November 1, 2021

Alcorn's Birds (and Frog)

         Stephen Alcorn (USA) has a distinctive style of printmaking that looks like a lot of fun to do — and is also a lot of fun to look at.  I’ve picked four creatures that show off the characteristics of Alcorn’s style that I like best.  First is this duck, whose feathers show a delightful mix of patterns.  They blend an accuracy of observation with a creativity of expression.  Then there’s that wonderfully embellished background, which could possibly represent some sort of trees or bushes in the background, but is really just an excuse to fill the space with a delightfully baroque pattern.  Combined with the ground that looks almost expressionistic or even cubist, and you have a piece that should be a mere mish-mash, but instead somehow works together.
        The next bird includes all these same traits: wonderfully stylized patterns for the feathers, renaissance-style embellishments in the sky, and early modern-style ground.  In addition, however, it adds two more characteristics to the mix.  One is the use of two blocks for a chiaroscuro effect.  (Find a refresher on chiaroscuro block prints here.)  Consistent with my general prejudices, I’m not sure it adds all that much to the image of the vulture, which I think I would like just as well (or better?) in plain black and white.  However, I do really like the grey border.  The border has a wonderful design, and the second color sets off the main image beautifully.  (Indeed, this is exactly the look I was going for in the illustrations for my book On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.)
        The frog is a delightful creature, although I might wish he had more white!  I love the patterning in the background, as well as the border.  Alcorn uses an interesting technique to make the backgrounds lighter than the creatures: cutting fine lines across the entire design.  I do like the effect, although I tried it once myself and did not consider it a success.  This may be one of those things that just works better in the harder mediums such as lino and wood than the soft rubber, in which it is difficult to make very fine parallel lines.  Interestingly, each side of this border has a different design, but I like them all.  I also like the fine, all-over texture of the ground beneath the frog.
        The final bird is back to black and white, and its border is not patterned, but otherwise you can still see Alcorn’s characteristic style.  The owl is perhaps even more stylized than some of the others, so that it has almost a folk art vibe, especially in the slightly floral look to the pattern on the shoulder, for example.  All of these pieces are actually fairly large for block prints, so I’d love to see them in real life - I think they would have a lot of dramatic impact.

[Pictures: Mother Duck, With Her Ducklings, relief block print by Stephen Alcorn, 1987;

The Vulture, relief block print with two colors by Alcorn, 1988;

Kiss Me - I’m Really a Prince! relief block print with two colors by Alcorn, 1987;

The Great Owl, relief block print by Alcorn, 1988  (All images from The Alcorn Studio & Gallery).]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

This was the treat of the day - Frog and Owl our "totem animals" in the Owlery. Thank you!

Olga Godim said...


Anne E.G. Nydam said...

MotherOwl, maybe you should be MotherFrog in the Froggery? =)

Aging Wordsmith said...

Wow! I dig that frog.