Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Squid

So, the burner has been turned back on a lot of things while the world turns upside down like a snow globe over the holidays. Projects, thoughts, and obligations swirl madly around and I just wait in the middle for everything to fall into place on the ground. It's a waste of energy to try and run after them after all. We did end up with a white christmas that I'm very thankful for but is very hazardous to drive in. You can check out photos at
I had started this series of three prints to add to my Limulus and Trilobites print to flesh out a show I'm slated to have in April along with Anne Cheeks and Robin *. I'm hoping to print up some Trilobites the first weekend in January but in the mean time I'm entertaining myself with this new project. I'm still having a little burn out with the Trilobite and Limulus project as it just feels like it's dragging on now but some of that is due in part to the "start/stop" aspect of it. I (like many other artists) like to see a project through and don't like stopping for things like day jobs, eating, sleeping....LOL, but that's life. Another reason I'll address next.

Here is the block for the first of three oil based prints I'll call the Bioluminescent Series. Firefly Squids put on a quite a show in Japan and I've always wanted to try the concept out in printmaking. I sketched out squids for a few days and I couldn't get the tentacles quite like I wanted them. Finally, I closed them up in an encasement as a squid does when it moves and for some reason that seemed best to me. Curious, considering I love writhing swirling tentacles. At any rate, the concept is to print at least three under print patterns of the squid body frame in a transparent white and then print a transparent base pattern of stippling to represent the photophors present in marine animals bioluminescent flesh. I would then dust these with an interferance blue so the viewer would be treated to a "schiller-like" experience as the squid lights up depending upon where you stand. I hope it works because I want to try this on an Octopus and a Trilobite also.
I brought my block to VABC Block Night and shared good carving and comradery. I must have been tired because I found carving the stipple to be exceedingly annoying. My friend Josef Beery had a great idea! He recommended filing a small tube of brass (found in model making shops, clever!) to a sharpness similar to my japanese carving knives. That way I could take a hammer and tap the stipples into my design and take my tiny chisel and chip away what doesn't belong. This was a great tip!.....and I didn't take it. I'll tell you why.
Having the disease of perfectionism is tedious but can be rewarding, however, you can also miss out on some happy accidents. The trilobite prints were starting to bore me because there isn't too much room to stray from the original design. Drawing them freehand was rewarding because I got to design how they were positioned but I still have to stay within the bounds of what the specific species design allowed. There weren't many deviations during carving either. Part of the reason that I fell in love with oil based woodblock prints were the little tailings that the carver sometimes "forgot" to take out. Those little bits of material that printed up and gave away the trail of the knife added an exciting energy to prints that otherwise would've seemed mundane. I decided to forgo the tedium of grinding a "tube blade" and forge ahead with my regular niddling fashion. The block sat for a week or two and then after work (on Christmas Day) a familiar notion began to creep up my soul and I felt like carving. I sat down to work on my squid and the stippling just seemed to flow out and around my knife. Here is a close up:

Notice the tiny little "tailings" that I've left in between the marker dots that will act as contracted photophors. If I had quested for "perfection", I would've been relegated to that one perfect shape of stipple that I think would've detracted from the piece. Now, not only do I have tiny photophors but also regular photophors that are organically shaped.

Don't worry, Josef. I'll still try your handmade tool idea some day anyway! Or, I challenge some one else to beat me to it!


Annie B said...

The stipples look great! I like the irregularity, even though the tube idea is a good one (now stored away in my own toolbox for future use - thanks to both you and Josef!).

White ink has unusual properties. I just overprinted a background in ranslucent white and it has a kind of "nap," that is it looks different from different angles and under different lighting. I think your idea to use white underneath may just work.

Wishing you a very happy 2010.

Ellen Shipley said...

What is it about squid that makes them so fascinating? I love this guy. Can't wait to see the whole set. I really like the luminescent idea. And of course the tube idea too. 8-]

But what I really like is your carving get-together! Reminds me of printmaking class. I envy you the mental stimulation.

Lana Lambert said...

Yeah, I'm so glad that outlets like Block Night and Baren Forum exist. I guess printmakers are social animals when it comes to our process. Yay, print friends!