Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Imprinting the American West: Engravings from the late 1800's

The Forsyth Galleries at Texas A&M are featuring some prints and paintings depicting the wild west from the 1800's. We visited last week and loved examining the beautiful wood engravings they had on display. I took some cell phone shots so that you can see a little on them too. The variety of mark making from one artist to another is fascinating to me and there is always something to be learned from how they treat surfaces. **As a disclaimer, these shots are not the best, but I did leave the images fairly large, so that you can blow them up to see the best detail.**

First off Fredric Remington, Mexican Infantry on the March, appeared in Harper's Weekly, April 19, 1890. A wood engraving. Based on a painting, this illustration is one of several depicting life in Mexico that the artist made following a 6-week trip on assignment for Harper's Weekly. 

The first image you can see the whole engraving, and then there's three closeups. I really admire the way the Remington has treated the lights and the darks here.  

Below is a closeup of the soldiers. I like the variety of parallel lines, cross hatching and stippling to get all the different values and textures.

The head of the horse has some sets of parallel lines that make up the shapes around the mouth and nose. This almost feels like 3-d modeling to me.

This is another engraving after a painting by Remington. This one is called An Ox Train in the Mountains, it was done for Harper's Weekly for the May 26, 1888 issue. The caption for this one was interesting to me: "As author Randolph Marcy wrote in his influential manual The Prairie Traveler (1859), "when the march is to extend 1500 or 2000 miles, or over rough sandy or muddy road, I believe young oxen will endure better then mules; they will, if properly managed, keep in better condition, and perform the journey in an equally brief space of time. Besides, they are much more economical, a team of six mules costing six hundred dollars, while an eight-ox team only costs upon the frontier about two hundred dollars. Oxen are much less liable to be stampeded and driven off by indians, and can be pursued over and overtaken by horsemen; and, finally, they say, if  necessary, be used for beef.""

As I mentioned with the horse in the above engraving. I really liked the groups of lines that make up the varied shapes both in the landscape and the ox.

The following hand watercolored engraving is based on Henry Farny's original watercolor painting, The Captive. The engraving is titled The Prisoner and was carved for Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1886 issue. The caption for the painting reads: "Quietly dramatic, the scene invites the viewer's speculation as to the prisoner's unenviable fate. The shift in title from The Captive for the watercolor to The Prisoner for the illustration may have been intended to highlight exotic cultural difference: the Plains Indian method of detaining and punishing wrongdoers by exposure to nature's elements differed markedly to the federal and state prison system."

I love the bright red in the indian cloak. It obscures the engraving in places, but when you look at the colored print as a whole, its has just the right amount of black ink and color. It's something hard to achieve, because often the engraving is so powerful the colors look forced.

From this one I would love to learn how to carve grass and so well and am really interested in how the cross hatching in the body on the ground creates the dimensionality of it. 

This picture shows a nice fade from the grass to the hills. Even the distant riders have stippling in them so that they are not too prominent in the image.

Rufus F. Zogbaum, Painting the Town Red, Harper's Weekly, October 16, 1886
This wood engraving shows four cowboys on horseback barreling through a frontier town. It reminds me of the engravings from the original Alics in Wonderland book. The way that the lines are carved, seems like the image was first drawn as a line drawing, which was then carved around to make the plate. If you look closely at the lines in the engraving, they look more like a pen and ink drawing than an engraving like the above showed images.

This was my favorite engraving from the whole exhibition. So there will be a lot of closeups of it. It's called Snake Dance of the Maqui Indians, made for Harper's Weekly, November 2, 1889 issue. Here is what the label stated: "Following a photograph by Cosmos Mindeleff, Farny, a student of Albert Beirstadt drew this performance to serve as an illustration for an article in Harper's Weekly. Indian cultures in the southwest became subjects of increased fascination among anthropologists, artists, and laypersons alike throughout the late nineteenth century due to the growth of the railroad, which reached present-day Albuquerque, New-Mexico, in 1880. The Moqui, or Hopi, culture in present-day Arizona inspired special scrutiny because many of their practices appeared to Anglos to be very similar to witchcraft. The Snake Dance, an elaborate ceremony of rain, ranked among the most frequently represented rites, because it seemed particularly exotic.

Compared to most of his artistic peers, Farny possessed exceptional knowledge and understanding of Indian cultures: He under soot and spoke many Indian languages and was adopted by the Zuni and the Sioux."

The way line is treated in this engraving is so masterful and intriguing. It is very different from the other engravings I showed so far. The carving really shows control of the tools and how to use them just right. I love the way he gets light areas where the sun hits the leaves and the way the texture in the stone walls are created.

Here's some closeups of the people, equally masterfully carved. Again, I apologize for the poor quality of the photos, but you can get a pretty good eyeful of the linework.  

Some smaller people on the wall. I love the way the folds of the clothing is implied on the person on the bottom right corner and the way the store walls are carved to show texture and pattern.

The below photo is somewhat blurry, but the detail shots came out better. I thought it was an interesting depiction of the railroad and buffalo. The maker was indicated as unknown, but it appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, in June 3, 1871. It is a wood engraving with watercolor. This one is similar to the four horsemen where it looks like it was partly engraved around a ink drawing. There are some fun details and nice areas where the eye can rest and the watercolor compliments the thin lines nicely.  

I hope you enjoyed this little mini tour of engravings. I've got some limited edition books to share with you too and some new work. As something new, I have a Facebook page now where I feature the latest classes and exhibitions so the blog can be more concentrated on tutorials, introductions and reviews. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Studio Hacks- Ruler that does not move and Drying rack

Working hard or hardly working? It's been the latter for a while now, and finally this week I've been putting in my concentrated efforts in the studio to get ready for events and Christmas. Its fun to get back to working when you have some events to look forwards to. My movable press will be hosted at the Frame Gallery in Bryan, TX, for Dec First friday. Visitors to the gallery will be able to print a small keepsake card while listening to some good music and browsing some great art in the gallery. I've spent time matting and packing my small prints for the night. It's grown into a nice little pile by now. 

I also had a vision of a winter scene that I really wanted to execute before Christmas to send out as gifts to some friends far away. It's moving in the same direction as my last engraving with a donkey; experimenting with composing and carving landscapes. 

I felt quite lost at how to represent snow and snow covered trees in black and white, so I only did a loose sketch on the block before carving. I thought maybe I'd try some stippling, but then quickly figured I did not have that kind of time to use for this block so started carving lines instead. I still ended up using stippling in some small areas to vary the mark making a little bit. (All the photos are snapped with my cell phone, so excuse the quality) 

It took a while to carve the image with the kids running around, but it was finally done yesterday and I took the time to set it on the press at night and tear paper. Which brings me to Studio Hack # 1

Ever been tearing paper with an average metal yard stick? It's flimsy and likes to move around on you when you tear paper making for curved tear lines. I finally had enough, and decided to do something about it. I have a short ruler with cork on the back, which is lovely to use, so I wanted to transfer that idea with the least amount of effort to my big ruler. I didn't have any cork at home, but did have a bit of faux suede from Joann's, which was the perfect material to use. I cut a strip of it about the width and length of the ruler, used some spray adhesive sprayed on the back of the ruler and carefully laid the fabric on the top. 

Presto chango, ruler that does not slip ready to go! The fake suede is perfect on the paper, it has a nice grip and needs now minimal pressure to stay put when tearing paper. You can even see in my picture that the cut job for the strip is less than accurate, but it still works great. I'd assume that any fabric that has some tack against paper would be good for this. 

Now back to printing! Here's some pics of the block on the press and printing. Ink, was a mix of some black and blue. 

I decided to try to print this on my Korrex flat bed press, which as usual turned out to be a great learning experience. I've always printed my engravings on my proofing press or the adana mini press,  but since this was "larger" (4x6! lol, for me), I thought the Korrex would be good for the job. Getting everything ready to print took a lot of proofing and tweaking and makeready, but as I went along it came apparent that it would be impossible to print this with only the press rollers. Which I probably should have known before starting.

The two issues to solve were:
1- the surface of the block was not even from the manufacturer. The top and bottom edges had big dips in them, making it impossible for the press rollers to ink them up while inking the rest of the block properly.
2- the block has both areas of very small detail and large solids of the tree trunk and sky, where varying degrees of pressure and amount of ink is needed to transfer the image properly. 

First I needed to use a bunch of paper to get the block level so that it would ink up evenly. 

Then I used a sheet of transparency for the makeready. This was a sheet that was passed through the press under the sheet of paper every time. It was easy to add tissue to by taking the proof, then tearing pieces tissue paper and putting glue on it, then placing it glue up on the print and placing the transparency on the top of the print and tissue to glue them together. You can see the final makeready with lots of tiny tissues stuck to it in the picture below.  

After all the fussing with tissue paper all over the place, I still needed to supplement the press rollers by inking by hand certain areas that were lower. As printing went along, it ended up just being easier to ink the whole thing up by hand and not adding any more ink on the press rollers. When I do this the next time, I'll remove the rollers and just hand ink. 

Studio Hack #2 Drying rack
If you are printing at home and don't have room for a normal drying rack what do you do? Use a clothes drying rack instead. We got this while in Germany for about $20, and the three racks go down and the whole thing folds to about 3" deep so its great to store behind a door or in the garage. And it obviously doubles as our clothes drying rack too. Here is one I found on Amazon.com for sale. 

Yeah, it's only 3 levels, but since I print small, I can fit a lot per shelf, and when its full, I just start another layer on the first one. But there would be no room in our house to keep anything that does not fold down and now I can print, transfer my prints to this rack and let them dry out in the garage, without worrying about the kids getting their hands on them or trying to move around a drying rack in an already cramped space. 

Here's a last shot of the prints drying. They'll be available in my etsy shop in the next week or so.

Lastly some announcements: I'm included in both the Wood Engravers' Network Triennial Exhibition and the 77th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Woodengravers. The first is showing for three years at various locations in the US, and the other will be up in Great Britain at several galleries. You can find the locations and dates from the respective links above.

If you are in the College Station are in December, come and visit me at the Frame Gallery in Downtown Bryan for first friday. I will be setting up from 5.30pm to about 9pm.
I hope everyone has a great Thanks giving break! I'll try to post some pics from first friday sometime after the event. I've got one more print hack to share, but this post is long enough as it is, so we'll save it for next time. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Guest Artist- Heather McCaw

Today as promised, I am featuring a guest writer, friend and fellow artist Heather McCaw. Heather and I met about two years ago, when she moved to Germany and was interested in learning some relief printmaking. I was glad when she found me since I hadn't met any other "serious" artists in the area and was happy to finally have company.

She came over to my studio about once a week when possible and we would talk and carve together and I'd teach her little things here and there as we went along.

I thought it would be fun to have her write about the last and most complicated print she did in my studio before it got packed up. It was a really fun reduction linocut with a fun twist. I'll let her tell you all about it:

"Beer's intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it." ~ Ray Bradbury 

This is the third in my series of prints celebrating the "six beverages that changed the world." I have a hard time figuring out which of those beverages are my favorite. What makes me happier, a perfectly brewed cup of coffee in the morning or a nice Italian red with rich pasta? A pint of IPA sipped in a quiet English pub? A good Bourbon, cozily sampled with friends in an upscale bar or a Coca-cola with a burger and fries? 

Clearly, each of these drinks compliment different times of day, moods, and atmospheres. It's no wonder human beings had to keep inventing new libations to love. For me, a beer is best enjoyed after a hard day's work. It's the kind of drink you have with others, in public settings, a friend's barbecue or a bar. In America, it used to be considered a working man's drink (emphasis on the man). Women didn't drink beer. They sipped wine or cocktails. Now every gentrified neighborhood in the country has its own microbrewery with a loyal following of self-proclaimed beer snobs, both men and women. 

My husband and I are just such snobs. Imagine how much fun we have had sampling different beers in England, Germany, and Belgium since we moved to Europe two years ago. 

This is why I was excited to find this quote by Ray Bradbury when I was playing around with ideas for my beer print! Yes, beer can be as sophisticated, varied, and complex as wine. 

Now on to the process. 

First, I had to play around with a couple of sketches. I decided on a composition with the beer bottle on the side and the lettering curved above and below. The words "what a shame" would be on the beer bottle itself, so that the eye flows from the top to the bottom of the piece in a kind of backward "c". This was a difficult quote to incorporate into an image, because it is not just one sentence. That's why the beer label proved useful in the design. I wanted the image to have a rustic, old-timey feel, so I chose lettering that reflected that.  

Since I wanted to use three colors, I used two plates. The first printing would be in light yellow, then I would carve out everything on the first plate I wanted to remain yellow when I printed on top in light brown. The second plate would be for the rest of the lettering. Step one, step two, step three. 

Coming up with the yellow color was the hardest part of the inking process. Because my press is so small, I printed this in Mirka’s studio. I thought I mixed enough color to bring with me, but I quickly ran out. We tried to mix up some new color, but her white was a different brand and it kept coming out too orange. After trying and failing to get the same color, I eventually had to run home and grab my white ink and bring it back with me. You live and you learn, I guess! 

After carving out the spiral design and other parts of the first plate, I printed the light brown. Then I switched to the second plate and printed the second shade of brown. The second shade of brown was also tricky to mix. At first it was too black, then too red, then finally just right. 

I don't know why I didn't think about attributing the quote until so late in the process, but at the end, I had to carve out a stamp so that Ray Bradbury's name would appear on the prints. 

And then.... drum roll please.... the final touch was adding these red foil stars. I can't take credit for the idea. It was Mirka's suggestion and she was right on the money because I think they look totally snazzy! 

This was my first attempt at a reduction print. I had always been a little afraid of how much I would need to think through it, but this design was basic enough that it was fairly straightforward. I will definitely do more of these! 

If you’d like to see more of Heather’s artwork she has a great website and etsy store, where the Beer-prints are also available. For the next post, I'll write more about my current escapades in Finland making more (lo-and-behold!) engraving blocks out of apple and juniper. I also had a very simple setup to share on printing relief works. :) Talk to you soon!