Monday, October 26, 2015

phase 8 (revised) - facilitate a good choice

A busy week in Artlandia!  
proof,  9 x 12"
Last week, I posted a little early because I was away from the computer Sunday and Monday.  It was my birthday, and I had a wonderful time with my family in New York :).

So I started the week off with train-time-photo-fun and urban-photo adventures:

3 years of trying, and for my birthday, I finally got a
good shot of Bannerman Castleas the train whizzed by :)
all the beautiful trusses
one of my favorite vistas - I call it "The Forest of Cranes" 

view from the porch of the Whitney - so stoked that I got both an orange crane and a helicopter in this shot!

a close up shot of Alexander Calder's Calder's Circus,  1926-31
at the Whitney Museum of American Art
 Then, we visited the Whitney. It was my first visit to the new location, and I got to see Calder's Circus on my birthday (happy-arty-human moment!)

And there was more! I got to see an experimental film screening of work by Harry Smith at Anthology - introduced by my brilliant brother, John, co-editor of a new catalogue raisonne on the topic, which is currently a #1 new release on Amazon (!!!! Whoop! Couldn't be more proud :D !) The screening was awesome. Though I don't watch commercial movies often (they take a long time, and it's sort of hard to follow the dialogue and visuals at the same time, no?), I really like art/experimental film, especially animation, and there was a fascinating piece with the Tinman and Toto from Smith's version of the Wizard of Oz.

And them, there was the zoo.

We went to all 5 aviaries at the Bronx Zoo (and yes, I was so happy I teared up in the "World of Birds.") While I have somewhat complicated feelings about the concept of zoos, at that moment, I was very happy because the world is full of so many beautiful creatures and I got to see them!

...and, I may have taken a triple digit number of photos... O:)

Mostly,  I was there to see the birds, but there's always time for a gorgeous feline!

When I got back home, I kept working on the plant plate started last week, finished it, then prepared new tiny tarot plates.

Even though more than half the major arcana is complete, there's still a ways to go. Because I did the cards I like best first, I was having a little trouble connecting to the remaining cards . So, I got to thinking and decided to tweak the iconography a little.

For "The Pope" card, I decided to show St. Francis (a spiritual leader and namesake of the current pope.) By showing him making the canonical blessing gestured that's usually seen on the card, I hope it will still be recognizable.

Usually, the figure is shown with a key, but in this case, I think it's a metaphoric key - that his compassion for living things is a "key" to spiritual learning.  I admit, getting to work on the tiny birds and bunnies under the scope was incredibly fun.


Slowing down a little on the tiny tarot opened a window to work on a few other things. Thinking about "open" vs "closed" forms, one thing I wanted to try was working in relief on a clear block: 
I love, love the way this block looks carved!
These blocks are different than my usual blocks, and as I carved them, I sprinkled baby powder in the cuts so that I was looking at white instead of dark, giving me a different perspective on it as I carved.
block with powder in the cuts
proof,  9 x 12"
I'm happy with the way this turned out, and it felt so familiar...

Then, I remembered this, from fall 2012... check out the columns :P

They may look a lot alike...but the capitals in this piece are printouts from wikipedia, haha. When I made this, I had just started to learn relief carving using a $5 toolkit from the craft store (which is what I used to make the round elements in the frieze). At that point, I recognized the capitals as elements I wanted, but wouldn't have been able to make them (or even describe how to make them). Likewise the shafts of the columns are marbled paper from the store. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it, but only in the last month or two would I be able to make something similar on my own (and even that may be a little optimistic - but I'm definitely getting closer ;) ). It's taken 3 years, but I haven't forgotten.

In some ways, I feel like I've spent a lot of the last 2-3 years learning new materials and techniques so that I can systematically address issues that arose in the work I was making then.

Which makes me so so excited, because I feel like I'm getting very close to something - like a champagne bottle that's been shaken, while someone is in the kitchen rifling through the junk drawer for a corkscrew.

And, and, and, I'm about to have an amazing opportunity to work at the Women Studio Workshop! Not gonna lie, it took over a year of "nos" to get to this "yes," but, now, it seems like it was meant to be. The timing feels perfect, and I can't wait!

Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what this "big thing" I'm about to make is...but feel like I need to try to be as prepared as possible, so I can go, go, go. Looking through practically every art book I own last week was helpful in the sense that I learned a) even if it hasn't quite reached the surface yet, I have enough sense of the outline of the idea to recognize what it's not, and b) it depends on something that's not in a book (I'm guessing it has to do with a new material or new use of materials?).

So I'm wondering how to prepare? I'm not sure yet, but thinking it over, I decided to revise phase 8 a little... I got rid of the idea of easy(er) which never quite worked (as the need for parentheses indicates). It's ok if it's not easy or even easier, as long as it works. And I also changed "the right" to "a good" choice because there are probably many things that will work, and it might change with time (3 years ago, printing the capital out from wikipedia was the right thing to do. If I'd waited until I was able to make the capital myself, I wouldn't have been able to make that piece and, without a visual road map, maybe I wouldn't have stuck with learning to carve for the intervening years...)

I know, it's just paper! And yet...time to pull out all the stops, spend the next two weeks gathering information, materials, and energy so that it can be the very best just paper it can be ;) .

Saturday, October 17, 2015

phase 8 - make the right choice easy(er) - continues

I know, it hasn't been a full week yet, but due to a quirk of scheduling, I'm posting a little early. :)

This week started with some much needed studio clean up, research, and preparing new, large(r) plates.

...and this is just the pile of books consulted in this spot;
there's another stack on the desk, and another in the studio...) 
I had a block of drapery significantly started (it's in the photos from last week of my feline assistants). But the longer I worked on it, the more I became convinced that it wasn't right -not the block itself, but that the overall approach feels not quite right (oy.) I'm not sure why, but I felt strongly enough about it that I stopped mid-block (which is unusual, because I really, really hate to waste material by leaving a block unfinished).

I started researching, thinking I'd come across something that would help me figure out what was wrong. (Not yet, though not for lack of trying). The more I look, the more I think maybe what I need is not in a book (hmmmmmm).

Luckily, there are many things to do while I mull it over. First I sorted through a big pile of paper, separating scrap paper into marbled, patterned, and plain, and prints into proofs and finished prints that just haven't found the right collage home yet. Then I continued working on the tiny tarot with the Hanged Man and the Magician (notice all the lovely art supplies on his table ;) ).

Then I prepared new, slightly larger plates and started working on them as soon as the ground was ready.
The ground came out nice and even,
but I had some issues with the stop out
 not preventing stray marks from etching
 (It's always worked well before, so I think I may have
been so eager that I didn't give it long enough to dry?)

started drawing this 7 x 5" floral plate based on Gerard's herbal
Etched this lovely 8 x 12" Gothic capital - my largest plate so far! Looking forward to printing it in a few weeks :).

In para-art news, it's especially fall-beautiful:

Monday, October 12, 2015

phase 8 - make the right choice easy(er) - mini-project conclusion

5 blocks/plates a week for a month mini-project wrap up!

The new (final) blocks:

and all together now...

New (final) plate:

All together now....


There are actually 22 blocks/plates - that joke I made about my being able to divide 7 by 2 - I shouldn't have, because somewhere along the line, I got off in tallying the blocks/plates (sigh) but, hey, in the end, I met the goal of 20 in 4 weeks ;).  

And you may be noticing that the plates are looking particularly lovely :)...

On Wednesday, the final day of the project, I went to Zea Mays and printed all day. I tried to be super prepared, tearing down and damp packing all the paper, making a registration key, organizing all the materials, so that I could focus on printing. By that point, I'd pictured it in my mind so many times, I managed to pull 56 prints and (most gold-star-accomplishment :) - ) no fingerprints(!!). With one exception, where we were calibrating the pressure of the press, they're all even, registered, clean, and clear ( :D !!!)

In addition to those plates that are part of the mini-project, I printed the first 4 plates from August:


And (and, and) I made the 5th fledermaus:

All together now:

And started framing them (until I had to stop because I cut myself on the framing and didn't want to bleed on the artwork- I'm conscientious like that :p)

And - made the piece on the right for my cousin.                                                                                                      On the one hand, I made lots of things and feel like that's a good start (and that, in general, it's better to do something, anything...) Some of the blocks are working toward a large-scale piece; others went into the Fledermice; and progress continued on the tiny tarot. I learned some things about the process that are not flashy, but important - like learning to remember to back the plates before etching them...and when I fail to remember, putting a sticky note on the cover of the mordant that says: "Did you back the plate yet?" haha.                                                                     
 ...So I did things - real, tangible, "with art as my witness" things...but...

It's still hard to see the "why" behind it.  I can understand how it might look like I'm just interested in the next new technique, or make "a lot of random stuff." (which I've been told, except, I don't think the word used was "stuff." ;).)  

In my mind (in pictures) it's very clear, but when I try to put it into words, it all just falls apart, and I wonder if my explanation is relevant compared to the work itself...but then I think that if I haven’t even tried to explain, it would be justifiable to assume that I just don’t know. 

So...phase 8 to the rescue! I made a chart to try to turn the words into a picture as a starting it goes.

I feel like I am narrowing down my focus and making a series of deliberate decisions. 

First, I’ve been transitioning from direct to indirect processes, from drawing to printmaking.  I still rely heavily on drafting skills, but by drawing on blocks and plates instead of directly into the composition. The reason for indirect rather than direct processes is that it leaves the possibilities open longer. Instead of a drawn element being fixed within composition early on, by having it on a block or plate, it can be easily moved around and reproduced so that the combinations and arrangements are almost infinite. 

The other reason for transitioning from direct to indirect is that that it makes those areas that are direct more potent. I haven't abandoned direct techniques - I still draw into the final collages (for example adding colors and metallics to the eyes). By making most of the composition indirect, the direct parts become more powerful – they stand out as different/important in a way that they wouldn’t if the whole composition was direct.

Next, moving toward primarily subtractive techniques, ones where the mark is made by cutting or etching away material.  Subtractive methods are unforgiving - once the material is gone, it’s gone, and I admire the way they demand commitment to every mark. I also like the aspect of destruction – trying to balance the sensitivity of rendering and the beauty of the content against the controlled violence needed to create it. By making it part of the process, I want to make sure that this destructive aspect can't be easily ignored.

At last, getting down to open vs. closed form. Assuming that one is using the media to it’s strength, I feel that relief lends itself more to closed forms - where most of the thing is ink, and intaglio lends itself more to open forms - where most of the thing is the paper showing through.  This classification of "open" or "closed" isn't content specific - it mostly depends on the background and light (and both techniques can to be used in either way). But... I feel like having both will help me capture a broader range of forms. 

The distinction between "open" and "closed" has been on my mind for a while - I think this is what I was looking for/ trying to understand when I highlighted this area of "Saltzburg" from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) last November - I wasn't able to explain what I meant at the time, but the ability to go from closed to open, with the same form (tree), in a single composition (only a few inches apart!) without breaking the illusion of a single space, to me, is part of what makes Wolgemut a master.

Lastly, the bubbles on chart are green, because, on the one hand, I really want all these techniques...but only if they're as green as possible. The idea of making images of plants and animals in a way that is harmful to actual plants and animal does not appeal to me, at all. In a way, it's only the recent availability and access to new materials and techniques that make all the other decisions possible. (Otherwise, I would stick with drawing.) 

When it comes to summing up the mini-project, I'm of two minds.  On the one hand, I know I've been incredibly fortunate to have the chance to learn and study these techniques and like any new technique, it takes time. I also still feel sure that intaglio and relief can be made to go together like two halves of the same coin; but, on the other hand, I'm little frustrated because with the mini-project, I practiced them individually, but haven't yet combined them as successfully as I'd like...not there yet... 

My other frustration is with my handling of the B.I.G. ground - I don't think I've even scratched the surface of what it can do  - it feels like having a fancy race car, being on a track, and then letting it sit in a single gear at 35. 

So, to sum it all up - I feel like I'm moving in the right direction, but slowly, slowly. 

Still, it was a good mini-project and a happy week, so let's end with kitties and flowers :)

My clever feline assistants know where it's at - here they both are this week, having decided that my carving pillow is the very best place in the room for napping, so that each time I get up to take care of bio-needs, I come back to a different kitty in my spot, and some of the last flowers of the season.