Posts Tagged ‘woodcut’

Back to making work, back to blog

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

It has been 4 months since my baby was born. I’ve been busy balancing teaching with taking care of my son. Recently, I’ve been adding in some printmaking. I’m returning to my goal of updating this blog weekly to keep me making artwork and doing other things that keep the creative process moving.

In June I started carving a woodblock print based on pictures of my son’s placenta. I am calling it “His Roots.” I’ve recently been working on printing it and will post pictures of that soon. Here is a picture of the initial carving in progress:

Stations of the Cross with imagery from 2nd-3rd graders

Monday, March 29th, 2010

This week, I am interrupting my work on the apple tree print to make a piece for House of Mercy‘s Stations of the Cross service this Friday.

This year, each of the 14 stations will be a body part. I’m doing Station VII Jesus Falls a Second Time, the right calf and foot, and Station IX Jesus Falls a Third Time, the right thigh and knee. For me, the Jesus Falls stations are about incarnation, humility, a God who gets dirty. And those who know my work know I am fascinated by dirt, both on and under the ground.

In 2008 I made this sculptural book called Glimpses Underground. It was inspired by turning over a rock and discovering a window to an underground world full of ant tunnels, worm castings, roots and invertebrates. The cover and container for the book is made of paper cast over a rock. The pages are shaped to match the contours of the rock so that they fit within it, and are bound together by a single cord. Each page has a different woodcut-printed glimpse of something one might find underground or under a rock.

I made Glimpses Underground intending to make a large edition of books, but I decided I didn’t need more than 2 or 3 finished books, so I have a lot of leftover cast rocks and shaped pages, some printed and some not. For this year’s stations of the cross, I thought I would recycle some of those pages and the structural idea from the book. I will trim the pages to make them the contours of the foot and leg, and bind them with a cord running through them. I will use some of the ones that are printed, to bring the world of the dirt into the meditation on Jesus’ falls.

I will also use some of the blank pages, painted with walnut dye by 2nd and 3rd graders in Sunday School yesterday. I told them before they started painting that I would use them in my piece for the Stations of the Cross service. We talked about and painted imagery from four stories for Holy Week: Palm Sunday’s triumphal procession with palm leaves, the Last Supper’s bread and wine, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

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?

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.

Proud of my woodblock students at MCBA

Monday, March 1st, 2010

On the sixth and last session of our woodblock class at MCBA, many students felt like they were just starting to get the hang of printing their woodblocks, and wished that we had one or two more sessions. Looking at their prints, I was proud of how far they had come in six weeks. If they want to, they now have a solid foundation to continue experimenting on their own.

This student, a painter, was interested in using woodblock to try different color variations.

This student used imagery from her sketchbook, varying the background color.

An action image of a student preparing to print a black layer on top of a gradated background.

This student used a single block to print both the red and yellow signs.

This student focused on the detailed carving of the black outline (key block).

This student played up the contrast between the carved details of the thorns and the soft gradations of the sky.

In the Loop at MCAD

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Participants print from my woodblocks. I'm the one wearing the striped shirt and gesturing.

Last week I did a one-night demonstration in Japanese woodblock printing at MCAD. Whenever I bring my blocks for others to print, it helps me to see my old images in a new way. Some people combined things I had never thought to combine before, making me think I should give my own old blocks a second look and see if I can create new imagery by recombining them.

MCAD’s flickr site has a set of photos from In the Loop events. The events are designed to give a behind-the-scenes experience of MCAD. Mine was the second event in this series.

Japanese Woodblock workshop at MCBA

Friday, February 19th, 2010

This is an invigorating week for teaching for me. In addition to my Japanese Woodblock workshop at MCBA, I also did a one-night woodblock workshop at MCAD last night, and am looking forward to Rag Paper at MCBA tomorrow.

The participants in the MCBA workshop are busily working on their multiple color prints. Here are some images of their work in progress:

Carving a block.

Inking a block.

A test print.

A test print with block.

Another test print with block.

Classes at MCBA: woodblock and papermaking

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Detail of a block I carved as a portrait of a friend's dog.

This winter, I am teaching two adult workshops at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA). The first one, on Japanese Woodblock printing, is already halfway over, it goes so quickly! I have ten students from a variety of backgrounds, from an engineer to an elementary school art teacher. Most have carved one or two blocks and begun printing proofs. I’ll ask their permission next week to see if I can post any of their works in progress. Their subject matter ranges from nature to cityscapes. MCBA usually offers this class about once a year, so if you missed it, look for it next fall or winter.

There’s still a chance to take a class from me at MCBA if you register soon (before Saturday, February 13). On Saturday February 20 and 27, I’ll be teaching how to make rag paper, which is handmade paper from recycled cloth. To register, go to and look for Rag Paper.

Finished sheets of handmade cotton paper, cut-up cotton shirt material, and sleeve of the shirt used to make paper.

Any cloth that is 100% plant fiber such as cotton or linen will work, and the more worn out, the better. Perhaps you even have a stash of sheets or clothing that is too worn out to use but too sentimental to throw out or make into cleaning rags. Make it into paper and you could use it to make cards or a scrapbook with meaning and memory embedded in the fiber!

Cracked and Inhabited

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Cracked and Inhabited, 2007, 20x15”, Japanese-style water-based woodcut.

Here’s another past print inspired by the worms in my compost. I would often find a cluster of them hidden inside an eggshell. The eggshell to me in this piece is a delicate, damaged, and beautiful world. I discarded it and then the worms found and re-purposed it as their shelter, and perhaps even a safe place to mate, making it once again a place where life is renewed.

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.