August 27, 2021

Words of the Month - Everyday Words Are Misused Every Day

         Okay, this post might be more of a pet peeve than a scholarly article, but I am noticing an every-increasing inability among writers of English to understand when certain words are compounds, and when they remain separate.  Perhaps the most common and obtrusive of all is seen in posters and advertisements like the ones shown here.  In both these cases, Every Day should be written as two separate words, otherwise the motivational poster is actually urging you to present yourself as ordinary.

        Every day he wore his everyday suit.

        If you want to stand out, try these standout promotion ideas.

        Please sign up on the signup sheet.

        Make up your face with the best makeup.

        I just can’t catch up, so I’m always playing catch-up.

        He runs on and on, but the worst is that without punctuation, it’s all one big run-on sentence.

        It's fine to show off your skills, but don't be a show-off.

        I’d let the water out, but I can’t find an outlet.

        The rain still hasn’t let up.  It’s been raining for days without letup.

        Is it better to drop the ball or toss it up?  I don’t know; it’s really a toss-up.

        Any way you want to do it is fine, unless you’re just going to refuse to do it anyway.

        If you look at these examples, you can see a pattern.  Nouns with an adjective become adjectives or adverbs when they are compounds.  Any way is a noun but anyway is an adverb.  (Every day is usually used as an adverbial phrase, but it retains its noun.  It refers to frequency because it tells on what days something happens: every day.  Once smushed together into everyday, on the other hand, it is an adjective describing the ordinary quality of a thing or activity.)  Meanwhile, verbs with a preposition become nouns or adjectives when they are compounds.  Some of these compounds seem to be only a noun (letup, toss-up), and possibly some are used only as adjectives (although I can’t think of any off the top of my head), but many can be either: she’s a standout musician or that musician is a real standout; put on your makeup or don’t miss the makeup session for the missed class, or let's examine the make-up of the compound).
        So why does this matter?  Well, it probably doesn’t.  People seem to have no difficulty understanding each other, even when they use the incorrect forms of these words.  Moreover, language changes, and before much longer these forms may not even be “incorrect.”  This will not destroy civilization.  However, I enjoy noting the distinction because it sheds light on the English’s language’s versatility: how people can fool around with words and their function.  The spelling conventions that show some words written separately while others are written as compounds makes it clear how phrases got smushed together into single words so that they could be applied in new ways.  So I continue to be pedantic in my spelling, and I continue to be mildly irritated when I see these distinctions misunderstood or ignored.  As for the rest of you, write them any way you want.  Even if you do it wrong, people will understand you anyway.

[Pictures: Motivational poster found on Amazon;

Advertisement for Nora Dental Associates (and to make matters, worse, while pushing "every day" together, they've broken "coffee-stained" apart.  Sigh.]

August 23, 2021

Wood Blocks by Balán

         Américo Abraham Balán (Ukraine/Argentina, 1915-1986) worked in a broad diversity of media, from painting to writing, from set design to caricature.  Of course it’s his wood block prints that I have for you today.  His images seem to carry heavy symbolism, although I don’t know of what!  Some seem downright surrealist, as the last piece shown here.  But in other cases it’s simply the odd juxtapositions of people, or their distorted positions or expressions that seem like they must have some deep significance.
        In the first piece here, the crowd of human figures fit into the space in all directions, some crouched or distorted in order to fit, while others are cropped and show only in part.  Some look more like abstract sculptures than people.  Why are these people arranged is this way?  I don’t know, but it’s definitely an interesting choice for composition.
        These two men share a few interesting features.  First, their faces look as if they’re carved from blocks of wood.  They are carved into wood, of course, but I mean that the block prints look like portraits of wooden sculptures rather than portraits of living humans.  Secondly, the anatomy is extremely stylized, with odd and awkward proportions and positions.  Thirdly, they share with many of Balán’s pieces the characteristic of going right up to the edges of the block, and even being cropped and constrained by the block’s dimensions.  This is another unusual and interesting choice for composition.
        The fourth piece shares with the third another characteristic.  While all of Balán’s pieces have very roughly carved out backgrounds, these two include seemingly random chunks of the backgrounds that simply aren’t carved out at all.  I am curious about how much this was a deliberately planned choice and how much this is the result of Balán being spontaneous and expressionistic with his carving.  This is my favorite of today’s pieces, with the enormous man leaning over to pet the tiny dog.  This man, like some of the women in the first piece above, has a huge crouched body with disproportionately tiny head and feet.  They look as if they would burst right out of their blocks if they tried to stand up straight.
        I haven’t been able to find much information about the individual pieces.  Many seem to be untitled, and most are posted on the internet without dates or any other specifics.  They all seem to be from the mid-twentieth century, and more than that I can’t say.  
On the whole I don’t love these - they’re a little too distorted for my taste - but they are definitely interesting, and I do enjoy that they’re a little unusual.  Do you like them?

[Pictures: Untitled, wood block print by Américo Abraham Balán, 1964;

3 wood block prints of men by Balán, unknown date;

Untitled, wood block print by Balán, 1964;

alarm clock woman, wood block print by Balán, unknown date;

(Images from RISD and Taringa).]

August 18, 2021

Singing on the Moon

         Today’s poem comes from Ted Hughes (UK, 1930-1998), one of the most famous, lauded, and controversial poets of the twentieth century.  In addition to all his critically-acclaimed and serious work about nature red in tooth and claw, however, he wrote quite a bit for children, including a whole series of poems inspired by the moon.

Singing on the moon seems precarious.

Hum the slightest air

And some moon-monster sails up and perches to stare.

These monsters are moonily various.

If you sing in your bath

Risks are one of these monster entities

Will come crash through the wall and with dusty eyes

Perch on the taps to stare, as if in wrath.

The tenor who practices on a volcano side

Sees eyes rising over the crater rim

To fix their incredulity on him—

There is no place on the moon where a singer can hide

And not raise some such being face to face.

But do not be alarmed — their seeming fury

Comes from their passion for music being so fiery.

So if you just sing from your heart, and stay in your place,

At your song’s end the monster will cry out madly

And fling down money, probably far more than you can spend,

And kiss your shoe with his horrific front-end,

Then shudder away with cries of rapture diminishing sadly.

        This poem illustrates the odd fact that even though it rhymes, its lack of rhythm obscures the rhymes so that it sounds like plain free verse.  I don’t like that!  However, I do very much like the idea of moon-monsters so passionate about music that you can’t sing a note without having them appear.  This would be a fun one to illustrate, with its moonily various monsters, all enraptured by song.  (The book in which the poem was originally published was illustrated by Leonard Baskin, but I can’t find an illustration of this particular poem.)
        Apparently in space someone can hear you sing.  What would you sing to the moon-monsters?

[Pictures: Two illustrations by uncredited artists from The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells, 1901 (Image from Library of Congress);

Lunar Animals, illustration for the New York Sun article on the Great Moon Hoax, by Benjamin Henry Day, 1835 (Image from Library of Congress).]

August 13, 2021

Manual of Landscape Painting

         Jiezi yuan hua zhuan, Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, is a manual for traditional landscape painting published in China in 1679.  It had five parts, covering general principles, trees, hills and stones, people and houses, and selected examples of great works.  Okay, so why am I telling you about a painting manual when this is a blog about printmaking?  Well, because the book itself was printed, of course, and is an early example of color printing in China.  
        Like most early wood block prints from both Asia and Europe, printmaking is being used here as a method of reproducing another medium, rather than as a medium in its own right.  The washes of transparent ink are printed so as to look as if they were painted on with a brush, and the varying widths of the black lines are also imitating the effect of brushwork.  However, despite my muttered prejudices about not taking advantage of the unique and beautiful characteristics of relief printing, this is a lovely little piece.  The rocks are dramatic, yet shaded in soothing tones, the little buildings give scale, but don’t detract from the sense of nature, and the trees show a pleasing variety of trunks and leaves.
        Would you like to be able to paint trees like this yourself?  Simply study part two of this handy painting manual, and you will soon master the necessary skills.  Here’s a page from that second section, with several different representative styles of leaves and branches.  This is a much later edition, and this page, at least, doesn’t have the polychrome inking of the lavish painting reproduction.Since I can’t read the instructions that go along with the illustrations, I don’t know what the authors are saying about how to make these happy little trees, but I do like the different patterns, as well as the suggestion of scale in the three clumps of trees on the right: different levels of detail for differences in distance.  I’m sure I could do worse than to study this myself, next time I need some inspiration for a block print including elements of landscape.

[Pictures: A page from the Jie Zi Yuan, polychrome woodblock print of the original painting by Qing Ji, 1679 (Image from The Met Museum);

Pages of leaves and trees from Mustard Seed Garden, woodblock printed book, 1782 (Image from Brooklyn Museum).]

August 9, 2021

Wooden Trolls

         Here’s another cool thing I recently learned about from a friend.  These are huge wooden sculptures of trolls by Thomas Dambo (Denmark, b. 1979).  Made entirely of scrap and reclaimed wood, and built by teams of volunteers along with Dambo, the sculptures are placed so that they interact with their environments, as this one holding onto the tree trunk.  The sculptures are given names and little back stories, and often come in sets that go together in a theme.  The group I heard about from my friend is “The Guardians of the Seeds,” and consists of six trolls each representing a part of a tree.  Here is Roskva, who stands for the tree trunks.  These are at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.
        Sometimes the trolls are hidden away so that people have to search for them or come upon them unexpectedly, while other times they’re placed in more public areas.  Either way, people are encouraged to interact with them, from walking around to climbing on them.  You can see how this fierce troll is built so that people simply can’t resist the photo opportunity of being seized.  Unlike this one, though, the majority of Dambo’s trolls are friendly.  Another example holds a swing for children in a city in Denmark.  Although Dambo has built sculptures all over the world, not surprisingly the most trolls are in Dambo’s native Denmark.
          These trolls are basically humanoid, but occasionally have tails or other monstrous features.  They are often furred with shingles, or given crazy hair and beards with natural twigs and branches.  Their faces are wonderfully expressive, with faceted features built up out of 
hundreds of planes of wood.  Their hands and feet, too, are carefully built up like elaborate boxes complete with soles and finger- and toenails.  Like the stereotypical idea of trolls in English literature, they are often squat, with big noses, dragging arms, and big hands and feet — but not always.  Some of Dambo’s trolls are more gracefully-limbed or pert-nosed instead.  I really like this fishing troll, who has long legs, and ears more like an animal.  Still, I confess to a general preference for the more “traditional” trolls.
        Of course, how traditional is a troll made of wood, anyway?  Although they are denizens of forests, they are generally held to be creatures of stone rather than wood.  But Dambo has recast his trolls with a distinctly tree-hugging message!  With their recycled construction, they’re reminding us that we can salvage and reuse what we already have, rather than continually using up new resources.  With their placements in nature, they draw attention to the trees and parks around them.  And with their names and back-stories they often have an explicit environmental message, as well.  Some of Dambo’s trolls are quite angry at humans for their environmental destruction.  Still, I like the ones that are more willing to extend a hand to us humans, such as these two.  The first holds out cupped hands into which people can climb, and the second stretches out his arm to make a bridge over a little stream.
        I’m sorry I won’t be going up to Maine to see some of these trolls in person, but perhaps someday I will encounter one in the wild!

[Pictures: Roskva (Guardians of the Seeds), recycled wood sculpture by Thomas Dambo, 2021 (Image from Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens)

Snorra of Suwannee, sculpture by Dambo, 2015 (Image from Thomas Dambo);

Troels the Troll, sculpture by Dambo, 2015 (Image from Thomas Dambo);

Runde Rie (Den Kæmpestore Troldefolkefest), sculpture by Dambo, c. 2020;

Bjarka Cirkelsten (Den Kæmpestore Troldefolkefest), sculpture by Dambo, c. 2020 (Images from Thomas Dambo);

Teddy Friendly (The Six Forgotten Giants), sculpture by Dambo, 2016 (Image from Thomas Dambo).]

August 4, 2021

Baldwin's Woods and Creek

        Here’s some art a friend put me on to after she saw it at a gallery in South Carolina.  I love it when people send me new artists!  Aaron Baldwin lives in McClellanville, SC, and seems to be primarily a painter, although he made a number of linoleum block prints for the recent show.  The show, entitled “Woods and Creek,” focussed on the natural areas surrounding McClellanville, showing some landscapes as well as some animals, and a few boats and other manmade things.  My friend sent me the link to a short video “virtual opening” of the show, and I liked what I saw.  Unfortunately, my great frustration is that I couldn’t find any other decent pictures of Baldwin’s block prints, so the images I have for you today are unfortunately a bit dark and blurry, being screen shots from the video.
        First is my favorite, presumably “the creek.”  I love the interplay of trunks and branches and water, each with their patterns of black and white.  It gives a wonderful impression of dappled light.
        Next up is a wood duck, portrayed in a style inspired by vintage postage stamps.  The arrangement of borders and filler designs is attractive, and I like the whimsical splash at the bottom.  The shading of the background behind the duck is interesting, as well.
        And finally I have a view of “the woods,” again showing a very nice array of different textures.  The pattern of straight vertical lines that makes up the trunks in the distance is so amazing, because it looks so unstudied and imprecise, yet it works exactly right to look just as it should.  My favorite part is the leaves and twigs against the sky, though.
        I’m sorry not to be able to see these pieces in person - or at least in better reproductions - but I still enjoy seeing a block print artist at work today.  If you want to see the “virtual opening” and more of Baldwin's show, go ahead and watch the video yourself (link below).

[Pictures: Three linoleum block prints by Aaron Baldwin, c 2020 (Images from McClellanville Arts Council).]