Sunday, January 30, 2011

Boardwalk Showers part 7

Well, we got that snow storm on Wednesday night as predicted, dumping about 8 inches around here by Thursday morning. Most times that would seem like a lot, but after that Christmas blizzard it's not very challenging or impressive. The streets were cleared, and school was declared open, so I dug myself out, got ready for class, and off I went. No complaints here- I really don't like having to lose class meetings and the way the weather has been shaping up around here, it's good to get in any meetings that we can. However, it meant that I didn't get back to work on the new block for a while. Put in a few minutes here and there in recent days, with some sustained sketching time this afternoon.

The next step was to work on the two figures in the upper left corner, showering behind curtains. I had both models who came to the Studio in recent weeks pose behind a makeshift shower curtain (a thin bed sheet fixed to have shower curtain type folds in it) and I did sketches and took photos of the results. Above is a sketch from the first such session. I had expected to see a slightly distorted figure through the not quite translucent sheet, but what I got was a combination of cast shadows (from a spotlight over the model's head) and views of the model. It's an interesting effect and my first thought was to draw it as such. However, in the end I decided at that small scale, it would probably be confusing for the viewer, and I opted to keep the same silhouettes as I had before, and just mark a few simple shadow patterns over the figures and throw some curtain folds over everything. The sketches below look different from each other, but they are just to give me the basic information that I need for cutting.

The other thing that I did today was to start putting in some of the surface architectural detail- tile patterns on the floor and walls. My perspective system is more intuitive than scientific (I don't use common vanishing points) and as I worked my way down and across I found I had to redraw the lockers and bench in the right side panel to work better with the way the angles of the existing walls. The tile lines will likely be reworked a bit, but this first pass through the process is a useful starting point. Below is the current state of the whole block.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Boardwalk Showers part 6

Another week, another snow storm. Today was supposed to be cloudy but dry, with a major storm scheduled for late tonight, but a whole bunch of nasty winter weather decided to jump the gun and show up early this morning, making a big mess of roads all over the state. Naturally I decided to spend the afternoon cozy at home, and having learned my lesson from the post-Christmas storm, I had my current project home to work on. The above photo shows the latest update to my block sketch, based on Sunday's model session. I fixed a lot of the details in the figure with the crossed arms, cleaning up the drawing of the arms/hands and the towel. Then I added another standing figure, the woman next to the first one, drying her hair. I'll eventually need to fix some details on this one as well, but for now it's occupying its proper space and I can deal with other parts of the scene around her.

Oh, and that major storm mentioned above? It's still on target to arrive tonight and possibly dump a whole lot more snow around here. Depending on when and how much, I may end up with quite a bit of time tomorrow to work on this- probably the shower curtained figures will be next.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boardwalk Showers part 5

A few days ago I spoke to the model who had to cancel this past Monday about rescheduling, and we selected today as the best day. So in the afternoon I drove up to the Studio and repeated the set up process from last week- put together my homemade overhead spotlight (see above) and my simulated shower curtain, cleared the floor, and sharpened my pencil. The model showed up ready to work, and once again I was able to put together a very efficient hour. We did another one of those behind the shower curtain poses, then a few standing poses involving towels.

Based on practice sketches from last week, I had the model pose clutching the towel to her chest, which made for interesting shadow patterns in the towel and over her body. I made the changes to my earlier sketched figure directly on the block (above). I'll clean it up and fix the details later. The other towel pose was a standing hair-drying pose, which will eventually go to the right of the other figure. I had her do two versions of the pose (slightly different points of view) with an example of one shown below.

I filled up the hour with a couple of bathing suit poses, figures that will pop up in a future boardwalk print, an outdoor beach scene. I now have enough figure references to go ahead and finish adding all the figures to this locker room scene. And after that I can deal with the room architecture.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Beautiful Game for Naughty Children

One odd little project that I've been working on off and on for the past couple of months is the item shown above, a board game based on some of the works of Hieronymus Bosch. Not because I decided that the world needed such a thing, but as a demonstration piece for my classes. It's an option for the final project in some of my classes, designing a board game that makes use of the artwork of a particular artist, with the theme of the game relating to the work in some way. I generally show my students examples of completed projects when giving any assignment, so they get a better sense of what I'm looking for, but the last time I had any students do this one I wasn't able to take any photos. I decided that the best way to encourage more students to try the game option would be to go ahead and make an example. I considered a few possible artists and went with Bosch, obscure enough that I wouldn't expect any of students to choose him, but with plenty of content to work with. Because of the moralistic messages common to just about all his work, I decided to build my game, Heaven and Hell, around that idea. The game imagery is taken from two similar Bosch triptychs, The Last Judgment and The Garden of Earthly Delights. The game starts in the lower left corner (Eden as depicted by Bosch) and players follow a winding path around the board (past some familiar Bosch characters) that eventually leads to Heaven. Landing on certain spaces requires a player to take an alternate path. If players can't return to the original path, they end up tortured by demons in Hell. I was able to devote a week to it last fall, at which point it was still unfinished, but far enough along to demonstrate the concept to my students. Unfortunately, no one chose the game option for the project. In recent weeks when I've mentioned working on some back coloring projects in the Studio, this is one of the things I've been referring to. I put a few last washes of color on it today and I'm going to declare it done. It's far from perfect, but good enough to serve its purpose.

I showed the piece in progress at the December critique in the Studio, as I was between woodcuts and I wanted to show I had been busy with something. I was surprised at how well it was received. We ended up in a discussion about whether it should be taken seriously as an artwork. Pretty much everyone thought so, except for me. Not because of the game board format, but because it was created solely as an educational tool and a design exercise. I do see it as an attractive object, and it would fit fine on the walls of many galleries. What probably bothers me most is that almost everything in the image is closely copied from another artist. Maybe it's clever, but it's not particularly original. My favorite artists all have in common a unique vision that they found a way to realize it in their art, whether it was within the parameters of a specific commission or creating something for themselves. Artists will always be influenced by the art of others, but in my opinion, the work has to transcend those influences to become true art.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Shore Tradition

Earlier this week, one of my co-workers mentioned that he had won a radio contest, allowing him to invite a large group of people for a special happy hour at a local bar/club. He offered to put me on the list to get in. I agreed, although I had my doubts about going, since every weather forecast in the land said to expect significant snow to fall well into the workday today, and I had no intentions of driving around on bad roads freezing up as the sun went down. We did get some rain overnight, but by the time I got up today even that was gone, leaving sunny skies and dry roads.

So in the afternoon I went up to the Studio to continue my ongoing process of coloring some older projects. Shortly after 5 pm I put everything away and took the short drive to the Headliner, its huge parking lots almost already full. Got my fill of free ziti, sausage and peppers, buffalo chicken nuggets, etc, and dollar bottles of Yeungling. The happy hour room where we were was packed (Tony's group was one of several such parties), easily a few hundred people, making most conversations impossible. Luckily I had something else to do as well.

Another item on my original list for the Floating World series is a typical boardwalk bar/night club. My thinking was something in the nature of the Tiki Bar at Point Pleasant, but I could see incorporating aspects of other area places. Complicating things is the long shadow cast by that MTV Jersey Shore show, whose cast members apparently spend a lot of time in clubs in Seaside Heights. They are not a direct influence (the show debuted in December 2009, while I started this series in August 2008 and had started planning it the summer before) on this piece, but a few characters of that type were always planned to be in the crowd. The print is not likely to be started too soon, but tonight seemed like a good opportunity to do a little research, so I brought camera and paper and pencil with me. Mostly I was interested in architecture (like the television rack shown above) and bar equipment/layout. I did take a few crowd photos (though with everyone in winter clothes I don't know how helpful they will be) and did a bunch of gestural sketches of people, all to be filed away for the future.

For Love Not Money Opening

Today is the official opening of the For Love Not Money international collaborative postcard project, as part of the 15th Tallinn Print Triennial at the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn, Estonia. The show will consist of 170 postcard prints, each a collaboration among two artists representing 18 printmaking groups/institutions in over a dozen countries around the world.

Above are the two cards I was involved in making, collaborations with local artist Nanci Hersh, done when our respective assigned collaborators from the island of Mauritius bailed out. The top one is a card started by Nanci (checkerboard, tea bags, and random spots) over which I printed the woodcut of the cats and trashcan, and finished with some colored pencils. The bottom one is the card that I started, a monotype/woodcut of a carousel house and ferris wheel on a pier, to which Nanci added the kissing booth and the items seen inside the carousel house. My steps in creating my halves of each image can be found in the April 2010 archives and January 2010 archives of this blog.

As far as I can tell (the museum website is in Estonian, which I do not read), the show remains on display in Tallinn through May 8, 2011. The organizers would like to travel the whole thing after that, and as I learn any such plans, I'll post them here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Face to Face

A long day today, getting up early for the first school day of the semester, then driving back down the shore so I could eventually be ready to run the figure group in Belmar tonight. (the usual organizer had another commitment tonight) The model had already been scheduled (the same one who was in the Studio this past Monday), so all I needed to do was open up the building, set up the room, and put on some cool blues music for our drawing soundtrack. (our model had requested some Howlin' Wolf, so we started off with that) My focus at these sessions is usually portraits, because its still an area where I feel I need a lot of work. For example, the two drawings here are of the same woman, but the faces as drawn are quite different. (the top one is probably the closer of the two to the original subject, but still not really right, especially the cheek and jaw lines)

This has a short term practical application. The figures in the recently started boardwalk print are small and the faces not very detailed, however this is also the model who posed for the smoking piece. I still need to make some important corrections to the face of the smoker, so tonight's session was more about continuing my effort to learn what I need to do that properly.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Boardwalk Showers part 4

The spring semester begins tomorrow, so I thought I should take advantage of today's holiday to get as much work done as possible. I got a lot done, but not quite as much as I had planned.

The story begins a week ago, the night of the last critique in the Studio. I arrived a little before the start time, opened up the room, and found a note on my table. It was left there earlier when Molly was working, from someone looking for work as a nude model. (this kind of thing happens when you're an artist) I followed up a few days later, giving her information about potential opportunities in the area, and setting up a short session for her to work for me. As I mentioned a week ago, at least one person at the last critique thought that the figures in my shower room print looked too much alike, and since I was planning to add another figure, it made sense to bring in someone with a different body type to be the model. After looking at our mutual schedules, we decided to do it today around 5 pm.

However, I still wanted to bring back my original model as well, to help me fix a few anatomical issues and to work out light and shadow patterns on the earlier figures. Seemed to me that it would be best to set up the room once for all the drawing, so I made last minute arrangements for the original model to come in today in the early afternoon. It would be hectic, but allow me to resolve all the figure issues in one day.

But things didn't quite work out that way. I got a call while still at home from the late day model saying that she wasn't feeling well and had doubts about making our session. Still, I went in as planned and set up- moved the chairs, set up spot lights, put up something that would stand in for a shower curtain, and cranked the heat. The early model showed up on time and in an hour we got a lot done. Photos and drawings of her behind the curtain will be used when I'm ready to put the two upper left figures behind their translucent shower curtains. One figure that did get more finished today was the one coming out of the shower. While she posed I redrew most of it, changing her body type a little, fixing the head, adding a towel clutched in her free hand, and noting major shadow patterns over the whole body (see above). I also had her take the pose of the standing figure in the lower left (based on a different model) and did two sketches on paper of her partly draped with a towel, one of which I'll adapt for the block sketch. I also added shadows to the two figures in the right side panel (based on two quick poses today) and a very quick sketch of her in the pose of the figure to be added, as a back up to my plans with the other model.

After she was gone I spoke to the other model (who had business in the building, which is why we scheduled the session for today), who still wasn't sure if she would be posing today or not. So I worked on another task for a while, my ongoing coloring of older projects. Eventually she came back down and told me that it wasn't going to happen today, and we made tentative plans to try again in about a week. I'll have plenty going on with the beginning of the school year to keep me busy until then.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Old Business

Put in a few hours at the Studio this afternoon. Not working on anything new or current (the new boardwalk print is on hold until after I meet with the model next week), but just continuing coloring on some older projects. Neither was finished today, but both are close. I'll save the details and images of each until they are done.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Smoking Figure part 9

Tonight I took advantage of the long holiday break at my colleges to go to critique night at the Belmar Arts Council. This one is linked to a Member's Salon show, something we do every few years or so. Participants get to hang work in a show, and we meet one night during the exhibition to present the work to the assembled group. This time around they scheduled the discussion to coincide with the BAC regular monthly critique group, in an effort to boost interest in the group. Belmar's critique group just hasn't been as popular as the one we have going in the Studio, which is too bad, because those few who do participate find it just as useful for them as ours is for us.

Word had gotten around that they were allowing work in progress for the show, but I didn't want to put any unfinished blocks in the gallery. The other issue I had in selecting a piece to show is that most regular exhibitions at the BAC don't allow work previously exhibited there, and I don't have a lot of recent work that fits that restriction. And I'd like to save the few that I do have to submit to the big statewide annual show in the spring. So I selected an older figure/portrait print (shown above) that fit the criteria- available, framed, quality image, never shown there before, etc. It also served another purpose, to provide an example of a finished large scale figure print as I presented my real exhibit, the block for the Smoking Figure.

Many years ago I heard an often repeated story that the famed artist Titian would regularly turn his canvases in progress to face the wall for 6 months or more, so that when he looked at them next his eyes would be fresh and he could see better and more objectively what worked and what didn't. That wasn't necessarily my plan for this piece, but with a lot of questions to be dealt with and other deadlines to meet, I put it away last summer and hadn't looked at it since. When it was my turn to present to the group, I gave a brief explanation of the earlier finished portrait, and then put the block up where people could see it, as shown above. I chose to give no information about the idea at first, wanting to see what they made of the implied narrative.

The good news is that people generally liked the drawing, and no one felt that she looked angry, which is what the model saw in this and many other drawings I've done of her. Rather, they saw the expression as one of deep thought, appropriate for someone doing time outside until she finished her cigarette. Unfortunately, no one's first reaction was that she was an employee outside during a smoking break from work. Instead I got such suggestions as smoking outside a restaurant in Red Bank, outside a cafe in Paris, etc. So at least it's clear that she's smoking outside. If I decide that the employee idea is too significant to give up, I'll have to come up with ways to reinforce that idea. Hopefully before another 6 months has passed.

By the way, more photos and stories from tonight's critique, which included several other people who had been at our Monday critique in the Studio, can be found in a blog posting over on the BAC blog.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Standing Room Only

The one week delay in holding our January critique didn't do anything to reduce the enthusiasm or attendance of our little group. Maybe it even increased it. We ended up with 13 participants (all regulars), 12 of whom brought new art to show. Most of the work is seen in the above photos. The top photo shows Molly's large print on fabric and two small tire assemblages from Adam. The second photo (click to enlarge) includes a drawing from Jane, a drawing and mixed media piece from Edy, graphite drawings from Katie, mixed media jewelry pieces from Michelle, a small collage/painting from Mary, a color ink sketch from Tim, a small wallpaper experiment from Molly, a pear painting from Amanda, a digital design piece from Adelle, a small assemblage from Adam, and my new block.

Two more works that weren't stacked with the others. An abstract painting from Sandy (above) and an installation in the ladies room by Adam.

Because of the numbers we had to limit each artist's time to about 10 minutes, but a lot of good observations, questions, and comments came in the limited time, something that several of the artists specifically mentioned to me. In general, people liked my new block in progress. One person thought at first that the image was a sequence involving the same character, because she thought the women in the image looked so similar. Five of six are from the same model, so I'll have to work a little more on making them look like distinct individuals. (I was already planning skin and hair color variations, but maybe I'll make a few adjustments to physiques as well.) Another question raised was why the two forward facing nudes in the left panel lacked pubic hair. Simple answer- neither of the original models had any (something more common in recent years), and for now my block sketches just copied my original life sketches. Since those areas may be obscured in the final drawing, I'm not going to worry about it now. At first Molly was wondering if the woman emerging from the shower was cut off because of the panel border, but I explained that she would have been cut off by the shower stall anyway, and in the finished print it will be more obvious (tile/color patterns) that the shower wall continues a short distance into the right side panel. If my schedule and the weather cooperate, I hope to get the drawing completely done before the next critique.

Boardwalk Showers part 3

Been busy with other things the past few days, but I did make two minor changes to the current block while I had some down time today. The changes were to the two heads in the above photo. I'm not saying that they are done, but each is a little better than it was before.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Boardwalk Showers part 2

Another day, another predicted snow. No sign of it yet when I first got up, so I took care of a few errands, including dropping off a piece in Belmar for a show that opens this week. Eventually the snow did come, falling for several hours, but at such a low rate of accumulation that it only amounted to about an inch. Shouldn't cause a problem for next week's critique. Anyway, I continued work on the new block from home. Made slight modifications to 3 of the 4 figures I drew yesterday (the seated figure was left alone for now), but added a lot more. On the left side I finished the architecture of the shower stalls and added two more figures. For now they are clearly drawn, but eventually I will change them to look recognizable but obscured shapes behind the curtains. On the right side I finished the wall, and put in the trash can and lockers. Both sides will eventually get a lot more detail, but I'm going to mostly wait on that until I have the all the figures resolved.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Boardwalk Showers

Over the past couple of days I wrote out several Christmas cards, all for people who had sent them to me this holiday season. With light snow beginning to fall, I dashed out to the post office to send them on their way (all out of state), then quickly back home with a new project to work on while the next winter storm raged outside. As it turned out, we had zero accumulations, but I got a lot of work done.

My next project is the 7th print in the boardwalk series, this one built around the idea of a shower/changing room. Like the tattoo print, this is one that has specific links to both the contemporary boardwalk and the original Japanese culture of the Floating World. The public bath house was a common enough subject in those ukiyo-e prints, both a visualization of then contemporary culture and perhaps an excuse to make nudes the subject of an artwork. (while these prints were often meant to provide some voyeuristic thrills, they are a far cry from the very explicit images that many people think of when the subject of Japanese prints comes up) Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, every boardwalk is next to a beach, and using that beach often results in a need to change in and out of bathing suits, to wash off salt water and sunscreen, etc. Some of this is done in opposition to stated rules (most public restrooms officially ban their use as changing rooms), but some boardwalks do have proper facilities. The obvious overlaps between the two cultures made it a natural for this series, so I put it on the original subject list when I started working on the series a few years ago.

An early concept is shown above. I had considered doing side by side panel comparisons of a men's and women's locker/shower room, but later decided to stay with the continuous scene across two panels that I've used in all the rest. I returned to the idea about a year ago, bringing a model into the Studio to pose for several potential figures in the planned print. However, to meet deadlines related to various specific projects, I put off further work on it and completed some other prints in 2010. Now I'm ready to go back to work, and the shower room print is the idea most ready to go into production.

The next step was to work out the new composition. My new version is based on a right-angled room, with showers on one end, lockers on the other. I picked figures from last December's session, and a few poses from Belmar sessions (such as this one) that would also work for the print. For the showers I decided to go with individual curtained stalls rather than a group shower, but this left the problem of how to show the figures. At first I was thinking of just having all those curtains slightly askew to reveal the figures, but that struck me as illogical. In the last few weeks I finally came up with a better solution- close the shower curtains, make them translucent, and show indications of the bathers through them. (this comes with another association with those old Japanese prints- silhouetted figures seen through paper screen walls). Normally my paper compositional sketches are as rough as the one shown above, and then I work it all out on the block itself, but then last week my wood was in the Studio, and I was snowbound at home, so I used the down time to produce a fairly detailed paper sketch, seen below.

A few days ago I finally was able to retrieve the block and prepare it, and brought it home. I spent most of the afternoon starting the block drawing, putting in the four major figures from the above drawing. I fixed some of the proportion and scale issues from one to the next, though I will have to work more on all four before they are satisfactory to me. Below is today's progress.

Next I will be adding in some more of the architecture and the two curtained bathers, in time for next week's critique I hope. I think I want to add one more new figure, next to the foreground figure (those crossed arms will be helping her hold a towel draped on her) on the left side. I was planning to bring the model back again to figure light and shadow, but I'll have her take a few new poses (for this and other boardwalk prints) while she's around.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Holidays Drawing to an End

The calendar says that we're almost a week into January, but around here Christmas isn't over yet. My Christmas tree is still up, and now that my cards are folded and trimmed, I can start writing them out and sending them to all the lucky people on my list. However, snow is expected to arrive in a day or two, so I want to get them finished really soon and get them on their way, so I can finally really begin my 2011 art season.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Assembly Line Artist

This evening I got out my watercolors and the stack of cards that I had printed yesterday and went to work coloring. When I have to color a large number of identical small prints like this I do it assembly line style- all the indigo, all the ultramarine, all the light gray, etc. Got through the 8 colors on all 15 cards in about 2 hours, which averages out to about 8 minutes per card. Tomorrow I'll fold and trim them, then I can start writing them out. I should get them out in the mail by this weekend, weather permitting.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmas Continues

Made the trip up to Ocean Grove today and was pleasantly surprised to find the parking lot of the Studio building plowed and dry. Spaces were limited due to snow piles, but there were plenty when I got there. I spent about 3 very productive hours there.

I had a piece of wood that I had cut to the proper size for a boardwalk block before the holidays. I took that board, marked out the dimensions of the diptych panels, and started the process of surfacing it with wood filler. Set it aside until later.

Then I got to work on the Christmas card. First step was to clean up the block to remove those areas that had filled in with the water based ink. Above are the before (left) and after (right) versions of the recut block. Then I tore down another sheet of paper into card sized pieces and began the production run with my preferred ink. The first few showed some leftover texture of the built up surface ink from last week, but with some care I was able to overcome that. And unlike last week's unsuccessful attempt to do the print run with water based ink, there was no build up or filling in of details from first to last printed. Before long I had 15 copies of the card printed. A few have minor flaws, but the coloring will cover those.

Before leaving for the day, I took the now dry surfaced board outside to sand down to a smooth polished surface. Back inside I cleaned off the remaining dust, and redrew the panel borders. The cards and the new block came home with me. I'll let the cards dry overnight (a dab of drier added to the oil based ink should ensure that) and begin coloring tomorrow. As for the block, I can start working on that this week as well, and have something to show at next week's rescheduled critique group.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

It's In The Mail...Next Week?

With no particular target date for when I can return to work at the Studio, I made the decision a few days ago that I would try printing some of my 2010 Christmas cards at home, using the water based ink I brought home the week before Christmas to print my prototype. So this morning, while the sun and relatively warm temperatures were softening up the snow piles for my 7th consecutive day of shoveling, I decided to set up at the dining room table and try to quickly print 10 copies- the number of remaining card-sized pieces of paper I had with me. The first one was passable, but with each successive print the images got worse. There are reasons why I don't usually print with water based ink, and they showed themselves today. Below are the four cards in order of printing from left to right. Despite attempts to blot excess ink between proofs, the gloppy ink filled in more and more, so by the fourth one the black lines were getting too thick, the details on the block were filing in, and the whole image too dark overall.

I was afraid if I kept going that eventually it would all fill in and the block would be completely useless. So I removed as much residual ink from the block as I could, packed up my equipment, and continued my weeklong battle against the snow. I need to do some recutting of parts of the block, but that will require my tools, still locked up in the inaccessible Studio. I'll hope that one way or another that I can get in there early next week and fix the block and complete the print run. Meanwhile, after these dry I'll see if I can salvage any of them with watercolor so that some of the people who sent me cards can finally get one of mine in return.