Sunday, August 29, 2010

Levad's Legacy

Some weeks ago I shared with you the development of the linocut Legacy, an image of a MacGillivray's warbler. Other than calling it a commission, I was a little vague about the purpose of this image. But no longer! Yesterday (was it only yesterday?) its roll as the presentation piece for this year's Rich G. Levad Award was fulfilled.

The Levad Award honors the memory and work of Rich Levad who, after retiring from teaching, turned his lifelong love of birds into a second career with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.  The award goes each year to the person who, like Rich, has provided distinguished service to the ornithological community, made scholarly contributions to the field of ornithology and/or has enthused others about conserving birds and their habitats through sharing his or her personal knowledge and experience.

Ongoing challenges with Lou Gehrig's disease led Rich to retire (for the second time) in 2006. He passed away in 2008, but not before adding one more accomplishment to his long and impressive list. Rich typed the manuscript for his book "The Coolest Bird: A Natural History of the Black Swift," meticulously and with one finger.

At the RMBO Annual Picnic on Saturday, Rich's wife Karen (on the right) and RMBO board member Carol Cochran presented the 2010 Richard G. Levad award to Hugh Kingery, a fixture in the Colorado birding community.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Halfway finished! (?)

Should I call it skepticism? Lack of faith? Cynicism? Maybe it's just experience talking, but I detect a certain amount of disbelief in my ability to carry out this linocut in a moderate number of color passes.

Okay, so your doubt is justified. Post-post (the period of time following my last blog post) I analyzed my drawn image and decided six passes were necessary. But I really am going to try to keep it to six. (I need this piece dry and frame-able in a short amount of time, for one thing.) I've been thinking lately about someone I used to work with... someone who despised meetings. (Which was unfortunate, since he was a government employee and therefore subject to an inordinate number of them.) He asserted that if a meeting or presentation went on longer than 45 minutes people were either repeating themselves or lying.

Hmmm. I wonder if that concept can be applied to linocuts.

So, six colors it is! I'm experimenting with other aspects of the process, anyway, so I need to keep it manageable. And, believe it or not, we're already halfway through!

Color #1 was a solid yellow. Just a rectangle. Yawn. Didn't take a photo.

Color #2 was something a bit more complex. There are leaves in this image that range from yellow to a sort of lime green, so I mixed two colors, rolled them up together to get a blend, and inked the block. The blend was only 2 colors on a 4-inch-wide brayer and this is a 6-inch-tall piece, so I inked in one direction and then in the other to get a green-to-yellow-to-green effect. Does that make sense? I wish I would have thought to take a photo of the roll-up on the inking slab so you could see what was happening. The colors were so transparent that they barely showed on the brayer or the block, but here you can see the result. In some areas the yellow intensified and in others the green was dominant, with pale yellow bits in between. Cool.

The variety in leaf color achieved with just two passes became a lot more obvious when Color #3 went down, a semi-transparent ocher-y color.

I'm feeling quite pleased so far. During the woodcut workshop earlier this month I learned just how ridiculously thinly I could apply ink to the block when using a press, so I'm challenging myself to make each hand-rubbed ink layer as thin as possible. So far I can't be quite as delicate in application... but I'm working on it.

The bummer is that I have to stop my momentum for a few days, as my schedule involves taking down an exhibition, going to an out-of-town client meeting, and going to a gig with the DM. (Have to see him SOMEtime.) Ah, well... we like a certain amount of suspense with our printmaking. Don't we?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Filling an empty space, step 2

I slept fitfully last night and then this morning tweaked my back. Argh. The last few weeks have been a bit of a trial! Sick for weeks and now my back.... (sigh). I definitely have better things to do.

But at least my sometimes-floor-sometimes-sofa Sunday sequestration let me draw up the new linocut block. I'm actually thinking I can tackle this image in only 4 or 5 passes... we'll see.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Filling an empty space

I'm getting ready for my last big exhibition of the year, so earlier this week I popped by my framer with a few final pieces to prepare. I ordered one extra frame in a size I thought I could finish by installation date (September 10) and decided that will have to be enough. I've been twitchy to work on some big pieces lately, but by September? Not too likely.

So, what's this last small piece before September 10 going to be?

No idea.

Blank block.

I'm in a funny place just now. After an amazing week producing woodcuts at Anderson Ranch I have all sorts of new things I want to try and new ways I want to work... but it seems now is not the time to wander off into new territory. Not when I need to create another image in an already-established series for a show that has to hang in three weeks. So my block sits... waiting for me to find a balance between where I've been and where I want to go.

I think most people know this place... facing a blank slate, a blank page, a blank canvas, a blank whatever. Sometimes the blank can be intimidating, but it is also full of possibility. This block could be ANYTHING. (It could even be a doorstop.)

This week my mental energy has been directed at a big contract job, deadline of which looms ominously. But every once in a while this blank block, whispering of possibility, slips in and out of my attention- like a butterfly across the garden. And I really want to chase it.

Downtime has been non-existent since... oh... I don't know... May?... so yesterday when I felt myself starting to fight another cold (ack!)  I decided it was time to take a book with me to a hot bath. Twenty minutes. Surely I could give myself 20 minutes.

The book I took upstairs to the tub was Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit," which I read some time ago and decided I could spend some time with again. I'm thinking about my work routines post-ranch, remember, and the beginning pages of this book are all about routines and rituals and work habits.

In the first few pages I found one short paragraph which smacked me upside the head:

"The blank space can be humbling. But I've faced it my whole professional life. It's my job. It's also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity."

Filling this empty space constitutes my identity. Is it really that simple? Wait, maybe simple isn't the word I want. Maybe it's the idea that filling an empty space with dance, music, art, poetry, prose is enough that feels like a dope slap. There's so much explaining, and justifying, and defining, and all kinds of stuff that clutters a career in the arts. I really hate to use words like artist, and creative, and talented... because they carry so much baggage. What does it mean to call someone an artist? Or talented. What the heck does that mean? On the spectrum of artists from the Lascaux cave painters to Michaelangelo to Damien Hirst where do I fit in?

Filling this empty space constitutes my identity. There is no expectation here about how I fill that space or why I do it or with what degree of competency I do it. I just do it. Sure, I have to talk about it, and think about it. I have to hone my craft and develop my skills and strive to produce authentic work. Some days I will be successful and some days I will fail. But all of that stuff is extra. I don't have to walk in to the studio and say, "Today I'm going to make Art," and feel like a fraud when I just make a mess. My bottom line? I carve marks in an empty block and print those marks to empty paper. Filling an empty page constitutes my identity.

Could be I'm just rambling here, but it's an idea that feels right, so I'm going to live with it a while and see what happens. Start from the bottom line and build... and if it all comes tumbling down, the bottom line is still there and I start again. From there I can go anywhere.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Up and running

We had a fun afternoon at the Maverick Potter yesterday. Traffic was good, conversations were fun, and the blueberry juice/fizzy water punch was the perfect refreshment on a hot afternoon. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and will continue to do so the rest of the month. There's a lot to see in addition to linocuts... including pottery by Mark Rittman and turned wood pieces by Ed Berg.

Thanks to Mark and Suzanne, Maverick Potter artist/proprietors for the opportunity to share their space!

Suzanne Rittman and I at the Second Saturday reception.

The week ahead looks a bit... how shall I say it?... It will be a week of lots of variety as one contract job wraps up, another contract begins, I try to get a new lino and/or woodcut on the table, the DM leaves town for gigs, and I get ready to have a little display at the Salida Farmers Market next Saturday. Relief prints EVERYWHERE, that's my motto.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yeah, baby

Looky what I got today.

It was a bit of a splurge, about which I've been feeling a trifle guilty. But yesterday I took work over to the Maverick Potter Gallery and today, before I even had price tags up, a linocut sold. More than covered the cost of this groovy Takach brayer.

The universe supporting my decision? Uh huh. That's my story, and I'm stickin' with it.

It's going to be a grand weekend for the arts in Salida once again. Riverside Arts Festival is going on in Riverside Park, and our usual Second Saturday art shindigs will be going on around town. We'll be celebrating less than a block from the Festival at the Maverick Potter, 123 N. F Street, from 3-6pm this Saturday, August 14. Pottery by Mark Rittman, turned wood objects by Ed Berg, and linocuts by yours truly.

And I can't forget to mention that David (aka the Darling Man) will be tapping out tunes on Chapman Stick on Saturday at noon during the Festival. Come on down! It's going to be great fun.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Project Woodcut

Monday morning, August 2. Day One of Transforming the Landscape with the amazing Jean Gumpper.

After a get-acquainted session with fellow workshopmates, faculty, and staff, we all picked up our pencils and color tools and some scraps of paper and headed out to a lush little creek behind the Anderson Ranch Arts Center campus.

Time for "Project Woodcut."

You know... kinda like that crazy Project Runway show. (Which I've only seen because I recently stayed in a condo that had cable.) Short time limit, narrow parameters, race to the finish. Our version did not (thank goodness) have the drama of personality and high stakes of potential big money. But it did go something like this: 15 minutes to collect sketches and color samples. Minimum 3 color woodcut print in an edition of 8 due by 6:00pm.

Epic. Especially since we also had bits of instruction worked in to the day as things came up. How to prepare and carve wood plates. How to mix transparent inks. How to ink up the plate. How to register for a bleed print. How to run plates through the press. How to clean up and then mix the next color. How to think about the effect of transparent inks on each other. How to keep carving tools sharp.

Did I mention it was epic?

It was so high speed that I didn't have time to take many pictures, but I do have a few to provide a glimpse of the day.

Here are my sketches from the 15-minute reference-gathering episode:

In the end I opted for the sketch of fireweed on the right because the shapes were big and simple and I had no idea how it would feel to carve wood instead of lino. It was a good choice, if a bit literal and timid. Our print size was only 3 x 5 inches, so it seemed crazy to get TOO detailed.

The first two colors were pinks, as you might have guessed, but the third was a bright lime green, which since it was transparent gave me this:

Orange! Which is what I wanted for the stems, but a nice surprise. (Surprising in that it worked out, I mean.) Jean had an extremely handy piece of old-school graphic technology which doesn't seem to be available any more: a Pantone color overlay fan book. The transparent-on-mylar kind, not the solid-on-paper kind. If you have one... oooh! I know some printmakers who would give their firstborn to get ahold of it. (Well, I know at least one who is presently searching hard.)

Anyway, the overlay book made it possible to try different transparent colors to get an idea of what might happen. I don't think I ever would have picked lime green over pink to get orange, but there you have it.

The fourth color (after the 6:00pm, 3-color deadline) was light green again, more opaque so it would stay that way, and then a fifth color, a darker green. By that time it was almost 10pm and I was more than ready to crash. Unfortunately I was also so wired from the day that I hardly slept, which became a theme for most of us the rest of the week.

On Tuesday we went on another source-material-gathering expedition and started a second print, about which more later. The sixth and last color didn't go down on this little thing until Wednesday, but OOH! I think it made the piece, don't you?

We printed on a variety of papers... very interesting to see how differently the inks responded to each surface.

So there you have it. My first-ever woodcut, concept to execution in one day (plus a little more). Yippee! At the end of the day, with what few brain cells I had still functioning, I made a list of seven Things I Had Never Done Before in Printmaking. (There were also a few Things I Haven't Done in 20 Years, like use a press.) Any day that has seven never-before-attempted skills added to it is a darn good one in my book. My mind was reeling, my feet were killing me, but oh! What a day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Forwards or Backwards?


Should I go back and finish the story of the lino-in-progress cliffhanger, or jump right in to exciting new workshop news?

Loose ends do not appeal to my sense of order, so even though I'd love to regale you right away with action-packed woodcut adventure stories, I'll take us back to the linocut that started in the July 27th post.When we last left our feathered hero we were on color #8, so let's wrap this thing up, shall we?

I quite liked the effect of the lighter color over the darker. It's something I've experimented with a few times, and after this past week will be doing quite a bit more of. I think. Still, I wanted some more contrast, so back to a darker color I went.

At this point I was pretty pleased with it, but the little warbler had some small amounts of black in its face that still needed to be added. But I didn't want to have too MUCH black... I was afraid it would be overpowering. So I did something I hadn't done before.

I made a plan.

Shocking, isn't it? But I thought myself very clever. I made a scan of the print at this stage, printed out a couple of color inkjet copies, and went at it with a black marker. I drew three different versions, which I now realize I threw away before getting to this post. Sorry I can't show them to you.

At any rate, I decided on this version, with a black border that goes behind the vegetation and some selective keylining. Fun, eh?
"Legacy," 10-color reduction linocut, 6" x 6"

I'm afraid I still have to keep you in the dark about precisely what this critter is for, but I'll introduce the award and its winner at the end of the month, after the presentation is made.

It's funny to look at this piece now that I have a week of printmaking workshop behind me. I can see about a zillion things I'd do differently. Well, maybe not a zillion. But close. Can't wait to show you!

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Anderson Ranch Arts Center meeting hall (left) and dining hall (right) from the steps of the ceramics/woodworking buildings.

I've been sitting here for several minutes, staring at the screen and wondering how to pick up again when absolutely nothing is the same as it was a week ago.

Adjectives to describe this past week all seem flat and devoid of color. Any word I choose seems like an understatement after the rich abundance of the experience. EVERYTHING was great. Facilities, food, staff, accommodations. Every single member of the workshop brought something unique and inspiring to the group, as well as a work ethic that kept us all in the shop 10 or 12 hours a day. (Can you say "printmakers are a tad obsessive-compulsive"?) Jean Gumpper was (and is) a model of artistic vision, craftsmanship and instruction... challenging, encouraging and inspiring us every step of the way.

Yeah. It was a little difficult to come home. Not that I didn't want to be home, but I sure didn't want to leave the blissful focus that comes with no responsibility other than learning.

I think I won't try to say much about the work itself just yet... I'm still in that "What just happened?" mode. But here's a quick look at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center facilities just for starters. I was surprised when I got home to see how few photos I actually took... but you'll get a glimpse, anyway.

Painting and printmaking building. (Printmakers in the basement, of course.)

Part of the wonderful printmaking facilities. Everyone in the class had their own large table for work space, as well as access to three intaglio presses. (There were litho presses, too, but we didn't use them.)

Update: Here's a link to photos of the workshop on the Anderson Ranch Flickr site. More to be added, I'm sure.

Linocut in Progress: The Third Act

Time to wrap up this linocut ! And we are wrapping at warp speed (see what I did there?)... because there are deadlines. Exhibition deadline...