December 05, 2011

Crystal Crag In The Bag

With Christmas less than a month away and all the related commitments looming, I took a quick innventory of my upcoming free time, i.e. printmaking time, and realized I won't have any.  Panic!  This one weekend was all that was left to get it together and get the Crystal Crag print finished.  Otherwise it would end up haunting January like the ghost of Christmas past and that would be a bad start to the new year.  I like closure.  

It was a carving frenzy, lots of narrow and odd-shaped areas to clear away again.  Fortunately I recently found a series of radio broadcasts from the Czech Republic, Toulky Ceskou Minulosti (which translates roughly as Strolls Through the Czech Past), and I was listening to the episodes while I carved. The programs begin with a look at prehistory, centuries before Cromagnon man showed up, and cover the span of time that followed until the 20th century. They're based on a series of witty history books published about 15 years ago I think.  Fascinating stuff right?  No, really...the migration of tribes and ancient Celts and all that.  Sort of a more intricatelly detailed and scholarly version of an Edgar Rutherford novel. 

Oddly enough, neither Roland nor Nora fully share my enthusiasm but so be it.  I suppose it may sound dry to some but I totally lap it up.  Plus, since the broadcasts are in Czech, listening exercises my mind a bit while I'm at it.  Or so I tell myself, despite the fact that being fluent in two languages didn't seem to help my mother all that much.  If anything, it now makes conversations with her more of a puzzle as she interweaves one language with the other. But what the hell; the radio broadcasts make the carving fly by.  And apparently there are 850 episodes or some such crazy number so I have a good long way to go.  I'm up to number 15. 

Here's the second-to-last colour of the print:

And the final one:

Crystal Crag, Lake George - Reduction Linocut
7 x 9.5 inches 

I find a nice sense of closure in finishing out this year's printing with a work built on the memory of one of my favourite places.  


November 27, 2011

Heros and Demons

The trouble with having a bunch of diverse interests is that they all compete for equal time.  Which is maybe ok when there's some time to spare but, as I often lament, it's not the case for me.  My interest in many different things often means having to neglect some of those things in favour of others.  For example, I've always been fascinated by history and myth.  Having rediscovered Joseph Campbell a few weeks ago, suddenly I feel an irrisistible urge to delve headlong into a re-examination of world mythology, symbolism, and Jungian archetypes and, if that's not enough, of esoteric alchemy. There's such a wealth of material out there on this I could make it a life-long study but, instead, I'm trying to grasp these concepts in a few hours per week.

And that means I'm not, at least for a while, devoting time to printmaking as regularly as before.  I suspect I'm turning to a study of more transcendent ideas because I need something to take me away from the concerns with my parents and their dementia issues.  As much as I find solace in my creative work, I have a hard time not letting the worries intrude while I carve or draw and I really don't want my prints to become vehicles for my frustration. 

I spent four Wednesday nights in a workshop for the caregivers of people with dementia and I will say the following two things only about it here. Number one: yes, guilt and grief are my new middle names and, number two, if you are someone who also looks after someone with dementia, get in touch with the Alzheimer's Society.  They are an invaluable resourse.  In spite of this, I recognize that a support group can only take me so far.  I need to find something more to fill up my brain with and thus my escape into studies of the anima mundi.

Anyway, I have added two new colours to the Crystal Crag print and I'm very happy with the progress so far.  

Two more to go now and I'm really hoping to get them in before I have to start thinking about Chrismas baking.  Again!!! 

November 14, 2011

Oh, the Wind, the Wind is Blowing...

I took an afternoon walk in the sun today and nearly froze my nose off.  The wind, clearly having just howled in from Alaska or Siberia or some such arctic place, was a physical presence with icy claws.  

What!  It's November already?!  Unbelievable.  Where did the last three weeks go?  And, not only is it November already, six Saturdays and it'll be Christmas.  Now there's a cheery notion.  It suddenly hits me that I haven't given even a single thought to Christmas cards, until now anyway, and the idea of cards fills me with dread more than anything.  In past years I think I was well on the way to carving the block for them by mid-November but this time I'm not sure I'll be making any.  I think if it were possible at all, I'd hide away in a cabin in the woods somewhere, ignore Christmas all together, and just draw and read.  And listen to Schubert and Neil Young, who are both dark enough and deep enough to fit the mood.  

I'm thinking, would my parents notice if we didn't do Christmas this year?  Hmmmm....

But I guess that's not really an option.  So, instead, I'm working on a new print and liking that well enough for now.  I'm still reliving memories of our summer travels it seems because this next print is also inspired by one of the places we stopped of my heaven on earth places. 

This is a picture of Crystal Crag, looming above Lake George just outside of Mammoth Lakes, California, and it's the inspiration for the new linocut.  I know I'm not the first person to do an artistic rendition of it, I Googled it and found quite a few paintings of it, but I didn't see any linocuts so maybe this will be the first.  I've been working on it for a couple of weeks, just didn't have much time to post about it.  But I got a good start to printing this weekend. 

Today, a day off for me, I actually even printed two colours, all in the same day, so together with the first one done yesterday, I'm moving along well:

I suppose if I can't physically remove myself and Roland into a place of immense natural beauty, I can at least go there mentally.  And if I can just keep Christmas at bay a little longer..


October 24, 2011

Ok, I Give Up - No, Wait...Let's Try This!

There are times when, on the path to "let's try this and see if it'll work", it's good to know when to stop.  Such was the case yesterday, when I worked on my "fix" for what was in my mind the washed-out sky problem.

The solution actually came fairly quickly; looking at the block I realized it was still, though mostly carved away, in pretty good shape.  So I laid a piece of tracing paper over the sky area of one of the prints, cut it out, and traced around its outline, wrong side up, onto a leftover scrap of textured mat board.  I then used double-sided tape to attach the mat board piece to the block so it looked like this:

And then, because I was hoping to duplicate the texture I got for the sky earlier, I rolled the pattern-tracing wheel over the mat board again to make little indents:

My idea was that if the slight texture of the mat board didn't produce an interesting enough effect, maybe the indents would.  Well, they both did dick all.  The ink rolled on beautifully and registered beautifully, so I was at least gratified I got the mat piece cut out and placed right, but it was totally opaque and flat. It looked good texture.

And now this is where I should have just said "it is what it is" (even though I really HATE that phrase) and printed off the rest of the edition and called it done.  But no.  That's not where it stayed because I got the "brilliant" idea to see if I could cut some lines into the mat board with one of my carving gouges.  

I wiped off the ink (not really sure why since I tried the gouge on a different piece of mat anyway) which didn't work; the paper just tore away.  I tried running the flat end of a dinner knife along to create an indent but that didn't work either.  With that, I finally decided to accept things as they are, returned to the original piece, and set about rolling on more ink and carrying on with the  printing.  Suprise!  Because the rag I'd wiped the mat board piece with, needlessly, was just a little bit damp, the mat board piece had become damp too and, go figure, fell apart.  Now there were bits of brown mat clinging to the brayer and mixed in with the rolled out ink and the inking glass was just a mess.  

I'll let you imagine the colourful language I save for times such as these.  

My next thought was to just blow it all off for this week and do it all again next weekend.  Except one of the bits of code I've been programmed with is "never leave for tomorrow what can be done today".  And I really do try to live by that, if only so I have less stuff to feel guilty about. Plus, I have an idea for a new print and I want to be done with this one.  Now.  So even though I still had to get outside to turn over the garden beds and get next year's garlic in the ground, I went and started again.  I cut a piece of foam board this time, no texture (enough f-ing around for one day thank you), attached it to the mat board piece, and printed the rest of the edition. Was it worth it?  I'm going to tell myself yes.  What else am I gonna do?

La Grande - Reduction Linocut 
9.5" x 8"  
Edition of 7
Afterward, I went and planted garlic....Really, there's nothing like the smell of compost to make one forget about other, minor frustrations.

October 11, 2011

Not the "La Grande" Finale

Well, now that I’ve added the "last" colour to the La Grande print, I have to face up to not being finished yet.  Maybe.  

The problem is I don’t like the sky.  I know, I know, I was so proud of how very cleverly I managed to work in the little bit of texture into it but now, when I see it with all the other colours in place, I find it’s not bold enough.  It’s kind of blah.  Too pale, the wrong shade, I don’t know exactly what it is about it I don’t like, but it pleases me not. 
I’m weighing a decision to overprint it with a richer colour – yes, at the cost of the texture – and I’m trying to figure out the best way to do that.  And if it's worth the trouble.  Because this being a reduction print, there’s almost nothing left of the block.   

Which means I have to either do a new block (and no way am I doing that), or maybe use foam board again just for the sky.  And then I’ve got to figure out the logistics of positioning the new piece into the registration jig I’ve got set and lining it all up so I don't misregister the whole thing at the last minute and totally screw it up.  
So it goes. On the plus side, now I can delay the decision of what my next print will be by another week so, in a twisted kind of way that’s there's a plus side.

October 03, 2011

Next Colours in the La Grande Print

I've been down in the dumps the last couple of weeks again.  Issues with my parents and my care of them weighed down and overwhelmed me and, as a result, I've been dispirited and uninspired to do much beyond escaping into my book and losing myself in alternate realities.  

By the time some of the gloom lifted and I returned to my La Grande block and print, I took my time in carving the checkerboard pattern I added.  With all the little squares it was a minor optical illusion and I wanted to make sure I didn't make any mistakes.  

And yet, even with drawing the pattern right on the block and shading in the parts that were supposed to be cut out, I still managed to skip one little square somehow.  Of course this threw the whole thing off; I had to cheat the pattern back into submission and hope it wouldn't show too much when printed.

In the end I think it turned out ok though.  The flub is there but not glaring and it's all good.  These are the next two colours in:

And the second to last one:

Now it's one colour left to go and so far no real decision on what my next print will be.  But I'm fairly sure, when the time comes, so will the idea. 

September 18, 2011

Still Blocking the Block

I was thinking I'd be half-way to being blind by now from the fairly small texture bits I plan to carve for this current print.  But I was jumping ahead of myself and trying to put on the coat before the wool was spun or something like that.  I forgot about having to block in the base colours first.  

For this week then, I've added some partial texture to the intersecting band and blocked in the background for two sections of hillside.  

The texture carving comes next, providing I can subdue the head cold I've been hit with today.

September 11, 2011

Expanding and Contracting

Well, it's been two weeks since we got back from our travels and, although I've settled back into the routine of work and responsibility, it's been a slow settling.  I can't shake the feeling that I'm doing it against my will.  In Mammoth Lakes, in a campbround above Lake George, we revisited with a friend we made there 24 years ago. We sat around the fire, gratefull for its warmth and for the crisp air and the silence of the night, and we talked about how effortless it is, when we're alone in (and with) nature, to let our inner selves expand.  How automatically we attune to the magnitude around us so that our senses become much more acute: we hear the leaves move with the smallest breeze and we hear the sound of a stream from a distance.  How our souls stretch out and breathe again after being confined.   

In the world of office towers, surrounded by the noise of lawnmowers and traffic and by hundreds of other people, we tend pull in those sensors and contract.  It's a social self-preservation thing I guess.  I once read how in Japan, a society with very little privacy anywhere, where, for centuries, the walls in homes were made of rice paper, people learned to function by drawing into themselves.  By creating a little shell of private space around themselves and focusing within.  Maybe we need to do that just to stay sane.  Oddly, though I once thrived on the buzz of the city, I'm realizing I now have a preference for more remote, less populated places.  Places I can stretch out into.

Anyway, the divide between our holiday and regular life gets greater with each day. The memories from the trip are giving way to the small rituals of daily life.  I'm trying to keep those memories alive a little longer, to cling to that sense of expansion I felt when we were driving around, absorbing the vast and vacant natural spaces of America.  To do that, I'm taking the inspiration for my next print from the trip.  Ironically, it's not a place we actually stopped in, nor do I have a photo for reference.  All I have is a memory and a sketch I drew in a few seconds while we were driving and I looked out the window and saw a scene that resonated. 

We were near La Grande, Oregon and were passing a stretch of rolling slopes, green and gold, seemingly cut by a band of dark I don't what.  Gravel?  Charcoal?  Whatever it was, the mixture of green, gold, and taupe was unusual and lovely and short-lasting.  I guess I could have asked Roland to pull over but I didn't.  Even on the road there were deadlines it seems.  So I drew the sketch and made notes on the colours and promised myself it would be a print.  

I drew a couple of colour sketches and played with patterns,

and today I printed the first colours.  I decided to begin with a cheat for the sky and for the intersecting darker band and mounted two pieces of very thin foam board into the appropriate places on the block with double-sided tape (the block is sideways in the picture just because that's the way I took the photo):

I also wanted to incorporate some texture into the sky but didn't want this texture to be overly pronounced.  I was considering a couple of options when I remembered a couple of pattern-tracing wheels I still have from my sewing days. 

The teeth, rolled across the foam board, gave me exactly the texture I wanted. 

The above is a close up of the inked up foam strip for the sky.  Here is how it turned out in the actual print:

I'm very happy with the result.  Now of course, the real work begins and I have to start carving.  

September 04, 2011

Road Work, Road Kill, and Rest Areas

But no road rage.  Not even in Salt Lake City where we ended up in the mayhem of rush hour one hot afternoon.  Actually, in Salt Lake it was more like road fear.  OMG:  me driving, for the second time only, a van with the steering wheel on the right hand side of the vehicle (and therefore opposite to what I’m used to) dodging drivers bludgeoning their way into my lane from one side and airborne hunks of re-treads from the other. Never again will I doubt someone who comments on how “polite” Vancouver drivers are.  Now I know. They (we) really really are.  And, if I never find myself in Salt Lake City again, fine by me.

Still, we made it back from our road trip safely and much richer in experience.  The van, affectionately nicknamed "Bluto" (short for blue toad), was everything we envisioned when we started planning this trip last September.  Through ten nights and eleven days, six states, and roughly 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles), most of those miles on the back roads, it was a great way to travel.  And, no hassle at all setting up (and taking down) the bed Roland built, complete with storage underneath. 

Now we’re back sorting through the pictures we took and having a hard time believing we were ever away.  Funny how that goes.  But there are a few things I learned and might even remember as the time wears on:
  1. Trite as it may sound, dreams can become reality if you work for them and have patience.
  2. Some things keep better as memories (Sedona, Arizona 30 years ago).
  3. Some things still live up to the memories (Wood's Lodge, Mammoth Lakes, California).
  4. 37°C (98°F) is relatively cool (when the temperature drops to 37°C from 49°C (120°F) (Death Valley, California).
  5. Sometimes, when you think you're lost, you find the most awesome places and when you think you know exactly where you're going you end up in an ugly campsite right next to a highway.
  6. Don't wear a headlamp flashlight (even a little one) and try to make dinner after dark in a campsite full of bugs.
  7. The most expensive campsite doesn't necessarily end up being the nicest, cleanest, and worthwhile.
  8. Bears can be less frightening than some people. 
  9. It's forbidden to gather rocks from State and National parks but hey, it's ok to take your gun in and kill the wildlife!!!
  10. The aroma of pine tar is my favourite smell in the whole world.

Beyond the statistics though, it’s impossible to describe the places we visited and what we found there in a blog post so I won’t.  It may be a cliché that pictures are worth a thousand words but it is the truth isn’t it, so here's a sampling:

Craters of the Moon National Monument - Idaho

Fremont Indian State Park (Castle Rock) - Utah

Red Rock Canyon - Utah

Death Valley - California

Mammoth Lakes, High Sierras - California

 Mono Lake - California

Redwood National Park - California


As to artwork...well...before we left I’d resolved to sketch something at each of our camping sites but  it didn’t always work out.  Getting to the campsite too late, trying to get on the road early on most mornings, that sort of stuff.  I managed some sketches, some of them as we were driving past the thing I was sketching, but not nearly as many as I would have liked.  But even with less drawing time than I wanted I came back with a head full of ideas for prints.  I’ve started on the first one so I hope to have something on that by next week.

Slowly trying to get back into the swing of things...

August 08, 2011

Gettting It Done

Well, for a little while, it was beginning to look as if I wouldn’t finish the lake print before our big trip.  I am, as a rule, very organized and systematic, probably to the point where the line between organized and anal gets just a little blurry at times.  I thought I had a pretty good concept of all the stuff that had to be dealt with before we hop in the van and go chase the ghosts of our younger selves.  But I overestimated how efficient we would be at getting it all done.  Or maybe it’s just the random element of the unforeseen: the little bit of "Loki-ism" that throws a sprinkling of chaos into daily life.  Whatever the case, my chances of getting the final colours of the print done, and having a clean slate before we left, appeared to be dwindling as this past weekend wore on. 
All's well that ends well though and it did end well. Somewhere between studying road maps, baking muffins (lots and lots of raspberries this year), sewing a curtain for the van, and taking the dog to the vet to get his rabies shot and his anal glands squeezed...if you have to ask, you don't want to know...I carved the last bit of the block and printed the last pass on the print.  
Here are the final two stages, printed over the past couple of Sundays:

Sleeping Lake - Reduction Linocut
8" x 11" - edition of 12

I'm ready for the next one, whatever it might be.

July 25, 2011

Pass the Wrench?

Moving steadily along, I’ve added the next colour to my latest, so far un-named, print. 


Yes, the islands have been transformed into dark uninteresting blobs but that, I hope and am fairly sure, is not their final state.  I sat on the teeter-totter about what to print first: the lighter tone for the islands, which would also add a lighter tone into the tree branches, or the darker tone for the branches.  It’s always a bit of a quandary, this reduction cut business. I went with the second option but it means I’ll have to back-track now and I’m banking on the obscuring power of white. Of course, it was only after I printed the new colour into the full edition that I realized I could have/should have masked the branches and done the islands. Hindsight.
I was lucky to get time to print at all because we have now officially embarked on this year’s summer project. We’re celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year and, in honour of this, we’re planning a short road trip reminiscent of those we took just after we were married.  Then, it was in a converted banana-coloured postal van we bought at auction for $800.  This time we’re travelling in something a little more compact.  We imported a Mitsubishi Delica from Japan in December (right-hand drive and all), 

and are in the process of turning the back of the cab into a place we can sleep. Having done the hotel and restaurant type of holiday last summer, we’re ready for something more our style.  We both prefer to camp and, given a choice, would pick a campsite among the trees over a bed in a hotel room any day.

Although I did the bulk of the work in camperizing the postal van all those years ago, this time Roland will do the hard work and I’m providing the inspiration and “wifely guidance”.   As a result, we spent a good chunk of the weekend driving around looking for fold-up mattresses and then another chunk hanging out in the van looking for and discussing different possibilities.  Next weekend, the work begins and I'm already busy figuring out where and when printing time will be...