Monday, November 22, 2021



As we were watching the Giants lose another game tonight, my father reminded me that today, November 22nd, is the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.  That is true. That death doesn't mean as much to me as it does to him, as I wouldn't be born for a few more years, but I was aware of it for a number of reasons.  Just as memorable for me is that it is the birthday of someone who was my boss for over a decade.  But most of all, I think of St Cecilia on November 22, as it is her feast day.  A lot of people don't quite understand the concept of the feast day, and assume it's the saint's birthday.  It is, but not their birthday as a human, but their birthday in Heaven, meaning the day they reached there, or to put it another way, the day they died.  (or at least what is believed to be the day they died- with the early ones, we don't know how accurate these dates are) When I started my Everyman series, I decided to include the feast day as part of the design, choosing a type style that wasn't exactly traditional Gothic, but something that seemed crude and archaic, that would evoke the same idea.  I used that same typeface for all of them, a number that is probably somewhere around 80 now, but I am not sure and don't have access to the whole set or books right now.  

The series began in 1994, the follow-up to my infamous The Fourth of July series, with a print a day for a year. This one was considerably shorter (almost had to be as I knew I had a show to install in about a year), though it added an element of color, which wasn't part of the earlier series.  The volumes in the college library (Butler's Lives of the Saints) were broken down in 3 month sets, and further by feast day, thus part of the reason I wanted to include it.  I started with volume 3- July, August, September, but at the time I had no idea what I would be doing.  I wrote down interesting stories and assumed I would come up with a meaning and design idea later.  And I did.  What I came up with for the idea was that I would seek stories or objects that could relate to a typical contemporary individual.  The concept was that most saints were ordinary people, who mostly had jobs, or tasks they had to do to live.  Some saints had lives that were full of religious thought, but most didn't.  In fact, some were downright sinners, criminals, etc, before they found religion and changed their ways.  If they could become saints, then anyone could, thus my title, taken from the medieval morality play.  The idea was to link the sacred and the profane, the high and low.  To some extent it was successful.  The results have pleased religious people (they've been shown in galleries run by priests and nuns), but are also liked by people who are against religion, much to their surprise.  

For example, St Cecilia was martyred (according to the story told in the book) by sealing her in her own bathroom, and stoking the furnace that heated it with seven times the normal fuel. After 24 hours, the room was opened and she was still alive.  One thing about the book was that it never claimed any of the events were true, and in fact sometimes pointed out that the stories were taken directly from other stories or legends that were know at the time.  So in this case, I don't know if her surviving was divine intervention, or if this was just a bad plan.  So they went with an alternate plan, cut her head off with an ax, which never fails to get the desired result.  No one who is still alive knows what it is like to get their head cut off, but almost everyone has a bathroom, and can relate to that part of the story.  So my visual was a bathroom. As was my custom, I chose somewhat vintage versions of the relevant items (helped by a very weird book I found in the library), like that old style tub, and a sink and toilet drawn from those found in a restroom.  The color choices for tile were based on a bathroom in the house I grew up in, constructed in the 50's, when black and pink were a popular combination.  

When I started the series, I had been though volumes 3 & 4, and stated with the ones I wanted to do most, and St Cecilia was one of those early ones. Eventually I read volumes 1 & 2, and ended up doing about 60 prints in time for my MFA show.  That was the most ever shown at one time, but a dozen or more have appeared in several shows. and individual prints have appeared in many places and publications.  And once in a while I do another one.  This one was always a favorite, which is why I had it saved to this computer.  

Friday, November 19, 2021

What's Old is New


For the third time that I have been living with my parents, there was an episode of Shark Tank with an art based business. A pair of women were looking for financing for their art business, which were essentially paint by number kits.  This is not really a new idea. If you are not familiar with the idea, a line drawing is purchased, printed in black on a white surface, typically a piece of canvas board.  Within each white space of that drawing is a small number, which corresponds to one of the small capped containers of water based paint.  Using provided brushes, the owner of the kit fills in the color specified by the number.  Using this method, the whole piece is eventually filled in, and the owner now has a painted version of the original artwork.  This spares the "artist" the problem of having to sketch out the desired composition, or mixing the specific colors.  The two owners claimed they had made a large amount of money so far selling these through boutiques and such, but were still seeking a better retail location.  One shark pointed out an obvious problem- how do you control any business that uses a method that has been known for decades and can't be copyrighted?  

There's a point to that question, as the concept has been around and known for a long time- anyone with rights to a famous image can produce such a kit.  (the business owners in this case were using original artworks, so they didn't have that expense) And there is some demand for art results that don't take much skill.  As a young child I remember doing a paint by numbers version of the opening scene from the SuperFriends, a cartoon version of the Justice League that ran on Saturday mornings for years.  It didn't look nearly as good as the version that I saw on television, but I had fewer art skills then.  When I worked for a human services agency in Ocean Twp in the early 21st century, we had a client who used to do paint by numbers projects on his own time, better than my early try, but I didn't consider these to be true fine art.  In between I remember a group staying at the vacation house I used to be the live in caretaker for, where the staff went out to the store to get supplies for the group in the house, and came back with those, plus a paint by numbers project for themselves, which they did that night sitting out on our deck.  I suppose it's more creative than watching tv, which is what most people to came to the house did to amuse themselves.  

Can this idea be used in other real art?  One such example is a train station mural we worked on back in 2014 at the Belmar Art Council.  We had agreed to produce one though first we had to resheathe the whole building with new painted panels.  Like many others I was begged to produce a submission for a proposal, and as expected, my proposal was pushed aside for what they wanted to do all along- brought in a commercial artist with a plan.  What she did was create a large color drawing and a large paint by number plan. These drawings were put (by the artist) on a type of nylon with numbers representing premixed colors of a suitable paint, and the community was invited to come in and fill all those blanks.  (see above and below)

The next step was to install all those painted fabrics (done the previous winter and spring) on the new panels all over the station, using essentially wallpaper paste.

With a lot of help we got it all up in a few days, which is good considering that the station was still functioning at the same time, and it's a busy station.  Just in time for the planned train theme show.  As far as I know it is still there, so I guess that big paint by numbers project was a big success.   And while my design was not used for the mural,  I had the last laugh.  I was asked to design the postcard (see the photo original and the resulting woodcut at the top of this post) which was also used to make an outdoor banner, and two of those were made- one for the gallery building, and one hung at the station itself to build interest.  Since our banner was hung well in advance of the show, for a while, mine was the only train mural to be seen there. 

At the same time, I have to consider whether what I do is paint by number, at least those times I work in color.  My usual process is to cut the block and print it as a black and white proof using oil based ink, and a few days later, had color it with watercolors.

The difference here is that I create all the colors as I go, each mixed for the intended space and applied by hand to get exactly the effect I want.  No one tells me what to put and where.  So for now, I can still call what I do art.  And I will still call paint by numbers and activity. Perhaps more productive than watching reality tv.  

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Fever Dream part 20


Today was a fairly nice day for this time of year, so I decided to take care of a whole bunch of errands, including art making.  First I went to my PT place to investigate a prescription, then an auto repair place to get some new wipers for my car (needed and I decided best installed when it wasn't raining), then my insurance agent to deal with the needed renewal of my policy.  After that I was finally able to go to my Studio and get some work done.  I put my fresh paper and tools in the car, had printing stuff there already, and the block was up in the Studio.  

I wanted to print one more good proof of my latest block.  As this block has been printed twice before, inking would not take long.  For music I brought my rock/pop discs, and selected one I burned with the two (American) Beatles albums of 1967.   I had mentioned this disc once before, but never wrote it up in detail, so this time I will write about it.  The first album on the disc is Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which is on many short lists of the greatest albums of all time.  That's a matter of opinion, but it was certainly one of the most innovative of all times.  Start with the most celebrated band of all times (then and now), the largest budget ever used ($100,000 in 1967 money) 6 months of work, the highest tech 4 track recorder available for the purpose of popular music, one of the most celebrated album covers ever, one of the first known concept albums, very innovative concepts in song writing, use of very eclectic instruments, plus a full orchestra when needed, and a recording and production team that could keep up with the band's demands.  The results blew away everyone at the time, and based on various reaction videos on the web, is still blowing people away some 54 years later. Despite no songs from the LP appearing as singles, a lot of the songs are well known and got much radio airplay.  I'm not going to get into particular songs right here, but if people want to know, it can be read about on the web.  The second album was something created for the American market- Magical Mystery Tour.  In England, the official soundtrack to the film of the same name appeared originally as a set of EPs. so there was no album.  In America, customers didn't much like EP's. but they liked albums, so it was issued as an LP, with the songs from the movie on one side, a B side of one of those songs (also issued as a single), and the A and B sides of two 1967 singles.  Earlier editions (including the one I had) included a full size book inside the gatefold cover, with photos from the film, and a story of the movie, complete with cartoon illustrations.  Later versions of the LP didn't have the story book, and eventually the British record company decided to issue the LP, thus it was turned into a CD (also without a book) when Beatles discs finally started coming out in the late 1980's.  It has often been looked at as a lesser album, but everything pales in comparison to Sgt. Pepper and the related film was seen as a disaster of a production.  Still, the songs are quite good, the production is excellent, some of the best examples of psychedelia ever produced, although also the end of that style.  The two albums fit on one recordable disc, so it made a nice addition to my Studio music library.  

So I strapped on my specially decorated print shop apron again (see above) and pulled another proof of my new block.  It was pretty much perfect, giving me two good copies of the print, which is enough for now, since I have no place to show it right now, but when I do, I can pop it into a frame on short notice. Someday I hope to have photos of it posted here, but so far I don't have the ability to do so.  (this means I have no way to submit it to shows either, though if someone offers me a whole show, I can always hang it on the wall)  I think it's a good print, so now I just have to think of what the follow up will be.  That's life as a creative person for you.

Two more stops on the way home- some needed groceries and something to bring home for lunch, since I knew we were out of sandwich materials and I didn't feel like soup again.  

Friday, November 05, 2021

Fever Dream part 19


A few days ago I pulled the first proof of my latest block.  In general I was pleased with how it turned out. Much like my piece Trance from 1996, it was a test to see what I could do in a new situation.  That older one was my first piece without being in school, and a test of if I could still make prints without the comforts and demands of being in a school program.  Turned out I could.  With my new print I was dealing with a whole lot of changes- a new home, not having my good tools, and following multiple brain operations, leaving the question could I still make art as I always had.  Again, turns out I can.  I can draw on wood, carve the drawings into wood, and print the results, getting what I expect.  As a bonus, I also learned I can still cut mats and frame, but that was a different project.  So all that was cool.

I brought that proof home, and have studied it.  I like it, but it could be better.  This is not an unusual situation in woodcut, sometimes you miss a few cuts, and don't know it until you print what you have.  Perhaps that is why it's called a proof.  You can't uncut things, which is why I always tell students to be sure of what they want to do- you can always cut more, but you can't put it back.   Most of what I wanted to change was little spots that weren't cut as expected, or a little ink I would draw back on with a scrap of mat card where a splinter had come out, or even a spot or two where I decided I wanted to remove a little more, to improve the balance of white, black, and gray in the composition.  I decided the ink on the proof was fairly dry, so my blotted block wouldn't be too messy.  I had nothing on the schedule for today, so why not take advantage of my cleaner table and go make some changes.

I left a little earlier than usual today, by around 10 am, so I could get an early start.  I left the proof at home, but had my student tools, and the block was up at the Studio.  I had my printmaking bag in the car, so I just had to grab my backpack and my paper, and I was ready to go.  

I had brought the rock/pop discs today and started with some Pixies, the disc I put 3 records on and you  can read my write up of that disc on this blog back at October, 2019.  While that played, I looked at my block (mostly dry, so no wet ink, just smudges of ink from what remained), pulled out my tools, and got ready to go. Using those tools, I cut some more out of the hand holding the keys (making the fingers a little better), the Disney castle (flames stood out but the castle cuts had filled in, so they became wider), the pizza slice in another hand, some bits of the comic book fan to clarify parts of him (jacket, face, Batman symbol on gray t-shirt), the two helicopter nurses in the Studio (made the helicopters a little clearer, a few defining lines), the central post, and Tinkerbell.  I guess I had a lot to cut.

Now time to print.  Old disc ended, so I put on a new one, the Tom Waits album Beautiful Maladies,  a greatest hits collection form his Island years.  Crazy stuff, and you can read about it back at February, 2020.  As I expected, printing this second proof went a lot faster than the first, one hour verses two for the first one.  I credit this to the block having been inked once before.  All of my cutting improvements showed.  I also took a few minutes to add a few bits of ink using small pieces of mat board.  You can't build complex shapes this way, but you can fill in splinters along the edge of the block, gaps in broken lines, etc.  I brought this one home again, but unless I find a significant flaw, I'll print another without making any changes to the block. Cleaned up my tools and space, made a few stops, and went home.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

The Old Frame Shop is Back Open


Today I had two tasks to take care of at the Studio.  First was clear off my table enough that I could use it to cut a window mat.  The second was to get out my mat cutting machine and cut the thing and then frame the new work.  

My table is a bit of a mess.  Half is covered with old blocks and occasionally prints.  Some of this is leftover from Hurricane Sandy.  What wasn't destroyed by flood, I quickly got out of the basement and to my car.  Shortly after that, I took whatever was stashed in my car and moved it to the Studio.   Some is in smaller boxes on the shelves, some just got stacked on the table.  Occasionally I have pulled stuff out of this pile, so it has become a bit disorganized.  The Studio being broken into last year didn't help matters either.  I have a portion of it that is clear of the mess, with some large boards on top that I slide out of the way so I can work, and put back when I leave.  However I knew my specially hand built mat cutting machine (some tongue and groove boards I found in my home basement, some other scraps of wood, a long heavy straight edge with a beveled cutting side, a long strip of lattice wood, a C-clamp, a squeeze clamp, and a hand held bevel cutter) takes up a bit of room, so this needed to be done first.

For music I put on my disc of the Reverend Horton Heat.  I learned of this band back in grad school, a tape that was sent to me by a professor who had been a visiting printmaker.  The cover of the cassette was the image from the album "The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of Reverend Horton Heat" with his added words, "This is not for Sunday."  He wasn't kidding.  This is straight up Texas psychobilly, and I eventually got that album on disc.  This disc is a copy of that album and eleven more songs from a greatest hits compilation.  I had always assumed that the leader of the trio was Horton Heat, but I learned years later that the singer's name was actually Jim Heath.  Makes no difference.  When that ended, I put on a compilation of Billy Childish songs from a double CD set pulled from maybe 50 different albums from different bands he had.  (one write up once stated that he'd rather sell 1000 copies each of fifty different albums than 50,000 copies of one album) Not psychobilly, but various low fidelity styles of garage rock.  It worked together.

So I started with the table.  I threw away a few things, put a few things away, and reorganized some stuff, while checking out what was actually there.  When I was done (and swept away lots of sawdust and splinters) I had a lot more table to work with.  (again, if I ever get the photos out of my phone, I have one of this)  

With that done, I moved on to the framing project.  I moved my mat cutting machine from behind the drying rack and to the table, which was quite an ordeal.  I had brought with me the framed piece I was planning to take apart for my brother's piece.

Looking through the rack of framed artworks, I decided to use this one for the frame. It's called "Kitchen Print", based on a dishtowel I had gotten as a Christmas present.  The original towel had a pizza theme, with the red checkerboard pattern seen above, but with slices of pizza on top, the words "Pizza Toppings" at the top and bottom, and in handwritten words all around the slices, the names of various toppings.  In this version (I think made at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artist colony I had received a fellowship to), the name of the towel was changed to "Household Chemicals", the images are of items found in the basement (leftover from what my grandfather left behind when he moved), and words in script are all taken from the labels of those containers.  Things like, "alkyd resin", "Control noA-27148", "clear gloss varnish", and "aluminum paste".  I wasn't sure of the last time I showed it, but I do have a document on my computer listing exhibitions, and I found two references to this work, a juried art show at Monmouth Museum back in 1999, and in Belmar in 2013 (where I found this image on this blog).  Can't think of any place I need to show this piece any time soon, so it became the candidate to donate its frame. 

I couldn't find a flat head screwdriver of the right size to unscrew the brackets that hold the frame together (we do have 6 philips head screwdrivers in the drawer in the kitchen), so I hoped there would be one up at the Studio I could use.  I knew I had had one there, but the place was broken into last year and my locking cabinet torn open.  I had determined that the responsible party had not stolen my bevel mat cutter (I had lost a tote bag, and they took some of Molly's old power tools, but left behind lots of stuff that was probably more valuable, certainly more costly to us artists), but I hadn't checked for anything else.  When I got there I checked the drawer, and there it was.  An added bonus- my spare roll of pH neutral linen tape, which I use for hinges to hold the artwork. 

I started by taking apart the framed work, and measured the previous mat for the outer size, then cut my new mat board to meet those dimensions.  I had brought my brother's poster with me, and used that to measure what I would need for the window, and marked that in pencil, and cut it out with the bevel cutter.  After that, pieces of linen tape to secure the poster in place, reassembled it, put it all in the frame, and screwed it together. It looked good, so I decided to clean up.  I put away my mat cutting machine, and found I had a bigger table space than I had before.  Took two trips to get it all to the car, but better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021



The other day my brother showed up at my current home to do some chores my parents had asked for, and had a framed artwork in his hands.  It was a piece of mine from years ago about Lou's Barber Shop, a place we frequented for most of our lives, until he sold it suddenly and got out of the business.  (He was from Italy, about my father's age, and practically a relative)  It's a long wide piece, one he had hanging in his main room for years.  (I don't have a photo of the actual print, from before I had a digital camera, so what you get above is a copy of something from that print I used elsewhere)  He also brought a poster of a Kevin Smith script reading he had been to, which carried some autographs.  What he wanted was to leave the framed print, and have me mat and frame the poster, part of a rearranging of his walls.  Just put it in an old frame you have.  Easier said than done, as I have never made a print to the same dimensions as his poster, and most of the stores that sold art supplies have gone out business.  Both brick stores and online stores.  

So I had two tasks today.  After looking at various online sites, I had concluded that the simplest and least expensive option would be to use an old frame and cut a new mat to fit it.  I would re-use the frame, backing board, and plexiglass.  I had measured my brother's poster at 12" x 18", and while I have nothing that would fit that size, I had bigger things.   One of the few art supply stores that I know still exists is across from the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, and I had business with a lawyer in Eatontown today, so I decided to go there after my afternoon appointment.  Luckily I know all those roads fairly well from my years of using them for work, so I found both the lawyer and the art store with no problems, and picked up a piece of mat board.  More than I am used to paying, but I don't know if the stuff has gone up in recent years, or if this is just the only store left and I have to pay what they demand.

Back home, part two.  Down to the basement where I built a giant rack unit a few decades ago to hold all my artwork.  (the flood destroyed some things on the lower level. but the top stuff was all fine)  I used the opportunity to see what I had up there (found a few things), and selected some possibilities.  Used my brother's poster to measure and chose one that was a little larger, but one that will hold the whole poster.  All my mat cutting stuff is up at my Studio, so next time I am there I will take care of that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Fever Dream part 18


We got my father up and out to vote by late morning, and were back home by noon.  So my parents decided to go out shopping, and I decided to take advantage of the day to get to the Studio and pull a proof of my new block.  I had determined that I had materials and tools for printing so it was just a matter of loading them in my car and taking off.

I got up there about quarter after 2, giving me a few hours to work on it.  First proofs are always the most difficult, as I believe the wood absorbs a bit of ink on that first attempt.  I had multiple cans of ink, but I decided to go with the Outlaw Black.   I knew from experience that it's a bit stiff, kind of like a litho ink, but it gives a very dense black and picks up lots of detail. It was a brand new can, unopened but probably a few years old, yet once I cut through the top layer, the ink itself was just what I expected.  I did spend a bit of time working it to loosen it a little, but that is what this ink always needs.

I had brought my larger book of discs today, and from that selected a copy of an album by Hobex, a project from Greg Humphries (best known for his time in the alternative rock band Dillon Fence) that was a very traditional soul/R&B band.  I don't have access to the original disc anymore, but I do know it was called U Ready, Man? and seems to be an hour of people singing and playing instruments, as it used to be.  I have this album because one song, "Baby's Gone Away", got a lot of airplay on Brookdale's radio station when it was new, and that was good enough to check out the album and eventually buy it.  When that ended, I went with another traditional soul/R&B album, 100 Days 100 Nights by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, which I wrote about back in June, 2019.  

I had torn a half sheet of Rives Lightweight in half, which I had measured would be large enough for the new block, giving me paper for two prints.  As I inked the block, I liked what I saw.  The black was deep and enhanced the drawing as I expected.  Then I put on a sheet of paper and tried to hand rub a print, but there wasn't much ink on the paper. Unfortunately, that was also expected, that first proof thing. So I had to spend a lot of time re-inking, so that the resulting print would look as good as the block had.  Eventually it did, but it took about 2 hours to complete.  If the print was perfect, I'd be tempted to pull a second copy right away, but I could see there were some flaws in the block cutting, enough that I will want to do a little more cutting before I print it again.  There are a few chunks of wood that were missed originally, and not noticed until I rolled some ink on there.  As Molly had predicted, the fire turned out quite well, however the castle they were engulfing needs more cutting. I expect a little more cutting within Tinkerbell, and a few lines to better define the helicopter nurses, though I do like the effect of the dark uniforms.  I will let the block dry for a few days before I try that.  I did blot it before I went home, which should speed the process.  Meanwhile, I brought the proof home to study.

Since I still don't have my old camera, or a replacement yet, I have taken a number of photos of it using my phone, but I still haven't figured out how to get those photos from my phone to my computer.  When I do, you can see what this thing looks like, from the pencil drawings to the final print, but for now you'll just have to be satisfied with my words.