January 26, 2016

The Town of Bookby-upon-Shelf

        My most recent piece is a blending of several of my favorite themes: books, little towns, magic…  This has actually been in the works for an unusually long time.  In fact, I think it was nearly a year ago that I came up with the idea and started sketching.  It is the biggest piece I’ve ever done, about the full size of the sheets of rubber that I order and usually cut into smaller blocks.  The size meant it wasn’t conducive to bringing to art shows for demonstration, which meant that I ended up setting it aside for the spring show season, and then didn’t get back to it again until the winter.  In November I ran out of work at Roslindale Open Studios and decided that I wouldn’t need to worry about running out of carving again if I had this to work on in December!  And it did keep me very satisfactorily busy, too, (although it really was too big for the TV table which was all the space I had for carving at one of my shows).
        Anyway, after the carving came the printing, and the first attempt was an utter failure.  It was so big that it took multiple rollings to ink, and by the time I got ink over everything, the ink I’d rolled on first was already too dry to print well.  You can’t use oil-based ink with rubber blocks, because the solvents destroy the rubber.  But then I discovered some oil-based ink that can be cleaned up with soap and water, eliminating the need for solvents, so I ordered a tube, and tried printing again.  I was delighted with how well it worked!  The ink is Caligo brand Safe Wash and I definitely give it a 5-star review.  It does smell bad (though nothing like as bad as the solvents would have), and my studio continued to smell for the several days the ink took to dry thoroughly before I could stack the prints up and put them away.  Also, it doesn’t wash away quite as cleanly as regular water-based ink.  Still, it printed beautifully, rich and black, and with very little difficulty.  This piece simply wouldn’t have been possible without it.  I look forward to trying it with a few other blocks that I’ve never been able to print satisfactorily - but perhaps not until the weather’s warm enough to open the windows.
        So much for the technical side.  As for the image, I had a lot of fun figuring out what books to put on my bookshelf and there are quite a few references represented.  Some are pretty straightforward: Poetry, Fairy Tales.  But in case you’re curious about the others…
Ev - a country neighboring Oz, and the setting of Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
Scurveylegs - Roger Scurveylegs is the eminent historian of Euralia Past and Present frequently mentioned by A.A. Milne in Once on a Time.
Mandeville - the author of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a popular memoir of marvels in the second half of the fourteenth century.  (At least, he’s the reputed author - those parts that are not wholly fictional are plagiarised.)
Livre extra. - Livre extraordinaire de Architecture, the book of sixteenth century architectural designs by Sebastiano Serlio, or perhaps The Extraordinary Book of Doors by Anne E.G. Nydam.  More about Serlio here.
S. Morgenstern - the great Florentine author of The Princess Bride.  William Goldman only abridged the “good parts” version.
Compleat History of the Otherworld - my high fantasy series, of course (“compleat” just to be pretentiously ye olde).
arabic title - This was a cool medieval or renaissance-era Arabic natural history book I came across while looking for other stuff.  To my intense frustration, I can no longer find my notes about it, and nor is my attempt to copy the Arabic script sufficient to find it again on the internet.  So I can’t tell you anything else about it - but trust me, it was interesting.  (If anyone thinks they recognize what the heck it’s supposed to be, do let me know!  Or perhaps some day my notes will turn up.)
Kircher - Athanasius Kircher, awesome seventeenth century German polymath and one of the last serious scholars to study dragons.  You can read more about Kircher here, and about his dragon studies here.
Topsell - Edward Topsell, English author of a 1607-8 bestiary in two volumes (later compiled into one), famous for its woodcut illustrations, as well as for sitting on the transition between medieval and modern views of natural history.
Monstrorum Historia - a work by Ulisse Aldrovandi, one of the fathers of natural history and collector of one of the greatest cabinets of curiosities in Europe in the sixteenth century.
Historiae Animalium - the magnum opus of sixteenth century Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner, considered a bridge between ancient, medieval, and modern science (and the basis of Topsell’s bestiary, too).
Scamander - Newt Scamander, author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a popular textbook used at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
die Brüder Grimm, Andrew Lang - famous nineteenth century collectors of folk and fairy tales
History of the Five Kingdoms - The Five Kingdoms, setting of the series by Vivian French, are Waddingburn, Gorebreath, Dreghorn, Cockenzie Rood, and Niven’s Knowe.  More on these books here.  (Apparently there’s a "Five Kingdoms" series by Brandon Mull, as well.  However, having been deeply unimpressed with the first of his Fablehaven books, I haven’t read anything else of his.)
History of the Lands Beyond - The lands beyond the tollbooth are primarily the Kingdom of Wisdom and the Mountains of Ignorance, visited by Milo as reported by Norton Juster in The Phantom Tollbooth.

[Picture: Bookby-upon-Shelf, rubber block print by AEGN, 2016.]


Pax said...

This is so cool, and I like the tiny people and animals, although it must be easier to see them in the real thing. How big is the print? Thanks, too, for the explanation of all the somewhat obscure references. This is great fun. Thanks.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

It's 12x16 inches. (The full sheets of rubber are 12x18, but I cut off two inches so that it would fit better in a standard 16x20 frame.)