June 24, 2016

Happy Birthday!

        This blog is now six years old and over 625 posts featuring gorgeous art, inspiring fantasy, and incredible wisdom and insight (or something like that.)  Six years of blogging may not be a particularly useful accomplishment, but it’s certainly an accomplishment of some sort, so I went looking for some relief block prints of celebrations.  I soon discovered that most depictions  of revelry in the history of art are not exactly my kind of party.  Exhibit 1: this fabulous woodcut of an appalling gang of drunk and disorderly party animals from the mid-seventeenth century.  Smoking, drinking, brawling, and barfing just aren't my idea of fun.

      So I looked for more festive images and found this charming group of revellers, also listed as a seventeenth century woodcut.  Frankly, I have my doubts.  I think the people look much more like the early twentieth century in style, and their clothes definitely aren't seventeenth-century.  The solid black banner in the middle would be quite unusual in an early wood block print, and the scalloped pattern on the ground seems more modern to me, too.  So I wish I could get more information on this.  (Oh, the frustration of the internet.)  Still, I find the image delightful, no matter when it was made.
        Perhaps I’d better just forget the party scheme.  Maybe this group of jesters and fools is more appropriate to illustrate six years of blogging - a foolish endeavor, no serious utility, but hopefully some entertainment value!

[Pictures: The Industrious Smith, wood block print from a ballad by Humphrey Crouch, 1833-52 (Image from Shaping Sense, and English Broadside Ballad Archive);
Villagers dancing around a maypole, woodcut, seventeenth century? (Image from Hidden Highgate);
Rural Recreations, wood block print from a ballad, 1641-1703 (Image from English Broadside Ballad Archive).]

June 21, 2016

Picasso's Garden

        June is bustin’ out all over, and I’ve been busy watering my real plants and sketching some art plants.  So here’s a funny plant by Pablo Picasso.  It looks like a reduction block print, although it could also be done with two blocks, but either way it’s got very little detail.  It has the look of a sketch or doodle more than a planned and polished piece.  Note, too, the dates in the upper corner, which are backwards.  Obviously Picasso didn’t plan these numbers, but carved straight into the block without remembering to work in reverse.  The printing, on the other hand, done by a professional printer rather than Picasso himself, is quite meticulous, richly black and perfectly registered.
        Pablo, Pablo, how does your garden grow?  I don’t know why these little bulls are climbing around on the flower stems like prancing caterpillars.  Picasso uses bulls frequently in his art, often to represent himself, but I won’t attempt a psychoanalysis here.  I simply enjoy the incongruity of the fierce, macho beasts transformed into cute little critters on the garden flowers.

[Picture: Plant with Little Bulls, linoleum cut by Pablo Picasso, 1959-60 (Image from The Met).]

June 17, 2016

Mythical U

        And now we enter those dark, inhospitable regions of the alphabet, where few words dwell.  From having to cull down long lists of possible beasts to feature, choosing only those exceptional stars that are most famous or most intriguing to me, I am now reduced to combing desperately through every cabinet of curiosities in the hope of discovering a few obscure creatures I’d never heard of before.  So here we are, with a pitiful handful of U’s.

undine - Elemental beings of water first named by alchemist Paracelsus, undines are always female, and usually to be found in pools and waterfalls.  Sometimes they are simply another kind of nymph.  They are humanoid, beautiful, and often with beautiful singing voices, but nevertheless, undines have no souls.  (European)

Unhcegila - Although a huge monster with a long scaly body, fiery eyes, iron-hard claws, and a fanged mouth obscured by smoke, Unhcegila didn’t need the claws or fangs to be lethal.  Anyone who saw her went blind, then insane, and then died on the fourth day.  The only way to kill her was to shoot her in the heart, which was a flashing red crystal under the seventh spot on her head.  Accounts of her demise vary, but you don’t need to worry any more - she’s dead now.  (Lakota)

umbrellaphant - Very much like an African elephant in size and general appearance, the umbrellaphant has evolved large umbrella-like structures, presumably of skin stretched over a skeletal framework, that function as parachutes and allow it to float downward safely from
great heights.  There are two species of umbrellaphant: the tusk-umbelled umbrellaphant, in which the parachute-like structures grow from the tips of each tusk, and the trunk-umbelled umbrellaphant, in which a single parachute grows from the end of the trunk.  Previously mentioned here.  (relatively recent discovery)

unicorn - Though sparsely populated, U does at least have the distinction of hosting one of the most famous and popular of all mythical creatures.  Previous post here.  (European)

[Pictures: Illustration by Arthur Rackham from Undine by De La Motte Fouqué and Courtney, 1912 (Image from Books Around the Table);
Young Unicorn, linoleum block print by AEGN, 2015.]

June 14, 2016

The Watcher in the Woods

        It’s time for another fantasy poem, and this one just might psych you out.  Oh, the first verse sounds all pretty and sentimental, but what is lurking in the woods?

  Deep in the wood’s recesses cool
  I see the fairy dancers glide,
  In cloth of gold, in gown of green,
  My lord and lady side by side.

  But who has hung from leaf to leaf,
  From flower to flower, a silken twine –
  A cloud of grey that holds the dew
  In globes of clear enchanted wine?

  Or stretches far from branch to branch,
  From thorn to thorn, in diamond rain,
  Who caught the cup of crystal pure
  And hung so fair the shining chain?

  ‘Tis death, the spider, in his net,
  Who lures the dancers as they glide,
  In cloth of gold, in gown of green,
  My lord and lady side by side.

        The poet, Dora Sigerson Shorter (Irish, 1866-1918), was active in the Irish Literary Revival, and her poetry is heavy on the usual themes of the movement: Irish mythology and folklore, tragic romanticism, ghosts, broken hearts, angels and demons, and smatterings of Irish words and phrases.  If I sound a little condescending it’s because I think her poetry is distinctly second-rate when compared with, for example, Yeats.  But to give her her due, I was amused by the twist in this poem, and any modern cynic should be satisfied by the image of pretty, gliding fairies being caught and devoured by devious spiders.

[Picture: Red Cross poster, lithograph by Basilio Cascella, c 1920 (Image from Wellcome Images).]
Poem from The Story and Song of Black Roderick, 1906.

June 10, 2016


        Here’s the latest art, something I’d been imagining for quite some time but just completed and printed this week.  Traditionally blueprints are actually cyanoprints - sun prints just like the ones you may have made as a child by laying objects on the specially treated paper and leaving it in the sun to expose.  This method of reproduction was devised long before modern photocopying, and even longer before scanning and using digital reproductions, and was used to make accurate copies of architectural  and engineering designs.  Designs were drawn on relatively thin, translucent paper, and when the original drawing was laid over the blueprint paper, the ink or pencil of the drawing blocked the sun more than the plain paper.  The blueprint, therefore, is a negative of the original, where black shows up white and white shows up blue.
        I thought of carving a faux blueprint design because I love old architectural and engineering designs, and because I thought it would work really well to carve the white lines into a block and print in blue ink.  My design is based on old patent applications, which may not be historically accurate as the drawings that were most likely to be copied into blueprints in the nineteenth century, but it bundled into the mix another fun historical aspect.  There have been some pretty cool, wacky devices that applied for patents in the past few centuries!  Naturally I wanted my patent application blueprint to be for some sort of cool steampunk critter, and I invented this device for cleaning steam pipes.  It’s a lizard-type robot that can crawl through pipes and conduits under its own steam.  Different attachments are available to fasten onto its tail tip.  Fig. 1A shows the standard pipe-cleaning brush, but other pages of the design (alas, now missing) would have shown other possible attachments, such as different sized brushes, augers, a wire- or cable-laying spool, and so on.  Other pages also showed all the details of the device’s interior construction.  Some details worth noting on the design are the access panels in the head and body, the full range of motion and flexibility in the legs and tail allowing the device to maneuver through tight and crooked spaces, and the specially designed pads of the feet allowing the device to cling even to smooth surfaces for vertical ascension.  The patent was taken out by Cyril R. Twembly, but records show that he and his wife Henrietta E. Twembly were equal collaborators in invention.
        As for my carving, the design obviously was heavy on the words and numbers, which are always hard for me.  Mostly I’m pretty happy with it, although the date came out rather messy.  The filing words in the upper left corner didn’t transfer properly onto the rubber and had to be done without guidance, hence also being a little messier.  I also should have put in some scale measurements, which I forgot about until afterwards.  Not being a perfectionist, it wasn’t worth it to me to carve and reprint the whole edition.  Finally, a real blueprint would be unlikely to have so much white, since no one would color in the whole body black in their original drawing.  However, I thought it looked better to have a bit more balance of white, so once again “accuracy” gave way to aesthetics.
        So, if you’re ever in an old building and hear the faint, metallic clink and scuffle of something in the pipes, you never know…  you may be able to discover one of the few conduit-navigating saurians ever constructed by Twembly & Twembly.

[Picture: A Device for Cleaning Steam Pipes, rubber block print by AEGN, 2016.]

June 7, 2016

Eventful Weekend

        I had two events this weekend.  First, a Spring Arts Festival on Saturday.  At my shows I generally hang a certain number of framed pieces on my display grids, and bring everything else matted and unframed in racks.  The framed pieces are usually a representative variety, with an emphasis on my newest work that the regular visitors won’t have seen before.  However, for this show I tried something new: I framed and hung every piece that had only one or two impressions remaining, in the hope of culling down some of these orphans.  Plus it was kind of fun to see all these pieces together, representing the whole stretch of what I’ve been doing over the years.  I did sell the very last of three designs, which is never as many as I would have liked, but every little bit helps.  Of course, I also finished carving a new piece, so at this rate I won't run out of art any time soon.
        The second event was technically neither block printing nor fantasy, but it was a book launch party on Sunday for a book that I illustrated.  Approved! is a story designed to introduce children to the process of Quaker decision-making, a.k.a. meeting for worship with attention to business.  It’s written by Nancy Haines, who’s a bright light in leading workshops and teaching about Quaker business meetings.  As you might imagine, a book like this has a niche audience, but in Quaker religious education circles it’s getting a lot of great buzz, and I’m excited to be part of this project.  (You can see Nancy's blog post here.)
        I first thought of doing the illustrations with block prints, of course, but I couldn't make that work to my satisfaction, so instead I devised a mixture of collage and photoshop.  This turned out to work well, because the different papers give the illustrations such cheerful bright colors and patterns.  And just for fun, I made the title page a portrait of our meeting house, which then was photo-transferred onto the cake for the party!
        And now, after that last spring hurrah, the art show season goes into summer vacation.  Except for one Sunday at the farmer’s market in July, I have no more shows until the fall.  You’d think that would mean I’d have lots of time to get busy with new work, but we’ll see…

[Pictures: AEGN at the Needham Spring Arts Festival, 2016 (Photo by MJPG);
Nancy Haines and AEGN at the book launch party for Approved!, plus the cake, 2016 (Photos by David Haines).]

June 3, 2016

Mythical T

        Today I have a nice variety of creatures for you: some traditional favorites, and some more obscure discoveries, some with a long history, and some newly identified by scientists.  And when I say “scientists,” of course I mean those people who explore and describe the regions of fantasy in all their wonderful biodiversity.

troll - Large, strong, slow-witted humanoids, trolls generally dwell in mountains and caves, but the dark area under a bridge is apparently cave-like enough to satisfy some.  They often live in family groups, and are dangerous and unfriendly to humans.  They may turn to stone if they’re touched by sunlight, like those encountered by Bilbo Baggins, and they may be frightened off by lightning, or disturbed by the sound of church bells.  (Scandinavian)

tove - According to Humpty-Dumpty, toves are something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews.  They make their nests under sundials and live on cheese.  But as we all know, Humpty-Dumpty has a tendency to play fast and loose with definitions, so it may be instead that a tove is a species of badger with smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag.  The cheese, diet, however, is confirmed.  (Looking-Glass World)

thunderbird - There are a variety of different traditions about thunderbirds, so I’ll take that to indicate different species.  Generally, thunderbirds are strong, powerful enemies of water monsters, and can create thunder and lightning by flapping their wings.  Some species live on a mountain that floats in the western sky.  Others live at the four directions.  (various North American Indian)

tatzelwurm - With the head and front paws of a cat, and the hind-end of a serpent, its unclear whether this is a dragonoid or a mammal, although it does have scales.  It’s about 5-7 feet long and despite having no hind legs it can leap as far as 9 feet.  They live in burrows, hibernate in the winter, and have been known to attack livestock.  One account says they have green blood.  (Alpine European)

        And the ones I’ve posted about previously.  Follow the links for more information.
tarasque - a dragonoid with a lion’s head, six legs, a turtle shell, and a tail with a scorpion sting.  (French)

time fly - a family of insects with so far unexplored properties of affecting time and memory.    (probably European)

tsukumogami - a household object that becomes alive and self-aware.  (Japanese)

[Pictures: The slithy toves did gyre and gimble, illustration by John Tenniel from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, 1871 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Baby Thunderbird, by John A. Sharkey (Image from Winn Devon);
Tarasque, ink drawing from Antiquités de Lyon, etc., sixteenth century (Image from Bibliotheque nationale de France).]

May 31, 2016


        Perhaps it’s time for your summer haircut.  Perhaps you favor a buzz cut, or cornrows, a bun, or a bowl cut, or maybe even a comb-over.  These hairstyle names, like most, are pretty straightforward, named for their method or appearance.  Here are a few, however, with more interesting etymologies, and even some mystery.

bangs - The American version of the more logical British fringe is from the end of the nineteenth century.  It might derive from cutting the hair bang off, but since that usage isn’t recorded until about ten years after the hairstyle, who knows?

mullet - Could the name of the infamous hairstyle, short on the top and sides but left long in back, actually have been coined by the Beastie Boys?  Apparently it isn’t attested by the OED before their 1994 song “Mullet Head.”  Mullet-head has been a slang term for a stupid person since the mid-nineteenth century, and a mullet is a fish, both of which have been proposed as origins of the hairstyle name.  Certainly the hairstyle itself has been known since the 1970s at least, but what was it called back then?  Does anyone have access to haircutting guides from the 70s to find us some data?

ponytail - The origin of this hairstyle name seems quite obvious, from its perfectly straightforward resemblance to a pony’s tail.  However, apparently the word dates only to the 1950s.  Surely people put up their hair in that style before 1950, and if so, what did they call it?

pigtail - As everyone ought to know, a pigtail is a braid, while a ponytail is fastened only at the top and loose below.  (Sadly, I have seen some people refer to little ponytails as “pigtails.”  What is the world coming to?)  Braids of hair have been called pigtails since the middle of the eighteenth century, and the term seems to have been used first by soldiers and sailors, who named their hairstyle not directly after the animal, but after the twisted rolls of tobacco that were called pigtails.  Braids were also called queues at around the same period, from the French for “tail.”  Plait, originally meaning “fold,” was used for a braid of hair since the 1520s, and braid, from the same period, came from a verb meaning “weave, twist,” but also, interestingly, “entwine, deceive.”

bob - Originally referring to a horse’s tail cut short (1570s), the name of the human hairstyle first appeared around the 1680s.  The use of bob for a short hairstyle was revived in 1920 when the style took off for women.  Related words include bobby pin and bobcat.  One last hairstyle based on an animal’s rear appendage is the rattail.
dreadlocks - From 1960, the dread in dreadlocks refers both to the fear inspired by African warriors on which the style was supposed to be based, and also to the awe of God felt by the Rastafarians with whom the style was most associated.  The lock comes from Old English, and is a different root from the lock on a door or the lock on a canal.

pompadour - Hair swept up over the forehead, popularized in the last century by Elvis Presley, was named originally for Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour.  Here’s the thing, though: she was setting styles in the mid eighteenth century, but the word was not applied to hairstyles in English until the end of the nineteenth century.  Her hair was really not as bouffant as I think pompadour nowadays implies.

chignon - The hair bun low at the back of the neck comes from the French for “nape of the neck,” which seems straightforward enough.  The French word, however, comes from the Old French for “iron collar, shackles, noose.”  That got dark quickly!  (Or rather, historically speaking, that got light gradually.)

[Pictures:  Guitar Player, woodcut by Gregory Orloff, 1932 (Image from Oakton Community College);
Boteh, wood block print by Andrew Stone, 2015 (Image from Lacrime di Rospo);
Portrait with Dreadlocks, linocut by Stan van Oss (Image from Etsy shop StandePan);
Ulysses Butterfly Winged Woman, linocut by Deborah Klein, 2010 (Image from Deborah Klein).]

May 27, 2016


        I’ve got moose on the mind today.  I’m organizing the end-of-year class gift for T’s orchestra teacher, and he loves moose, so that seems as good a reason as any to feature an assortment of relief block prints of moose.
        I’ll start with the moose that looks most likely to conduct an orchestra, this stamp design by  John Andrews.  I like old-fashioned stamp designs and have frequently toyed with the idea of doing some miniature stamp-inspired block prints myself, but I just haven’t settled on any particular theme.  In any case, this is a very stately, dignified moose, no doubt a pillar of his community.
        Our next moose, by Patrick Dengate, is deceptively simple.  There are no tiny details of design or carving, and just your basic line gouges, and yet the variations in length and width of the different lines in different areas build up into a beautifully realized moose.  The water, the hairier neck, the smoother antlers, each have their different texture.  I also like that the background isn’t all perfectly carved out.

        Betsy Bowen often watercolors her prints, but looking more closely at her moose, I think the color comes from multiple blocks.  I especially like the effect on the grasses on the side.  This moose comes with the added detail of his tracks, although of course you wouldn’t be able to see the tracks of any moose wading in the water!
        Also printed in color is Rick Allen’s pair.  What’s interesting here is that the carving is very simple indeed: pretty much just silhouettes.  It’s the variegated ink that gives it a look of more substance, as you might actually see moose, across a field, a little indistinct in rising mist or falling snow.  These moose don’t have antlers, which is nice variety, too, because of course the antlers are so iconic that almost all the moose art you see has them.
        And finally, a more abstract moose, the doodle moose, also a simple silhouette, but this one filled up with fun random patterns.
        And that’s a Friday-ful of mooses for you.

[Pictures: Alphonse Moose, linocut by John Andrews, 2013 (Image from Doodlepalooza);
Moose, woodcut by Patrick Dengate (Image from PatrickDengate.com);
Moose tracks, wood block print by Betsy Bowen from Tracks in the Wild, 1993;
M Moose, relief block print by Rick Allen from Winter Bees by Joyce Sidman, 2014 (Image from Kenspeckle Letterpress);
Doodle Moose, linoleum block print by Bre (Image from Doodles of the North Etsy shop).]