Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

Loving my enemies, including animal pests

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Debbie Blue made this comment on the theological aspect of my efforts to visualize the relationship between me, the rabbits, and the apple tree: “I mean if we are going to try to love our enemies (or try to understand them as something other than enemies), it seems like we will need to spend some time in that process. And I sure think that should include animals and plants and not just humans.”

Twins With Beasts, 8x6", woodcut, 2006.

I have been thinking about this idea for a while. This is a print I made in 2006. I used the woodblock of this nude figure to explore relationships between humans and animals and thinking about that through mythic and spiritual terms. The figure on the right I call “Saint Annelida” based on the phylum that includes earthworms and other segmented worms. She developed out of my other work with knitted worms, and here wears them as a garment just as a monastic person might wear a hair shirt for penitence and humility. I usually don’t think of earthworms as pests or enemies, but as an important link with cycles of life and death and the fertility of the earth. However, some kinds of earthworms are an invasive species here in MN, so in that way they are a part of human damage to our environment, so an extension of our enmity with nature.

The figure on the left I think of as a female John the Baptist figure, a prophet of judgment and repentance. John the Baptist ate locusts in the wilderness. Locusts are one of the plagues in the Exodus story. When I read about the origin of locusts, I was surprised to find out that they are a kind of ordinarily solitary desert grasshopper. When desert rains produce concentrated pockets of vegetation, the grasshoppers cluster together, and the stimulation of their bodies touching triggers the change into swarming locusts, which then migrate and plague farmlands. I find it interesting that in some prophetic literature, rains in the desert are considered a sign of God’s blessing and renewal, while a plague of locusts is considered a sign of God’s judgment. What does this mean, then, that desert rains produce locust swarms? How is our theology affected by our perception of nature as for or against us?

I am still wrestling with visualizing some aspect of this in my rabbit and apple tree print, and I haven’t decided whether a depiction of a rabbit eating the tree is simplest and best, or whether I should try and show more of what is going on inside the layers of the tree and rabbit, or to show more of the past and future of the tree. I would appreciate any suggestions based on the sketches in my last post.

I took a break from working on that composition to sketch some squirrels near a friend’s house. They are mostly quick gesture drawings, trying to capture fleeting poses from very active creatures. My friend wants to grow a vegetable garden this year, but is concerned about losing everything to the squirrels. Another pest to struggle against?

One idea I have, maybe instead of the apple tree rabbit print, is to simply carve some pest portraits of rabbits and squirrels and print them along with some blocks I have already carved, such as one of baby mice and the one of the locust featured in the print above. Maybe gathering several animal pests together would create more of a conversation about what these creatures mean to us, as competitors with our food supply and as organisms who share our urban and agrarian ecosystems. This might also be a good idea for a book, with one pest per page. But I need to do a larger print first, as I have committed to a print exchange of a certain size. (And I have approximately 6 weeks to finish it before the baby is due! I need to decide quickly and get to work!) Can you picture this? Would this be more meaningful than the apple tree and rabbit alone? Are there other pests you would include?

Rabbit food sketches

Friday, March 12th, 2010

We’ve cut down the girdled apple tree, the snow is melting and exposing other food choices for the rabbits, and now I have started sketching ideas for a print.

First sketch: I started with a more direct narrative, showing a rabbit eating the bark and pooping. I never saw this happen. I see rabbits, I see rabbit turds and footprints, and I see the damaged plants they’ve eaten, but I never see them eat. This probably happens at night. I wonder if it should be a night scene dominated by deep blue snow shadows and yellow street-lamp light.

The second sketch is trying to show a little more of the unseen, how the connection between the roots and branches is broken when the vascular tissue of the inner bark is eaten, and also how the rabbit scat I see in the yard are mostly made up of bark from meals like this one. I was thinking about making a circular kind of composition, showing the scat returning to the soil near the roots. The rabbit is part of the arc of material, more of an idea than a documentation of an actual rabbit eating. I’m still wondering if and how I should include the concept of my expectation of spring flowers and summer fruit cut short by this winter hunger. Here’s one thought, maybe a circular composition could occur inside an apple or apple blossom.

The third sketch takes another view, showing the green living tissue in cross sections of the tree, and showing the rabbit digesting and using the energy and nutrients from this green life.

So, does anyone have any thoughts about these different ways of showing this relationship? What do these images communicate to you? What might make them stronger visually, or more nuanced conceptually?

Walnut dye for woodcut printing and nesting doll print

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Based on a question from a student about printing with natural dyes, I did a test of printing with walnut dye. The block is a test block I use to demonstrate carving in my classes.

The top image is walnut dye printed without paste, giving the same blotchy effect as printing with any waterbased pigment and no paste. The bottom image is printed with paste.

This test was a good transition from teaching to thinking about my own work. I recently finished a small (2×3″) block carved with images of nesting dolls as a meditation on my connections with my family, the generations before and after me and within me.

The prints on the top are test prints on a recycled white sketchbook paper. The bottom prints are on a gray washi paper leftover from printing “Cracked and Inhabited”

For contrast and clarity of the image, I think the pink works better. However, I decided to print more of the yellow with the green gradation, which gives a sense of something growing from within, like a germinating seed.

Sketch of apple tree as rabbit food

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Last week, the hungry rabbits in our neighborhood girdled our little apple tree. I sketched it and am thinking of making a print, in honor of the life of the tree and as a way to meditate on the relationship I have with some elements of nature (such as rabbits) as pests or competitors for the same resources. I am wondering whether or not to include an image of a rabbit in the print as well, or at least some scat. And how to show the difference in what the rabbits and I see? I see an apple tree that we planted in hopes of years of fruit, now strangled without hope of coming to life again this spring. The rabbits, hungry and cold, saw a few calories hidden in the inner bark, and did not think of the past or future life of the tree or the meaning and value it had to nearby humans.

Process, inspiration, and connections

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Why blog?

  • To share and stimulate my artistic process
  • To post and discuss images of inspiration, materials, sketches, carved blocks, test prints, and finished work
  • To make connections: between art and life and between making art and teaching art.
  • To announce upcoming exhibitions and classes.
Knitting Her Fear

Knitting Her Fear, 2005, 20x15”, water-based woodcut

This print I made several years ago continues to evoke aspects of my inspiration and process. The red wriggler worms I used for composting were my collaborators in recycling waste, and my guides as I thought about creativity and natural cycles.

As she patiently charms the worms into a knitted garment, this character embodies a willingness to make her art and her life dependent on the repetitive tending of the lowliest organisms. She quietly delights in the surprise and disgust of those who smile or grimace at the idea of knitting slimy worms.