28 September 2015


Watercolor woodblock print with stencils
26 x 38 inches (97 x 67 cm) on Gekko washi
edition: 2

The horizon is a circle that divideth part of the world seen from the part that cannot be seen.
– The New Book of Knowledge (1767)

All of the text for these prints thus far has come from Erra Pater: The New Book of Knowledge, a strange (at least to modern eyes) book that began as a perpetual almanac in England in 1535 but later became a compendium of folk wisdom.
The New Book of Knowledge was one of America's first bestsellers, undergoing at least 13 American printings between 1767 and 1810. The book includes an explanation of the relationship of zodiac signs to the parts of the body; a discussion of the four humors of the human body with folk medicine recipes; a section on fortune telling; and lore about weather, farming, and the care of animals. What's fascinating to me is that we think of the "Founding Fathers" as being enlightened and modern, but if The New Book of Knowledge is any indicator, they were not.

In the last few steps of this print, I added a dark blue bokashi at the bottom, printed the pensive fisherman in black, and added the text with a stencil.

As Donald Rumsfeld once said about our mission in Iraq, "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." We made fun of him for saying that, but it's pretty true. I like the video a lot:

24 September 2015

A Sea Monster

The next element for this piece is a sea monster. I don't know much about this monster, except that it's from the 1550s and possibly from France. I like how weird it is, with the funny long protrusions, the shark-like teeth, and the human-like eyes that seem to be going in the wrong direction for the rest of the fish. It was a bit of a chore to carve, because it's birch plywood and the image is about 2 feet long. Also my hands got very blue from the pigment left in the board from the last printing session.

If you squint you can see a couple of vertical areas of darker brown wood where I've carved. That darker colored wood was really hard, like knots are hard, and it dulled my tools almost instantly whenever I hit it. Annoying. But I kept on going, and then it was carved.

Today I printed again. The photo below is the result of 5 or 6 applications of color. I'll need to sleep on it before I decide if I need to add more color still or move on to the next step.

16 September 2015

Making Waves

 It's been almost two weeks since I've worked on my "Horizons" print. I had several client jobs, which is always a good thing, but it's hard to get back in gear on my own projects when they get interrupted. After I've been away for a while I have to get reacquainted with the project, and I often experience an odd feeling of fear. I guess it's a fear that I won't remember why I was doing what I was doing, or I won't be able to connect back up with the energy flow that I was in when I stopped.

But today I got it going again. As you can see, the print has progressed quite a lot since the last post. The color blue that's there now is a slow build of around 20 applications of color. I didn't count (it might be dispiriting), but because the paper is so thick I'm finding that I have much more control over a slow build of color than I would if I attempted to do it all in one shot.

Here's a closeup of the waves on the right side of the print. These patterns were cut as a reduction on the block and the darker marks were added with a hand-cut stencil. I did it that way because I'm committed to making this print with only one block.

Next up: some more carving.

04 September 2015

Second Color From Now On

Today I carved again and began working with the second color. You can see lots of gomazuri (speckling) here in this first blue layer. For me and my skinny arms, speckling is unavoidable at this size and with this very thick paper. By the time I've added all the layers that I expect to add, the speckles will disappear into an appearance of solid color.

The rest of the colors will be various shades of blue and I expect this will take quite a while to complete. More carving and lots of bokashi (gradations) are planned. Then there are the unplanned things…

But first, a holiday weekend!

02 September 2015

Musings On Birch Plywood

I'm starting the third very large print in my Almanack series, and I must admit I'm not a fan of birch plywood for moku hanga. But I'm also not a fan of paying $100+ for a sheet of the wood I usually use (shina) when I can have this birch for about $30. So birch ply it is.

Here's a shot of the entire sheet I'm working with. Because I find the carving so unpleasant, I've been adapting my ideas so that I need to do as little carving as possible. The area I've carved out will stay white (the color of the paper), so that happens first. The shape in the middle of the carved area is a "bridge," meant to hold the paper up so it doesn't sag into the carved area.

Above is a closeup of the carved area, with my hand for scale. You can see a void that was sitting just under the veneer, running horizontally just above my hand. Voids are awful if you're trying to do detailed carving, as the veneer above has nothing to hold on to. This is top grade plywood, so there's no way around encountering voids.

The orange color is the glue that holds the inner layers of ply together. It's tough and scratchy when the chisel goes through it and it dulls the tools quickly. If this were shina I would be cutting deeper, as shina plywood glue is soft and not really noticeable. Carving shina plywood feels like carving solid shina.

Here's an edge shot where you can see the plys and the orange glue. This is 1/2-inch birch ply.

This afternoon I printed the top of this block in a lovely pink.

28 August 2015

Rugby at Northern Print

Last year I got acquainted with Northern Print when my "Mixed Feelings" prints were shown at the International Print Biennale they hosted, so I was delighted when they got in touch to see if I'd be interested in participating in their new collaborative print project called "Scrum Down, Print Forward." As you can probably tell by the name, the project centers around the 2015 Rugby World Cup which is being hosted in multiple venues in the UK. This international print collaboration will attempt to break the Guinness world record for the world’s longest single linocut print, a record currently held by Kansas City artist Laura Isaac and colleagues. Once the lino is cut and pieced together it will be printed on Sunday 11th October in Newcastle upon Tyne by actual rugby players using a scrum machine as a kind of steamroller.

The panels for the 33 meter print (108 feet) were designed by UK illustrator Sara Ogilvie and are now being carved by artists from 11 print studios, representing the 11 UK World Cup host cities. You can see large views of these panels on the Scrum Down, Print Forward Facebook page.

Set within the design are 20 rugby ball shapes of lino, one for each of the competing nations. These will be designed by artists from each nation and I've volunteered to design the ball for the USA. Unfortunately, the deadline is too tight for me to receive the linoleum, cut it, and get it back to Newcastle in time for the event, so Northern Print has offered to do the cutting there based on my sketch. This is a new experience for me, to have studio assistants!

For my rugby ball image I wanted to do something American, but not too American (no statue of liberty or apple pie) and I wanted to make a comment about the American character but refrain from getting too political (which I am wont to do). I wanted the image to be light – maybe to make fun of us, but gently so. And I wanted the image to be strong and graphic and legible from a distance.

So I chose the fabled American Jackalope.

Along with the sketch, I sent this statement:
There’s nothing quite as American as a tall tale, and one of the best known U.S. mythical creatures is the jackalope. The word jackalope is a combination of two words: jackrabbit (a type of hare) and antelope (actually a pronghorn). First seen in the American west, jackalope are athletic, fast and aggressive. Willing to use their antlers to fight, they are sometimes called "The Warrior Rabbit.” Jackalope are difficult to capture, but occasionally you can catch one using whiskey as bait.
Not being much of a sports team follower, I have just this week learned that the U.S. men's national rugby team is nicknamed the Eagles. So may I say, "Go Eagles"!

And may I also note that I see something just a tiny bit Donald Trump in the way those antlers fall down over the rabbit's face. But there I go again…

12 August 2015

White Dude Fishing

 The next print in my Almanack series begins with this carving of a man fishing. The image comes from a book by Thomas Dilworth called A New Guide to the English Tongue, published in Philadelphia in 1770. It's a grammar and reading textbook and this picture, which I'm cropping and reproducing at a scale of about 500%, was used to illustrate a fable called "The Fisherman and the Fish" in which a captured fish asks to be released, promising that she (yep, the fish is female) will come back and allow herself to be caught when she's grown larger. The fisherman says no, and the moral of the fable is "Never let go a Certainty for an Uncertainty." I'm sure this is good advice for someone, but not for an artist.

I will be pairing this image with another quote from The New Book of Knowledge (1767):
The Horizon is a Circle that divideth the Part of the World seen from the Part that cannot be seen.
 As you may notice about these colonial era images I'm working with (it's impossible to not notice, really), almost all of the images feature white males. This isn't surprising given the context, but it makes working with the images take a certain direction. Although it wasn't my intention as I began these prints, whiteness has become one of the themes in this project.