February 25, 2020

Leafless Trees

        I wanted to share these two linoleum block prints by Anita Laurence (Australia) before we enter spring.  I did a post in the past with her images of cities, which are delightfully busy.  These leafless trees are very different.  In terms of actual carving, these are also very busy: the branches and their shadows fill the space with detail and everything is full of interesting textures.  By contrast, however, the over-all impression is of space.  There are hills in the backgrounds, but the foreground is flat and stark, and the skies are large even though they don’t really fill much of the paper.  Clearly with such strong shadows, the sun is bright, but perhaps it’s the buff paper and heavy cloud cover at the horizon that make it feel hazy.
        These landscapes are from the western part of Victoria, which is one of the areas that’s been badly affected by fires this year.  This is not the first time there have been
fires, of course, and Laurence has apparently done some artwork (photography) relating to brushfires in the past, but I don’t know what the current status of these areas is, or whether Laurence is currently dealing with it in new work.
        In any case, these are beautiful, and I love the use of texture and light and shadow.  They do a lovely job at one of art’s important functions: to draw attention to the unique beauty of individual locations, and to share that attention universally.

[Pictures: Winter I, linocut by Anita Laurence,
c 2012;
Typo Station, linocut by Laurence
(Images from AnitaLaurence.com).]

February 21, 2020

Folktales for Dark Times

        One thing that it seems everyone in the world has in common these days - and yes, I like to look for things we have in common, no matter how divided we are — is that we’re all scared, and stressed out, and worried about the future.  The irony, of course, is that it’s the things some of us do to try to avert crisis that are causing what others of us see as crisis, to which they react with actions that cause even deeper crisis to those with the first perspective, and so on…  So how can we break out of this vicious fear cycle?  Well, it isn’t easy and it will take a lot of work from a lot of different directions, but one thing that can help is sharing stories.  Why?  Because stories give us hope, inspire us to be brave and persistent, spark our problem-solving creativity, and provide a little stress-reducing humor.  Not just any stories will do, though.  Stories have power, and stories about how We will crush Them are definitely not helpful.  So here, to the rescue, is folktale expert and storyteller Csenge VirĂ¡g Zalka with a Storytelling Global Crisis starter kit.
        Go straight to Zalka’s blog The Multicolored Diary and check out her list of folktales for dark times: Don’t Stop Believing.  Read some for your own mental and emotional health, and then share some, because sharing multiplies the benefit.  (Actually, not all of the links go to readable stories.  Some just link to citations of books that may not be readily available.  Still, a number of them can be read on-line.)  Recurring themes are the need to keep doing the small tasks for as long as it takes without giving up, and the need to work together to solve problems and overcome threats.  So hang in there, and don’t stop telling the stories that inspire you to hope and action.

[Picture: Story Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2003.]

February 17, 2020


        This is just a quick shout-out to two artists I met at Boskone 57 this weekend, who gave me lovely little pieces of their art.  I read excerpts from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination at the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading session, and afterwards received these treasures.  What a delightful surprise!
        First, a herd of umbrellaphants floating down, using their umbels to slow their descent.  It’s especially fun to see this view, since my own illustration of an umbrellaphant is just standing there.  This was done by Leafia S.C. with warmth and charm.
        Second, a sampling of calligraphy pieces by the Driveby Calligrapher.  As it says on her business card, “I write down things other people have written, but fancier.”  And what makes both these artists’ work even more fun is that they were done on the spot as we were reading our short pieces, and presented to me afterwards.
        So I’m sending out a big Thank You to these two talented and generous artists.  Your work spreads joy, and that’s Vitally Important!

[Pictures: Umbrellaphants by Leafia S.C., 2020;
Calligraphy by The Driveby Calligrapher, 2020 (Visit her Twitter @dbcalligrapher).]

February 13, 2020

A Room With a View

        I am very pleased to be one of eight artists featured this month at gallery twist in Lexington.  The show is called “A Room With A View,” because each artist gets a room — or at least, an area of the gallery/house.  My area is part of the front hallway and powder room!  (See this previous post on “Bathroom Art” — and be sure to read the comments, too, since they give another perspective.)
        One of the “twists” of this gallery is that they have a grand time staging the art in the house to give you fun things to look at and notice.  For example, you can see in the photos that there are turnips providing decor next to my piece “The Enormous Turnip,” and even peas scattered around “The Princess and the Pea.”  These touches are delightful in their own right, but also often serve to help visitors notice little details about the art, or consider a new perspective on it.
        The show will be up through March 1 so you can go see it any time until then, but I will be doing a special demo in the gallery on February 18 from 10-11am.  You’ll also get the opportunity to carve your own mini block if you wish.  I’ve just finished a design for a new block today, so I’ll have something to demonstrate, and you’ll be able to see (and try) the whole process.  So come on over to Lexington if you happen to be able to be free on a Tuesday morning, and I’ll be delighted to see you!
        But first, over the weekend I will be at the Boskone convention for the Art Show, and a reading from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.  That should be fun, as well, so it’s a busy month for me.  At least the demo means I’ll get a chance to keep making some art amid all the shows.  I’m not so sure about writing, but we’ll see…

[Pictures: Gallery Twist, photos by AEGN, 2020.]

February 10, 2020

A Few More Thoughts on Getting It Wrong

        The situation in which Cancel Culture is the most appropriate and potentially positive is in boycotting work that is actively promoting a hurtful agenda.  It’s least appropriate and most counterproductive when it’s in reaction to someone with good intentions.  Here are a few more thoughts on how we should handle our own mistakes made through ignorance or thoughtlessness but not malice.
        Unless you write nothing but autobiography, you will be writing about people who are other than yourself — and even in autobiography you’ll have to mention a few other characters in the background.  But of course some people are more different than others, and as you write you will inevitably get things wrong.  When this happens, apologize, and keep going, because everything you write is a rough draft for everything you’ll write after.  (I cannot take credit for this brilliant observation, but alas I cannot give credit, either, because I can’t remember who said it!)  In that spirit, therefore, I am apologizing for making the character Tij in Ruin of Ancient Powers in the stereotype of the Blind Seer.
        I start with the question of whether stereotypical Blind Seers are better or worse than having blind characters represented as being useless, or not represented at all.  I would think that various people might have different responses to that question, depending on their own experiences and pet peeves.  It’s worth pointing out that not all [x] will share the same attitudes or the same judgement of any given portrayal of [x].  It’s also worth pointing out that a fair answer to my question would be, “How about a fourth option?”
        In my defense, I think Tij bucks the Blind Seer stereotype (thus edging at least slightly toward that fourth option) in an important way: she isn’t passive.  She doesn’t give the protagonist wise advice and then stay home while he goes off to have adventures.  Sight or no sight, wisdom or no wisdom, she is a full participant in all the action.  That said, she is blind and Angduv says of her “She listens so intently she hears even what I leave unsaid.  She sees to the truth so clearly, so openly, that she has no need to see anything else.”  So, for perpetuating the stereotype of the Blind Seer and potentially irritating and frustrating blind people who are sick of blind characters being portrayed this way, I absolutely apologize.

[Picture: Amos, wood block print by Irving Amos (Image from IrvingAmen.com).]

February 6, 2020


        My most recent pieces are a little series of variations using the same block.  The block was my sample piece for at least a year.  Every time I taught a class I’d use this scrap of rubber to demonstrate how to use the carving tools.  It was a sample for the “Not a Zentangle” project with which I have students start.  The idea is just to try out a variety of different patterns to get the feel of carving.  Because I would carve only a few lines and patterns each time, this block lasted me for a long time!  But eventually I filled in the whole thing, declared it finished, and printed it, just to demonstrate printing.  I then started fooling around with the printing, combining multiples in various ways, and I decided that I rather liked it.
        Theoretically any square or rectangular block can be printed in four different spinning patterns: one with each different corner as the center point.  (You can see some square blocks printed this way here.)  My block, however, is not a proper rectangle, because it was just a scrap of rubber trimmed from something else.  It has two right-angled corners, and each of those could be used as a center point, but another corner is missing, and the last is weirdly lumpy.  I experimented with different ways to arrange the block to get rotational symmetry around those two corners that don’t really fit together.
        After staring at all my variations until I couldn’t see straight, and asking my patient family members which designs they liked best, I finally decided on three versions to print.  You’ll notice, if you look carefully, that even the two square corners are no longer the central points of their rotations.  I decided that each pinwheel should have a small space in the middle, to make them go together better.
        This is the first truly abstract art I’ll be showing.  I’m curious whether my audiences will like them at all.  I find them quite joyful!

        ANNOUNCEMENT for all those in the greater Boston area: this Sunday from 2-5pm will be the opening celebration of the eight-person show in which I’ll be featured at Gallery Twist in Lexington.

[Pictures: Variations rotating around 4 “corners,” rubber block prints by AEGN, 2019;
Pinwheel I, Pinwheel II, Pinwheel III, rubber block prints by AEGN, 2020.]

January 31, 2020

Words of the Month - Great Gams

     To refer to legs as gams has always been slang, and is now distinctly dated slang at that.  But as usual, there’s more going on with the word than you might have realized.  The Late Latin gamba meaning “leg of an animal” is responsible for a whole host of English words.

gams - not technically a plurale tantum, the word is nevertheless almost always heard in the plural.  It dates from about 1780 and may derive from the heraldry term gamb, for the leg of an animal used as a charge on a coat of arms.  On the other hand, it may instead derive from underworld argot, from Italian.  Either way, it comes ultimately from the Latin.  I’m not sure when it shifted to its modern (relatively speaking!) American usage of applying specifically to “the shapely legs of a pretty woman.”

gammon - ham or haunch of pork, this one is quite obviously and directly derived from Latin gamba, by way of Old French.  (Compare, too, French jambon and Spanish jamon.)

gambol - (1580s) to skip about merrily.  This comes by way of French for “the leap of a horse,” and obviously involves kicking and prancing with the legs.

gambit - originally a specific opening in chess, it came in the 1650s (by way of Spanish and then French) from Italian meaning “tripping up.”  By the 1850s it had broadened its meaning to any “opening move meant to gain advantage.”

jamb - (early 14th c) the side-piece of the frame of a door or window.  Think of the door jambs as being the legs on which the lintel stands.

gambrel roof - (1760s) aka hipped roof, from the idea that its angle is shaped like a horse’s hock.

viola da gamba - (1724 from Italian), literally “viol for the leg,” since it’s held between the legs like a cello.

game - (1780s, originally north Midlands dialect) lame.  The etymology of this one is not certain, but one possibility is that it derives from the same gamba root, in which case that game leg seems quite redundant!

        So now you know, and can appreciate the great gams that show up all around you… but you should probably refrain from catcalling them, whether they’re on your breakfast plate, framing your door, or under a woman’s skirt.  No need to be disrespectful, despite your enthusiasm.

[Pictures: Beauty Parade, cover painting by Billy DeVorss, March 1944 (Image from DTA Collectibles); 
Gamboling Lambs, woodblock print by Matt Underwood (Image from his Etsy shop mattunderwood).]

January 28, 2020

Year of the Mouse

        The rat has a bad reputation, understandably enough, and it seems that no one makes block prints celebrating rats, except those who embrace the macabre.  Yet here we are in the new Year of the Rat, and it’s time to celebrate.  If it makes it any easier, in English we always call the Chinese zodiac symbol a rat, but in Chinese the same word refers to both rat and mouse, so we could just as easily call this the Year of the Mouse, and feel better about it.  So here’s a collection of block printed mice (and one rat).  The
first is mine.  Nothing especially interesting about it, although I confess I’m rather fond of it.
        The interesting thing about the second is, of course, its composition, with the mouse all alone in the corner, in the dark.  It’s very dramatic… and I am jealous of that incredible black.  A black that pure and even is possible only with oil-based ink and a press, so I never achieve it in my prints.
        This tiny mouse is from a primer from about 1776, and it is about as high-quality as most primers
throughout the history of children’s education: not exactly the highest level of artistry.  It is a serviceable little moufe, though!
        This rat appears to have a scholarly bent, and perhaps even a predilection for the arcane.  Those born in a rat year are supposed to be clever and have great ideas, but not always great communication skills, so it looks like this rat is working on that.  Also, rats are supposed to be liked by everyone, so reconsider those rat prejudices!
        And our final mouse, by C.B. Falls, is clearly a harvest mouse, so it can send us back to the previous post featuring lots more block prints of harvest mice.  You can also see a fun giant rat here!
        Happy Lunar New Year!

[Pictures: Mouse, rubber block print by AEGN, 2011;
Mouse, linoleum block print by Belle Baranceanu, c 1937 (Image from Asheville Art Museum);
m Mouse, wood block print from The Royal Primer, c 1776 (Image from University of California);
Rat, woodcut by Liv Rainey-Smith, 2013 (Image from her Etsy shop Xylographilia);
M is for Mouse, wood block print from ABC Book by C.B. Falls, 1923.]

January 25, 2020

Very Strange Creatures Indeed

        Here is another poem (from 1929) by Robert Graves.  This has no rhyme or rhythm, being written purely in the form of a conversation, and it belongs to a more humorous, colloquial school.  It is entitled Welsh Incident, and that’s exactly what it describes: an incident.  There seems to be no greater point or moral than just the fun of it.

“But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.”
“What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?”
“Nothing at all of any things like that.”
“What were they, then?”
“All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written about,
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
Though all came moving slowly out together.”
“Describe just one of them.”
“I am unable.”
“What were their colours?”
“Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you’d like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
Some had no colour.”
“Tell me, had they legs?”
“Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.”
“But did these things come out in any order?
What o’clock was it? What was the day of the week?
Who else was present? What was the weather?”
“I was coming to that. It was half-past three
On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
On thirty-seven shimmering instruments,
Collecting for Carnarvon’s (Fever) Hospital Fund.
The populations of Pwlheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
Were all assembled. Criccieth’s mayor addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
Silently at a snail’s pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all
Which hardly one man there could see for wonder
Did something recognizably a something.”
“Well, what?”
“It made a noise.”
“A frightening noise?”
“No, no.”
“A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?”
“No, but a very loud, respectable noise –
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.”
“What did the mayor do?”
“I was coming to that.”

        Some of the descriptions of “no sizes” and “no colour” remind me of something from Douglas Adams.  At any rate, it wouldn’t be possible to provide you with an illustration of this scene, indescribable as it is, so I have contented myself with including a single one-eyed two-legged sea dragon from Ulisse Aldrovandi, which seems to capture at least something of the spirit (even if it does have legs).

[Picture: Draco marinus monophtalmos bipes, wood block print from Monstrorum historia by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1642 (Image from University of Oklahoma).]