Thursday, January 28, 2010

día de pesca de la trucha de los muertos

A couple years ago the kids and I got my wife some Day of the Dead (“calaveras”) figures for her birthday, both of which land on the calendar at about the same time. We got them from a place that imports them from Peru, but my wife being herself, figured she could do a better job at them. She started making them for every occasion...

From what I can put together, here is what's going on with these "Day of the Dead" figures:

Day of Dead art, specifically the use of “calaveras” as a way of burlesquing persons and institutions (which were traditionally protected by censorship laws), is a tradition with roots both in Europe, and in the Indian traditions of Mexico.

Indian roots are made up mostly of the dual nature deities, whose “death side” was indicated by skeletal figures - the most famous survivor of that tradition is “La Santisima Muerte”.

European roots go back to the danse macabre, and to the work of Hans Holbein the Younger, and his figure of "Death", who wears many disguises, confronting individuals from all walks of life.

The great Mexican illustrator Guadalupe Posada is said to have carried on Holbein’s traditions, and brought them back to life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rainbow Whiteline Print Finish

Well, I finished up the last few colors on this print, and it's done; I'll have it matted and framed at the Chicago Greatwaters Expo next week. I'd like to get some more printing in, but I'm going to spend the time getting some last minute matting and framing done - not to mention get my crap organized...

Anyway, here it is, finger smudges and all:

I like it. I'm really, really happy with it. Deb even likes it, and she doesn't like any of my fishing stuff (well, this isn't entirely true...)

If I was going to be critical of anything, it's that I'd want to see the entire fish - unfortunately, when I took the image, I wasn't thinking of making a woodblock print of it.

Now, the dilemma: the capitalist pig in me tells me to scan the sucker and make prints to sell at half of what the original will go for at this upcoming show. The artist in me says no, don't sell my soul and go for the easy money - stay true and only offer originals.

I think I like the idea of only offering originals

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I haven't done a trout print for awhile, mostly river-scapes and such. I've had this image of a nice rainbow laying around since the trip to Chile n 2006. I caught the fish on our last day of fishing, on the Rio Simpson, in Northern Patagonia. It was the first one I had caught that morning; very colorful 18+ incher, it took a bead headed prince nymph. I don't like fishing nymph rigs all that much, but it was a cold morning, and there weren't any hatches coming off yet. Normally, I'd wait until there was something hatching (and actually, once the sun hit the water, the bugs started pouring off...), but since I was sort of pressed for time, I "did as the Romans do...", dropped a big, weighted nymph-jig under an Elk Hair caddis and let 'er rip.

I ended up catching this nice wild 'bow, which behaved long enough to get a pretty decent photo of (I have plenty of brown trout and brook trout images to choose from, but I'm lacking photos of nice rainbows.) I was at some point planning on doing a reduction print from this image, but the complexity of the image has always turned me off. Too, looking at it critically, I've got my doubts on how it would work as a reduction, anyway. Unless I were to do a huge print, say, maybe 3 feet wide (!! - it would be cool, but not very practical with my studio space), I don't think it would print all that well. So, it's always drifted towards the bottom of the pile.

It wasn't until discovering this White Line process that I've given it any more consideration. As I paged through my image/ideas folder the other ight, looking for a couple new images, I came accross this one and thought, "Why not?" I quickly transferred the image to a block.
And I'm glad my impulsive side took over, because if I had really thought about it with a critical eye, I might have sent the mage back to the bottom of the pile! It took me longer to transfer the image than I had figured, and it took me a lot longer to carve the lines than I originaly intended. But, I was comitted at this point, and could sort of visualize what the results would be, so I kept at it:

After a marathon session of carving the other night, I was finally able to attach a piece of paper and start inking in the first print.
I again used two pieces of packing tape to secure the paper, stapling the flap of tape down to the block to create a hinge:

I arbitrarily started inking with blue. Normally, I start printing a print with the lightest color fist, as any over lap between colors is best hidden when a darker color is over the lighter color. But with a White Line print, the color fields are separated by a channel carved into the block and never (theoretically, anyway) touch, it doesn't matter.

I've refined things a bit since my last print. To create the tiny gradations, the color field is first inked with a brush, then carefully wiped clean, as with a moku hanga-type print. I used wadded up paper towels before; while this certainly works, the color fields on this print are tiny in comparison. I still wanted to have the gradations, so after some experimenting with several ideas given to me by the good folks at Wet Paint (the absolute BEST art supply store in St. Paul/Minneapolis...) I've seetled on these little rolled up newsprint smudge thingies:

The last two nights have been spent inking the separate colors. It's not that there are a lot of colors: just inking in , wiping and printing is taking more time than I'm used to. But the results are worth it - I finished up with the dark olive green last night:

Some more blue, cream, some lighter greens and a lot of black, and it will be done.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I probably shouldn't have, but I sat down last night and finished up the print I've been working on. Three things bother me about the print, and I blame myself for being distracted and not focusing on what I was doing.

I dislike the forground portion of the water. I started there, and wished I had left it alone until later - until I figured out what was going on with this image. I would have done it differently. As it is, the dark blue does well enough to hold it together.

I'm very unhappy about the sky. I started it while thinking about lots of other things, and it wasn't until I was half way accross when I realized what a mess I was making of it. I carved in some impromptu "clouds", which I think saved the whole thing from going down the dumper, but I wish I had taken more of a bit of time to really look at what I was doing.

I'm also concerned that the fisherman is getting lost - but then in a print like this, it's busy-ness is part of it's "charm" (for lack of a better word...): I like how things like the barn, silos and such get wrapped up and hidden in the image, and only upon close examination are revealed...

Live and learn - the nice thing I can take all of this into consideration with the next print I print from this block. Overall I'm pretty happy with it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Things that make you say “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....”

After finishing up the WhiteLine print of Poor Old Bob, I immediately started another with an image I've been harboring for a couple of years, a riverscape featuring Elk Creek, looking east/south east, just as the sun was setting. Although I was alone when took the original photo, I wanted to firmly anchor the idea of fly fishing into the print.

Since I fished with him the next day, on a different section of the creek (up where his yurt is located), I electronically added my friend Mark Nash.

Once I had my image, I went through the same process steps as before of creating the maple block that I would print the finished print from: transfer the image, carve out the lines, affix the first sheet of paper, start the printing process.

Starting out, I really had no idea whatsoever of what I was shooting for with this print. I’m still finding it hard to “visualize” what the final results will be, so figuring out the lines for the color fields involved a lot of guess-work. But, knowing what I know about the Akuacolors, and looking back at the POB print, I figured something interesting was going to come out of this.

My palette this time is for an early autumn, mixed in with the cool colors of twilight.

I’m using a slab of maple again for this print, even though the traditional Provincetown print is done with either pine of poplar. But, I’ve got a good stock of the maple I got from my friends Margy and Gary on hand, so I’m going to use it!

The “traditional” method of attaching the paper to the wood was to tack the paper onto the wood directly, and then folding the paper to create a “hinge” that would raise and lower the sheet onto the block, keeping perfect registration through the process. While this certainly works great, I wanted to use a sheet of Rives BFK for this print, and since this is a thicker sort of paper, I didn’t want to fold it. I solved this by sandwiching the paper between two pieces of packing tape, and then stapling the tape to the board.

Cutting the lines was pretty straight forward and quite fast. I cleared away the edges with a large chisel and mallet, so to ensure clean, clear borders.

Printing is another matter entirely. Each color field is printed individually. I “ink” the fields by hand with a small paintbrush, carefully wiping with a tiny sponge to create the gradations. Some areas are just too small to wipe, so I don’t bother. Most areas take multiple passes – it’s a matter of you can always add a little more, but you can never take any back. Bit by bit, millimeter by millimeter (inch by inch would be too much!) the block is filled in.

The results so far are fantastic: I’m very satisfied with what’s going on. Like I said before, I have trouble visualizing what’s going to happen to an image with this technique. But so far, this is terrific:

Just a couple more fields to fill in (the stream, some trees, silos and the sky) and it will be done. I’ll have time to start another one before the Chicago Expo – it will be a good thing to have a couple of these displayed there!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Something new: White Line Print

Several months ago, I learned about a new (to me) printing technique called "White Line" woodblock printing, also called the "Provincetown Print."

A truly American print making technique, it was developed in 1915 by a group of Provincetown and Cape Cod artists. It is considered among one of the few art techniques unique to America (jazz being another one...)

Traditionally poplar or clear pine were used. Since I've got stacks of clear maple on hand, that is what I used for my first White Line print.

I've had this image of my friend Bob for a couple years. I had first used it for a moku hanga print, but I was never satisfied with how it came out (it was too big - I'm finding out this seems to be a major problem with me and moku hanga prints... more on that later...)

So as with most all prints, the image is first transferred onto the woodblock. Then, instead of carving out individual color fields, all of the lines are traced over with a narrow blade, creating a channel along each line between the color fields. I used my medium V-gouge for this.

What results is the image incised in the block:

A piece of printing paper is then tacked onto the bottom of the block, folding it over to create a hinge:

This hinge is where the print will be folded back and forth during the printing process, to ensure perfect registration. To give the print added strength for this, I added a piece of Scotch tape where the thumbtacks fasten it to the block.

The block is ready to be printed.

Each color field is filled in with brushes and printed, one by one, by folding the paper over the block and burnishing with a barren. I wanted fully saturated colors, so I ended up printing each color multiple times until I was satisfied with it's density.

Eventually, slowly, the color fields are filled in. I usually print color prints lightest color to darkest, and I did the same with this print, but because the color fields are separated by channels (the White Lines), it really doesn't make much difference.

I like the results. Very different from what I'm used to. Its very exciting: I've got a whole set of images that just never really seemed to work with the other wood block techniques I use. It looks like now they'll have a chance again!

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Hate Portraits

So here's the dealio: I hate doing portraits. I'm not good at it, my subjects rarely look like themselves when I'm finished, and I always feel self-concious afterwards, like I'm trying to steal a soul or something (I'd make a poor jungle explorer... you know: Polaroids and all that.... sorry)

Anyway, a publisher friend of mine got me to write an essay about my father for an upcoming issue of the fly fishing magazine he puts together. I fancy myself a some-time wannabe writer of variable skill, but it's a good essay, if I do say-so myself: summarizing the life of the guy who formed my own life, written from a sporting/fly fishing viewpoint without getting too syrupy.

Here's a short exerpt:

" Dad's mastery of the dry fly was a thing of beauty and grace. With a skill honed fishing wild, native brook trout in the crystal clear glacial lakes of northeastern Wisconsin, I remember watching in awe as he dropped, with dainty precision and maddening repetition, tiny dry flies to raising trout..."

OK, certainly not Hemmingway, but you get the point. To illustrate the article, my friend suggested that I produce a print, to which I agreed. I played around with several ideas, and finally settled on a linoleum hand-colored portrait:

I printed this with Gamblin Oil-based black on Rives BFK, and hand-colored it with Akua-color water based inks. This is the first hand-coloring I've ever done. Believe it or not, it actually looks like him. And as much as I really don't like doing portraits, I'm pretty happy with it, and I think I like this hand-coloring thing.

Hopefully my friend will like it and we can put this project to rest (I'm looking back on that last moku-hanga print that didn't go so well...)

I did learn one important lesson with this print - I need a press!