March 22, 2017

Block Printmaker Abbe

        Elfriede Abbe (US, 1919-2012) was a sculptor as well as a printmaker.  She also printed entire books on her printing press.  She observed, “Cutting designs directly in a wood block seems to lend itself to a sense of affinity with objects of nature, landscape, and countryside.”
        Here are two pieces by Abbe, I assume from an entire series on the days of creation.  The Fifth Day, with creatures of the seas and air, is especially interesting.  Most obviously it’s unusual for being printed on marbled paper.  This is an artist’s proof, so I don’t know whether Abbe made her entire edition on this paper, or was just experimenting.  I’m sure she was thinking the watery paper might go well with the watery image.  I think it’s cool, but distracts a bit from the details, which are quite interesting, too.  For example, look how the ray overlaps the fish, jellyfish, squid, and other things around it.  There’s a lot of movement in the composition, as compared with the land animals, which are much more static.



       In addition to Abbe, I’ve featured plenty of other A printmakers in the past.  Follow these links to see:


[Pictures: Genesis I.21, block print by Elfriede Abbe (Image from Flickr);
Sixth Day, block print by Abbe (Image from Flickr).]

March 20, 2017

A-Z Challenge - Theme Reveal

        You know how much I like alphabets, so when I heard about the A-Z Blog Challenge, I figured it was just the thing for me.  The idea is that every blog that participates picks a theme and then spends the month of April doing a post on the theme for every letter of the alphabet.  Although April is the official A-Z Challenge month, today is the official day to reveal one’s theme.  I already did a fantasy alphabet theme, so this time… drum roll… I will share a relief block print artist for each letter of the alphabet.  I’ve got some artists I’ve never featured before, and I plan to link to artists I’ve already mentioned, so I’m hoping this will end up creating a great index of block print artists.
        In addition, it will be fun to see what themes other bloggers do, because there’s the social aspect of everyone doing this together, and linking into the same list.  (The list of participating blogs is all the comments below the A to Z Challenge site's post of the day.)  Unlike the last alphabetical series, which was just me, this series will be part of a whole big April Alphabet party.
        Okay, but being the rebel that I am, I’ve devised a system that I think will work better for me, and be more consistent with the way this blog is usually formatted.  Instead of 6 posts a week for the month of April, I will do 3 posts a week, and I’ll start early and run late.  So tune in on Wednesday to find out what A artist will kick us off…

March 17, 2017

A Bit of Hope

        Maria Popova of the blog Brain Pickings says that “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism.  Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”  We need them both, of course, and strangely, they both seem in awfully short supply sometimes.  In the world of fiction writing, however, the balance often seems to fall away from hope, with anything that isn’t 100% cynical being labelled as too naively happy.  Happiness and hope are often accused of being unrealistic.  In 1969 E.B. White laid out the role of the writer with comments that seems absolutely spot-on for 2017.  He says,
        A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.
        I’ve written about this before, particularly in my post on Happy Endings, where I point out that newspapers are full of bad news not because bad news is more “realistic,” but because newspapers operate under the belief that a problem generates more sales than its solution and sudden disaster generates more sales than the slow process of overcoming disaster.  As a writer I believe that I have a job to do in accepting and reporting the warming rays of the sun whenever they strike me, not mindlessly or naively, but in an effort to serve up ample helpings of both critical thinking and hope.
        Maria Popova concludes beautifully,  Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.

[Picture: O What A Beautiful City, wood block print from Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals by Ashley Bryan, Atheneum, 1974.]
Quotations from The Paris Review Interviews, vol. IV, and Brain Pickings, where you can read Popova’s whole article “Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves.”

March 14, 2017

Hunker Down

        Snow Day!  And here’s a fun wood engraving to celebrate.  Actually, the snow’s not all that deep here yet, but we’re supposed to get over a foot.  That’s nothing compared to this Arctic scene, but plenty for mid-March, in my opinion.  Artist Rick Allen points out that “getting snowed in can really encourage good stories and good story telling,” a sentiment near and dear to my heart.  We’ll also probably indulge in some board games today, and perhaps a movie, as well.  In the meantime, enjoy the cute details in this piece: the bear snuggling around the stove listening to the stories (which are quite scary or shocking, judging by his reaction), and the moose’s antlers blowing right off!

[Picture: Hunker Down, wood engraving by Rick Allen (Image from his web site Kenspeckle Letterpress).]

March 10, 2017

Fossils in Rubber

        Here’s the most recent piece I just printed, although once again I had mostly carved it last year.  I did a test print at the time but thought it had too much black, and the white didn’t pop strongly enough.  So I carved out more, including just about doubling the number of feathery lines on each frond, but I didn’t get around to printing again until now.
        In case you’re wondering, these are crinoids, or at least they’re an artistic impression of crinoids.  Crinoids with stalks are also known as sea lilies, for obvious reasons.  My piece is inspired by a large fossil slab I saw at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, followed by looking at photos of lots of other crinoid fossils.  My crinoids aren’t meant to be a scientifically accurate representation of any particular species, however.  I was inspired by the shapes and patterns of a variety of crinoid fossils, as you can see in the various ways I’ve depicted the stems.  These guys have been around in a wide and magnificent variety of forms for about 500 million years, so they must be doing something right.  I think they’re pretty cool.

[Picture: Fossils, rubber block print by AEGN, 2017.]

March 7, 2017

Here's Something Cool: Computer Bugs

        Check out these cool insects made from old circuit boards and other computer bits.  In common with so many of the other more steampunky sculptures that I like, they are a way of salvaging trash, turning something discarded into something beautiful, and commenting on just how much we throw away and waste.  The built-in obsolescence of electronics makes it even more of an issue with these components.  Still, these are mostly wonderful for their own sake.  And resistors make such perfect insect legs!










        Julie Alice Chappell (UK) scavenges bits and pieces from computers, video game systems, DVD players, and other electronic devices.  I’ve been known to save circuit boards and other bits and pieces, too, just because they’re so visually appealing.  I have yet to turn them into anything beautiful, though.
        I’m not sure how the wings get transparent.  Do they come that way, in a sort of circuit board I haven’t yet seen?  Or does Chappell do something to them?  Either way, the filigree of circuitry translates wonderfully into insect wings, and Chappell does a great job matching other components to other insectoid body parts.  I find the head of the top dragonfly particularly wonderful.
        Some of her insects are fairly straightforward impressions of real species, but others are much more fantastical.  I love that the second dragonfly has three sets of wings and two sets of antennae.  The last example here has its own odd proportions in the placement of wings and antennae that add to its charm.  I find these very appealing, and hope you enjoy them, too.

[Pictures: Computer Component Bugs, sculptures by Julie Alice Chappell, c 2015;
The Silvery Dragonfly, sculpture by Chappell;
The Elegant, Triple Winged “Through the Looking Glass” Samsung Insect, sculpture by Chappell, 2017;
Computer Component Bug, sculpture by Chappell, c 2015, (Images from This Is Colossal, My Modern Met, and Chappell’s Etsy Shop DewLeaf).]

March 3, 2017

Chittaprosad's Alpona

        Chittaprosad Bhattacharya (India, 1915-1978) chose not to use his surname because of his rejection of the caste system in India.  He was a radical leftist political artist who used art to raise awareness of social issues, and used printmaking as propaganda for the masses.  In places where literacy is low and multiple languages are spoken, art is particularly effective at spreading ideas.  As I’ve mentioned before, angry propaganda is not appealing to me, but later in his life Chittaprosad became increasingly interested in movements to promote peace and aid children, and these are topics that certainly resonate much more with me.  I can’t find dates for any of the pieces I’m sharing today - work intended for mass distribution is seldom signed or dated - but judging from the subject matter, I’m guessing these are all later works.
        The first one is called “Alpona,” which is the traditional drawing of designs on the ground during special occasions.  You can see the woman drawing her design with sand or rice paste from her bowl, as other women and children look on.  It seems to me, however, that there’s a hint of a double meaning here, with the beautiful wealth of designs Chittaprosad uses in his wood block prints.  Like relief printmaking, alpona (or alpana) is most often done in white on a dark background, and like the patterns Chittaprosad clearly revels in, it can represent auspicious elements or be purely abstract.
        The mother and children in the second piece are quite stylized in a style very similar to the first.  They look more like archetypes than a portrait of specific people, and the piece includes several symbols, too, such as a dove, a flower, a sheaf of rice, and the boy playing a flute.  Once again I really like the patterns of the saris, the boldness of the carving, and the almost cuneiform look of the grass.
        I’ve chosen this third piece because it’s a little different, a wide landscape with more of a look of a specific place.  I especially like the water buffalo, of course, but there are lots of little details in the background, including tiny flying birds.  Almost all Chittaprosad’s prints seem to include birds!  There are children here again, too, and like the other pieces I’ve chosen it gives an impression of peace and sufficiency.  May all the world’s children enjoy these things!

[Pictures: Alpona, wood block print by Chittaprosad;
Mother and Children, wood block print by Chittaprosad (Images from Art alinda);
Untitled, wood block print by Chittaprosad (Image from Saffron Art).]

February 28, 2017

Past Professions

        There are many jobs that have become obsolete over the centuries due to changes in technology or culture.  Some of these professions that are no longer widely practiced are still familiar words, such pharaoh and alchemist, but others have faded from common usage in the language.  Of those obsolete words, some are pretty self-explanatory, such as lamplighter and iceman, while others have become quite odd-sounding and mysterious over time.  It is from among these obsolete names for obsolete occupations that I’ve selected this month’s Words.

ackerman - ploughman (note the connection with acre.  And yes, people still plough, of course, but not with this word.)
alnager - inspector of woolen cloth (from an Old French unit of measurement)
awblaster - crossbowman (I assume related to the large crossbow called an arbalest)
colporteur - peddlar of books or newspapers, especially Bibles and religious tracts (from Middle French comporter “peddlar,” influenced by porter a col “to carry from the neck”)
gaberlunzie - licensed beggar, in Scotland
gong farmer, gongfermour - one who empties out cesspits and privies (from Old English past tense of “to go”)
hayward - hedge warden, an officer in charge of hedgerows, fences, and enclosures
knocker-up - human alarm clock, the one who goes around town in the morning knocking on doors and windows of clients so they can get to their jobs in factories
pantler - servant in charge of bread and the pantry (note that the etymology of pantry is “bread room,” and compare with the servant in charge of the wines and spirits in bottles: butler)
pargeter - plasterer, either simple whitewashing or decorative plasterwork
parnel - priest’s concubine or mistress
postilion - one who drives a carriage by riding one of the horses that pulls it (usually the front left)
puddler - iron worker who produces wrought iron from pig iron (by the process called puddling)
resurrectionist - body snatcher, usually exhuming fresh burials to procure cadavers for dissection
screever - sidewalk artist, who draws pictures on the sidewalk in colored chalk, for donations
whitesmith - tinsmith (as compared with the better-known blacksmith)

        A couple other notes that interest me: 
Many obsolete jobs, thank goodness, are those that were often done by children, such as 
link boy - carries the torch in front of a carriage at night
doffer - exchanges the bobbins, etc, in textile mills
breaker boy - separates impurities from coal
pugger - kneads clay for pottery by treading it
And many of these words that are no longer encountered as professions live on as surnames, such as chandler, fletcher, and fuller, as well as ackerman, hayward, and parnel above.
        I’ve encountered some of these words in literature or history, while others were entirely new to me.  Sure, we no longer need to use them on a daily basis, but it would be a terrible shame to lose them altogether.


[Pictures: woodcut from Ein Schönes Spiel.. von Wilhelm Tell by O. Schweitzer, 1698 (Image from British Museum);
Of Pride, wood block print from A christall glasse of christian reformation by John Day, 1569 (image from Wikimedia Commons);
The two men drew the corpse gently out of its coffin, engraving from The Mysteries of London by G.W.M. Reynolds, c1843 (Image from Hathi Trust Digital Library);
Link-boys lighting the way, from The Illustrated London News, Volume 10, 1847 (Image from Wellcome Library).]

February 24, 2017

Swimming

        We’re going swimming this morning, so that’s a good enough reason to show you this curious sixteenth century wood block printed instruction manual about swimming.  The book itself, De Arte Natandi by Everard Digby, was the first English instruction manual on swimming and was very influential.  It includes a guide to different strokes and methods of floating as well as attention to matters of safety.  It also includes copious woodcut illustrations.       
        Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, I can’t find any record of the artist who illustrated Digby’s work.  But whoever he (or she, but probably he) was, he came up with a clever method of making the more than 40 illustrations all large and beautiful without having to go through all the trouble of carving more than 40 different scenes.  There are five different large blocks showing detailed landscapes of rivers, but each of these blocks was made with a rectangular hole in the middle.  Each of the different strokes or swimming techniques could then be carved on a small block and inserted into one of the landscape blocks for printing.  Some of the blocks fit in more smoothly than others, but I think it’s a very clever system.
        This first background block has some cows by the riverside, and a man who looks as if he’s about to fall into the water accidentally, but I’m most intrigued by the swimmer on his smaller separate block.  At first I thought he was holding two birds, but now I think it’s a hawk and something else, though what I can’t tell.  A lure, perhaps?  Whatever it is, is Digby
providing instruction for falconry while swimming?  It seems an odd and amusing choice.
        Here are two illustrations that use the same background so you can see how the artist could  make a variety of swimming poses fit into his framework.  I like the house in the background, and the man in the lower left getting undressed, or possibly putting his sock back on; I’m not sure which.  An Elizabethan gentleman had an awful lot of clothing to get off and on in order to go swimming.
        And one last scene, with the river going horizontally, a charming windmill on the hill, and a magnificent sunshine.  Although it’s unseasonably warm here today, we will not be swimming under New England’s February sun, but will be indoors.  And we’ll be playing with balls and pool noodles rather than hawks.  Still, no doubt we owe something to Everard Digby and his ingenious illustrator for their influence on the Art of Swimming.




[Pictures: Four wood block print illustrations from De arte natandi libri duo by Everard Digby, 1587 (Images from Wellcome Library).]