Saturday, October 21, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 16

This week my cold seems to have subsided, and I felt well enough to go back to work in my part time job, and all along I've been teaching my classes.  And I've been trying to get some rest when I can.  The result is that I haven't been in the Studio for over a week.  But I figure my rubbing style proofs must be dry by now, so I'd spend part of my Saturday doing some artwork.  Got to the building around 2:30 pm and went inside, only to find one little problem.

The door to the stairway that leads down to the basement had a new doorknob with a lock in it, one that would require a key.  In the decade or so that I've had a space in this building there has never been a lock on this door.  And it was locked. And I did not have the key.

Luckily I know the building quite well and know other ways to get to the basement.  Chose the elevator, got to my space, tossed my backpack onto my table.  My mission today was to finish the prints from the mermaid block.  As I expected, the ink was dry on the proofs so it was safe to proceed.  Had to take the roundabout route back to my car and got my bag of supplies related to this piece, and then my long path back to the basement.

Wanted to work on two pieces of the mermaid today- the final layer of her hair, and another layer on her tail.  For the hair I mixed yellow and white, spread it thin, used a hard brayer, and rolled it out.  Over the layers of darker ink from previous sessions, textures were produced.  The remaining lemon yellow ink was incorporated into a new blue ink (with a squeeze of pthalo blue) to make a new layer for the tail, and that was rolled on.  Did this with both proofs that I had.  Results can be seen above and below.

And I think that's all the ink I will be putting on these rubbing proofs.  Still don't have a plan for these things yet, but I got them.  Left them in the Studio to dry.  The process has left some color on the block itself, ink that worked through the thin paper.  No problem, as I will be coloring the block eventually.  The block in its current state can be seen below.

I washed the tools and palette and gathered my stuff.  I picked up my backpack and there on the table was a shiny new key.  Guessed it had been left for me for the new lock.  Once again took my circuitous route to my car to drop off my stuff, then back inside to try the new key.  And it was indeed the key to this new lock.  Put it on my ring.  I don't know if they plan to have this door be locked at all times and there was no one around today to ask.  The current state seems to be a fire code violation.  But I was able to leave the basement, so I'll leave the art to dry for a while, and start thinking about what my next project will be.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 15

Still suffering the effects of a long cold that has been hanging around for weeks, but Tuesdays are often Studio days for me anyway, so I took a moment to go in and advance my mermaid project by a little bit.  Actually I had stopped by yesterday to check the progress of ink drying on my proofs, and found some sections fairly dry, others still thick with wet ink.

That thick ink could take a long time to dry, and not wanting to wait forever to finish this thing, I gave some thought to how I could work around the problem.  As a professor one of my main jobs is helping students to figure out how to solve art related problems, and having taught 2D, 3D, drawing, printmaking, and some general classes, there are few art related problems I haven't dealt with.  When I checked out the proofs yesterday, I found the green ink on the tail was still wet, so I put that off for another day.  The dark mass of her hair was fairly dry, but not the starfish or the sand dollar on the side of her head.  So that was the place to work on today.  I figured out something.

My plan for the hair was always to go over the dark part with light highlights,  a common approach artists use to show depth in hair, leaves of a tree, etc.  Rolling my brayer over the sand dollar and star fish would have probably spread those inks into her hair, not a desirable thing.  So I took some scrap drawing paper, took an offset print off those parts, cut out that dual shape, and placed it on top of the print, exactly over the place it came from.  Using the cut piece as a masking stencil, I could safely roll a hard brayer over all the hair, applying a textured layer of a medium value orange over the dark mass without contaminating anything else.   It all took less than an hour, including clean up, to do both proofs.  Results can be seen above.  Not quite done with the hair yet, but this is an improvement, and eventually a layer of blonde hair will go over what's here, adding further depth.  I'll deal with the tail another time.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 14

I had business in Ocean Township today, and decided to divert to the Studio to continue work on the Mermaid print.  The block and tools were already in my car, the inks and more tools and the early stage prints already in the Studio, and I had maybe an hour to spare.  Time to get a little more done.

I had left the two prints in progress in the Studio, and found them to still be little bit wet.  When water based ink is printed it tends to dry pretty quickly, but the process of printing results in a very thin layer of ink, while this rolling system I was using leaves thick layers sometimes.  Mixed yellow, red, and white to make a pale orangish color and used that to do the starfish, and straight white for the  sand dollar and scallop shell bikini, most of which was applied with a brush, due to the small size of the items.  Still using the block underneath to make the shapes.  Added a layer of green (with some yellow and white) on top of the tail, this time with a hard brayer to accentuate the carved shapes.  The next step will be to put the light layer of hair on top, but there's too much wet ink up there to do that today.

A little more color has found it's way through the paper and onto the block, but the block will be colored eventually with the same colors, so this isn't a problem.  I'll leave all the prints in the Studio to dry and maybe see if they are ready to be continued next week.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 13

Feeling a bit worn out from a lingering cold plus working many days each week, but I don't like to waste a good Studio day.  Arranged a doctor appointment late in the day, and had nothing else going on, so I went and did some more mermaid work.

Like I said last time, my plan was to take some prints before I finish and turn over the sculpture to the person who requested it, and I decided to try a variation on the rubbing style I had developed in my Montclair days.  Back then it was all oil inks, but now what I have is water based inks.  Both start the same, put the block face up on a table, place a piece of thin paper on top of the dry block, mix ink on the palette and get a brayer all full of ink, then roll it over the paper on top of the block.  Where there is raised (uncut) wood underneath, ink is deposited, while where the wood is cut away the paper stays relatively clean.  It can be done once, or in layers.  Some interesting effects are possible, but consistency not so much, making true editions a major challenge.  That's one reason I gave it up for a more traditional relief printing technique a year into my time in Carbondale.  In this case, not wanting to have the block absolutely full of ink, I decided to experiment a bit with my old system.  And it is a bit of an experiment, as I'm going from oil ink (where viscosity is used to create the layers) to water based inks.

I prepared two pieces of Japanese paper, and mixed a few colors of ink.  First a skin tone, then a dark color.  The first was used to lay some color where face, arms and torso will be, while the dark color was used on the hair.  On the first one I made an effort not to put the skin tone on her scallop shell top (above), but on the second try (below) I let the flesh color cover all her body areas.

Then I mixed up a blue green and did the tail on the second piece, before repositioning the first sheet of paper so I could put the tail on the first one.  Other colors will come, but I'll add the layers over time.  Partly because I had a narrow window before my medical appointment, and partly because I think I want the first layers to dry before I add more on top.  For example, the dark color on the hair will be mostly covered with lighter highlights, applied with a hard brayer that I hope will result in more of the carved hair texture being revealed.

As I expected, some ink penetrated the paper and got onto the block, but not as much as would have if I did a tradition relief print from the block.  What's there will easily be covered up by what I add later.  As for the prints I started today, more work will be needed, then I'll decide what to do with them.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 12

I want to get this mermaid piece finished and I had a free chunk of time today, so I brought it up to the Studio to do a little work.

I took a good look at the block for the first time in weeks.  Saw no need for additional carving or sawing.  I did erase some of the leftover pencil lines from the original sketch, and did some detail sanding.  So it doesn't look that much different than it did, but I think it's ready for the next step.

What I'd like to do next is do a rubbing style print of it (or maybe a few) before I add the final colors to it.  This is not with a goal of creating a specific woodcut piece, but rather to have it as something I might make use of in the future.  Also it could serve as a demo piece for an approach to woodcut that I used to use back in the 1990's, and while it's not what I do now, I could see some students benefiting from the process.  I plan to use a very thin Japanese paper (as I did back then) which works well with this process, but sometimes ink can leak through the paper when doing this, which is why I want to do this before I put the final colors on the sculpture.

My visit to the Studio today also allowed me to get the answer to something I had been wondering.  Last week I had been there twice, picking up and dropping off my wooden studio chair, which I use as a drawing prop for an exercise in negative space for my classes.  In those brief visits I had noticed a lot of activity in the back parking lot, which had once been the old annex to the original high school, and years ago had been concrete and fenced in and locked with a padlock.  (our keys opened it if we needed to get in, either for spare parking, or to bring things in the back door- much closer to my Studio space.)  Several years ago all that was torn down and we were left with a dirt lot and a vague plan to pave it to create additional parking.  Last week I saw large construction type vehicles and piles of dirt, and today workmen were removing the retaining wall that separates the property from route 71, so obviously something is going down.

This is the best view I could get through my Studio window, with dumpsters and other things blocking other directions, but you get the idea.  The office was open today, so I asked and got an answer.  This is the process of actually finally paving that back lot.  The hope is that it will be done by the end of next month.  This will be of great benefit to people coming here for events, especially if they have the back doors open.  Even if not, walking around the building is easier than walking across town.  Keeping those spots free of cars not coming for events and businesses in the building, that's another challenge they'll have to deal with.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 11

Ended up with some extra time today, so I made a stop at the Studio to continue on the mermaid piece.  However, today I left the block and tools at home (they are heavy to carry around if I don't need them) and did some experiments with color.

Back in June, as I was preparing for my first Belmar woodcut class in a few years, I checked out my storage container there in Belmar and discovered a nice assortment of water soluble relief ink.  A variety of colors, plus black.  I knew I had a supply somewhere, but looked in vain when I was preparing for classes in 2D and Intro last year.  Found it too late for college classes last year, but it was available for my summer woodcut class in Belmar this year, where some of my students paired it with colored papers from my supply of that stuff.

I expect to be doing some print projects with my college classes this fall, so some of it will get used there.  As of now I don't plan to make any traditional prints of my new mermaid block, but I can see taking some of my old rubbing style prints from it (for possible future use in some project) before I turn it in.  And once we decided to make it a color piece of sculpture, I realized that this ink would be the ideal material to use to color it.  It cleans up with water, can be applied with brush or brayer, comes in variety of colors, and is designed to sit on wooden surfaces...and I happen to have a bunch of it.  At least for now, as none of these are being manufactured any more.

Today I was working out my palette.  I knew that I needed a skin tone, hair color, tail color, starfishes, and shells.  For materials I had the following colors to work with:  white, black, blue, green, red, yellow.  Piece of cake.  I squeezed out a little of each ink onto some sketchbook paper, then used a paint brush to play with mixes.  I think these will work, but not until I finish all the planned sanding left on the block.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 10

With school coming soon, it's time to get going on finishing this mermaid piece.  As I said last time, the cutting is pretty much done for this piece, so sanding is the next step.

I dug through some of my other bags of woodcut materials and found a variety of sandpapers, made from different materials.  None of the packages state what the grits are made from.  I chose a 120 grit sandpaper to work with today- listed as a medium grade, suitable for leveling wood.  I also had rougher and finer grits, but this seemed like a good place to start.  Mostly working on bare skin today, areas of torso and face, but also some on the arms and hands.  Plus sanded the edges all the way around, smoothing them a little more.  Color will do more to help build space and form, but smoothing the broad areas of skin is a good thing.

I suppose I could do this sanding at home, but as the photo shows it does create a little bit of fine dust, and why would I want to deal with that in my apartment?  Time spent sanding gave me some time to think about the color choices, but I'll save those final decisions until after the sanding is completed.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


A lot of being an artist is taking care of the little tasks that have to be done.  Dealt with a few such things today.

Since my last posting I solved the mystery of what happened to my piece in Ocean Grove.  When I went to the account I use to e-mail the building, I found I had an e-mail waiting for me with the explanation.  As had been suggested, due to construction in that hallway they took those works down a few weeks early, and they should be in storage up on the 3rd floor.  Since I couldn't be back during the day for the rest of the week (work conflicts), I asked if I could pick it up on Saturday, and a reply e-mail the next day told me who to see and when.   And with today being Saturday... I got there in the noon hour, found my contact, we took the elevator up to the 3rd floor and he gave me my framed piece.  Took it right to my car.

On my way home I stopped in Belmar.  I had concluded that the most logical way to color my mermaid piece would be to use relief ink, since I have many colors and it is designed to be on wood. Don't need it yet (more sanding to come), but Saturday is the one day that I don't work and that they are open, so I decided to get it today.  Just took the whole tote bag of water based color inks with me. Later I will decide which colors I need for this project and return the rest to my storage bin at the BAC.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 9

Recently had an unusual dream.  Odd dreams and nightmares are pretty normal for me- it goes along with the artist thing.  Sometimes I can even put them to use.  Probably not it this case, but it relates in a way.

In the dream I'm in my parents' car, a family road trip to somewhere.  Along the way we stop at tourist attraction of some kind.  It's an old very large house that has been converted to a museum, no longer set up like a home, but the interior opened up to create a large central space.  No normal household furniture, but lots of museum style display cases around the perimeter of the room.  Lights were very dim, making it difficult to see things on display or to read the posted information.  But the thing I noticed the most was that spaces between cases, angles in walls, etc were filled with cigar store indians.  No wall labels explained why they were there.

In my youth such things were still sometimes around.  Not so common these days.  For those not familiar, these were usually standing wooden figures, carved fully in the round, generally shown clutching a handful of cigars.  They were made to look like Native Americans, or at least what many people expected them to look like, sometimes just with stereotypical facial figures, but also with clothing, and sometimes with depictions of feathered headdresses.  The statues could be monochromatic carved wood, or hand painted to be more decorative and noticeable.  (the ones in my dream were all very dark wood)  Generally carved in a naturalistic style- some quite realistic, some more cartoonish.  Some quick research tells me that such things were originally deployed to make clear the locations of shops that sold tobacco products (like a striped barber pole), but they are far more rare these days.  Partly because of changes in the tobacco industry, partly in changes to how stores advertise, and partly because some consider them to be racially offensive.  An episode of the 90's show Seinfeld dealt with that last part as plot point.  No longer really used to advertise tobacco, the vintage figures are more likely to be seen as folk art.

So why are they in my dream?  I suppose it's possible that the racial tensions stirred up by our president this past week brought them to the fore in my subconscious.  but I think the most likely answer is this mermaid sculpture I've been working on.  I've been carving wood since long before I was an art major, decades before making my first print.  Back then I used a pocket knife, not the special gouges I have now, and my wood was usually found sticks, but I did work to represent objects in three dimensions.  For the past few decades my carving has been devoted to relief, and those relief pieces being used to print images, not as objects in themselves.  (I have occasionally shown those blocks, but more as a demonstration than as a final art piece)  This mermaid is a very different process than what I usually do.

Yesterday I stopped by my brother's house to show them the progress on the mermaid, as well as to get feedback to a few questions I had for the person who commissioned it.  Although Karen had originally said she was fine with just natural wood coloring, I explained why I feel that some color would clarify the shapes better and she agreed.  I also proposed putting some kind of top on the mermaid, thinking some might not approve of a bare breasted mermaid hanging on her daughter's wall.  She agreed, and approved my idea of a sea shell.

So I used my Tuesday Studio visit to get back to work.  I started by drawing the shell, going with a scallop style design.  Normally I'm a black line guy, but I fought that urge and showed the fluted texture of the shell by incising the lines.  Then I took off a layer of wood from the rest of the torso, all the way to the neck.  Results are shown above.

And that's probably the last of the major carving on this project.  The next phase will be done with sanding, which will require better sandpaper than what I have been carrying around lately.  I may have it in my woodcut supplies- if not, it's available.  Color will come from water based relief inks (currently stored in my Belmar class supplies) applied with brayers, brushes, or whatever make sense as I work it out.

On my way out, I stopped on the first floor to use the restroom and noticed that my contribution to the  current show in the studio building was no longer hanging on wall where it was.  All the art that had been in that hall was missing.  So I asked what happened.  If they had decided to take down the show a few weeks ahead of schedule, fine, and if they are done with it I can take my piece home.  The one person I found said that pieces were moved to protect them from construction going on, but my piece may have been relocated to another floor.  Also fine, as long as I eventually learn where it is.  I've been advised to inquire by e-mail.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 8

Saturday is generally a good day to work on art, so following a bunch of other errands, I made my way up to Ocean Grove with my mermaid block and my tools.  Today I took on the mermaid's head, my sketch based on the design I was given.  This is the second area of the figure that has multiple layers, with one small section including skin, hair, a giant sand dollar, and a giant starfish, all one on top of the other.  I thought I had an idea of how to handle it, so I set up at my Studio work table and went to it.  Below is a photo of today's labor.

Not enough shadows to make clear exactly what all the cutting means, so I did a quick pencil rubbing to make it easier to understand.  The various object shapes are definitely more visible.

The value of the pencil rubbing is not exactly what is likely to be seen in the final version.  I continue to think that color would clarify everything a bit more, so I need to see if the person who commissioned it agrees, and then figure the best way to accomplish it.  And the area will need more detail cutting and shaping.  but progress is good.  Spent about an hour doing this today.

Pushed through a lot of traffic coming through Belmar (sunny summer Saturdays are brutal at the Jersey Shore), stopped at a local supermarket to pick up a few things, and noticed that my watch was missing.  Had it on when I left the Studio.  About a month ago the watchband just gave up one day, the watch dropping to the ground as I was leaving a training.  The next day I bought a new watch strap, but with those little pins and such replacing can be an ordeal, so once I had replaced the broken side (buckle half) I decided to stop there and let the original other half continue to do the job.  My guess was that today the other side had given up.  Unfortunately, no sign of the strap there in my car, so after making my food purchases, back up to Ocean Grove.  Had some good luck in that the watch was in the first place I looked- on the ground, just under the passenger side of the car that took my space, and the wheels had not rolled over it, so it was intact and working.  Put it in my pocket and headed home, but this extra detour cost me a half hour or so.  Later in the evening I replaced the half that broke today, using the half I hadn't used last month.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 7

In recent weeks I had fallen into a pattern of working in the Studio on weekends and Mondays, and mowing the lawn on Tuesdays.  However, I wasn't able to get to the Studio for the past few days, and we've had a light but persistent rain hanging around all day.  So no mowing, but a trip to the Studio today.

The focus today was on the mermaid's tail.  I had sketched on some scale shapes a while ago and had time to think about the plan.  In the prototype I had been shown, the scales were depicted with incised lines, but I decided to take a more three dimensional approach.  So I outlined around the ends of the scales, removing the layer, with plans to eventually smooth the transition from scales to the empty spaces around them.

Since the tail stuff didn't take that long, I decided to keep working a little while and start on the mermaid's head.  My plan for this was to (for now) keep the hair and items on her head at the highest level, while removing some of he layer around those to create some range of depth.  Will need to be a lot more work on this part, but this photo should give an idea of where I'm going.  Below, a view of the progress on the whole thing as of today.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 6

Mondays are usually a good day to work on art.  My current schedule has no other job conflicts that day, plus it was a rainy day today, so not much shore traffic.  So in the afternoon I grabbed the mermaid block, and my cutting tools, and headed up to the Studio.

I also made sure to bring my sharpening stone with me today, as I found some of these tools to be in need of sharpening last time.  My stone is a water stone, needing to be soaked in water before it's used, and I wondered if I'd have to go to another part of the building to get some water, since the sink in our space has been out of order since May.  As I approached our sink I noticed a small puddle on the floor nearby, which made me think the sink had been used recently.   Turned the faucet and it worked, so filled my container and dropped my stone in there to let it get soaked.  Took care of some other building business while it was getting ready.

Two main reasons for doing this.  First, noticed last week that these tools could use some sharpening, and best to get that done before starting the carving of this image.  Second, may need to do more teaching in the near future.  College starts up in about a month, and right now I am scheduled to have a 2D class at one of my schools, and I always do a woodcut project as part of my 2D class.  Nothing is less guaranteed than an adjunct teaching schedule, but I should be prepared.  And this past weekend I had stopped by the Boatworks seeking information and ran into the next intake, a dog themed show (I'm not submitting.)  I was asked about the possibility of another woodcut class session, or even a woodcut themed show.  Regarding the former I said what I always do-  if there is a demand, I'm happy to run it.  As for the latter- I doubt there are enough artists in the area doing woodcut to fill even one gallery, much less the whole building, and our business model requires entry fees to run shows.  I am working hard to build interest in woodcut throughout the state, but it's a battle.

Anyway, my mermaid piece. After sharpening those tools that seemed to need it, I began the process of sculpting, and I started in the most complex part of the planned object- the hands.  The design (as requested by the person who asked for this) involves the mermaid swimming with arms extended out in front, holding a starfish between them.  So I have at least three layers of objects in the composition- two hands (and attached arms) and the star itself.  Plywood is a layered substance, which can be good, as removing a wood layer creates depth, and bad, as in you can lose whole chunks if you're not careful.

About 90 minutes of work got me as far as what's shown in the above photo.  It's not completely flat, and there is some implied depth to the objects, though more work is needed.  In this light, shadows emphasize some of the layers of objects, but in fuller light it's not so obvious, so maybe color will be needed to clarify the subject, but that's a decision for another day.   Meanwhile, knife, gouges, chisel, and sandpaper got me this far, so I assume they will see me through this whole project.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 5

A day off from other work, so a good day to get back to the Studio.  Not as hot and sticky as some recent days.

I had finished cutting out the silhouette shape of the mermaid last time, so I started today by cleaning things up a bit.  No saw this time- just sandpaper.  Plenty more sanding will be needed before this thing is done, but overall it's now less rough and the curves are smoother.  This also seemed a good opportunity to redraw the details planned for the surface.  No major changes to what had been there from my original sketch, but a few refinements and a lot more clarity.

In the mood to continue working on it for a while, I took out my woodcut tools and started cutting the tail.  What I had with my was my woodcut class tools, last used in Belmar.  Not quite as good as my personal tools, but still useful, though showing some of the wear of those weeks in Belmar.  They could use a good sharpening, but the part I was playing with this afternoon did not require a delicate details, so not a problem.

The curving grooves I cut in today give a general sense of my plans.  Eventually I will have sharper tools with me (and a non-skid mat will help) and I'll bring this tail into a finished shape and texture.  For now I have confirmation that this project will work

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 4

Last weekend my brother and his wife held a party in honor of their new daughter, who will eventually be receiving this mermaid sculpture.  I used the occasion to show them the progress to that point and ask a few questions.  One thing that was settled was the use of color- it was decided that we'd just leave the wood natural, relying on shapes and textures to describe everything.

The last week has been mostly occupied with a new job, but I'm off for the weekend and decided to get back into the Studio, this time bringing more tools than last time.  That included stopping at a store to by a new saw.  since I couldn't find my old keyhole saw and I needed something with a long narrow blade to cut out some of the awkward tight spaces in the design.  As demonstrated last time, I could have done the task gradually with a utility knife, but this seemed like it would be a lot faster.

And it was.  In less than an hour I had removed the chunk of wood above the arms and to the left of the starfish, completing my mermaid silhouette.  The rest of this process will be done with sandpaper and my woodcut gouges.