June 15, 2018

Eppink's 101 Techniques - Part II

        After Norman R. Eppink covers Relief Processes in his 101 Prints: The History and Techniques of Printmaking, he goes on to other printmaking techniques in which, on the whole, I have significantly less interest.  Nevertheless, several of his sample pieces still serve to shed interesting light on relief printmaking.  For example, when he engraves a pewter plate, he prints the plate both intaglio (ink is forced down into the crevices) and relief
(ink stays up on original surface) for comparison.  He also includes a relief printed version of his metal line engraving.  You can see in both of these how the intaglio print makes the more expected picture - black lines on a white background - while the relief printed version makes a sort of negative.  This is why intaglio took over from relief as the reproduction method of choice in printing.  It is, after all, a lot easier to reproduce the look of a drawing that way.  This is also why I prefer relief printmaking: it has its own unique look instead of being merely a method of reproducing another medium.
        Along with his other metal plate techniques, Eppink includes a dotted metal print, a technique that has always been printed in relief.  You can see my previous post about the technique here.  Why he put it where he did in his book, I don’t know, but I do like this one, with its interesting patterns and textures.
        Unlike the collagraphs I’ve done, Eppink’s collagraph is printed intaglio, which is how one of my favorite collagraph artists, Bonnie Murray, does hers.  This makes for a really interesting look, and this is one of my favorites of Eppink’s prints.  It looks very Venetian.  I’d experiment with this myself, except that
I’ve not yet figured out how to make or seal a collagraph so that it’s sturdy enough to withstand the wiping away of the surface ink that’s required for intaglio printing.  Maybe someday!
        As for Eppink’s continued march through printmaking techniques, I have little interest in Planographic Processes (which is lithography), and although I suppose one could argue that monotypes are planographic, Eppink categorizes his under Miscellaneous Processes.  I don’t much care about Stencil Processes (which include stencils and serigraphy, the fancy word for silkscreen).  And my prejudice is that Photography Processes aren’t printmaking at all but belong in a wholly different book!
        And that concludes Eppink’s review of “serious” printmaking… but tune in for the third and final installment, where things get wild and fun!

[Pictures: Man of the Cloth, engraving by Norman R. Eppink, printed in both intaglio and relief;
Fish Count, line engraving printed as metal relief by Eppink;
Trio, dotted metal print by Eppink;
Façade, collagraph by Eppink;
Pears in a Basket, monotype on glass by Eppink, all from 101 Prints: The History and Techniques of Printmaking, 1967.]

June 12, 2018

Eppink's 101 Techniques - Part I

        In 1967 Norman R. Eppink (USA) published his monumental work 101 Prints: The History and Techniques of Printmaking, which consisted of exactly that: 101 prints, each representing a different printmaking technique.  (In the limited 1967 edition, each of the representative prints was an original, and the book was printed by Eppink’s own press.  He then published a regular edition in 1971 with reproductions of the illustrations.)  The book is epic in scale and represents a tremendous undertaking on Eppink’s part to research so many different printmaking techniques and master them all at least sufficiently to produce a representative sample.  The only downside is that unfortunately I actually don’t like very many of his prints!  Still, it’s a cool enough project that I want to share a bunch with you - so many, in fact, that I’ll divide them over multiple posts.
        Eppink himself divides his 101 techniques into nine sections, which are Relief Processes; Intaglio Processes; Intaglio, Mixed Media Processes; Planographic Processes (lithographs); Stencil Processes (stencils, serigraph/silkscreen); Photographic Processes; Miscellaneous Processes (rubbings, monotypes, embossing); and Children’s Processes.  Of all those printmaking techniques, my interest is primarily only the very first section, Relief Processes.  In the following list of
relief processes that Eppink includes in his collection, I have linked to some of my own posts for comparison.  Eppink includes woodcut and wood engraving, linoleum cut, and then various multi-block, multi-color versions.  He also includes more obscure blocks including casein, gesso, plaster, lucite, plexiglas, rubber (inner tube rubber, not purpose-made rubber carving blocks, which hadn’t been invented yet), celluloid dissolved in acetone, and my favorite for sheer randomness: rabbit-skin glue mixed with molasses.  In other words, anything that can be made into a flat surface and carved can become a relief printing block.  I’m not entirely sure why these particular materials were chosen for inclusion, but I gather that each of them had at least one “serious” artist working in that medium.
        So I include for you today Eppink’s woodcut, wood engraving, linocut, and casein cut.  Casein, in case you don’t know, is a protein from milk that has a long history of use in paints and glues (and cheese, but even Eppink doesn’t seem to have considered making cheesecuts).  You can see that his casein cut is just a jumble of experimental mark-making, but what I don’t know is whether that’s about all a casein block is capable of, or whether Eppink just didn’t feel like doing anything else with it.  After all, he still had 92 more prints to go.  And finally, I’ve also included his 3-color linoleum block print, which is specifically three blocks, one for each color.
        Some of Eppink’s choices seem arbitrary: why does a 3-color print count as a separate technique from a 2-color print and a 4-color print?  Why include lucite and plexiglas as separate techniques when as far as I
understand it, they’re both just versions of the same acrylic plastic?  It certainly makes me wonder how I would break down the various possibilities if I were to undertake such a project.  But perhaps this blog is at least a partial answer to that question, even if it hasn’t been at all systematic.
        Up next, we’ll move into techniques that, despite being categorized by Eppink in sections other than Relief Processes, are still interesting.


[Pictures: Coast Line, woodcut by Norman R. Eppink;
Ruins, wood engraving by Eppink;
Aquarium, linoleum cut by Eppink;
Fragment, casein cut by Eppink;
Doors, three-color linoleum cut by Eppink, all from 101 Prints: The History and Techniques of Printmaking, 1967.]

June 8, 2018

Save the Merfolk

        Today is World Oceans Day, and we already got the celebration started with some Odd Fish a couple weeks ago, so today I have something even odder: merpeople.  The biology of merfolk has always been a bit of a puzzle.  How can a creature’s internal systems actually function if they’re half fish, half mammal, half cold-blooded, half warm-blooded, half water-breathing, half air-breathing?  But leaving such considerations aside for the moment, the important thing about merfolk is that they are intelligent beings who live in the world’s oceans and are entitled to some opinions about the state of the seas and how humans have been treating the water for the past few centuries.  Other intelligent sea creatures, such as dolphins and whales, of course, are also entitled to opinions, but presumably merfolk could actually tell us their opinions in clear and unambiguous speech.
        My first mermaid, combing her hair in the traditional manner, comes from “A Strange and Wonderful Relation of a Mermaid, that was seen and spoke with, on the Black Rock near Liverpool, by John Robinson Mariner, who was tossed on the Ocean for Six days and Nights; Together with the Conversation he had with her, and how he was preserved.”  From this account I learn something I did not know about mermaids: it is vital that you speak first.  As the account explains, “she appeared to him with a smiling Countenance and (by his Misfortune) she got the first word of him, so that he could not speak one Word, but was quite Dumb.”  Perhaps this is why we haven’t heard the merpeople’s opinions yet: we always get the first word.
         Next up, a really unusual mercouple.  They have large animal ears, for starters, and odd tufts on the undersides of their tails, but their strangest feature is the little web-footed legs.  These legs seem to add amphibian to the mammal-fish mix.  We know there must be many different species of merpeople, including an armless one here, and of course the double-tailed species made famous by Starbucks Coffee.  It may be that these legged merfolk are seen more often than we realize, if their legs are underwater when sailors usually spot them only from the waist up.
        Mermen get a lot less representation these days, so I’ve included a fifteenth century mergentleman who strikes me as looking rather scholarly.  I’d bet he could tell us a thing or two about plastic straws, helium balloons, oil spills, and the rest of the ocean trash.
        And finally a pair of mermaids wearing scales to the neck for modern notions of modesty.  A mother-daughter pair, perhaps?  Other than Andersen and Disney’s assurance that young merfolk go through a rebellious adolescent phase much like humans, we know very little about the life cycle of merpeople.  That’s all the more reason to take care of our oceans before we lose the chance to learn more about the wonderful creatures that live there.
        Okay, so maybe there aren’t mermaids living in the world’s oceans, so why have I picked them to celebrate World Ocean Day?  Well, the truth is that we have absolutely no idea how many more strange and incredible species remain undiscovered in the seas, but we know there are large, intelligent, beautiful creatures already in danger, and there are almost certainly creatures at least as wondrous as mermaids that we’ll never know about if we don’t ease up our abuse of the Earth.  So let’s Save the Mermaids and all their fellow sea creatures before it's too late.

[Pictures: Wonder of Wonders, wood block print from an 18th chapbook, recorded in Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century by John Ashton, 1882 (Image from Internet Archive);
Monstra Niliaca Parei, from Historiae animalium by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1570 edition (Images from University of Oklahoma);
Balena, wood block print from Ortus Sanitatis published by Jacob Meydenbach, 1491 (Image from Internet Archive);
Iemanjá, wood block print by José Francisco Borges, c 2003 (Indigo Arts Gallery).]

June 5, 2018

Tibetan Wood Block Prints

        Here are two nineteenth century Tibetan Buddhist broadsides printed from wood blocks.  The first is a complex scene, and so detailed it almost looks more like an engraving.  The tiny circles in the central light beam (if light beam it is) are the sort of thing that’s particularly fiddly to carve.  According to the description, this represents a wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjusri.  I don’t know anything about the iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, so I can look at this only as an image in its own right.  There are dragons in the clouds, shooting beams from their mouths, and an elephant and a lion among the attacking hordes.  Maybe it’s because I recently reread The Lord of the Rings, but the figures in the lower right, particularly, make me think of orcs.  To me it looks as if the heads of the spears transform into flowers as they enter the aura of the bodhisattva.  I have no idea whether this is what the artist intended to depict, but I love the idea!
        The second piece is somewhat simpler in style, just outlines, and arranged in a flatter, more schematic composition.  It represents Gautama Buddha under assault by the forces of ignorance.  I totally know how he feels.  The forces of ignorance are led by the demon Mara, whom I take to be the buffalo-horned monster.  Look at all those hands hemming the Buddha in with their clutching, busy demands, and the ranks of feet, their toes lined up like shark’s teeth.  The left feet (his left) stand upon a row of birds, and the right feet on a row of something that look to me like reptilian camels, but I’m guessing perhaps nagas?  The border of dragons and clouds is quite lovely.
        Wood block printing has, of course, been used for centuries all around the world for a wide variety of purposes.  I don’t know to what extent the anonymous artists who made these images thought of their own work as Art, and to what extent they thought of it more as graphic design, or even just recopying a standard iconography.  In any case, they are new to me, and I found it interesting to see one more different style of relief block printmaking.

[Pictures: Manjughos a, Tibetan Buddhist broadside, nineteenth century;
Gautama Buddha under assault by Mara, Tibetan Buddhist broadside, nineteenth century (Images from Yale University Beinecke Library).]

June 1, 2018

It's Not Fantasy. It's Preparation.

        On May 5, Maria Devlin McNair had a piece in the Boston Globe that you need to read.  It covers a whole slew of points that I’ve discussed in this blog before, including
        - The real-world inspiration that speculative fiction can provide, in this case, to the students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and became powerful advocates for gun control.  As Anna Crean, one of the students, said, “We’ve grown up with teenagers in dystopian eras that have fixed everything and become the heroes of their city. Then they put us into a dystopian era in real life and they don’t expect us to do anything?  We can make a difference because that’s what books and movies have told us since we were little.”
        - How “children’s literature” can be as deep and complex as “serious literature” and grapple with the most profound moral issues.  As fantasy author Philip Pullman said, “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”
        - How, indeed, the division between children’s and adult’s literature is somewhat artificial anyway.
        - How fantasy is not mere escapism.  It helps readers figure out possibilities of how they can live their actual lives in the actual world, and in particular
        - How the vision of Good is important for developing our own moral compasses.  As MG Prezioso of the Harvard Graduate School of Education said, “When you read those kinds of books. . . it’s inevitably inspiring because you see what can be. You are given this vision and trying to figure out different ways to make that vision a reality.”
        - How important it is that we are given a vision reminding us that the world is not inevitably doomed to remain as it is now.  As Denizcan James pointed out, students are seeing their world turn into “the entire plot of [Harry Potter] book 5 where the government refuses to do anything about a deadly threat so the teenagers have to rise up and fight back.”  And as teacher Jennifer Ansbach said of fantasy, “What, you thought it was fiction? It was preparation.”
        Go read the entire article here: How Children’s Literature Became Everybody’s Literature.

[Picture: Hogwarts Castle, wood block print by Brian Reedy of WoodcutEmporium.]

May 29, 2018

Words of the Month - The Incredible Shrinking Shrank

        I first noticed it in 1989 with the release of the Disney movie “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”  But that’s wrong, I objected to a heedless world.  It should be “Honey, I Shrank the Kids.”  Nevertheless, since then I’ve been witnessing the steady demise of the simple past tense of shrink.  What’s going on here?
        First of all, shrink is a good Old English verb, and its past tense forms have come down to us from the earliest forms of the language.  Shrunk is (or was) the past participle, as in “Honey, I have shrunk the kids.”  It’s also the form found in the adjective shrunkenShrank, as the simple past tense, doesn’t appear in any other forms, so perhaps that leaves it weaker, sounding stranger to the average ear.  When speaking one’s native language, one doesn’t look things up in grammar books, except possibly when writing an essay for school; one simply goes by ear.  If it sounds right, it’s right; if it sounds wrong, it’s wrong.  So the more you hear shrunk, the more that sounds right, and the less you hear shrank, the weirder it sounds.
        Words don’t live by themselves, however; they associate with each other, reinforcing what sounds right and wrong.  Other Old English verbs that form their past tenses to the same pattern as shrink include sink, stink, drink, sing, and spin.  So let’s see what’s been happening to them.
        “Honey, I sank the boat,” has been correct for the past thousand years, but I have begun to see (or hear) sunk creeping in as the simple past tense. (Actually, in the interests of full accuracy, “The boat sank” has been correct forever, but “I sank the boat” only since the mid thirteenth century, when sink came to be used transitively.)  In October 2017 the Boston Globe reported “A 65-foot boat loaded with diesel fuel sunk in Boston Harbor early Tuesday morning.”  Probably helping to confuse the issue is the fact that sunk is also an adjective so that you can get perfectly correct sentences like “The boat sunk in Boston Harbor has not been salvaged.”  Again, the ear can begin to think that “the boat sunk” sounds better than “the boat sank.”
        It’s my impression that as of 2018 sank is still stronger than shrank, but span is a past tense that seems to be farther along the road to extinction.  The correct grammar is (or was originally) “I span the wheel” or “I have spun the wheel,” but I wouldn’t use span unless I were at my most pedantic.  It sounds weird to me.  In Paul Zelinsky’s 1986 Caldecott Honor retelling of Rumplestiltskin, “the little man once again spun all the straw into gold.”  What sounds right to you?
        Sing - sang - sung, on the other hand, remains pretty strong.  Indeed, it wouldn’t even occur to me that anyone could possibly say something as wrong-sounding as “I sung the song,” except that a quick internet search reveals many many grammar sites earnestly explaining that the correct past tense is “I sang.”  Clearly people are wondering, no longer certain of their own ear-intuition.  The same situation seems to be true of drink, with enough confusion out there to warrant plenty of grammar advice.  Indeed, one site urges not only that “I drunk” is wrong, but that “I have drank” is also wrong.  How could one possibly be unable to hear how wrong those are?  Well, if you hear enough other confused people, you get confused, too.
        This particular class of strong verb forms seems gradually to be simplifying itself: losing its simple past tense form in favor of using the same form for both past tense and past participle.  But just to keep things exciting, sometimes the language complicates itself instead.  The past tense dove began as an 18th century error based on analogy with the past tense droveDrive - drove - driven is the original correct formation, but the original past tense of dive is dived.  Somewhere along the line, speakers (chiefly in the USA) began to think dove sounded better, and now that is the more common usage in the US, although dived is still more common in the UK.  The same thing happened to dig - digged, except that dug appeared in the sixteenth century and has now completely superseded the original past tense, leaving digged as the incorrect form.  It’s worth noting that the English language survived the change.  So give it a couple more centuries and for better or worse we’ll probably be seeing the same thing with the disappearance of shrank, sank, stank, and span.

[Pictures: Tom Thumb dancing on the queen’s hand, wood block print from an eighteenth-century chapbook, reproduced in Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century by John Ashton, 1882 (Image from Internet Archive);
Magres Serapion, wood block print from Ortus Sanitatis published by Jacob Meydenbach, 1491 (Image from Internet Archive).]

May 25, 2018

Odd Fish

        Let’s be honest, there are some seriously weird fish in the world’s waters, and anything you could possibly think up while trying to be all fantastical is probably tame compared with something that really exists.  That said, I came across a few fishy illustrations in some of the early natural history works, that leave me exclaiming, “What the heck?”
        So what do we have here?  First, a sea serpent with a  ribbon-like crest with which it is “booping” a bemused seal.  Despite the rather amusing look of the protuberance squishing down over the seal’s head like a turban, the sea serpent definitely has an evil look in its eye.  If I were the sea turtle, I wouldn’t be treading water and watching; I’d get away from there before I was booped next!
        The next monster has most excellent flippers, the head of a boar, three eyes on its side, and a pair of crescent horns at its shoulders.  Is it mammal or fish?  As far as I can make out the Latin of Gessner’s description (which is, admittedly, NOT very well) he seems to have found this monster in Olaus Magnus, and confesses that he’s dubious about the pig snout and the extra eyes.  But I’m not dubious at all - surely such things are swimming in northern waters even now?
        Our next odd fish has a human face - is it a sort of proto-mermaid?  And how about a fish with an armada of galleys on its flanks?  Are they camouflage for swimming among fleets?  Or are we seeing an x-ray view of all the ships this monster has swallowed?  Again with my attempts at Latin (with the questionable help of Google translate), is this a decorative artwork in which galleys have been carved on fish-leather?  Who knows.
But now a creature which doesn’t look much like a fish at all, except for the scales.  Is it perhaps a reptile, instead?  The bald head and human face remind me of a professional wrestler or something!
        Adorable pufferfish, perhaps?  Fish building a nest up in a tree?  Musical swimming recorder-fish?  All very odd, indeed.
        And then we end with a final What the…???  Twelve arms with clawed paws, a tail with a fishy fin, an eye and an ear at each point of the compass, and a vicious little tusked mouth to the west…  I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you that this thing is big, and that it was sighted between Antibes and Nice, so you may want to avoid swimming there!  
        Wondrous and strange as these aquatic monsters are, it is equally wondrous and strange that many of them are genuine scientific attempts to depict real creatures of the world’s waters.  So let’s take another look at these terrifying oddities.  Our sea serpent with the aggressive plume?  Believe it or not, that’s meant to be a remora.  Think of it this way: a long skinny fish that has a sticky thing on the top of its head which it uses to grab onto large aquatic creatures such as sea turtles…  When you put it like that, this picture kind of starts to make sense.
        I can’t explain the pig-nosed, eye-spotted monster any more than Gessner could.  He calls it a sea hyena, but I don’t know what real animal that might correspond with.  The boat-marked fish is a tuna, but that still doesn’t explain the picture, so we’ll pass on to the proto-mermaid, which is actually a koi.  I certainly don’t think of koi as having human-like faces, but at any rate, they do have flatter faces and more of cheeks than most fish.  As for this scaly feline… sea lion, anyone?  The puffer-fish are not actually pufferfish, but rather sea stars.  The nest-building fish are trout, and the aquatic musical instruments?  Apparently they’re supposed to be some sort of sponge, but nothing in the description of the creatures explains why in the world they should be depicted like this.  Of course with fifteenth-century books you never know - maybe they just messed up, and this wasn’t the picture that was supposed to be printed here at all.
        The final mish-mash-monster remains a mystery.  I could maybe guess a starfish, with many arms with little grabby claws, but that certainly doesn’t explain what’s with the four elfin ears.  Who says it has to be an ordinary creature, anyway?

[Pictures: Remora, wood block print from De piscibus libri V by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1613;
De hyaena cetacea, wood block print from Historiae animalium by Conrad Gessner, 1604;
Cyprinis Rariset monstrosis, wood block print from Historiae animalium by Gessner, 1604;
Tuna, wood block print from De piscibus by Aldrovandi, 1613 (Images from AMS Historica);
De monstro leonino, wood block print from Historiae animalium by Gessner, 1604;
Stella, Tructa, and Sfungia , wood block prints from Ortus Sanitatis published by Jacob Meydenbach, 1491 (Images from Internet Archive);
Magnus et admirabilis bellua, wood block print from Historiae animalium by Gessner, 1604;
Little bonus fish, wood block print from Historiae animalium by Gessner, 1604 (Images from Internet Archive).]

May 22, 2018

Lino Prints by Harris

        Deborah Harris (USA) is a block print artist with a distinctive style that simplifies subjects, emphasizes graphic qualities, exaggerates distinctive elements, and makes wonderful use of the drama of black and white.  Harris does some interesting political pieces which I may share another day, but today I’m sharing a couple of my favorite of her lovely plants and animals because I need the joy.
        First up, a charming billy goat.  Notice how wonderfully hairy he is around the edges.  In places his hair blends right into the texture of the background, which is also quite full of hairy little lines.  I also really love the flowers in his background, as if he’s posed regally before damask hangings - or perhaps a lush meadow is equally regal.  I might be afraid to put a busily detailed foreground in front of a busily detailed background, but Harris makes it work beautifully.
        This snake is very dramatic indeed, popping off its own shadow, framed in a spotlight.  The shadow makes our eyes read this snake as active, head raised, instead of lying peacefully basking in the hot, white sunlight.  The saw-toothed edges add to the drama.
        Equally dramatic but with a very different effect is what I identify as lilies-of-the-valley.  They certainly aren’t botanically accurate, but Harris has exaggerated the distinctive forms of the plant.  This time the lighting is only in the center, with the edges disappearing into thin outlines around black on black.  Her little monogram makes an attractive part of the design, balanced by the small silhouetted crane, which looks like another sort of seal or symbol.
        And finally, some chrysanthemums with another background full of carved lines.  The background and the petals have the same sorts of lines, but Harris has given the composition enough pure black and pure white to make everything pop.
        I find Harris’s work interesting to study how she uses light and texture, but they’re also just really pleasing!


[Pictures: Billy Goat, linoleum block print by Deborah Harris;
Snake, linoleum block print by Harris, 2008;
untitled, block print by Harris;

Chrysanthemums, linoleum block print by Harris (Images from Deborah-Harris.com).]

May 18, 2018

Spring Magic

        It’s time for another fantasy poem, so here is Alzuna by Alfred Noyes (UK, 1880-1958).  

The forest of Alzuna hides a pool.
Beside that pool, a shadowy tree up-towers.
High on that tree, a bough most beautiful
Bends with the fragrant burden of its flowers.
Among those flowers a nest is buried deep.
Warm in that nest, there lies a freckled shell.
Packed in that shell, a bird is fast asleep.
This is the incantation and the spell.

For, when the north wind blows, the bird will cry,
“Warm in my freckled shell, I lie asleep.
The freckled shell is in the nest on high.
The nest among the flowers is buried deep.
The flowers are on a bough most beautiful.
The bough is on a tree no axe can fell.
The sky is at its feet in yonder pool.
This is the incantation and the spell!”

        This is an odd poem, but I think a fun one.  Using the chain structure of many simple, silly children’s rhymes (such as The House that Jack Built), it manages to sound a little more Serious and Significant.  With a symmetrical structure that works its way in and then all the way back out again to end where it began, it manages to sound as if it’s  actually getting Deeper and Deeper.  The whole sound of it is rather like an incantation and a spell, but what, in fact, is the magic?  As I sit here with the robin nesting in the holly bush outside my window, the mere ordinary spring fact of a bird packed warmly in an egg in a nest in a flowering tree seems like as mystical and magical a thing as the world could possibly need.

[Picture: Preface heading, wood engraving by Charlton Nesbit from Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds, Vol. 1, 1797 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]