World Calligraphy Day!

I was gone over the weekend and came home to an e-mail from John Neal Bookseller, a calligraphers Mecca in New York, that the 16th of August is World Calligraphy Day. More than one project involving calligraphy is perking in the back of my skull, so I thought I would do a little bit of practice and show some older pieces as well.

This is the Song of Amergin, an ancient Irish poem with many wildly varying translations. In the two pictures above, I’ve used my interpretation of an Anglo-Saxon hand using the Anlgo-Saxon runes thorn and wunjo. Several of the other letter-forms are also archaic, like the long ‘s’, d, f, g, k, t, and the ‘u’ used for both ‘u’ and ‘v’.

I wrote the poem out again using more modern letter-forms, but I goofed in line six. You can see the word ‘the’ beginning with thorn. Some habits are hard to break.

I did these without guidelines as an exercise; an attempt to get my hand to remember how to write these shapes. The images below are some old pieces I did when I played in the SCA. I think my hand was steadier back then.

AngPelInk1_SmMuriel AoA_SMPromissory w-Seal_SMFMN painted_Sm

End of the Digression

GriffinPrintRunEtsy

Well, they are printed, signed, numbered, and listed on my Etsy shop. These Norse Griffins were an experiment and time will tell how successful an experiment it was. My original thought was to have them for sale at the Oddmall show, but I completely ignored the logistics of how to sell unfinished art. Any promotional effort I made was too little, too late. And my hope of generating interest in my other linocut prints with my demo, never materialized.

PrintingGriffinEtsy

This is not to say that the endeavor was a failure. I learned a lot, and it may yet prove to be profitable. I’m certainly not sorry I took the leap.

For the geeking out aspect, I’m including a series of images showing the progression of the reduction printing process. I always find it challenging in a good way.  Multi-color printing without a safety net.

Griffin 1stColor

The first color. I carved away everything I wanted to stay white.

Griffin 2ndColor

The second color. Here I carved away everything I wanted to show as red.

Griffin 2ndColorCombo

And this is what the second color looks like printed on top of the first. The color balance is a bit off in this picture, but the orange toned down to a pumpkin like color.

Griffin 3rdColor

The third color, a blue-black mix attempting to match indigo. This outline is all that is left of the original block.

Griffin Final

And lastly, the third color printed on top of the others.

Bee Spiral – the Finish

The good news is that the piece survived being wrapped around an 11” diameter drum scanner. The gold looks no worse for wear and I am almost breathing again. The less than good news is that gold leaf doesn’t scan worth a damn. I’m not laying this on the fabulous folks who did the scan, they did the best they could, and if it wasn’t for the gold, the scan would be perfect. This is going to lead me on my next big adventure in art prints; how do you reproduce gold in an archival print?

Meanwhile, back at the drawing board…

BSpiralBeeDetail1webMy original concept had the bees in a more abstracted form. But when the colors in the spiral started doing cool things, I knew the bees had to be more realistic, thereby adding depth. They are not completely realistic, they still fit within the confines of a circle, but there was a lot of – draw a few lines – look at a photograph – draw a few lines – look at a photograph. The painting process wasn’t much faster.

The bees are mostly done (I went back later and punched up the black) and I'm laying down the first layer of black, which isn't really black.

The bees are mostly done (I went back later and punched up the black) and I’m laying down the first layer of black, which isn’t really black.

With the bees finished, I moved on to the ‘black’. I write it that way because it isn’t black. In fact there isn’t any black on this piece at all. What you see here is a mix of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine. If any of you have studied classical painting, you will have heard of this mixture. I had not until recently. My usual mix for black is Alizarin Crimson, Prussian Green, and Indigo. I think these pigments have seen changes that offer better lightfastness and lower toxicity, and I think there has been a color shift as well. My old black mix doesn’t respond the way it used to. It’s a subtle thing that most people would not notice. I do. So I went to the Ultramarine/Burnt Umber mix and got very nice results. There was a slight panic when I realized I had no Burnt Umber paint. Luckily I remembered my natural pigments and ground up a small batch. It blended beautifully with the Ultramarine. The snippet you see above is just the first layer. I went back with two or three more layers to get the density I wanted without that flat wash look.

The final. Whew!

The final. Whew!

I am very pleased with the finished piece. I’ve been calling it the bee spiral, but the real name is ‘The Waggle Dance’, and the gold pattern in the corners is derived from the motions the bees go through. Honey bees use this ‘dance’, and others, to communicate the location of a nectar source when they return to the hive. It is thought that some insecticides may inhibit the bee’s ability to waggle dance, thus making it harder to find food, which in turn, could be a contributor to colony collapse disorder. For this reason, I’m going to dedicate at least 10% of sales to research and preservation for honey bees.

Bee Spiral In Progress

The gold is done!

The gold is done!

The bee spiral is a project I’ve had in the works for quite some time. There were two previous attempts, one in which I didn’t like the line work, and the other where the gold leaf failed to stick. I changed materials for the gold leaf process and it appears to have worked.

Here's the honeycomb in the center of the spiral. I'm using Calli brown to ink in the lines. It's careful going working on the edge of the gold.

Here’s the honeycomb in the center of the spiral. I’m using Calli brown to ink in the lines. It’s careful going working on the edge of the gold.

One of the mistakes I made in the second attempt was to ink everything before laying down any gold. I knew better, and it came back to bite me. It wasn’t the cause of the non-sticking gold, but it did make things a lot more difficult as the gold wanted to stick to the ink. So I left the third attempt in pencil while laying the gold.

The first colors are laid down.

The first colors are laid down.

Medieval Celtic spirals are limited in their colors because of the use of natural pigments. Often they were yellow, red and green. I wanted to give a nod to this, but not be bound by it. The original concept was to use earth tones and the brown (seen at the top in the picture above) was a mix of Goethite (Brown Ochre) and Sepia. The result was meh. So I mixed some Cerulean Blue with the Sepia and floated it on top of the brown mix. The result was a crazy mottled surface with subtle spots of blue. It looked so cool I had to go back into the red (Red Ochre and Garnet) with Rose of Ultramarine and Garnet. The yellow was tougher because the water didn’t want to pool up on the paper. I think it’s the Azo Yellow that really attracts water. I tried my best with Gamboge and a touch of Pyrrol Red, but I didn’t get the layered look of the other colors.

I’ll post the final stages of the piece tomorrow. I have to go pick it up from the shop where it is being scanned. If you want to see it up close, come to Oddmall this weekend!

I’m Back!

It’s been ages since the last post. A show, an Etsy shop, two workshops, and an operating-system-upgrade ago, not to mention all of the seasonal celebrations, initiations, and continued learning. Oh, and let’s not forget about editing a YA manuscript. The dreary bit is that I look back at it all and wonder, “Where is the art?”. Sigh.

I am learning to accept that the conceptual stage of art making is still considered progress. And there are several projects that are in the concept/planning stage, one of which is the opportunity to be part of a group show, participating with folks from a workshop I took in February. More on that as it progresses.

Coming up soon (as in terrifyingly soon) is the summer version of a show I did last November – OddMall: Emporium of the Weird. It is a fabulous collection of art and craft ranging from fairies to steampunk to esoterica. I had a wonderful time and sold enough to make me want to come back. I wanted to have a nice selection of new stuff, but as you can see from the abbreviated list of activities above, I’ve been a little busy with other things. So in the tried and true method of last-minute, panic-inspired art making, here’s what I’m up to at the moment.

I wanted to add to my Celtic-Medieval Pop Art series and realized I had a great candidate in the Minecraft Creeper. I also wanted to make the art more like a manuscript page rather than just a vignette.

Creepus Explodius Hibernii with Steve cowering in the corner and an ocelot border. Haven't done the lettering because my calligraphy ink turned truly icky.

Creepus Explodius Hibernii with Steve cowering in the corner and an ocelot border. Haven’t done the lettering because my calligraphy ink turned truly icky.

People have already made pseudo-scientific art of the Creeper and of course given it a proper genus and species – creepus explodius. These being Latinesque, I had to keep them, adding the sub-species name ‘hibernii’,  meaning an Irish Creeper. Of course, the system of taxonomy didn’t exist in medieval times, but who cares.

The other piece I’m currently working on is far more serious. It is a Celtic spiral design incorporating honey bees. As I work on it, I strive to remain focused on the blessings these amazing animals bestow on us. We need to do everything possible to ensure their survival, and to that end, I plan to donate a percentage of the sales of this piece to an organization dedicated to preserving bees and other pollinators. When I get that nailed down, I’ll let you know.

Bee Spiral with the first bit of gold in the center. You can see the glue where the rest of the gold will go.

Bee Spiral with the first bit of gold in the center. You can see the glue where the rest of the gold will go.

I started the design work perhaps a year ago. Then this spring I decided to go for it and ran into all sorts of problems laying down gold leaf. I trust that I have worked through the issues and I’m taking another stab at it. It will be a stretch, but my goal is to have prints available at OddMall. After that they will be up on my Etsy site, and of course you can always find my work on my website.

The Reduction Print

The last print is done. It will be delivered to the gallery for framing on Tuesday. This one of Slepnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, was a special challenge because I decided to do a reduction print. For those unfamiliar with this technique, please forgive me if I geek out a bit. It is a way to make a multi color relief print using only one block. But it’s also kind of like working without a net because there is little room for error. First you carve away everything you want to appear as white, then print the first color.

This is a scan of the first color. I only touched up lint spots on the scan. The ink coverage was fabulous, and I was surprised.

This is a scan of the first color. I only touched up lint spots on the scan. The ink coverage was fabulous, and I was surprised.

 

The next step is to carve away everything that you want to appear as the first color. In this case, I wanted only the background to be the Naples Yellow-like color, so I carved away all of the background. Well, almost all. There’s some lettering above the horse’s back that I carved around, but it doesn’t show in the next picture because I didn’t ink it during printing.

The second color was straight Dark Yellow over the pale yellow mix of the first run. If you look closely you can see that the ink coverage is a little spotty, but not too bad.

The second color was straight Dark Yellow over the pale yellow mix of the first run. If you look closely you can see that the ink coverage is a little spotty, but not too bad.

 

Lastly, I carved away everything I wanted to stay as the dark yellow. I then printed the third color, a mixed dark brown. The coverage on the final run was the toughest. There was either not enough ink, or the ink was too stiff, or not enough pressure, or too much ink and it plugged up the small spaces, but no matter what, I couldn’t get a good clean impression. Again, I don’t think it’s too bad and the majority of the prints will be useable, but it was exasperating.

The final print showing the lettering (runes) that I avoided in the second run.

The final print showing the lettering (runes) that I avoided in the second run.

 

And now a bit of a test. I took some video of the printing process and will attempt to post it here. I’m just following directions on how to post this, I really have no idea what I’m doing, so I hope it actually works.

 

All this and Tom Waits on the radio. Yeah. Life is good.

Andy, John, and the Doctor

I got to thinking about iconic images. What are they? What do they mean? What makes them iconic? If we look up the definition we find that iconic is  a: “widely recognized and well-established” and b: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence” (Merriam-Webster Online). According to my 1951 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, iconic means: “Relating to or resembling an icon or an image of any kind…” There is no inference of quality in the older definition.

Do a Google image search of “iconic art” and you will find a fascinating collection of work, much of it derivative. Andy Warhol is well represented, but there may be more interpretations than actual Warhols. The Girl With the Pearl Earring seems to have surpassed the Mona Lisa, and yet you have to scroll more than half way down the initial set of images before you find the Vermeer painting by itself, rather than as a comparison to someone else’s take on it. This is just the internet at work. A closer look at the sources of the top hits shows effective search engine optimization, not necessarily great art. We have accepted this kind of search from an algorithm where in the past it would have been conducted by art directors or curators.

It's Much Bigger On The Inside

It’s Much Bigger On The Inside

St. John

St. John

Ode to Andy

Ode to Andy

So what do I post today? Why three derivative works, of course. But if I was going to look at iconic imagery from the present to the distant (and not so distant) past, then I had to use these images.

The blue police box will be recognizable to many as the T.A.R.D.I.S. from the long running Dr. Who TV series. The series itself has achieved iconic status, at least in my mind, and I don’t consider myself a real fan. If I had not done the T.A.R.D.I.S., my geeky family would have disowned me.

St. John is indeed a portrait of St. John the Evangelist. The basis of the art is St. John’s portrait in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Irish manuscript from the 9th century. Follow this link to the Trinity College web site and scroll down to folio 291v. You can zoom in on the portrait and compare it to mine. And what’s with the high contrast and bright colors in my version? It’s from the 1967 portrait of John Lennon by Richard Avedon. Two iconic images in one.

Nothing says ‘iconic image’ to me more than Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. This work helped to define the pop-art movement which is, as I see it, the foundation of pop-culture today. And it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to compare it to the results of my Google image search. If Andy Warhol were still alive, might he not pose a Barbie doll to look like a Vermeer painting?

What are we doing? We take ordinary, everyday objects and change them in ways that make us look at them (and ourselves) differently. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

A Mermaid’s Tale

Mermaid9

In an earlier post I mentioned a project I’m working on. It’s a young adult novel and someday I’ll tell you more about it. This time I want to talk about one of the members of my writing critique group. Brenda Winter Hansen has written a lovely YA fantasy novel set in the waters off the coast of Ireland. She and her novel have been accepted to the Whole Novel Workshop, put on by the Highlights foundation. All she needs now is to get there and she has set up a Kickstarter project to achieve her goal. (It’s now on Indiegogo. See the link below.) This artwork was commissioned for the rewards to those who contribute to her project. You can find out about it here, and if the link changes when the project goes live, I’ll update it, so you might need to check back. If all goes according to plan, the project should go live on Wednesday, March 20th. Go look at her project. Right now. I’ll wait for you.

Back? Cool. Remember to check in on Wednesday and donate if you can. And don’t forget to tell your friends.

(Fair warning: what follows is a LONG post.) In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to go through the process of creating the art. Brenda was generous in giving me a free hand and it definitely helped having read the story. That being said, when we chose this sketch to take to finish, we weren’t sure if she was even a character. But she fits the story, so she got the part.

The original sketch is on the left. I redrew her on 140# Arches hot-press paper.

The original sketch is on the left. I redrew her on 140# Arches hot-press paper.

Perhaps this would be good time to mention that I’ve never painted an underwater scene before. I didn’t even have a clue how to start. Luckily someone posted a Photoshop tutorial on Deviant Art on just this subject. In about a half an hour I had a reasonable underwater background and much better chance of pulling this thing off.

The first wash.

The first wash.

At this point I mixed A LOT of paint. The basic green I used was Terra Verte from Dan Smith Inc. I have some issues with this pigment, but I won’t get into them now. It will be a suitable subject for it’s own post. I also mixed up some very old Windsor Newton Prussian Green, a separate puddle of Indigo (WN) and Terra Verte, and for the top, the ‘under-surface’ of the water, Cerulean Blue (WN) and Permanent Green Light (DS). I wet the paper as evenly as possible and finally started slapping down color. I had, however, forgotten that Cerulean has a tendency to not play well with others and it ‘precipitated’, separating from the green. Actually, it didn’t just separate, it dove into the paper and latched on. Momentary panic set in, followed by vigorous scrubbing, and a bit of swearing. You can still see the where the blue stained the paper in front of her face. The rest of the background went in comparatively easily. I set it aside to dry, and started breathing again.

The first layers of skin get painted.

The first layers of skin get painted.

When I was in art school sometime back in the Jurassic, my watercolor instructor wouldn’t let us use black. We had to mix it. She also gave us a great formula for Caucasian skin tone: Cerulean and Orange. Since she made us mix our blacks, she made us mix our oranges as well. (I don’t think I’ve ever owned a tube of Orange watercolor.) This time I used the aforementioned Cerulean along with Cadmium Red (WN) and New Gamboge (WN). Unfortunately, at this point in my process, I have several pools of paint mixed up and I start getting sloppy. I just dip my brush here and there, add a bit of water or a bit more pigment, keep things moving. As a result, I have no idea exactly what colors were used in the green and blue parts of her skin, the fishy bits. I started with the green, painting over the areas for both green and blue. In the picture below you can see the blue has been added.

She gets her hair done and I deepen the skin tones.

She gets her hair done and I deepen the skin tones.

The first layer for her hair is straight Indigo. I think I went back in to the flesh tone a little bit here.

The fish get some definition and she gets some outlines.

The fish get some definition and she gets some outlines.

I gave the school of fish behind her a bit of definition and then went in with colored pencil. I used black on her hair and then started on her edges with the black as well, but it was too flat. I grabbed my trusty Terra Cotta colored pencil, but that was too warm. So I covered the Terra Cotta with the black and successfully avoided a horrible Goldilocks metaphor. It looks as though I added another layer to the background here as well.

The first 'finished' version.

The first ‘finished’ version.

It was a good days work. I took her into the house to my resident color expert.

“That’s a good start,” she said.

“Start?”

“You never use enough contrast,” she said.

Sigh.

Mermaid10

The next day was spent carefully adding layers, deepening shadows, refining linework. I showed her to Brenda that night, and while we all like the art, it still wasn’t ‘there’. The big difference you see here is the result of this being a scan and the others from our Canon point & shoot.

The 'final' final.

The ‘final’ final.

This is where my resident color expert (aka my wife) gets her real due. I knew the piece needed ‘more’. I just lacked the confidence to be as drastic as I needed to be. I’m fussing and fuming over how to proceed and she just points to a glob of paint on my palette.

“What’s that green?” she asks.

“Permanent Green Light. It’s too bright. I can’t use that.”

“Just mix it with this other stuff. It’ll be fine,” she says.

I do the tiniest bit, knowing it’s hopeless. It isn’t. It’s gorgeous. I don’t care if it makes me a wuss. I take my wife’s advice because she knows what the hell she’s talking about. The Permanent Green is very yellow, so it contrasts with all the blue green in the picture, popping the mermaid off the page. With the green in her fishy bits plumped up I move on to the blue and have a bit of fun. I used Lapis Lazuli (DS). It’s the real stuff, not synthetic. The batch I have is a greyish blue and it gives a lovely depth to her blue as well as a slight contrast to the blues around her. Her pink skin needed more warmth too. I didn’t want to use my skin tone mix, that would push her more to the brown side. So I used a thin layer of Garnet (DS), also the real stuff. Her hair got a little more black (mixed, of course), and a few more touches here and there, but after a day of sketching, a day of drawing, and three days of painting, I think she’s done. That may not keep me from fussing with her until she gets sent to the printers, but all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.

And don’t forget what this was for. Check out Brenda’s Kickstarter campaign. Donate if you can. Thanks.

And Even Older Technology

TypeBook1My love affair with type began in grade school. My dad gave me an old type specimen book. I spent hours pouring through it, copying the fonts by hand. In high school I took a printing class and worked after school, and for a little while after I graduated, as a printer. Fast forward many years to when a friend called me and asked, “Do you want a letterpress?” I leaped at the chance. I would get to play with type in it’s physical form. He bought it at auction from the UW, and I slowly started to put together a print shop in my basement. Fast forward a few more years, and my little print shop, languishing in my studio space, needed to find a new home. We had sold our house, and rather than move the shop and ignore it for another decade, I decided it was time for Adele, my printing press, to get back to work.

Enter Lynda Sherman. She connected up with me through the printer’s grapevine and she needed a print shop. She fell in love with Adele, set up her shop, Bremelo Press, and best of all, she is sharing this joy with others.

Northwest author Mark Holtzen has written a fabulous essay on the joys of working with this beautiful machine, Adele. Please read it. I realize now that my role in Adele’s life was that of the caretaker. I cleaned her up, refurbished her motor, gave her some new toys. I waited for the day Lynda would arrive and people like Mark would get to experience the ‘dance’.

Thank you both.

Me&Adele