the creek running through the open field.

I was there at the creek with my seven-year-old daughter. We had met a couple of friends of ours there, one a Habitat Biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the other his seasonal assistant. Together, we were waiting for more people to show up, all of whom were going to help out with a restoration project that still another friend had organized. The project centered on restoring this stream, subject to a century of non-existent land management practices, to a point where it's wild brook trout would be able to not only survive, but reproduce, as well. Shocking surveys indicated that only a very few of the small char lived in the cold, clear water; the streams sediment load allowed only the barest minimum of cover for the fish to survive.

While we were waiting, my friend caught me up on the details of the project. He showed me where the wooden "lunkers" had been placed; basically a large wooden pallet, a lunker is placed along the bank of a stream, under the water. Rock is piled on top of the structure, and dirt is bulldozed over that. Seeded with grass, it eventually becomes a cut-bank, accomplishing a number of things all at once. The wooden structure becomes home to many types of fish, both trout and other species. The once collapsing banks are now stabilized with turf-covered rock, and the now narrowed stream, swifter and colder than before, is now better able to scour down to its original gravel beds.

My friend, the biologist, mentioned that he had pulled a very interesting piece of wood out of the sediment making up the banks of the river, down underneath the water.

"I've sent it in to be Carbon 14 dated, but I'm pretty sure it's between 4 and 8 thousand years old," he said.

Come again?

"There a bunch of it down here - here, let me show you." We walked over to the bank, and he pointed down to the edge of the stream. Sticking out of the bank under the water was a snag of wood. I stumbled down to it and pointed a questioning finger at it.

"Yeah, that's one of them. They're all over down through there," he replied. My friend went on to explain how you could tell the ancient lumbers approximate age by the angle and depth of the woods deposition. Below the agricultural runoff of the previous century lay the former stream bank. Below this lay gravel and fine grained, wind blown loess clay beds deposited by the glaciers. Sticking out of this was an ugly piece of wood, a little bit too big to call a stick, but not quite big enough to call a log.

As I grabbed hold and pulled the stinking, mud-covered branch out of the bank, my imagination swam with the possibilities...

By its appearance, it was one of the primary branches from a large evergreen, perhaps either a hemlock or a spruce. It is almost certain that the tree provided shade and cover to a wide range of animal life: 1,000 years ago bear, carnivorous cats, rodents and ungulates such as deer, elk, moose and woodland caribou prowled the Wisconsin woods. If the piece of wood turns out to be truly ancient, that is, 6,000 to 8,000 years old, then it's quite possible that maybe a wooly rhinoceros or even a mammoth had browsed along it's branches.

The tree might have shaded this same creek, and while it's almost certain that this little river was running then as it is now in this general area, it is anybodies guess where exactly the stream bed lay that long ago. It would take a major excavation of the entire area to figure that out, and that isn't the point of this project. But if this was the streams original bed, brook trout were here. It would be something like a poem to say that the fish flashing beneath our feet were ancestors of Pleistocene brookies, but that is probably not the case: most of Wisconsin's brookies, except in a few rare cases, came decades ago from Maine, brought here after the original stocks were choked out of Wisconsin's streams by logging and agricultural runoff.

If the branch turns out to be not quite as old as we hope, the possibilities still remain amazing. Perhaps the tree this branch came from sheltered some of the earliest Wisconsinites. I watched my dark haired daughter playing in the creek; I could imagine a similar daughter 2,000 years ago, playing under the majestic evergreen that my stick came from. Kneeling at the base of the tree among its gnarled roots, she would have laughed into the shady, sunlit gloom as the babbling brook splashed her. Or maybe she gazed at an approaching thunderstorm from the tree, clinging to my branch as she worriedly watched the purple clouds build in the West, lightning walking the path of the primitive gods towards her and her families camp...

It's not really much to look at. A little bit too big to call a stick, but not quite big enough to call a log, it smells funny, too. But the story this branch tells is amazing; it's history as vast as the centuries.


The cool water rushing about my legs is a refreshing reward after slipping along the muggy, weed infested trail. Often out of sight beneath shoulder high grass and weeds, the path is oftentimes a mud-filled trench, worn into the stream bank by perhaps a hundred years worth of fishermen tramping up and down it's banks. A nasty fall is invariably prevented by grabbing at the closest thing available - a handful of nettles. Urtica dioica has been a permanent fixture in my fishing life, going back to the first painful encounter of the noxious weed grabbed as a child in pursuit of a fly fishing father.

I pause at a normal ford point along the stream. The physical act of kneeling down into the water and letting it flow about my legs and waist is sublime. As an excuse to stay put for a spell, I pick a small stone off the bottom and examine its occupants. Several mayfly nymphs scurry for cover amid the upright cones of caddis cases. Next to several frantic scuds, a dragon-like stonefly nymph suddenly moves, breaking his almost perfect camouflage. I put the stone back into its place carefully, lest anyone gets crushed.

Another length of hot, muddy trail. This time it opens into a friend's pasture; a welcome relief from the claustrophobic confines of the trail. A small rise separates me from the stretch of river I want to fish: a wide riffle that turns into a deep pool after taking a 90° turn against a bare limestone cliff.

I take a break: sip some water, sit, listen and watch the sliding river.

In the shimmering, golden light of late afternoon, I watch as the telltale signs of feeding trout unfold below me. From my viewpoint, a swirling mass of caddis appears at first to be a mist traveling over the water, the insects twirling a wild and crazy dance across the surface of the fast moving water. Golden brown flashes just below the surface of the water give away the trout's presence as they gorge on the emergent insects. My fly of choice is a non-descript bead headed olive nymph: fished on a swinging tight line drift, it imitates a wide array of aquatic insect life in its larval/nymphal/emergent forms.

A cast across, a sweeping drift down.

On the third cast my efforts are rewarded with a golden swirl and a suddenly taunt line. My fly line lunges violently, signaling a striking trout, and in an instant goes profanely slack. Quickly retrieving the fly, there is no evidence to suggest why the fish got off: no broken line, no poorly tied knot, no broken hook.

I resume fishing: a cast across, a sweeping drift down.

It is a good evening. In a rhythm learned on the same river bend long ago watching my father, I catch and release the swirling trout. Now and again I change fly patterns; experiments from last winter's tying desk - at last it's time to put them to the test. Out of a dozen or so likely candidates, only one or two will earn their keep over the season and become trout flies; to be tied en-masse on a cold winter's afternoon, with the Adams and the Coachmen, to be handed on to others.

As night falls, my imagination fills the gathering darkness as the sun retreats from the day. Hurried scuttlings in the brush become black, rabid bat-winged creatures intent on attacking my neck. A cow's cough is magnified into something from another planet (Elmwood is not that far away, after all). A distant thunderstorm turns into cattle rustlers, slamming the gates of their truck as they load my neighbor's cattle in the night…

The hot, humid day has turned into a cool summer's night. Despite the booming and banging of the "cattle rustlers", the sky above me is awash with a crystal veil of stars. As the hatch of aquatic insects finish their individual cycles and the river slips into it's nighttime rhythms, so do my tactics change. The tiny nymph is replaced with a huge deer hair dry fly. With a bushy brown stacked deer hair body and wild, peafowl wings, the fly resembles nothing in the natural world, save some sort of demented moth.

Skipping the pretense of a tippet, I tie the fly onto a stout leader and drift it across the pocket water. The fly, it's wing's treated with Felximent, floats like a cork and sputter's seductively as I strip it across likely looking spots. Several small strikes signal that the fish are interested, but not large enough to get this mass of hair and feathers into their mouths. Moving on to the large tail-out below the faster water, I let the fly drift out of sight into the gloom. Two short strips and a tug at the line signal a fish has finally gotten the hook into its mouth. Another, more violent yank on the line and a splash that sounds like a cow jumping into the water signal a large fish.

The memory of the fight that ensued has quickly become a blur, so that now I recall only a tangle of visions: following the fish up and down the pool, a misplaced flashlight, a heart-breaking tangle in the trees above my head, and finally a very large brown trout gently released back into the pool.

The shrill "peeent" cry of the nighthawk breaks the summer night's stillness, signaling it's time to go home. Avoiding the tunnel vision created by a flashlight, I walk by the ambient light from the night sky. The cattle rustlers have left, the cows have turned back into cows, and I'm tired.


“Do you really want all these rocks…?”

With the western sky giving off the last orange glow of daylight, my daughter and I were busy on the far side of the river, packing up our things. Bats had started their hectic nighttime feeding flights, and the first fingers of an evening mist had started to slowly slide through the river valley.

“Well, not really all of them, I guess,” was her hesitant reply.

The amateur geologist in me had taken over as I recognized some of her collected “treasures”: a chunk of mundane sandstone, a lump of non-descript basalt, a small pebble of plain white quartz.

“OK then, which ones do you want - what are you going to do with these, anyway?”

“They’re for my collection, Dad.”

Of course, how stupid of me. I rolled up the hat that she had filled with stones, and placed it in the creel, next to the two fish that would be her breakfast the next morning.

It had been an excellent night. We arrived to the river late, and managed to find a deserted few hundred yards of river where we could do “our thing”: namely, my daughter putters about in the river while I fish. Seven years old and intensely curious about river things, she’s good for perhaps twenty minutes of actually fishing with her dad, then it’s off to explore, to gather, to collect.

The fishing was good, but very demanding. A sparse few caddis were hatching, and we had some luck fishing a variety of patterns. She managed to hook a couple of fish on a BiVisable fished quartered and down, but couldn’t hide her disappointment at their size.

“I suppose we can’t keep that one, huh?” she asked hopefully.

“No, he’s pretty puny. Here, let’s put him back in,” I replied. We laughed as the 6-inch fish splashed her as she leaned down to release the small brown.

I constantly switched patterns, as I am oft to do during sparse hatches like the one that night. I counted at least three different and distinct types of caddis flies coming up. We caught fish on nearly every pattern we tried, but it wasn’t until I put on a green-bodied deer hair parachute that the fishing got exciting. The first cast next to a tree extending over the water produced a hefty brook trout. Somehow instantly appearing at my side, my daughter took the fly rod as I handed it to her and excitedly fought the fish to (my) hand. We released the little gem, but a few casts later we were able to land a legal rainbow. I showed her how to quickly dispatch the fish by breaking it’s neck, how to gut the fish, and how to pack the creel with wet grass to lay the fish in to keep it cool.

She eventually bored entirely of fishing, and was off again in pursuit of something else. Intent on fishing, I concentrated on drifting my flies across the feeding lanes. Since my daughter was with, I was armed with two rods, one holding a dry, the other tipped with a wet. I alternated between the two: often times a rise and refusal to the dry would be followed up with a solid hook up on the wet, and vice versa

I was suddenly enveloped in cheap perfume; it was as though a giant church lady had folded me into her huge, bosomy embrace. I looked up, and behind me stood a small bush of white, pink and red crab-apple blossoms.

The shrub shook with laughter, and spoke in the high, piping voice of my daughter:

”Look what I found for Mom!”

I managed another good fish that night, a brown of about 13”; with the rainbow I had caught earlier, we had enough for breakfast for the next morning. By then, she and I were ready to make our way back home, and started the process of packing up our stuff.

As we arrived back at the car and put away our things, I couldn’t help remembering a time years ago, following my own father from the same spot on the river to a car parked on the same road, next to the same bridge. I remember feeling the wet lump of rocks and shells in my pocket; I remember the smell of fresh trout covered with grass.

“Do you really want all these rocks…?”

As I remembered my reaction to the same question posed to me over 30 years ago, I quietly smiled. And so, next to the tube of fly rods, and on top of the wet waders, the dripping, muddy hat full of stones that my daughter had found was placed, nary a one of the priceless gems being left behind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Butterfly Cards

We are gradually setting Sophie's butterfly and moth drawings into cards, using the same format that all our Trout Lily Studios greeting cards use (not the geeting cards...):

The Mirror Pool

(This comes from an event/print idea from earlier this winter. I thought it good to re-capture the story here...)

I slipped on the ice in the driveway the other night and hurt my back.

It was one of those falls, accidents, mishaps, that leaves you lying there like poor old Timmy in the well.

"Oh shit"

you think to yourself when you're staring into the sky with snow drifting over your face, because you find that you can't move your arms or legs.

Like Timmy, your faithful dog comes to your rescue, but she ain't helping much: she licks your face and lays down on the lee side of your body. It doesn't matter much, because you can't speak loud enough to tell her to go get a rope, anyway. You can't even breathe.

And all you can think is "Oh shit....."

It's not until later, when you're warm and sort of comfortable, that you think about how close you came to being taken out by something so stupid. Thoughts of family and memories flood down like a wave: a hot bath will put that kind of perspective on things.

A corner pool, right before nightfall. A few stems of grass hanging over. A fisherman:maybe, maybe not. A big fish being caught: again, maybe, maybe not.

A small, quiet time of the day.

I've had this idea for a print in my head for a long time.

My "ordeal" brought back pleasant memories of fishing with a friend at the end of this last season, and a quick look in my archives found the set of images that brought it all together.

Staying home from work because sitting in a car was extremely painful, I was terrifically bored.

It turns out that sitting hunched over my work table, putting constant pressure on my lats by way of hand carving the wood plates, was/is a terrific sort of therapy for my accident.

I used the same blocks to demonstrate the multi-block woodcut technique, at the Great Waters Expo not long ago in Minneapolis.

The Butterfly Project

"Copper Swarm" and "Moths" are the first of our series of butterfly and moth posters. Sophie renders the individual insects with colored pencils (Pablo Caran 'd Ache) on Strathmore Heavyweight, and John works the Photoshop voodoo majik to create the one-of-a-kind, never seen in nature "swarms" of butterflies, or iButterflies, if you will (this being a blog and all...)