June 19, 2018

Eppink's 101 Techniques, - Part III

        The final section in Norman R. Eppink’s monumental 101 Prints: The History and Techniques of Printmaking is Children’s Processes.  This may possibly have been an afterthought in his mind, but I have to give him enormous credit for including it at all, as most Serious Artists hardly seem to consider that children’s art is art at all — or that adults using “Children’s Processes” are making real art, either.
        It’s interesting to see what print-making techniques Eppink relegates to children or considers appropriate for children, and a large percentage of them are relief processes.  Hand print, potato print, glue print, and rubbing all seem fair enough (although see Diana Pomeroy’s potato prints and Raubdruckerin’s found blocks for adult versions).  Paraffin print and clay print are presumably good for children because they don’t require the sharp tools of most relief printmaking techniques.  Here (above) is Eppink’s
clay print, but I’m not sure he makes full use of the most interesting aspect of a clay block, which in my opinion would be the ability to press all kinds of shapes and textures into it, rather than just drawing lines.
        The foil print is interesting because it looks to be printed intaglio, and I’d be curious how classroom-friendly that actually is.  Does he use ordinary aluminum foil, or does the technique require something a little sturdier?  Do you need a real press as for other intaglio techniques, or can this be done with hand pressing or a mini press?
        Perhaps most interesting are the processes that Eppink includes for both adults and children.  His collagraph is considered an adult technique, but “paper print,” which is simply a collagraph made with plain paper, is listed for children.  Eppink’s paper print (unlike his collagraph) is also printed relief, and I quite like it.  I may do some experiments using paper, since I’ve always used board and thicker materials, but it looks like this would make it easier to get the inking even, not to mention easier cutting and gluing.
        Eppink lists monotype for adults, but “transfer monotype” for children.  His transfer monotype looks like what was called a “trace monotype” at RISD, where it was done by an adult artist.  (It occurs to me to wonder how Eppink made 15 monotypes for his original limited edition book.  Comparing this with the version at the Art Institute of Chicago, it looks like he used the same title for each, but that they are separately drawn and therefore not really the same.)
        And finally, plaster relief print, which Eppink includes in both Relief Processes and Children’s Processes.  Unfortunately, I didn’t scan his adult version to compare with this one, which is print 100 and falls in the Children’s section.  Nevertheless, it goes to confirm a point that sometimes seems to cause people some confusion.  That is that there are some processes that are appropriate for adults only because they may be too difficult or dangerous for children (depending on the child’s age, of course), and there are processes that are safe for children but which adults would never choose to do because they aren’t as
versatile or interesting.  However - and this is the part some people don’t seem to understand - there are also art forms that are appropriate for children and yet still perfectly interesting for adults.  Just because children can make monotypes or collagraphs doesn’t mean that adults should be ashamed to make monotypes or collagraphs.  Just because children can carve rubber doesn’t mean that adults who carve rubber are childish.  (And yes, there’s a parallel here: just because children love fantasy doesn’t mean that adults who love fantasy are childish.)
        I can’t quite decide whether Eppink was contributing to stereotypes or helping to break them down by making a separate section of Children’s Processes, but I’m glad he included them rather than ignoring them, because they certainly add to the variety and richness of printmaking represented.

[Pictures: Garden, clay print (89) by Norman R. Eppink;
Twigs and Pebbles, foil print (98) by Eppink;
Umbrellas, paper print (91) by Eppink;
Tools and Machines, transfer monotype (96) by Eppink;
Nets, plaster relief print (100) by Eppink, all from 101 Prints: The History and Techniques of Printmaking, 1967.]

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.]