Monday, February 14, 2011

Update the look of your artwork

I have not posted for some time, and that is because I undertook a couple of large and complicated woodcut prints. I say large and complicated, because I do not own a press(other than my table top version which holds a max size 8 inches by 10 inches). I am hand printing which adds to the complexity and time. I prepared both of these new prints for an exhibition on printmaking titled Light/Dark. Both these prints are inspired from techniques used in early works completed about 15+ years ago. Some of these early works were created using a hand held dremel to carve the relief linocut.  I am looking back at these old works, and intend to update the look with 2 new prints using punches, awls, and chisels. Here is "The Collector" and "The Waterfront," and I am posting notes and details on creating both of these below.

"The Collector," hand printed in 2011 is approx 15x18 and uses 2 woodcut plates(above). "The Waterfront" (below) hand printed in 2011 is approx 20x26 and used 1 woodcut plate. I used virtually the same carving techniques for both prints, but each had different visual goal.

The main goal for each print was to show off the carving techniques used with a variety of punches, awls and Japanese chisels. When printing the goal is to show off the multitude of color in "The Collector," and the variety of tonal values in "The Waterfront."

"The Collector," uses 2 plates as shown below, in sequentially carved order. Here is my basic setup: I am using found plywood, not very high quality, and not recommended for ease of carving. I clamp my plywood plank to my workstation. The cutting is extremely difficult on low grade plywood. It is heavily grained, so each time I'm cutting in a soft, light area the cutting blade on the chisel digs into the wood deeply, then as you are cutting into the dark grain the chisel feels the hard wood and stops you from making any sort of smooth cut. So there are a lot of chisel skip marks(or unintended cuts), and cuts through the dark grain areas were cut twice to even the look. This wood is also hard to cut when you are close to a knot, or working against the grain. My suggestion is to get a clear(of knots) and finished plywood as I use on all my woodcuts now.
"The Collector," (above: setup, below: plate 1 carving completed)
In the image above, the plate is carved to simple lines, as this plate will be printed in a doctored version of the White Line print method. Below is plate 2, and in the first stages of completing the carving. In this early version you can see the areas that have already been "punched" with the variety of tools. The design is the exact same as plate 1, and careful registration of the design on both plates is crucial for a successful print. (see earlier blogs on registration techniques)
Above, on plate 2, I am adding additional cutting/carving around the punch marks to give a unique look when both plates are printed. Below, additional progress is being made in both carving and punch marks. What I am concentrating on is making a variety of abstract patterns within each area of the drawing, and trying not to repeat the same pattern. I use the pre-drawn grid on my plate to line up where I want the punch marks to go. I allow for a lot of leeway in the punches and awls. By this, I mean that I am not focusing on being exact with every punch mark since I know that is impossible.
This is impossible because of the grain, soft, and hard areas in the wood. I also don't want to be exact, I want to change the force of the hammer as it strikes the punch. I want the finished work to show a hand made creation. Basically, this is a woodcut, so I am treating it for its natural properties and not trying to force something out of it which I know it won't provide.
Above, you can see a build up of waste that has been carved away by the chisels, the progress to different areas, and some of the tools. My thoughts are in the printing, and making every attempt to gain a wide variety of colors and textures through the carving method used. In the below image you can see a detailed photo of how each space has been treated differently.
The plate is near completion(above), and completed(below). After I have all my carving done, I paint a thin layer of watered down gesso. I specify "thin," because I do not want to fill in any of the finely carved details.
I'm looking forward to printing this work and all that needs to be calculated is the color choices. When I begin the printing, I am hinging my paper to my woodcut plate on my registration marks. I am hand painting(with waterbase printmaking ink) directly onto plate 1 in various areas, and then printing hand printing them one space, and one color at a time. the photo below shows this method after being repeated about 30 times.

Yes, this is a very slow and time consuming process, and I often print for a few hours and leave it to the next day. The time involved in printing, "The Collector," is about 15-20 hours to get one copy.
The print above shows printing of plate 1 is near completed. and the print below is the first photo I have where I have started printing plate 2.
When printing plate 2, I can clearly see how the overlapping of the printed textures is going to make the color choices crucial for the carved areas to pop out of the overall image.
My focus is to make a print with a strong raked light coming from the back left portion of the print.
The print above is the completed first print from the 2 plates. The top image of this blog is the second printed copy. Below is how the blocks look after the first printing.
(Plate 1 above, Plate 2 below) What I want to show here is the way these blocks have been carved to support the White Line printing method. This method allows for direct painting to the plate. You can see how each space is separated by color, and gives the unique look of the final piece.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Know Who You Are as an Artist: Find your niche

Today I am changing the title of my blog from The Creative Process: Painting and Printmaking, to The Creative Process: of Woodcut Printmaking.  

I am working on a new woodcut today in my studio. I am in the first stages of making some of the first cuts right after the drawing is completed. I do a lot of thinking while I am in the middle of creating or "doing" the art. Knowing who you are as an artist is important so you know what your focus is when you are making any statement. It is important to recognize where you are making the biggest contribution to art. For Henry Moore it was sculpture, for Van Gogh it was painting. Defining who you are as an artist is a challenge and it is also something you should always know.

I have met many people over the years and and when asked what I do, I usually say, "I am a painter and a printmaker." That is what I knew and believed. I thought I was a painter, as I do paint, I still paint, and printmaking was relegated in my mind as secondary due to its associated 2nd class status to paintings. Prints sometimes involve making large editions, or seem less accomplished when compared with paintings. But I came to realize today, that I am not much of an experimental painter as I am an experimental woodcut printmaker.

When I paint, I paint in a comfortable style, without many changes over the years, and paintings are now inspired by a series of prints. I only make a few paintings per year, while producing a much greater number of woodcut prints.

When I first took up lino/woodcut as my primary printmaking method over 20 years ago, I thought I was making less accomplished versions of paintings I had created. But after reviewing a portfolio of my work today you will find I have produced far more different works in lino/woodcut than painting. Along with the quantity, I found far more experimentation and realizing that I am do my primary experimental and creative work as a woodcut printmaker.

I  now introduce myself as a woodcut printmaker, even though I have been all along. It just took time for the fantasy of being a romantic Van Gogh like painter was really not me. I still paint with vigor, intense feeling and, thought, but my primary working medium is woodcut. I am a woodworker, I use my hands to create, I experiment with different materials, techniques, and ideas. I define what woodcut printmaking is, and not the other way around.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Find the Best Materials to Master Fine Technical Skills

Choosing the best tools will open the gateway to creating better works of art. Mastering your craft as a printmaker is essential to making good technical prints. Without these skills some artists may never attempt printmaking. Good tools, and knowledge of your process allows you to determine the what to, and how to create a work of art.

When I first started woodcut printmaking back in 1990, I did not consider much of woodcutting, nor did I think this would become my primary printmaking medium. I was in love with etching at the time as it was all that I was trained to do. When I graduated college I realized the toxic etching chemicals and press I needed to set up a home studio was expensive and unrealistic. I switched to linocut and woodcut printmaking to satisfy craving for printing in a non-toxic manner. I purchased what a lot of beginners choose,..the basic, plastic, interchangeable cutting heads made by Speedball Co. Early on, these worked fine for a while. I found them clunky, not very sharp since they were made so children could not injure themselves. As an adult, I needed better materials and I finally began to change my perception when I found there is something better. 

I found woodcut to be a medium that was very compact initially. I could work on carving a print on my lunch breaks at work, and hand printed on the weekends. The only material I needed was the woodcutting surface and the cutting tool. My early woodcut works tend to be very small, and filled with lots of detail. I soon noticed that my cutting materials were setting me back. I would have skips with the cutting knives that sometimes destroyed part of the design. (My early woodcut tools have been buried in the local dump for years)

On a unrelated visit to my local retail store dedicated to Japanese tools, I was searching for some garden knives. I noticed several groups of printmaking chisels, and I decided to purchase a few to give them a try. These tools made a world of difference and centered my focus on woodcut printmaking. The tools had so much more to offer that it changed the way I carved, it changed the images in the artwork, and it changed my whole look at printmaking. These tools gave me the immediate ability to make more advanced prints, and combine printmaking techniques. These woodcutting tools have harder steel, a finer and sharper point, a wider variety of sizes and are even more comfortable and balanced in the hand.

Paper has also played an important role in how I print. I was taught to use 100% rag papers, and typically French or Italian. These papers are fine quality, and heavily sized....perfect for running through a press. But these papers also have a drawback for me. Because they are so thick and heavily sized, I could not print using the white line technique. I once again gravitated towards Japanese papers. Like most fine papers in the world, The Japanese papers are made by a rich family tradition with the techniques being handed down through generations. The Japanese papers are also made of rice or mulberry paper pulp, and the natural properties of these pulps make a stronger paper, and a much thinner paper. The thin quality allows me to print without pre-soaking the paper which has lead to more inventive ways of printmaking. This paper also has its drawbacks, sometimes wrinkles will form in the printing process that I do not like. This typically happens when a lot of medium is used the ink gets sticky, or when I work on a hot day the ink remains tacky on the printing plate and pulls the paper fibers and sometimes rips.

Inks are different from one brand to another too. I have found Dick Blick inks work fine, but if you would like a more rich and concentrated ink I suggest Daniel Smith. I use both and combine them when mixing colors. Dick Blick inks are ready to go straight out of the tube, while Daniel Smith inks are tacky/sticky and need to be cut with medium to get the desired texture to roll it out.

Experimenting with different tools also helps. Forget your local art store and you may find something that works great for you, the way the product was never intended. Here are a few tools in my studio that I have adopted to continue my printmkaing process. I found chopstick rests to be the perfect tool for resting a wet brush, common hardware clamps to secure large printmaking plates when cutting and printing, a wooden spoon has doubled as a baren since I began woodcut printing. Nails, screws, punches, awls, routers, and dremel have all been used to create unique works of art.

Find your own materials, learn how to use them, and use them in a creative manner to the best of your ability.