Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nude Selfies: Manly Curves

This is a new series I've been working on, stemming from the small white line woodcut male nudes I did in 2015. I loved describing the figure through the subtle variations in textures and values, but for a long time wasn't sure where to take it in terms of imagery and ideas.

While surfing Google images without filters I inevitably come across naked selfies of complete strangers. Much is discussed and written about how easy access to digital cameras and Internet has blurred lines between the private and public. What we expect to be only shared in intimate settings is instead casually and indiscriminately disseminated around the globe. The completely ordinary naked bodies of specific individuals are now subject to all manner of comment and objectifying scrutiny. Many might say these people have invited scrutiny and crass comments; after all, they are holding the phone, snapping the image. But does that really get everyone else off the hook for any and all of our responses?

With this series I aim to return some of the dignity to these individuals. I don't know who any of them are in real life. I picked out selfies I found particularly interesting or lovely mainly for their compositional lines and shapes. I eliminated background distractions to emphasize what was always intended to be the subject: the figure. My medium of choice is white line woodcuts because the crisp, white lines combined with soft and airy gradations emphasize the shape and volume of the body. I worked on small blocks - no larger than 4" x 4", because I wanted viewers to have an intimate experience akin to perusing family photographs. Also, working at this small size in this medium renders the faces abstract enough to retain anonymity.

The titles are simply my best guesses at what about their bodies the subjects intended to showcase when they took the original selfies.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Summer Campers: Stamped Tile Printing and Collage

 These are the finished versions of a project I did this week with my 3rd-5th grade summer camp students. A few days ago I wrote about Lizzy's unique take on the 1" stamping, which was how this project began. The next step was to create a 3" stamp using craft foam sheets collaged onto 3" square foam core pieces. Next the kids each collected an appropriately sized stick from the neighboring woods to paint and decorate for the hanger. Finally they stamped and collaged onto a 9" x 12" sheet of paper incorporating both stamps.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sam's Monotypes ask and answer an important question

Yesterday I posted about young Lizzy's fruitful deviation from the assigned printmaking project I taught this week to campers in the Summer Spree camp. Today I'm featuring another such child's work.

I took campers outside to draw from the landscaping around the Community Arts Center. Later I taught them to make monotypes using watercolors on plexiglass. The kids had a lot of fun and made many subtle and expressive monotypes from their drawings, but after a while Sam decided to get a little weird and wonderful with it. He began painting the entire plexiglass with black ink and then scribbled into it with the back of the paintbrush. Next he wanted to write words. I reminded him that he needed to write them into the plate backwards in order for them to be forwards in the final print. He went on to whimsically ask one of the big questions: 

Indeed, something we all ask in moments of deep contemplation.

Must you shout? And does that really answer...

Yes, I know, this is art. But is that enough to...

*long pause*

OK. You're right. I get it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lizzy's Stamping

I'm teaching 8-11 year olds at the Community Arts Center's Summer Spree camp again this year. (Best summer job ever. I highly recommend this camp to anyone with kids living near Wallingford, PA.)

Every once in a while a child makes a work of art that I fall in love with for reasons that more often than not go beyond the kids' awareness. This week is was Lizzy's take on the 1-inch stamp project. (I taught a version of this with 3" stamps back in April.)

The idea is to design a stamp and then use it to produce several different patterns. See the example below, done by my volunteer helper Jon.) Lizzy started out ignoring my instructions to make an asymmetrical design with all different corners, opting instead to carve a little circle with marks inside. She then proceeded to press the stamp into purple ink once and then continued stamping in a row until the ink faded away. She did this for a second column of stamps right beside the first, this time continuing the succession into a third, almost imperceptible column. I enjoyed the curiosity in this exercise and told her so.

Next I encouraged her to carve her stamp a bit more and to attempt the instructed assignment. She did carve marks into her stamp's corners, but then instead of creating a pattern with radial symmetry, she completed another experiment similar to her first, only this time she stamped once with really saturated color and then stamped all around until the ink again ran out. She then smeared the ink so that it faded out at the edges. To finish up, she stamped one more time in a different color ink, then wrote "first" and "last" on the paper in the appropriate positions, presumably because the order in which these exercises were conducted was essential to the piece.

If Lizzy decides not to take this work home with her at the end of the session, I'll frame it and hang it in my house, because it's just awesome.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sketchbook Sunday: Papermaking Workshop

As regular readers already know, I don't always post about work in my sketchbook on Sketchbook Sunday. For instance, I have posted about a sequencing workshop and drawing on ceramics before. The idea of these Sundays was to get me to keep my hand moving and work through new impressions and ideas I have about what I see. Even though this is papermaking, it still serves the purpose of Sketchbook Sundays because I'm exploring familiar materials in ways I haven't before.

This is the first time I have ever made paper. I took a workshop on making paper with seeds, leaves, and flower pedals at Historic Rittenhouse Town with artist and educator Cozy Bendesky. It was a nice, small group (4 students) and Cozy was a well-prepared, friendly, and knowledgeable instructor.
I made 18 sheets of paper this morning, but here is a sampling from today's workshop that well represents the collection of materials we were working with. The vats started out with abaca cotton pulp, to which we added our various garden sundries.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Summer fireworks above Ryogoku bridge in Tokyo by Takahashi Hiroaki

Silence has been broken; a rapid concatenation of great bangs marked the start.

Stillness is shattered. The sky torn asunder. Light gleans through slits that rain down from two laden blooms. Jagged snakes of fire and smoke rise from a distant point on the horizon. All this is giddily reflected in the water below; flames dance beside dark boats that merely drift.

The bridge piers - haunting black silhouettes - hold firm their burden amid the chaos.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"East and Beyond" by Helen Frankenthaler

Life isn't just a sequence of waiting for things to be done. -Ze Frank

This time of year wildflowers are generally anticipated but specifically unexpected. Blooms often tower over neglected lawns. Brief gasp of glory before the inevitable blade.

I'm not sure why I'm drawn to woodgrain and wildflowers, but it might have something to do with being here in this moment with fresh eyes and ticklish minds. The music is over, but let's keep dancing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sketchbook Sunday: Dino-pot Ideas

This week I finished shaping some new pinch pots (see below) that I want to draw on, but I was having trouble deciding what to draw. So I pulled out my sketchbook and a bunch of plastic toy dinosaurs to use as references, and came up with some ideas.

Speaking of dinosaurs, or more specifically, representations of dinosaurs primarily aimed at children, I'm still trying to get at something about that with my art. Should probably explore it more with relief printmaking. Stay tuned...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Hotaru Kago" (Firefly Cage) by Yamamoto, Shōkoku

I'm seriously digging the thousands of high resolution images of Japanese woodcuts now available for viewing on the Library of Congress website. Tonight this particular image caught my attention for a while, not least of all because I spent the evening gathered around a fire with a few friends, our kids trying to catch fireflies to put in jars. Some simple activities are inherently enjoyable to people across time and culture.

I love the geometry of the composition; how the strong vertical lines and patterns emphasize the soft and playful curves outlining shoulders and feet. It mirrors how the two women are still and focused in their observation of the fireflies, while the children seem to dance around in restless delight.

Friendship binds us, or
Is it the magic of

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sketchbook Sunday: Bird Drawings on Pinch Pots

I have not been working in my sketchbook at all lately. But I have been drawing! Mostly on pinch pot ceramic pieces I make. Ceramics is a newer medium for me that I've been at for just over 3 years. Most of what I create is variations on pinch pots that I let get leather hard and then draw into. (It's not sgraffito because I don't cover the piece with slip first. I just draw into the bare surface and fill the lines with glaze after it's been bisque fired.) The drawings are done spontaneously; I decide what to draw on a pot after I've already formed it) and the lines drawn are the lines that stay. I don't smooth over "mistakes" or try to "fix" anything I don't like.

I thought to include this activity in a Sunday Sketchbook post because this process is mainly about the relationship between hand-shaping a piece of clay and intuitive free drawing. Also, most of the subjects I've drawn are animals I have been sketching over the past several months.

These are images of 2 pieces: a pinch pot creamer and mug with bird drawings.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Highlights From Baren Exchange #72 ("Wings" Theme)

These are two prints from the Baren Forum Exchange #72. Paper size was 5" x 11" and the theme was "Wings".

On the left is Bird Count by Theresa Martin and on the right is Heron Nest by Clive Lewis. These two prints were the favorites of my mother so I'm giving them to her to display side by side since they coincidentally offer a nice dialogue. Both images take place outdoors and offer two tones of the same color with a key-block printed in black. I particularly enjoy the contrast of the movement of the birds in flight with the empty stillness of the empty nest. Both seem to be very much about the quiet patience necessary to observe and gain an understanding of wild animals.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sketchbook Sunday: Watercolors of Children

These are three little watercolor paintings I did from pencil sketches of children in my daughter's dance class. The sketches were created for and used in my book project Dancing in the Garden. Something about these three drawings compelled me to also make them into these stand alone paintings. Each painting is 5" x 5" on 90 lb. white Stonehenge paper.

The original drawings

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Self Portrait With Sasquatch" Revisited

My last day at Soaring Gardens I had a little time to play around with drawing and watercolor paintings, and one thing I did was revisit Self Portrait With Sasquatch, a woodcut I carved in 2011. The original print was a 4 layer reduction that I made in a single day. It was in fact the big finish of my 30 Prints in 30 Days project. It turned out better than expected, but because the print had to be completed in a single day, I only had time to make 2, and being a reduction, I could not make any more.

The last layer was rather interesting in-of-itself, and I recently thought to print some in black, oil-based ink and then add some hand-coloring. I'm rather pleased with these two finished works.

Nautilus and Ammonite: Fossil Field

This is the artwork for the final double-page spread for the Nautilus and the Ammonite book project. It is paired with the final two lines of the poem:

Where heart meets heart, and no more they part
Who meet in that other land. 

The original poem uses the phrase "better land" but as a secular humanist, I simply cannot use a word so biased against this life here on earth. I opted for something more neutral, leaving readers to their own interpretations. To me, the other land is simply that of posterity, thus the word "Remember". 

Wow - after over two years this book project finally complete. As with any project that reaches an end, my feelings are a mix of joy and sadness, pride and disappointment. And then there is the shifting in mindset from creation to how to publish and get it out to an audience. For the moment, I'm just going to take some time to feel my heart swell with emotion. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nautilus and Ammonite: Distant Strands

The next finished artwork for the Nautilus and the Ammonite book project. In this image the Nautilus has aged and still holds on to hope of somehow being reunited with her friend. The faded memory of the ammonite melts into dotted strands of DNA. It is a reference to the humanistic notion that scientific study will uncover significant aspects of past narratives, and somehow complete a yearning for that which seems missing from the story of life on earth. It is unclear whether this is merely a hopeful mirage or the eve of a genuine reunion of sorts.

It is meant to be paired with this partial stanza:

Yet the hope, how sweet, again to meet,
As we look to a distant strand,

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Nautilus and Ammonite: Ghosts

The next finished artwork for the Nautilus and the Ammonite book project. Here the Nautilus has given up her search and is haunted by ghosts of other, more recently extinct species. They are all species that went extinct during the age of humans and due at least partially  to human activity. This image is meant to be paired with this stanza that compares the Nautilus's loss and grief to our own:

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. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nautilus and Ammonite: Passage of Time

The next finished artwork for the Nautilus and the Ammonite book project. This is the first image after the Nautilus has lost her dearest friend in the KT Event. It is meant to be paired with this stanza:

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. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Goodbye to Soaring Gardens

My residency at Soaring Gardens Artist Retreat ends tomorrow. Ah, so bitter sweet. I will miss the smell of lilac (there are huge bushes blooming just outside my studio), the pleasant chirps of birds and crickets. I will definitely miss working in a gigantic studio with a glorious view. This really was an ideal place to focus my concentration on my work.

I'd been considering this residency for about ten years, but I only applied this year. It was never quite the right time for this space. When my oldest daughter was a toddler we discovered the delightful picture book Last Night I Dreamt A Circus, which features prose by Maya Gottfried and striking paintings by Robert Rahway Zakanitch. Inside I found that the artist specifically thanked Soaring Gardens for a residency during which he had completed the paintings. Thus I was inspired with my application to request time and space to finish my own book project, Dancing in the Garden.

I am incredibly thankful to the Ora Lerman Trust for giving me this opportunity, I feel honored to have participated in a residency also shared by many other accomplished artists such as Zakanitch, and I highly recommend this experience for other artists out there who need to clear their heads and make good art!