It was so exciting to stumble across this exhibit while I was researching the works of MC Escher of my drawing class. Thankfully our students and my colleagues are always willing to travel for art, despite winter weather, crazy schedules, and long bus rides. With my recent discovery of woodblock printing techniques, this was more than timely!
The exhibit was a true retrospective highlighting many, if not all, of Escher's masterworks. I am always particularly grateful when curators also include sketches, a discussion of major influences, as well as the artist's own words. This exhibit did that and more.
I was simply in awe of the detail, and technical prowess of Escher's design process and technique. I was not aware that so many of his works were multi-block prints. I also have been inspired to explore lithography as well as etching from the works I saw. I The pursued his work through travel, commissions, and book illustration projects, very affirming as a working artist myself. Escher was an incredibly hard working artist. He often wrote how he worked carving blocks in his hotel room or on board a ship turning sketches from the day into prints by night. He also had his ups and downs financially and with critics. Occasionally, had moments of great self-doubt and disappointment, but through it all he kept working and found joy in his family life. He had a wonderful rhythm of travel for inspiration and then periods of intense hard work in his studio at home followed by exhibitions. He enjoyed success and acceptance of his works in his own lifetime. It is somewhat refreshing to read about the life and works of an artist that is not overshadowed by hardship, struggle, and strife and the focus is on the work, his inspiration, and his process.
Escher lived quietly and worked consistently. He also took risks by undertaking personal projects that little promise of financial or critical rewards, as in the book of Dutch aphorisms he illustrated for a friend. Once, lacking sufficient funds to travel, he wrote a ship company suggesting that he create individual views of the various ports of call on their itineraries in exchange for his passage. Much to his surprise the shipping company agreed and he traveled to Italy, the country he truly loved, as well as Spain once again.
The works in the exhibit were arranged chronologically. From this it was easy to see how his travels and home life shaped his works. The exhibit designers included "experiences." These activities were fun, hands on, and emphasized the visual perception and artistic principles which Escher was mastering in various phases of his work. I also appreciated the many person photos and process photos included in the exhibit as well.
Escher's deep understanding of the rules of visual perception and his mastery of play with them are not merely delights to the eye. They are doorways for us, the viewer, to see the world through Escher's eye and to see the world in new and unexpected ways. For me, in a world so in need of understanding and embracing perspectives outside our own personal experience, MC Escher and his work provide an important lesson in what it means to truly see.
It was a terrific group of students and colleagues and a great day! Here are what were for me some highlight images:
As the musicians work on the stage, the students work in their sketchbooks, and on a large pastel mural creating a "response" to the music. Much like the exploratory challenge the 20th century master Kandinsky was inspired to pursue after his encourage with the works of the composer Schoenberg. You can Read More about this here:
I do not typically work as an abstract expressionist, but I did want to be a model for my students. And like my students I hard difficulty starting. It meant creating a new set of questions for myself based solely upon the elements of art:
What is the shape of that sound?
What is the color of the tone of that instrument?
Is there a definitive form or not?
Shape and reshape? All answered through the movement of my brush and selection of my eye. The key for my was to quiet the internal rhetoric and simple flow with the music.
Once the framework of the piece was created it was a matter for me of interweaving and layering the elements and choosing where to create emphasis as the music asked.
Overall, it was a very freeing exercise that I intend to revisit. And it completely disabused me of the notion that somehow abstraction was "easier" than realism. A different skill set perhaps, but still thoughtful, well-executed abstraction is just as demanding of one's artistic intellect as thoughtful, well-executed realism.
This fall the English and Art classes made our annual pilgrimage to the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore for our cross curricular Visual Narrative Project. This year however, I was excited to discover that the gallery had a featured exhibit of Japanese Woodblock prints. Not only was it exciting to learn the history of this artistic golden age, but the exhibit clearly dissected the process of making as well as how that process developed over time and the factors that influence it. Below are some of my favorite works from the exhibit as well as a gallery of tools and techniques.
Please check out the link below to the museum website and more detailed information about the exhibit.
Our students in the main court of the museum.
Abbreviated Exhibit Gallery
The stereotype of the solitary artist toiling away at his or her canvas I find to be only partially true. Time alone for inspiration, reflection, and work is indeed essential. However, I have found the company of like minded artist to be essential as well. Sharing each others' journeys and learning from one another can be reassuring, grounding and inspiring.
This past month I had the good fortune to be invited to join several other artists to learn the art of making paper and marbling paper. With my new found love of print making this opportunity was fortunate indeed! Both are very ancient arts and it was wonderful to learn from two experienced artists, Merrilyne and John. And organized by the ever so cheerful and energetic Lucinda! A special thank you to St. John's College and Annapolis Signcraft for the generous use of their studios.
I am always looking for an excuse for a new book to read. As soon as I received the invitation, I of course started looking for resources to prepare myself. I found this book on the school studio shelves (part of a donation of art books we received several years ago). Albeit a bit dated, it is an excellent over all resource. Below is a gallery that walks through the paper making process.
The adventure in paper with the Creative Cabal that I was privileged to be a part of was in the art of marbling. The "bible" of this process is shown here. The text was truly helpful and our host made several hard copies of each pattern page which had the step outlined clearly on it so we could refer to as we created our own works. Recommended supplies included:
Colophon Book Arts Supplies
BookMakers which is a local Maryland company.
Before you can begin marbling there is the preparation of the paper with mordant, a thin coating of alum which gives the paper tooth and thereby makes it more receptive to the pigments. It is important that the coated papers have several days to dry before marbling. Then the pigments themselves must be prepared by careful mixing. Lastly, the baths of water and carrageenan (dissolved seaweed)are prepared. One of the greatest pleasures of this creative day was learning this process with my son, Ben.
First the bath is leveled, cleaned, and cleared of air bubbles. Then the pigment is added. The pigment floats on top of the carrageenan bath.
Below is video walking you through the marbling process. I hope you enjoy watching them and it inspires you to give this a try!
Below that is a gallery of our works, showing just some of the patterns you can create through this process. Along with different patterns it is also possible to achieve a three dimensional "folded" illusion by carefully shifting the paper in the bath. Ben was the master of this techniques called "Spanishing."
Please consider purchasing a copy of the coloring book "Hatchlings" a bird family anthology. Two works, the Belted Kingfisher and the Great Blue Heron, are my works. A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit The Young Center which works to protect the rights of immigrant children: https://www.theyoungcenter.org/
My adventures in printmaking began with a donation of art books which included this one, from this fabulous lady.
As I have continued to practice printmaking on my own and develop ways to bring those skills into the teaching studio, I have been reflecting one what this specific art form has to offer the student. I have noticed that printmaking seems more accessible to those who do not think of themselves as artistic. Beyond this I have noted that printmaking also does the following:
1. It teaches the student about both the artistic and technical process. Teaching the importance of planning and flexibility to reshaping that plan as the project develops.
2. It teaches "plastic" or 3-D modeling thinking. Student must develop the ability to flip and turn objects within their imagination.
3. Using familiar materials in new ways, students gain hand, mind, eye coordination as well as comfort and confidence in using tools.
4. Teaches openness to the possibilities of "play" and experimentation becomes it is possible to easily reproduce the image in a variety of ways. The student can let go of the idea of the work having to be perfect the first time.
5. Both the process and the product provide tangible, simply measurable demonstration of tangible skills and authentic achievement.
6. Promotes original thinking and clearer understanding of the elements of art.
Last, but not least is the real engagement with history. Here are my students at an exhibit of Albrecht Durer prints at the local Mitchell Gallery on the St. John's College Campus:
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready... The teacher will Disappear.” -Laozi
It seems fitting that I should conclude my blog posts regarding the woodblock printing course I took this summer with a quote from the Tao Te Ching. The classic Chinese text outlining the fundamental philosophy and religion of Taoism has been credited to the 6th century BC sage, Laozi. It was the search for a teacher which lead me to seek out a class in woodblock printmaking. Even in the age of YouTube instruction, there is still no substitute for an excellent mentor and a supportive and inspiring community.
Having my appetite for learning whetted by my own self-guided exploring, this printmaking class provided the teacher I was needing and so much more. It was simply one of the best professional development experiences of my career! Not only did I get to learn about media and techniques that I had only been scratching the surface of (no pun intended!), I learned about the power of an excellent mentor. Jennifer Dunbar, the instructor of the woodblock printing course I attended at the Torpedo Factory this summer, was not only a skilled, inspiring, articulate artist and educator, but a supportive colleague and wonderful creator of artistic community. Not every artist can teach. And not every artist/educator can make the studio a safe space to be yourself as an artist and allow you the latitude to pursue your own line of artistic inquiry. This demands a great deal from a teacher. Allowing your students this freedom means keeping an open mind, tailoring your instruction to meet varying needs, and letting go of the false comfort zone of being "all knowing." Indeed, not knowing and exploring together can be one of the most powerful teaching tools. So its safe to say, I took the course to learn about wood block printing, but learned a whole lot more. I will miss having such a wonderful mentor at my side this school year, but I am looking forward to having the time to explore on my own. Then, hopefully, continue my studies with Jennifer next summer. I'm just trying to have confidence that indeed its is time for me to be on my own...but, to quote Jennifer, "There's always email and the internet!"
Our little class was a mixed bag of current college students on the cusp of their professional careers, professional adults seeking artistic respite from demanding day jobs, and homemakers and retired folks modeling life long learning to their children. As variety is the spice of life, so it its true for the classroom/studio. I learned much from my classmates and their individual artistic visions. I was often inspired by the creative bravery and resilience. But, most of all it was refreshing to meet strangers, leave friends, and be reminded as we grew to know each other better that inside each of us is a child: ready to explore, create, and enjoy the journey along the way!
To see my final works and to learn more details about the techniques I learned from class please click to the Works in Progress page. Thanks for reading!
I love day trips. Last week I visited one of my favorite areas for day tripping, the Delaware Valley and Chadd's Ford, PA area with a good friend who is also and artist and educator. It seemed all day the theme of the basic Elements of Art and Principles of Design kept coming up. As we meandered through the countryside to lunch we stopped at a Farmer's Market. It was wonderful to explore all the color, shape, textures, and forms.
Next stop was lunch at one of our favorite diners in Chadds Ford. It was hard not to think of Wayne Thiebaud's Pies, Pies, Pies from 1961 while we were there!
Our destination was Winterthur to see the new folly exhibit. Follies have there origins in the late 18th century French and British garden traditions. They can be objects in the landscape, providing a focal point or destination. Follies can symbolic, fantasies, or simply spaces for relaxation, contemplation, or spots to enjoy a view. They exist in nearly every culture's garden tradition in some form and are still popular today. Winterthur's new exhibit has more than a dozen follies. We made a day of it and visited them all. What I found most interesting is that there are really three different experiences for each folly: the approach, the space of the folly itself, and of course, the view from the folly. Each one acts as a different kind of "mood maker" for the landscape it inhabits and indeed, frames the landscape differently from its interior. I think our favorite was the Ottoman Tent, not only for approach (which was thrilling to see this lovely little colorful tent billowing in the gentle summer breeze), but its "genie bottle" interior which was magical and the wonderful views framed by its fabulous drapery! Below is a sampling of the Wnterthur Follies. Please do go and see them yourself! I recommend walking through the garden to each if you can for the full experience of each!
A Few Views from Follies: