Friday, February 25, 2011

Fatter Fatness!

      It has been a little while since I've posted! I love blogging and documentation but sometimes it does get in the way of making work.  I have a show in April so I made the decision to skip a lot of blogging and get to the making part!  Still had my camera handy but only picked it up when I felt things were well underway and my progress is going good.
    The latest work I have completed is dedicated to my wonderful muse, Fatter Fat Toad!  You can read more about her here on my other blog:

Fatter Fat Toad in the Journey to Middle Earth

      The Chinese consider toads to be very auspicious and I really enjoyed Fatter Fat's company whether or not she brought me money.  She brought me plenty of joy!  I always wanted to carve a block to remember her by.  It's been a year or so since I've seen her.  I started with pictures I took of her in her favorite place next to porch steps. I picked out one of my favorites that I took of her and posted on my blogspot about her. She didn't like the camera and would puff herself up when I took photos so that she looked like a giant disk of warty clay! I liked the one of her head slightly turned to face the camera as she lay puffed up with her legs tucked under her. It showed off her warts and stripes.  After she endured my irritating camera I would reward her with worms from my worm composter.  This was maybe the secret to why she stayed around so much.

      I sketched from this and several others.  (The smaller sketches are from other smaller toads that have visited the house.)  After roughing in her dimensions and markings, I transferred the sketch to a piece of battleship gray linoleum and went about carving.  For some reason, it was hard to initially carve this work.  I don't know if it was because I was worried that I'd somehow screw up or that this was the first time in a long time that I had carved battleship gray linoleum.  Usually, I work with the golden hued (softer) stuff.  I knew I'd like the gray material because it would hold more detail but somehow it was hard to just get started. I noticed myself avoiding her face so I decided to approach the carving through the markings in her flank. In hind sight, I think I was afraid of making an error in carving her face.

As I progressed I did something I never do when carving linoleum but may start doing. I took a black magic marker and colored over the remaining surface to get a good visual on what was going to print. I've never needed to do that before but for some reason this time around it was a good aid to help me balance tones throughout the rest of the piece.

      As I began closing in on her head it was becoming less of a hassle to begin working on her face because now I had a "guide map" of sorts to work with. I could match the texture and colors in her face to the textures and colors in her body without second guessing because I could already see how they will look.

Once the carving was finished, I mounted it on a piece of plywood with carpet tape to make it type high on my vandercook printing press. The printing was a real treat and Fatter Fat must have been a real good omen because I suffered no set backs or issues during printing. I printed her up in an oil based ink made by Graphic Chemical called Antiquarian Black. It is supposed to hearken back to the early period when books were printed and it does have a warm rich tone that is very comfortable with my soft fibrous paper. I chose to photograph the final print rather than scan it so that the morning light would bounce off the edges of he impression and you can see how it is slightly debossed into the paper. Now all I have to do is sign and edition!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dragonflies and Damselflies

   The holidays have passed and with them the memories of all we shared this season: kinship, gifts, flu viruses. . . 'Tis the season!
In celebration of ushering in the new this year, I'm starting my first post with some photos documenting a new painting I'm working on. I always enjoyed the works of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement artisans as well as works from the Art Deco period. Illustrations in books that looked like woodblock prints always thrilled me. Don't get me started on how much I loved Aubrey Beardsley. Later on down the road of life I'm finding out my fascination stems from the inspiration these artisans took in soaking up and processing their natural surroundings and then imbuing their everyday life and the objects that surrounded them with the spirit of that natural world. How wonderful, I began to think, it would be to practice the same habit with plants, animals, and landscape features of my OWN surroundings. This new body of work will my made with that concept in mind. This first endeavor has been REALLY educational.

I went boating down the Rivanna River a few times this summer with my friends.  On one occasion I borrowed a sit on top kayak and  I remember a very distinct experience. The sit on top version was effortless and allowed me to drift down the river with relative ease. I could take in my surroundings and even sketch if I wished. I was amused at the insects that surrounded the wake of the boat and at times I was so still that multiple dragonflies would light on my skin and ride with me while water striders would skim my wake as we drifted down river. (I will be investing in a sit on top in the near future!)
I began the painting featured above in inspiration of that moment in time. There are a few varieties of dragonfly that stuck out in my mind but I did not know their names and I had not brought a camera with me (or a sketch book!) to document. I set about internet surfing and learned a few things. Two of the three varieties that stuck in my mind were not dragonflies but damselflies. I remember Ebony Jewel Wing Damselflies and Bluets from the creek in my back yard. I also remember large true dragonflies by the name of Common White Tail Dragonflies. I sprinkled these over a peppering of Water Striders with a background of an aquatic weed called Water Star Grass. This was the river weed that I fell so much in love with as it reminded me of a woman's hair softly listing back and forth in the currents.

I started drawing the damselflies and rendered first the Bluets. Their wings were paddle shaped and are pretty crystal clear except for one cell dyed black. It was very mesmerizing to mimic the pattern that the veins in their wings take it was almost like drawing cascading lightening.

Next came the Ebony Jewel Wing Damselflies. When painted, these insects wings will be entirely black but I want to use varying shades of black and charcoal to let the vein pattern show through. Their wings are shaped more like rudders and are more robust than the Bluets.

And lastly, All hail the power of the Common White Tail Dragonfly for he hath brought down the artist with a mighty blow! When I first rendered this insect I thought, This should be the quickest one to draw because a good portion of each wing is dedicated to an opaque black pigment. This lasted until I began to render the wings in the stained glass tile pattern that is evident in their biology. Teeny tiny little cells lined up patiently next to each other in beautifully, minute, intricate detail. I had to break out the swing arm magnifying glass because my eyes were becoming so tired.

Mostly because I could only dedicate 1 to 2 hours of my day to this piece before I had to get ready for work, working on this solitary dragonfly has taken about a week.
But today is Saturday and I finally finish this single dragonfly. Perhaps Sunday will bring at least half of the last dragonfly. I hope to dedicate at least part of the day to sharpening my block carving knives as I still have a crayfish in need of a new life as a key block!