The Lamb, color woodcut 32.5" x 44.5" 2015
I'm a member of the Boston Printmakers, and recently, we were asked to submit proposals for works in response to prints in the collection of the Duxbury Art Complex Museum, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, for a show at that museum scheduled for the spring of 2015. From a list of 42 etchings, lithographs, drypoints and woodcuts I chose a tiny engraving, measuring a mere 1.5" x 3", created in 1828 by Edward Calvert, entitled The Sheep of His Pasture:
Those sheep were so appealing! At first I was simply charmed by this idyllic pastoral scene, but I wanted to honor the original impulse of the artist, and enhance his theme of connection between god and nature. So, I searched for a poem or prayer that might illuminate the message, so that I could cut the words of it into the texture of a woodcut sheep's fleecy coat. A poet friend offered several sheep-related poems, both ancient and modern, and from that selection, I chose Songs of Innocence: The Lamb, by William Blake:
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed
By the stream & o'er the mead
Gave thee clothing of delight
Softest clothing, wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I'll tell thee
Little Lamb I'll tell thee
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
It wasn't until after I had fully cut the text into the sheep's fleece, when I had to find something to say for my artist's statement for the show, that I discovered that Calvert was one of only a few artists who were directly influenced by William Blake. In fact, his little engraving was created a year after Blake's death, as an act of homage. Stranger still, Calvert's print is a copy of one of William Blake's wood engravings, an illustration he created for Thornton's Virgil:
So, in a sense, things have come full circle! Coincidence? Or synchronicity?
Sometimes, a thousand words can be helpful, in illuminating one's visual art for those who might be our audience. But, for most of us who are primarily visually oriented, verbalizing the what, how and why of our working process can be challenging. To commit words to something that is both cerebral and intuitive, thought about and felt at the same time, forces us to examine ourselves in depth and explain our findings in an organized way. And, it can be difficult and scary to expose those thoughts and feelings.
Recently, I was asked to provide a statement to accompany a series of paintings for a show, currently on view at the Gallery at Indian Hill School of Music in Littleton, MA. As is usual for me, I was painting madly, right until the night before the morning scheduled to hang the show. Once the work was completed, and I could see it as a body of work, I needed to write something up, ASAP. The idea of writing under the pressure of limited time can be paralyzing, so what else could I do, but Google the problem?
I found a very helpful resource online in Ariane Goodwin's eBook Writing the Artist's Statement. Ms. Goodwin's information and exercises will get the creative juices flowing! I highly recommend her book to those artist-writers who may be struggling.
Good luck with your writing! Here's what I came up with:
Variations on a Theme: The Music Makers
Any description of the evolution of this body of work would have to include a brief history of my lifelong involvement with my twin disciplines of music and visual art. I remember having a strong emotional reaction to music of all kinds, even as a very young child. My family was large, and of such modest means that there were no resources for things like instruments or music lessons. My mother, however, was a music lover, and would spin old 78 rpm records for our entertainment: everything from the big band sounds of Glen Miller and Artie Shaw to Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra; classical favorites such as Peter and the Wolf and Swan Lake, dance music for Cha-Cha and Rumba, and popular folk music of the day: the Clancy Brothers, Peter, Paul and Mary, and many more. They were the source of much merriment! I used the first tax refund I ever earned, at the age of 17, to buy my first instrument, a 5-string banjo. It was an S.S. Stewart Universal Favorite manufactured in the early 1900s, which I still own and play.
I've also been drawing since before I can remember, creating recognizable horses before I could write my name. I was never without paper and pencil, the outlets for my fertile imagination, throughout my childhood and youth. Eventually, I earned a BFA in printmaking, and continue to create woodblock prints regularly.
As an adult, I took up the Irish fiddle, and found my tribe! I discovered a welcoming community of like-minded musicians, and found the experience of participating in a group music session to be not only thrilling musically, but visually stimulating, as well. I keep a pocket-sized sketchbook in my fiddle case, for when, well, just "in case!"
As my interest developed, I couldn't help but notice the connection between my art and music. Even some of the terms are common to both disciplines: composition, rhythm, harmony, color, shape, line, texture. These are mere words, themselves an abstract construct, which may attempt to describe shades of emotional feeling, whether aural or visual. We speak, for example, of color in music, to mean a mood expressed through musical means. Color in visual art also has a direct emotional impact on the viewer. The same connections may be drawn between any of the other elements mentioned.
I thought it would be fun to create a series of paintings of musicians for this music school. What better way to integrate and share my two passions? I began by thinking in terms of archetype, but soon realized that my personal experience with music and musicians held more meaning for me. Most of these works are based on real-life musicians, the figures and compositions mined from my sketchbooks, or drawn from memory and imagination. In striving to convey my intended feeling to the viewer, I pare away inessential detail, preferring to allow color, simplified shape, and rhythm of line convey my message. Layers of color whisper quietly or build to a crescendo, and tracings of pencil provide grace notes. Each piece celebrates the joy of music, in its many moods.
Kate Hanlon September 2013
Recently, I hosted a workshop in white-line woodblock printmaking at my local library, to accompany an exhibition of my work in the medium. Participants included children, seniors, and all ages in between, and everyone was delighted with their resulting prints. Fun!
The workshop was funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
All in all, a fun way to spend a Saturday morning! This low-tech medium gives an easy entry to the world of printmaking.
The following is a step-by-step look at the techniques involved in the creation of a white-line woodblock print:
First, a sketch is made with pencil on the surface of the block. I use shina plywood, which I get from McClains.com.
Tools of the trade: assorted V-gouges and an antique doorknob, which is used for rubbing the back of the paper. Its smooth surface and weight are perfect for use as a printing tool!
In cutting the block, there's always a degree of interpretation of the original drawing. Often, shapes are edited for ease of printing, or to improve the design.
The block, partially cut. Case in point: here, I hadn't resolved the drawing of the column. I wasn't crazy about those curlicues at the sides, so I cut the rest of the block while I thought about that area.
I've begun printing the block, brushing water-based Akua colored inks on the block, one section at a time. The paper is attached at its left-side edge with a strip of masking tape anchored by push pins. Between inking of shapes, the paper is lowered onto the block and rubbed (with that doorknob!) on the back to transfer the ink. I also place a sheet of waxed paper between the paper and my rubbing tool, to keep the print paper from getting dirty or tearing. You can see how I resolved the design of the column by simplifying it. Isn't simple always better? 'Tis a gift.
Getting there! You might think this part might be tedious and time-consuming (all those little shapes!), or you may choose to think of it as a meditation on color and form. Think zen.
The block itself asserts its own voice; striated patterns of the wood's grain lend their own charm to the design and add to the overall effect.
I couldn't resist another closeup!
The finished print: Object of Desire #3: Turkish Bowl. Thank you for visiting!
Hello, and welcome to my blog!
You may be wondering, after checking out my work, what is a white-line woodcut? White-line woodcut is a technique of relief printmaking made popular in Provincetown by artists such as B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Blanche Lazzell, Agnes Weinrich, Ethel Mars, and many others in the 1920s, '30s, '40s and '50s. There is evidence of white-line printing in Europe as far back as the 1500s, and yet the method continues to spark interest among contemporary printmakers. Unlike traditional woodblock technique, in which the artist or technician cuts away the area of the block around the drawing, leaving the design to print in relief as a positive, in this process, the design is inscribed by the cutting of v-shaped grooves, leaving the drawing in negative relief, which will not accept ink, resulting in the characteristic white line between the flat areas of the printed image.
First, a drawing is made, or transferred by various methods, to the surface of the woodblock. Then, the lines of the drawing are cut out with a sharp knife or v-gouge. Next, the artist securely attaches a sheet of absorbent printing paper to the block. One section at a time, the surface of the block is brushed with water-based ink, the paper is lowered onto the block, and the back of the paper is rubbed, transferring the ink to the paper. The paper is lifted away from the surface of the block in between inkings, and the process is repeated until the artist is satisfied with the desired color and density of the print.
One of the medium's strengths is the beautiful effects possible with variations in type of wood, paper, ink, and printing pressure, but it is the touch of the artist's hand in scribing the drawing into the wood, combined with luminous color, that gives these prints their expressive potential, resulting in unique variations upon a single theme.
Abstraction, by Blanche Lazzell, 1932