Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taking Pictures, Making Pictures

Remember waaaayyyy, waaaayyyyy back when people used film? Back when you used to drop off your film and quiver with anticipation at what you would get back in a day or two? Or one hour if you were a big spender? Or how about this; you discover the holy grail of photography: the roll of forgotten and undeveloped film. The suspense was intense.

Not so much anymore. Everyone has a million pictures on his phone and photographs are largely throw-away things. Oh well, that's the way things go.

But what about those old photos? I used to keep almost all of them. Even the really bad ones because who knows? Maybe I'll think of a good use for them. These are all photo-collages that I made using old photographs.

Dream of the Advancing Minotaurs
For the Dream of Advancing Minotaurs, I used a picture of an old etching and pictures of my Dad and myself holding up a bull skull like we're a couple of minotaurs. By the way, that bull skull was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever gotten.

Matt and Amy
Both of these images are temptation scenes. That's about all I want to say about them.

Nimrod and His Father
The pictures on the left are of an etching and woodcut while the drawing of the snake on the right is a preparatory piece for a linocut. It so happens that I've always seen these images as part of a whole composition. I suppose the way I have reinforced that conception is by having the far left coil of the snake spill over slightly onto the preceding page. 

Anywho, if you have a bunch of old photographs, hang on to them. They may come in handy.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Big ol' Linocut

I started work on a new linocut. It's another chicken and this time it's a cream legbar hen. They're funny looking birds with bouffant hairdos. At 12" square this will be my largest linocut to date*.

Day 1: At this point I have about an hour and a half in this drawing. 
Day 2: Here I have about another two and a half hours in the drawing. Give or take.
Day 3: I've really lost track, but I probably have another three and a half to four hours in the drawing.
Day 4: Aaannnnndddd finished.
And that's it. It took maybe nine or ten hours to draw this chicken among the ferns. Many people can draw faster than me, I'm sure. But from here, I have many hours of being hunched over the block to look forward to! I actually do look forward to it. It's cliche, I know, but it is contemplative to spend such a long time at such a simple task. If I refrain from listening to music (which I don't always do) I have nothing to do but think as I work.

I don't know how long it will take to cut this block, but I'll get another post ready to go as soon as the proofs are ready to show.

*I have worked on one other linocut this size with my friend, Ned Bustard, but it was a half and half type deal.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cutting Linoleum - The Aftermath

Isn't that a better title than "Cutting Linoleum part 2"? It sounds so ominous. It sounds like all of my predictions of perfection were ill founded and destined for failure. Well, happily that is not the case. I pulled five proofs (a "proof" is sort of like a test run for prints) and I was very happy with them all!

I was unable to wait until I had a proper block of time to print, so I hastily spread out my stuff in between classes today. I like to print my linocuts by hand if I'm only doing a few. For a larger edition, I will break out the press. In the picture below the ink and brayer (roller) are pretty self-explanatory, as is the inked block. But what is that brown disk just to the top right of the block? That is called a barren and it's a small disk that is covered with a bamboo leaf. The barren is what you use to rub the back of the paper when it is placed on the block. (Alternately, I have an old wooden spoon that has been worn to perfection over many years of use.)

My ad hoc print station
I printed on two kinds of paper. The first proof was pulled on one of those handmade Thai papers that has little bits of plant matter imbedded in the fibers (the smallest of the five proofs above). It turned out nice, but I wanted to try a different paper. Kitakata paper is a thin, silky Japanese paper that is great for relief printmaking and the remaining four proofs are printed on this paper.

The human gaze is met with a nonplussed poultry stare.
This is the resulting print. I love the lines in linocuts. They are different from drawings, I would say they are more unrefined, but that is not really true. Each of the lines in a linocut has been cut once on the left, once on the right and then further trimmed by the blade until it is just right. So if anything, the lines in a linocut are far more refined than those in a drawing. But they still retain a naive quality that drawings do not necessarily possess. Whatever the case, I really, really like them.

I am very happy with this print and will pull an edition of it in the next week or two. The edition will be limited to 25 numbered prints on Kitakata paper. In addition to this there will be 5 prints hand colored using watercolor. The prints measure 6.25" x 4". Since you are obviously dying to get your hands on one, you may purchase these prints at my Etsy shop here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cutting Linoleum

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me to explain the process of making a linocut... I'd have a nickel. So I'll just assume you are shy and didn't want to seem unlearned in the ways of printmaking by asking too many questions about the relief process. That's okay, I understand. In my magnanimity, I will answer the questions you didn't know you needed to ask.

The first thing I do when making a linocut is make a drawing. That may seem like a dumb thing to say, but it is by no means a given. A lot of folks just go to work on the block and see what happens in the process. Not me; I like a nice, precise drawing done ahead of time. I'm about split evenly between drawing it directly on the block and drawing it on paper first and then transferring it to the block.

Yes, I am a beautiful rooster. You may proceed with freeing me from the block.
Now that my drawing is done I'm ready to start cutting. These are the tools I typically use:

I am used to using those Speedball cutters that you used in high school. But as I was searching through the drawers here in the art room I came across the cutters pictured above. These make the Speedball cutters look like butter knives. These little blades are sharp and make some very accurate, fine line cuts. They are also very comfortable in my hand and are easy to guide.

What a lot of people don't realize is that you move the block around as much as you move your cutting hand. A lot of the time, my hand that holds the cutting tool is stationary while I move, twist and turn the block around to get the delicate lines cut. It may be counterintuitive but it really works. Take my word for it, this is the kind of invaluable information that you are paying the big bucks to read. Ahem.

It looks deceptively finished; but it really needs hours of more back breaking, shoulder-cramping work.

I like to put a very thin layer of ink on the block after I have finished drawing it. This provides a nice contrast between the surface and the areas I have already cut. When putting this layer on it is important not to ink it too heavily so you can still see your image.

And here's the image after all those hours of work:

I will print this block in the morning. Let me say that I have never, ever, ever, never cut the block perfectly on the first go-round. Many times I have cut a block, looked on with smug satisfaction and thought to myself that THIS is the time that I will have done it perfectly. There will be no touch-ups necessary this time. My skills are complete; the student has become the master. But I always have to go back and thin out some lines here, clarify some areas there. And so on. But this time, this time I have taken my time, cut with precision and I feel confident in my heart that I will pull a proof in the morning and everything will be perfect. This time.

Stay tuned to see if I am right.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


So you want to be an artist. If that is so, you'll have to come to terms with the fact that sooner or later, you will be asked to design a tattoo. Family and friends will never be so appreciative of your work as they are when they want a nice original artwork to emblazon their upper arm or inner upper arm or hip or thigh or back or neck (yikes!) or foot or whatever.

I have done four tattoo designs over the years of which one of them has ended up on the person I designed it for. (If you ever see a mushroom/soccer ball mash up on a woman's hip, you'll know my work!) What follows are the designs I did for my nephew. He called me up saying he wanted an anchor design. Maybe with a mermaid. Or something. Here's the mermaid:

Would you care for a beautiful mermaid on your forehead?

He realized he wasn't keen on the mermaid (and I don't think his girlfriend at the time was, either). So we moved on. Now, I like me some ancient Christian symbolism. And boy-o is the anchor an ancient symbol for Christ our hope (spes is Latin for hope). The thought is that Christ is our anchor and we will not be moved or led astray and washed out to sea. And also a dolphin is often associated with this anchor. But not always. Since we live in Florida, I thought a dolphin would be a nice, local touch.

The austere, black and white dolphin of hope appeals to your intellect.

Of course, my dolphin is more the medieval-type dolphin that has scales, frilly fins, a serpentine body and a nice, toothy grin. It's not so scientifically accurate, but it is fun to look at.

Deluxe edition in luxurious color.

And here is the actual tattoo my nephew ended up with:

Similar to my drawings, but sans dolphin or mermaid. Nice!

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Reheat Leftovers

Cherry pick the printmaking detritus for the good stuff. 
This isn't one of those posts abut sprucing up leftovers to please the whole finicky family, nor is it one of those screeds about being frugal, using everything you have to the fullest, composting, or even recycling. It's about collage. "Collage, you say? Why I went to collage, it was the best, most expensive 7 1/2 years of my life." Not "college" you doofus (are you even paying attention?), collage. You know, the assemblage of seeming disparate elements into a new coherent whole. Mostly it's a technique employed by artists when they don't want to put in the effort to draw or paint anything new. Why not just use scraps of old stuff and call it collage?

Collage: The artistic equivalent of stir fry. Nothing goes to waste and 
you get the satisfaction of cleaning out the refrigerator.
As a printmaker, I love collage. I have lots and lots of images or pieces of images that sort of worked out, but not really. Why not just cut out the good parts and stick them all together? It often happens that when you put the old images in new situations, new ideas suggest themselves. I will see relationships between images that I never saw before. Sometimes small collages lead to large-scale pieces, or entire new series.

Collage is more than just a greatest hits clip show. It's something new.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Holy Ancient Heresies, Batman part 2

Last time we dealt with the possibly heretical implications of Batman. Today, I hope to muddy the waters just a little further before I try to clear them up. Potentially clear them up, that is. I won't rehash since you can just read the preceding post here.

Batman really, really believes in the power of art.
I left off with a teaser about who the next divided character would be. Well, to no one's surprise I want to talk about Two-Face. Here we have a guy who is literally split right down the middle. He has his good/rational side and his evil//irrational side. (Interestingly, I think, his evil side is his left side.) Well, as all the best stories are, his story is a sad one. Harvey Dent was an attorney who was doused in the face with acid by one of the men he was prosecuting. Only half of his face was burned, he went nuts and began to believe that everything in the world was determined by chance. From that point, he began to run around with a double headed coin that was scratched up on one side and unmarred on the other. He would use this coin as a means of making decisions - clean side up, all is well, scratched side up, look out!

The thing about that coin is he would pursue either the good or evil with single-minded determination (pun intended) depending on what the coin told him to do. He could be good or evil depending on what chance determined that he should be. He attached no moral weight to either choice. So, if my high school math teachers were right, we can flip a coin a thousand times and we are likely to approach something like 500 heads and 500 tails. In Two-Face's world that is perfect balance between good and evil. This is the perfect dualist, Manichean balance.

Batman is also passionate about an aggressive drawing posture.

So what are we to make of this? Does Batman live in a Manichean world? Is it important? It is important because we do not live in a dualist world. Good and Evil do not exist in harmony nor do they seek balance. There is no god of evil at all. God is good and Satan is evil, it is true; but Satan is no god. There is no struggle on God's part when it comes to Satan. He allows Satan to have some freedom for a time, but that allowance will run out, and when it does, there will be no struggle, just capitulation on Satan's part.

All of this would make Batman's world a false one if it is dualist. But I'm not sure it is dualist at all. It certainly looks like it is from what we can tell from the stories. But our own world looks like a dualist one from our perspective as well. Read the news. Does it look like good and evil are striving with one another? Does it look like good is winning? We only say that it looks like evil is prevailing because we lack the perspective to see the end of all things. And this is precisely what we lack in the Batman stories - the end. Christianity has an eschatology - a doctrine of the end; but Batman does not. His is an ongoing story that will not have a resolution as long as it is profitable to DC Comics! 

While I have no illusions that DC is run by a bunch of seminary students, I chose to believe that, in the end, Batman and Bruce Wayne can be resolved into one, whole man; that the Joker will be finally defeated; and Two-Face, like Bruce, will be made whole again. I think this is what we all hope for ourselves, to be made whole and not to live divided against ourselves, doing those things that we do not want to do and not doing those things that we do want to do. 

So I can't say if Batman is a Manichean or not because I can't see the end of all things. But the good news is, neither can he, so he will continue to fight evil in the hope that it can be defeated and the Batman version of the Kingdom of God can be ushered in so Gotham can enjoy rest and peace without worry of evil.

Masculine Batman's only superpower is his beard.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Holy Ancient Heresies, Batman!

The Batman is joyous because he absolutely nailed that drawing!
I am a Batman fan. And just so you know, I was a Batman fan before it was cool. In fact, I have five children and their names are Barbara, Bruce, Wayne, Alfred, Jim and the baby we are expecting will be named Selina. (Of course I'm joking; we plan to name her Rachel.)* Now that I have established my bonafides, let me clue you in to a problem I have had with The Batman and his myth. I have deep-seated fears that it may be a Manichean myth that has so captivated me.

What do I mean by Manichean? Ah, what a delicate question you have asked; one that, in the hands of a more careful expositor than I, would take many, many pages to explain. Even after this, you would likely be left scratching your head. So allow me to mix metaphors, cut to the chase and paint with a very broad brush; the Manicheans were a group of folks living circa the 5th century A.D. (You guessed it, they were a big splinter in the spiritual eye of St. Augustine during his youth.) Theirs was a gnostic cult that centered on the idea of dualism. For them, good and evil were separate and equal forces vying for control of the universe. So, to recap, we have a group of people who taught that the world was in a precarious balance between equally powerful forces of good and evil and that balance was always in danger of being upset.

Even Batman gets bored with his own drawings sometimes.
So what in the world does any of this boring nonsense have to do with Batman? Let's start with the big man himself, Bruce Wayne. Or do I mean Batman? It's a fun middlebrow exercise to ponder which of these is the "mask" that hides the other. Does Bruce Wayne put on a Batman mask so he can protect his identity and continue to live as "normally" as possible while he carries out his self-imposed mission to rid the streets of Gotham of crime and corruption? Or is it that Bruce Wayne is merely the mask that Batman puts on in the daytime; the mask that provides cover for his obsession with nocturnal crime fighting? The comics are certainly not forthcoming on this and an argument for either position could be made using them. So it seems that Bruce/Batman is in an ever constant tension about his own true identity.

A hero needs an anti-hero. And Batman has one of the all-time best antagonists in the Joker. I say this not because the Joker is cool or interesting, but precisely because he is not those things. In Batman, we have a hyper-rational, logical man who has definite goals he wishes to attain. In the Joker, we have none of those things. He is the opposite of Batman in every way. He doesn't seek to commit crimes in order to get anything or control anything. He only works against Batman. In fact, it seems that the Joker wouldn't exist if Batman didn't exist. There is nothing to the Joker, he is blank, he has no "secret identity", he has no definable motives. Some of you with an Augustinian bent would be tempted to say Joker doesn't exist properly speaking, he is merely the privation of Batman.

I bring two authorities to confirm this. First is Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns from 1986. This is a story that takes place about 10 years after Batman has retired. It is a world without wither Batman or the Joker. When Batman finally comes out of retirement, we see the Joker slowly emerge from his catatonic state. It is implied that the Joker has neither acted nor spoken since Batman disappeared 10 years previously. My second piece of literary evidence comes from a Legends of the Dark Knight story called Going Sane from 1994. In this story the Joker believes he has killed Batman. In short order he loses his memory, gets a name (Joseph Kerr!), a job and a girlfriend. He lives a normal, prosaic life. That is until Batman reappears at which time the Joker also reemerges.

So here we have two equal and opposite forces - both of which seem to be invincible and immortal (they've been fighting since 1939!). If this is true, then Batman cannot hope to "win", he can only ever balance out the evil committed by the Joker. 

It seems that Bruce Wayne/Batman is divided internally in his own person and externally against the Joker. In neither instance is he complete without his other half. What is Bruce without Batman? Is Batman even necessary without the Joker? Could Batman even exist if it weren't for Bruce? 

These are the questions that cause me to fear for the orthodoxy of my favorite superhero. Must I, like St. Augustine before me, shun this gnostic heresy? Must I  move my loyalty to the gnostic Christ of Superman (again with the heresies!)? Is there a possible solution that will satisfy; one that we can cling to as we stumble around the dark streets of Gotham? I think so, but we won't get there today. We have one more villain to deal with who is even more deeply and irrevocably divided than Bruce before we get to our resolution.

See you next time for part two.

*I'm not really that much of a nut. My kids all have real, non-comic book based names.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Picasso in Hell part 2

Last time I told you about why I painted Picasso in Hell. Today I will tell you about what's in it and why I put it there. But before I begin, let me reacquaint you with this excursion into the Inferno:

So, what the inferno is going on, Clark? Why does Picasso have freakishly large hands?! Look around the Googles at pictures of Picasso and notice how prominently his hands feature in a lot of those pictures. I thought this was appropriate seeing as how he made his living working with those hands. He was a manual laborer. He also smoked a lot. I know that wasn't really all that unusual, but still, I thought it would be fun to put a couple of cigarettes in there as a kind of testament to the excesses that landed him in hell in the first place.

Picasso of the large, nicotine stained hands.
The minotaurs are probably next on the list of things to talk about. As monsters, they are a travesty. In the Greek understanding of life, the universe and everything (and also partly in the Christian one), Man is the crowning glory of creation and the crown of Man is his head, or his reason. So to take a man and crown him with the head of a bull takes away his reason and lowers him to the state of an animal that is governed by his passions and appetites. Picasso once said “If you marked on a map all the routes along which I passed and drew a line to join them together, it would perhaps take the shape of a Minotaur.” This is fitting for a guy with a biography like his; one that is strewn with broken women and illegitimate children. 

The minotaur stowaway.
The bike seat in the boat was just for fun. It's a take on Picasso's famous bicycle/handlebars bull's head from 1942. But it's hell and you're not allowed to keep the cool stuff you've made. So there's a weird warthog sneaking in to filch it.
The bike thief caught in the act.
There are other things, of course, and you may even be wondering about them. Why is there a bug-winged dinosaur or a gas-masked... thing... in the sky? Who are the blue people? What's that giant killer whale doing in there? I'm glad you asked all of these things. In fact, I hope that you ask a lot more questions than that. Pictures are not books, they famously show they do not tell. So I think I have given enough decoder key type clues to this picture to satisfy the mildly curious. Keep looking and enjoy to spectacle.

(PS Think Hieronymus Bosch for the monsters in the sky!)