Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Swallows 2

Time for another installment of Swallows Installation Project!

Last time, I discussed the early planning stages for the upcoming "10 Artist/ 10 Objects" exhibition at Tremaine Gallery in January 2018 which will include a new installation piece based on Audubon's Swallows.  When we left off, I had done the initial sketch, visited the site, and seen and photographed the Audubon's swallows from the permanent collection.

This time, I'm narrowing my focus, doing historical research, and preparing the digital and physical materials to carve new relief prints for the installation.

I first had to choose the specific source materials I want to work with, and in order to do that, I needed to know what exactly I was looking for. Even within the category "Audubon's swallows" there are many different types (which can be seen online at : http://www.audubon.org/bird-family/swallows ).

I'm inspired by the experience of seeing the original prints, but my goal is not making copies, it's trying to communicating the experience of interacting with them, what I see and think about and feel when I look at them. This experience is influenced not only by the objects themselves, but also by my memories of seeing real swallows and other artwork of swallows. Audubon documented the differences between types of swallows so that others could recognize and identify them, but my purpose does not include this element of categorization, so I feel free to draw on elements of all of the Audubon prints as well as other sources. I tried to narrow down my search by thinking about what characteristics make up the idea of swallow to me.     

Albrecht Durer, Sampson fighting
 (rending) the Lion, 1497-8
Fun fact: the Metropolitan
 Museum of Art
 has the
  original block for this print
I start with what I think about when I think "swallow." In addition to my memories of seeing swallows, I think about historic woodcuts. I love, love looking at historic woodblock prints, and I was sure that I'd seen swallows in the sky in some of Durer's woodcuts.  So I went looking and indeed - here's an example in Durer's woodcut of Sampson fighting the lion.

One could argue that they're definitely birds, but question whether they're swallows - but! if we zoom in close, the sharp wings and forked tails characteristic of swallows are visible (also, the landscape shows a rocky outcropping beside the sea - an ideal habitat for nesting swallows.)  
Detail of Durer's Sampson fighting the Lion with my highlights
Michael Wolgemut, Creation of 
Adam and Eve, from 
Schatzbehalter der wahren 
I was excited to find and confirm the swallows in the Durer, and thought I remembered seeing similar swallows in earlier prints by Durer's master, Michael Wolgemut.  This took a little bit of digging, since the first place I looked was Wolgemut's more famous work (and also the one with which I'm more familiar), the Nuremberg Chronicles, but it wasn't what I was thinking of. Next, I checked another work illustrated by Wolgemut, the Schatzbehalter der wahren Reichtümer des Heilsfrom 1491. Fortunately, there is a copy in the Rosenwald Collection in the library of Congress, which (most awesomely!) has been scanned for public view online (Mmmmmm - 15th century manuscripts - tip: one convenient way to get to the pictures quickly is to select the "page turner" option, then in the drop down menu on the right, select "grid" for view options - this allows one to see thumbnails of the pages and click on the ones with illustrations instead of flipping through hundreds of pages one at a time O:) ).  A few minutes of searching, and voila - swallows in the sky during the Creation of Adam and Eve. Again, the question may arise about confirming whether they are swallows, but a close look reveals the long, sharply curving wings and forked tail.  The one perched on the tree even has the characteristic feather pattern of light underside and face (which is pretty amazing - that Wolgemut was able to capture that so concisely and on such a small scale.) Also - I wonder if there is a symbolic meaning, since swallows are known as the birds that always find their way home, and here, they're being shown in the Garden of Eden before the Fall - a hopeful sign foreshadowing redemption? Hmmmmmm.
close up view with my highlights, Michael Wolgemut, Creation of Adam and Eve, from Schatzbehalter der wahren Reichtümer des Heils, 1491 in the collection of the Library of Congress 
Looking at these was helpful for me in deciding what characteristics are most important to communicate the idea of swallow. I decided I want to use the two-tone coloration like of a tree swallow, but the feather pattern of the Violet-green swallow (where the white goes over the eye).  To me, the long tail feathers are iconic of swallows, so I'll base the tail on the barn swallow.  To capture the moment of seeing the bright yellow in the print, I'll add gold to the eyes. 

Knowing what I'm looking for and what changes I want to make, I went back to the Audubon prints looking for a swallow in flight as a starting point.  I chose to start with an image of the Violet-green Swallow, which can be seen online: http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/bank-swallow-and-violet-green-swallow ).

Let the art-making process begin!
I digitally zoomed in on a single bird.
I worked with the file in Photoshop to make specific changes to format it to become a carving template:
I added a simplified outline so that they will be easier to cut out, reduced the colors to resemble the two-toned coloration I want, lengthened the tail, and heightened the contrast for carving. I flipped it to account for the reversal of transferring it to the block.

I could carve individual blocks - a block for each bird, but combining the images on a single block will be more efficient in terms of fewer times inking and running through the press. Also, adhering the decorative paper backing can be done in a single sheet for multiple birds. To prepare the block, I had mdf cut to 18 x 24." I then lightly sanded the surface of the block with 400 sand paper and the edges with 220 and toned it blue. 

I printed my digitally adapted version on transfer paper and pressed it onto the block.

Then I carved.

first swallow proof!
I then scanned one of the lighter versions.
I worked with the scan in Photoshop to make it into a template for the others.
I made sure it has a solid outline and high contrast. 
I made copies of various sizes in both directions...
 ...and printed them onto two polyester lithography plates.
Polyester lithography plates setting in the oven.

I then printed the polyester plates onto the block. 

close up view of the block with polyester lithography prints on it to act as carving templates

Still a long way to go, but the carving process has begun!