Thursday, October 14, 2021

Art Is A Favor That Is Given To You

 

Whimbrels at 2-Mile Landing. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski, copyright 2021.



Every time I'm in an exhibition I  try to advertise the exhibition, just as I'd guess most artists do, unless they are so well known that they don't  need to. But it is tiresome. After all I think my art and the art in the exhibitions I'm in  stand on their own. I shouldn't have to beg people  to  take a look at it.

I was thinking about that this morning in relation to  The Natural Eye whose official opening is today. If you actually spend a bit of  time looking at this exhibition, especially if you have the chance to see it  in person, you will realize I think how lucky you are  to have seen it. And  though I've only seen it online the exuberance comes through. It is both accomplished art and a celebration of nature.

There  are many people I'm happy to  say that want to celebrate nature. But the attempts don't always come off. It is not easy I don't believe. Can you make art that is as exuberant as nature itself? I think that it is  possible and I think you'll find much of it  in this exhibit.

As I said at the  top: art is a favor that is  given to you, just like nature, if  you have the good sense to give it a chance.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Bouncing Around

Red Phalarope at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve. Acrylic painting by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

I sometimes confuse myself by switching media and perhaps styles so I wouldn't be surprised if I also confuse  others. I can only say that it always makes sense to me when I do so.

In all my years of making art, and thinking about it, and in reading about and enjoying  the art of others, both visual and otherwise I've come to the conclusion  that good artists always develop their own language. I guess you could also say  they develop  their own set of  tools to  help them accomplish whatever it  is  that they  want to accomplish.

Sometimes this  language probably doesn't seem too different than the language of  others though the good artist may have an incredible mastery of  that language. But other times artists create their own language, like  for instance Beethoven. And they also are often masters of  that language.

I've always had a fear of cliche in my artmaking, though that has nothing to do with taking on 'cliched' subjects. A good artist can always make a cliched subject  come alive. I often think of  this in terms of abstraction. I don't want to emulate the more  realistic painters of the past in my painting, or  in my prints either. So I think  about abstracting  the subject. But that is much easier said than done. So many ways of abstracting a subject seem cliched to me. I'm not so  much talking about the work of others as my own.

Almost as soon as I put down a mark I think: OH, what a cliche that is!! This can be enervating. And yet for me it seems the only path to take. So, to make a long story short, I think that so much of  my changing media and perhaps styles is just me trying to find a way to portray a subject in a way that doesn't  seem cliched.

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Because printmaking is less spontaneous than painting, especially for someone like me who has spent more  years as a painter than a printmaker, I also need a better idea of the structure, or  perhaps the image, of a print before I start working on it.  I can't just put back all the wood I've carved away when I've made a mistake. In painting, at least acrylic or oil painting,  I can just paint right over any mistakes  I've made. You can't do  this in watercolor.



Digital sketch of  Red Phalarope. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Unless, that is you make a digital sketch, painting, watercolor! I bought an i-pad about 6 months or  so ago because I just got sick of the constant slowness of  my windows pc. I'm not sure of  the cause  but I  suspect part of  it is all that is being done behind the scenes to keep  it secure. I could  be wrong. Either way I  bought an i-pad.  And because  I've learned  that with computers  it's  often best to buy  what  you need at the start I also bought an i-pencil.  I had no specific plans for using it. The graphic styluses  and software programs I used in the distant past drove me nuts.

But  that was 15-20 years ago. Still I had had the i-pad and i-pencil  for 3-4 months and did no sketches during that time. I can't really remember whether it  was viewing the video  of Hockney's  Arrival of  Spring  at the Royal Academy of Arts  https://makingamark.blogspot.com/2021/09/review-david-hockney-arrival-of-spring.html or my deciding that I wanted to do sketches from the photos I'd just taken of a Red Phalarope at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve that prompted me to make the digital sketch that is above.

I wanted to  do  the sketches for documentary evidence  of  the sighting in e-bird and I thought a composite of sketches  from my numerous distant photos was really the most revealing way to show  what  I'd  seen, proof that this was a rare Red Phalarope. But I also was quite  taken with the Hockney show, and realized, especially after I'd  also bought  the  catalog, how accomplished the show  was.

I'm not a fan at all of digital art. In fact I definitely stay away from it.  One more  example of  technology being  used because  it's there  not  because it  works better than an older technology.  So I was surprised at how easy it was for  me to see the artistic choices that Hockney was making in these digital paintings.

All art really is about making choices, with notes,  with words,  with marks with colors, or with their digital equivalent. I could  see the rich results that Hockney got, not  the same results he would get with traditional media, but still rich  results. That I think opened me up to the idea  of  digital painting.


Red Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Green Heron and Belted Kingfisher at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve. Digital Painting by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021 by Ken  Januski



Above is the first digital painting I've ever done. Unlike Hockney I  don't have any color  printer let alone a huge one. So I can't print this out. It only lives on a screen. There is  much to dislike about  this. People spend too much time in front of  screens as is. There is also the brighter than life luminosity of anything seen on a screen. BUT it was astonishing how easy I found it  to make  changes. Like Hockney I found that using  layers made things much easier  for  me. Extraordinarily easier. I could make  changes  right and left, forward and backwards, upside down and right side up.

In other words it seemed to be an extremely quick  way to  combine realism and abstraction but with the added ability to  get rid of anything  that struck me  as a cliche almost immediately. I didn't have to move away from a  cliche by finishing a painting or  print and then starting another to try another path. I  could  try another path in about  5 seconds.

So that was exhilarating. BUT  it's still on a screen. There's no tactility, no sense of the handmade. I knew that my best bet was to try to reproduce it in one way or another with paint  on canvas.  The end result is a the top  of  the post.

So that I hope explains somewhat  why I might seem to bounce around a bit artistically. I'm just  trying to make compelling and not cliched images. Often for  me that means switching media  and  sometimes styles. But it's always in the interest of  portraying something in a compelling way.



 
Whimbrels at 2-Mile Landing. Moku Hanga print. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

Sometimes I try to move from one medium to  another without realizing that it might not be easy to do  without major changes. This and the other moku hanga print above I'm happy to  say are going once again to be in the annual exhibit  of The Society of  Wildlife Artists at the Mall Galleries  in London. This  is a link to an online gallery of much  of  the work, including mine, https://www.mallgalleries.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/natural-eye-2021.

This was based on a fairly painterly painting. I tried to reproduce that in this print. And I think  I was successful.  It's perhaps even more vibrant than the painting itself. But it also has all sort of niggling areas, areas that require more care and craftsmanship than I  care to give them. A master carver could have carved a closer imitation of the painting. But I'm not  one and never will be. It's not my main goal. In the end I learned that, at least for  now, I should use larger areas of color in my moku hanga. And that's pretty much what I did in the subsequent print of  the Red  Knots. It is a continuing search for the right image and the right medium

Based on what I just  said I can pretty much guarantee I will  not try a moku hanga of the Red Phalarope, at least not without massive changes!! I should add that since I've done so many acrylic paintings over the last 12-18  months I  have added a link to  them under the Gallery heading at top right  of this page.



 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

It All Started with Shina

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls  at Reed's Beach. Moku Hanga print on Nishinouchi paper by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021.


  I'm very happy to say  that one of  my Moku  Hanga prints will be included  in the Sumi-Fusion Exhibition at the International Moku Hanga Conference 2021. I had hoped that I would have at least one print accepted but I also feared that my relative newness to the medium, not to mention my skills with it, might work against me.

I received an email about  it  last week after just completing these two versions  of the Red Knots and Laughing Gulls moku hanga. Above is  an edition on Nishinouchi. Below is the first version on Masa Dosa. Unfortunately the photo is not shot in the brightest light so it looks a bit dark.

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls  at Reed's Beach. Moku Hanga print on Masa Dosa paper by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021.



I can still remember how I made my first step toward Moku Hanga. I was printing a linocut of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth  in 2013. I was using Gamblin oil based  inks. But I decided I'd like to try printing the background on Shina plywood, just to see what happened. There was such a feeling of openess, of a breathing surface to the result that I became completely taken with Shina. That print is below.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. Three block combination Woodcut/Linocut by Ken Januski. Copyright 2013.


In my many years as an abstract painter I primarily used acrylic paint. Only toward the end, partly due to a gift from a new graduate student who wanted to encourage me, a newly graduated graduate student, to switch to oil painting, did I start painting in oil. To make a very long story fairly short I never minded the somewhat plastic surface of acrylic painting. I sort of liked the fact that you couldn't sink into it, that it instead seemed to come out at you.

So when I started printing, first with linocuts then woodcuts I wasn't bothered by the plastic surface that could result from the oil based inks that I used, especially when I painted one color over another over another, etc. But then I was. Too much plastic I thought! So that is what I liked with the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth print. It was softer.

Again to make another long story short four years later I eventually did my first experiment with Moku Hanga. That was in early 2017. I have not turned back to other methods of printmaking. But I have also struggled! In this type of printmaking there are no machines involved, no printing presses. At least for me. The simplicity, the non-toxic materials, the immediacy and the complex tradition are both appealing, and also to a certain extent difficult. For better or worse you the printmaker have pretty much control over everything. If you're successful you'll get a striking print. But there are a million things that can go wrong.

I've always been happy with my Moku Hanga prints. But I've also known how much better they could be, at least in terms of technique. So that's a large part of the reason that I applied for this show with trepidation. I'm happy to say I'm glad it didn't get the better of me and scare me off from applying! Below is the print that will be in the show. It is in Nara, Japan in late November/early December 2021. As with 'The Natural Eye,' the annual exhibition of The Society of Wildlife Artists', it  is an honor to be in this exhibition. There will be an online exhibition  and I will eventually write a short post on that when it is online.


A Frenzy of Golden-crowed Kinglets. Moku  Hanga print on Nishinouchi p
aper by Ken Januski. Copyright 2020.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Three Red Knots, Ten Warblers and Some Laughing Gulls

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls. Late proof  of 11x8.5 inch moku hanga. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything and I am well aware of that. To make a very long story short I was worried about making my last print a bit too painterly and thus introducing more technical problems into moku hanga  than I wanted to deal with. This was especially true because I'm not enamored of technique, though I  can admire it in others. It's just not where I want to spend my time and energy.

So I've been thinking about a way to continue moku  hanga but with simpler  shapes, perhaps more outlines and less need for getting extremely small areas to register correctly. Basically this  just means using the strengths of an artistic medium in concert with my own artistic strengths.

I've been working on this print of some Red Knots and Laughing Gulls for about a month. It was prompted by a news report  of  a great decline in  the count of Red Knots along the Delaware Bay this spring. This print is based on photos and field sketches from there from 2019. Most likely this is  the final test proof and I'll start printing an edition soon. This proof is on Masa Dosa.

So.................it may be that my moku  hanga will continue in a simpler manner such as you see here. Time will tell. But speaking of painterly that really is my background.  I've spent more  time as a painter than a printmaker though that is slowly changing. In the spring  of  last year I  did my first acrylic painting of an American wood warbler. Once I started I couldn't stop. So over the next year I painted the seven paintings and ten warbler species that you see below. It was greatly liberating to have the painterly freedom that most printing lacks.

But now for a change it's nice to be back in a more disciplined medium.

Canada, Blackburnian and Black-throated Green Warblers. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

Lousiana Warbler Along Wissahickon. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski


Mourning and Black-throated Blue Warblers. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski


Pine Warbler with Ring-necked Ducks. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski


Prothonotary Warbler along Wissahickon. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski


Red Knots and Laughing Gulls. Late proof  of 11x8.5 inch moku hanga. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

American Redstart, Northern Parula and Black-throated Blue Warbler. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

Yellow-breasted Chat. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski



 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

In Between

Acrylic painting in progress of Pine Warbler and Ring-necked Ducks. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski


It's a bit surprising to me that I haven't posted something new in over two months. It is NOT Covid-related. I know, or  at least I've heard, that Covid has left many people in odd states of suspended animation, at least in terms of their mental state. But for me it was something else completely.

After finishing my last moku hanga I realized that once again I was trying to treat my print like a painting, where if something didn't look quite right I could always put a little dab of color here, change a shape there, etc., etc. This is part of the beauty of painting, especially oil or acrylic painting. But it seems like a mistake for printmaking, which with the exception of lithography really is primarily linear.

Moku hanga is great for color but to a large extent it seems to be kept within clearly delineated shapes. Though I do love line and shape I don't like to be completely beholden to them. But I won't go on. To make a long story short: in printmaking I seem to always swing back and forth between more painterly prints and more linear ones. At some point they just get too painterly and I pause to think about what I'm doing.

But as John Kruk, at least I believe it was him, said in the leadup to a broadcast of a recent Philadelphia Phillies game: "Think long, think wrong." He was referring to a pitcher, thinking too much about his pitches but it could just as well be applied to artists. It's easy to get so lost in thinking about your art that you stop doing any.

For me one antidote to that is painting, especially acrylic painting. I rediscovered this medium during semi-lockdown last year. The freedom it offered was thoroughly welcome. After all the planning and constraints of the moku hanga method it was great to feel completely free. So  rather than think more about my printmaking I just switched back to acrylic. I did two new paintings, the Pine Warbler with Ring-necked Ducks above and the Louisiana Waterthrush above.

But after I'd gotten this far I decided I needed to let them sit before determining whether to do more or  to call them done. A month or  more  later I'm still letting  them sit.

Acrylic painting of Louisiana Waterthrush. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Sometime in April, knowing that migration would soon be starting I decided to do a few pencil and watercolor studies of warblers from photos I've taken over the years. They are seen in the next two photos. Their only purpose is to try to familiarize myself with their shapes, stances, anything  that seems unique to  them, so that when I see them live I might be able to sketch them. This never works!!!

The sketches may be alright in their own right but when I'm faced with a nano-second view of a warbler, as I have been a lot over the last few weeks, just about everything I know falls by the wayside. I think the best you can say is that some knowledge gets buried deep in your consciousness somewhere and may come out without  you even knowing it. I wouldn't put money on that though.

Pencil and watercolor sketches of Palm Warblers. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski


Pencil and watercolor sketches of Palm Warblers. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

One other thing  that happened during  the first few months of  the year is that I bought a very small drawing by John Busby, author of 'Drawing Birds' and numerous other books. In looking at the whimbrel drawing I realized how thoroughly Busby knew his subject and how deft he was with his mark making. There is  an unbelievable grace, liveliness and relaxed quality to the drawing.

This in turn got me to reread some of his other books. That coupled with the arrival of larger migrants that might stay in one spot for  a second or two convinced me to do some field sketches  with my sumi brush pen. The Bobolink  and Green Heron drawings were done just as lines. When I got  back to the studio I used a waterbrush to create a gray wash from newly put down ink from the brush. I also added larger areas of black using the brush by itself.

Sumi brush pen sketch with wash of Bobolink on Dandelion. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Sumi brush pen sketch with wash of Green Heron. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

And finally I was struck by the complex shapes a Great Blue Heron made as it clumsily came in for a landing at the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve a few weeks ago. I remembered John Busby talking about birding with the purpose of collecting interesting shapes rather than making finely differentiated bird IDs. So when I got home I tried to recreate the scene from  memory, including  the complex shape  of the heron and the Belted Kingfisher flying above him.

It's been said that all art really aspires to music. This  makes sense to me and I think applies most to painting. Painting, especially abstract painting, really can be like music. But there's also an inherent human  drive to draw. In this sense you can say all art aspires to drawing. But drawing can become too mimetic, too detailed and too dead at times. At that time you might say that all art aspires to cartoons. This may seem sacrilegious but I often think that it is true. A cartoon-like  drawing, like the one below, can often get closer to life than anything else.

Sumi brush pen sketch with wash of Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

And now migration is  in full swing. It's difficult  to spend any time working on art, unless it's  sketching in the field. I remain 'in between.' When migration has ended hopefully I'll have figured out how to finish  the paintings and also how to  proceed with printmaking.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Craftsmanship and Art

 

Whimbrel at 2-Mile Landing. Original Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021.


I've spent a lot of time over at least the last five years listening to, reading about, and listening to audiobooks about music, particularly classical music. One of  the things that I've particularly noticed is that, at least in the past and I'd guess today as well, musicians learn some basics, for example harmony, sonata form and other forms, etc. The vocabulary for musical notation is astounding. I say all this as a non-musician so I realize that I'd have a slightly different take on this  if  I were a musician. But on the whole I think I'm correct.

Still it stands in stark contrast to my artistic  education and I'd guess the artistic education of  many. I have a lot of art education. 80% I'd guess is  in studio  art, two years at a community college, a year plus as an undergraduate at a very good school on west coast, and graduate studies at the same west coast school and at an Ivy League school on the east coast.  And two graduate degrees in  art. Big Deal! No, not at all. All that education doesn't  necessarily translate  into good art. I only mention it because there was a common theme to those many years of art education as a studio artist: be enthusiastic about what you do and  have at it! That was it, though  it wasn't put in such blunt  terms.

Was I unhappy with this?  No. It's just what I wanted. Particularly I wanted to PAINT, and paint I did, mostly on my own, but also with a few regular studio mates, especially on the west coast.  I don't think either we the students or our teachers expected we'd get a much out of the formal classes. We'd  learn and improve  through  studio practice.

It's only in retrospect, realizing how much theory that there is in music and musical education, that I  wonder about art education. Is there something similar in art? Is it just taught at schools other than the ones I went to? Would I have wanted a different education, one more structured and with a distinct syllabus, if I actually had the opportunity? My guess  is  that no I would not.

There of course is  the old nostrum about reinventing the wheel. Generally it is a very good nostrum. I'm just not sure how well it works  in art. Since I live in Philadelphia I do have to  wonder  about the Pennsylvania Academy of Art. I never took any courses there though I have known people who studied there. But I never talked to them about their training. But  I do have the impression  that at least the painters get a fairly classical education. And at least one  of my old  friends who shared a studio  above mine  and who studied there went on to fame and fortune as a  more or  less contemporary classical  painter. I could tell that we looked at painting quite differently, though I don't think he ever looked down on my own work. And I admired  the technique and ambition of his own work. But we did  seem to come from different worlds.

In any case it just reminds me that people do get different training in the arts and often that training stays with them.

Before I started classes at the west coast school I arrived on campus a few months  early and took  some printmaking courses in the student union.  They were pretty much one on one  and I loved them. I learned enough to do some lithography, etching and a bit of  aquatint, just enough  for me to start experimenting on my own. I loved it. But in a  few months my classes started, I had almost 24 hour access to a painting studio  and I jumped back into painting. The person who  taught  me printmaking at the student union was also a student in printmaking. So I was introduced to both the faculty and her fellow students in printmaking. But there was just something that put me off about taking a course in it. There seemed to be some odor of technique, of tradition, of something or other that just seemed  foreign to the freewheeling  attitude  I had toward art. I never had any subsequent training in printmaking.

So here we are today, where I have been doing more  printmaking  than painting over the last 10 years or more. I started with linoleum block printing, then added some shina wood blocks  in conjunction with lino, then did just western style printing with one or more  shina wood blocks. And now I'm finishing  my fourth year of moku  hanga. My most recent print, about 6x8  inches  is at the top of this post.

This very lengthy introduction  to my newest print stems from the fact that it could look to many like  I have neither general printmaking technique, nor more  specific moku hanga technique. Additionally I realize that almost all of  my moku hanga prints probably seem quite foreign to the spirit of traditional  moku hanga. I have to say I can't  really deny that.

And this I think gets to the title of this post:  Craftsmanship  and Art. When I was getting my education in art crafts, at least as far as I could tell, were starting to be considered by many  in the art world if not as exactly equals then at least on the same fluid, sliding scale. But that's not what I'm talking about. I have no argument with the idea  of  traditional crafts as art. (I don't know enough about non-traditional crafts to have an opinion on them). But some art media I believe have more of a craftsmanship tradition than others, at least today. Printmaking seems to value craft more  than painting.

One of the first things I realized once I started using more  than one block in any type of relief print was that registration was a big consideration. If you use more than one block it generally is with the purpose of  using a different color and you want the second color to register(match up)  with what you've already printed on your printmaking paper from printing the first block. As I didn't have a printing press I used various handmade jigs and devices to help with registration. They helped but there were still problems.

The thing is I didn't really consider them serious problems. For myself I didn't care all that much if things lined up properly. My guess is that if  I went through all of my multiple block prints of any type I'd find that areas of color rarely match up perfectly. It's not a goal of  mine.

Now I have to say, as I'm sure most printmakers will say,  that sounds a lot like sour grapes or something similar. You choose to be happy with less than perfect registration in printing because you're technically incapable  of getting perfect registration! I'd have to agree that I'm technically incapable of  getting perfect registration. But  I also don't believe it's worth the time and effort, at least for me. Just what is gained  and what is lost by perfect registration? For me not much is gained, but a lot might be lost, including the ability for the print to breathe.

But it's very easy to see where at least in printmaking  good registration is just considered part of the craft of printmaking. Since I  didn't have an education in printmaking I'm only guessing that this  is the case. But I'm pretty sure that I'm right.

This is only one element of  what I consider, from an outsider's perspective, to be the craft of printmaking. Another element is consistency in prints in an edition. Especially with  a complicated print involving many colors, many blocks, perhaps intricate carving there are more and more areas where the smallest little slip or lack of concentration will make one print slightly different than another. Printmakers have to decide whether or not  to include small anomalies in an edition,  My guess is that much of the final decision depends on how you've  been trained.

For me this  is  particularly difficult where I've spent a lot of time and effort in the printing, mainly due to it being a complicated print. After all that effort do I really want to toss out more  than 50% of  what I've printed? Of course not and yet expectations are that there be at least some basic similarity between prints in an edition. My guess is that I'm more lenient than many but still I cull a lot from editions.

It's easy to understand this desire to have a consistent edition. And yet here too I find  that the craftsmanship of  printing is perhaps getting in the way a bit of the art of printing.

Moku hanga has a much better method of registration than western hand-printed prints. And yet I suspect that because of this there is a greater expectation of excellent registration in moku  hanga prints. By those standards I fail pretty badly. I suspect moku hanga also has particularly high standards of paint application, even surface, etc., etc. mainly due to the incredible craftsmanship  of  traditional moku hanga. Though I strive for these and don't usually have deliberately uneven surfaces it's not something  I care about all that much. It undoubtedly is part of traditional moku hanga. It's just not something I can bring myself to consider the most important part of the print. I usually won't cull a print because the color application isn't the best.

For me it is the overall experience of the print that is most important. What is it like visually, not technically? For me that means that I'm often quite happy with my prints, especially my moku hanga, even though I'm also disappointed that the registration isn't a bit better, the paint coverage a bit better, etc., etc. For many I imagine  it looks as though I've failed at the craft of printing and it's hard to see beyond that. I can only guess but I expect that this is true. I can understand it. But I'm still quite happy with my prints.

It may be pushing this to suggest something similar in painting and drawing but I'm going to anyway. I love drawing, and painting as well. But I don't at all like drawings that enclose shapes in non-stop, continuous, undifferentiated lines. That may be a technique that was taught in classical academies hundreds of years ago but it is largely lifeless. The varying and incomplete lines of someone like  Rembrandt are far more impressive. They go beyond technique into art, into something that is moving. The art of Rembrandt breathes.

I've gone on at such great length that I'm reluctant to say much more. In some ways I'm just thinking out loud. In the end I guess  I'd use Winslow Homer as an example. He did quality wood engravings in his younger years. He was a master of line. But as he matured he didn't let himself be constrained by line. Instead it became an often invisible structure in his wonderfully free watercolors. Technique has its uses but it can also be the kiss of death for  an artist. My guess is that many artists would be better off knowing when to forget about technique. On the other hand I can't help but think of Odubel Herrera, Pat Burrell and Hunter Pence, all players at one time or another for the local Philadelphia Phillies. I used to scream every time I saw one of them at the plate with their idiosyncratic wild swings. But they still got hits. I hope my prints don't remind anyone of them, especially Pence or Herrera!




  
  

Monday, January 11, 2021

WIP - 2021

Working proof on moku hanga of Whimbrel at 2-Mile Landing. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

 Very sloppy printing I know. This is the best of four proofs I've done on a new moku hanga. It might look familiar as it's based on the acrylic painting I showed in the last post. So far I've used seven 6x8 inch blocks. I need at least one and perhaps two more. As I got further along in proofing I started losing patience in my printing because I was eager to see if the print was starting to come together. So what had been a fairly nicely printed proof got sloppy at the end.

When I started I just grabbed some paper that was lying around, not even sure if it was printmaking paper. Only as I was printing did I happen to see an Arches watermark. Eventually I'll print on a different paper but this one has been fine for proofing.

After I'd done block six I believe, the dark green block I still had only areas of flat color. Something inme wanted to scream. Though flat color, with possible grading through bokashi, and with some complex but regular pattern are part of traditional moku hanga I needed something different. That's been true in most of my moku hanga. I just am not comfortable with all that flat color. So I carved into much of that green block, creating quite a lot of pattern, movement, etc. I think it  was just what the print needed. I did the same to a lesser extent with the last block, the brown one, though that one I had planned at least a little variation on.

So there you have it: a work in progress.  As with most of my work it is an ongoing dance between simple and complex. Stayed tuned to see where the dance ends.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Is That What I Want?

Whimbrel at 2 Mile Landing. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

I have had a number of "successes" and a number of "failures" in my artistic career. I put quotes around the terms to indicate that there is a bit of artificiality in them. For instance I have been in a number of competitive art shows in my career and I have been rejected from quite a few as well. I have gotten some likes on Facebook, a very low standard of appreciation I know, and I think a much greater number of non-responses. I have sold some work, often looking quite different from one another, but I haven't sold anywhere near as much work as I'd like.

Sometimes these are more meaningful to me than others, for instance I'm always quite happy to have my work accepted into the annual exhibit of The Society of Wildlife Artists because I think so much of the work that I'm showing with. I've been excited to get into some competitive shows when I was an abstract artist often to find that I wasn't at all happy with the work that hung beside mine. But I also realized early on that competitive shows are often the end result of competing tastes on the part of judges or other 'stakeholders'  and that the show reflects it. Often they are odd hodgepodges. Again I think that this is not the case with 'The Natural Eye,' and that's why I'm always happy to be in it. I used to be somewhat depressed not to get into another competitive show that I applied to frequently. But I always got the catalog of the show. And finally, after quite a few years, I finally said to myself:  "This is silly. I don't LIKE most of  the art in the show." And a year or  two after that I stopped submitting work.

My end of submissions isn't necessarily a critique of  the show but it is an understanding of myself by myself. I'm far better off creating art that I like and only trying to exhibit it at shows I'd be happy to be in. What's the point of  trying to get into a show, even a prestigious one, if you don't like most of the art in it? In the same vein what's the point of trying to gain entry to various galleries or associations if you don't appreciate the work of  most of  the other artists involved?

To make a long story short at some point I decided I really have to make sure I'm the judge who counts most. What do I think of my work?!

And that leads me to my most recent painting at top. I like it!

I have been reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina over the last month or so. In it there is an artist, Mikhailov. I'm not really sure of why he's there but what struck me is a section  where he expects very little from the people who come to look at his paintings, then begins to think much more of them when they say something  that might possibly be interpreted as positive. Tolstoy I think is criticizing him but I think the scene might also ring true for many artists. As soon as someone says they like your work, or purchases it, you tend to see them and your work in a slightly better light.

I'm reminded of that by the watercolor painting I did of two Whimbel pictured below.


Two Whimbrel at 2 Mile Landing. 12x16 watercolor. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

It is one of a number of paintings and drawings I did on the way to the painting at top. It is a bit more realistic. It's also true that I've sold a number of my watercolor paintings. I'm happy with the watercolor paintings and I'm happy that someone likes them well enough to buy them. But I realize that I might disappoint some of  those buyers because I don't too often put those paintings up for sale. That's not because I'm too fond  of them. It's because I don't do that many any more and I'm often not happy when I do most. But when I put them up for sale it's because I do like them.

The thing is I realize that my own watercolor paintings don't do much for me. When I'm done with them I ask, as the title of a well-known blog says: Is That What I Want? I've come to realize that though I admire many who work in watercolor it's not something I really aspire to in my own work. When I do I often feel more like I'm imitating something I like rather than painting what I like.

What I'm getting at is that whether I achieve what I want in a work of art, even if I don't know what that is when I start the art work, is what determines the artistic success. It is meaningful to me. There are times of course when I'm fooled. I  think I've made some sort of breakthrough, then days, months or  maybe years later I decide that the artwork wasn't all that I thought it was. But most times this is not true. If I'm really happy with a work I stay happy with it, even years later when  I might work in a completely different matter.

I've had a number of such moments with the acrylic paintings that I've done over the last 6-9 months. To me they are showing me the path of the future in my work both in paint and print.

Some are more successful than  others. The sumi brush pen and water soluble crayon drawing/painting below is somewhere in between. It seems like a step toward the painting at top. There are things I like about it but it seems a bit derivative. I'm not sure I would have done the painting at top without it. But the painting at top seems like What I Want.

Whimbrel at 2 Mile Landing. 11x14 inch sumi brush  pen and crayon drawing. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

I realize that not all artists can worry about What They Want. They have to worry about what their customers will buy so that they can pay the bills, etc., etc. I've seen no sign in my life that it's easy for an artist to make a living as an artist. Throughout history many of  the most successful artists in any medium have had to keep their customers/patrons happy. I can't criticize that and I don't. What I'm saying is really more personal. I do know when I've done something that I'm happy with, regardless of what others think. That is my idea of artistic success.

Whimbrel Studies. Sumi Brush Pen. Copyright 2019 by Ken Januski

Just to round off these thoughts the drawings above are done with sumi brush pen and are all based on photos that I took. I like them in many ways but I'll probably never really like work that I do that is  based solely on photos.

The sumi brush pen sketch below on the other hand was done from life at 2 Mile Landing in Cape May, NJ in May of 2019. I was looking through a scope at some distant whimbrel and was thrillled with this sketch  that I did over a 5-10 minute period. Later I looked at it and realized how crude it was. But I still loved  it! It captured my reaction to what I saw. It too is an artistic success, far more so than the sketches above or even some theoretical sketch from photos that is far more detailed. Such a sketch wouldn't be successful to me because it's not what I want. It would just be a study

On the other hand I was thrilled with the field sketch below and I think I'm even more thrilled that i've been able to do a painting based on it that still has the same feeling. That to me is true artistic success.
 

Whimbrel at 2 Mile Landing. Sumi brush pen field sketch. Copyright 2019 by Ken Januski.


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Leaping Into and Perhaps Beyond Cliche

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler Feeding on Devil's Walkingstick. Original Moku Hang by Ken Januski. Copyright 2020

Leaping Female Black-throated Blue Warbler. Pencil sketch by Ken Januski. Copyright 2020

With so many years of abstract painting behind me I found that I had a lot of artistic tools that also served me well when I started using subjects from nature. I didn't understand the structure of much of  what I saw in nature. So I had a lot to learn about birds and insects, not to mention mammals, vegetation, etc. But there was one thing in naturalistic art, though also in the figure drawing that I spent a number of early years doing, that really wasn't in my abstract art. In fact off the top of my head I don't think  it's in most abstract art. That is movement and/or weight.

I did a lot of figure drawing in my distant past, about 3 hours a night, 3-4 days a week for a year or more, followed by additional classes in graduate school that often included figure drawing.  I loved figure drawing, though I particularly loved quicker poses. I'm not sure how fond I would have been of  1 hour plus poses. What I loved was trying to capture both movement AND a sense of weight and how it was distributed. No I don't mean how heavy a model might be. I mean an almost physical empathetic  knowledge of whether there is a lot of weight on one leg, very little on another, a great stretch in one area of the body, perhaps with a contraction in another part of the body, etc., etc. I don't think this can be easily explained. You either look at a drawing and get that feeling of where the weight and movement is, or you don't, assuming of course that the artist captured it. Most of all I think it is a matter of physical empathy.

I've noticed this in the drawing  of others, and also sculpture where it seems even more noticeable,  with various subjects, people, horses, hippos, birds, etc. But with birds in particular there is one new element: loft, that physical sense of weight that you can sometimes see and feel when something is moving above the earth, sometimes 100s of feet, sometimes just a few feet as in the female Black-throated Blue Warbler above.

I was reminded a bit of this when I watched part of a  so-so show on Rembrandt on tv last night. One early painting showed a hand that seemed to be lying lightly  on whatever. But there was a definite sense of lightness. It wasn't a dead lobster, heavy as could be. It had the sensation of  lightness. This in turn reminded me of seeing something similar in a hand by Giotto, probably a Madonna and child, seen  at the Uffizi in Florence many years ago. Some of the best artists capture the  weight of  limbs as they portray them. Sometimes they are light but  other times you get the  sense of  real weight bearing down into the ground.

Of course with birds the sense of weight is just different, at least if they're in flight. I have to confess that  I've never flown, at least under my own power. Neither has any human as far as I know. And yet I think we can still feel  the sense of soaring in a soaring hawk. Though humans have no real experience of flying or floating many can still 'feel' what it is like.

I know artists who can capture the sense of flight in birds while drawing them from life. I can't  do that. Perhaps I could  if  I tried harder and had more experience with seeing birds in flight, particularly soaring raptors. But  if  pressed I think I could do a sketch with some  sense of  reality.

That is not the case with birds that leap into the air, mainly to pick off something  to eat. This is a much less seen phenomenon than birds soaring. If it were much more common perhaps I would even try it from life. But the fact is often I don't even know it is happening. I only realize it because I take photos and some of them show the movement. So for instance with this female Black-throated Blue Warbler feeding on the berries of Devil's Walkingstick I really couldn't see what she was doing, even when looking throughout my  high quality binoculars. Only the photos I took showed it.

So I'm faced with a dilemma. Do I want to paint or  print a subject that requires photos? I really don't like art that shows a heavy reliance on photos. I'll admit that this could just be a matter of taste, which can be very personal and change from person to person. Nonetheless I really don't like such art. Too many well delineated ripples in water will drive me screaming from the room! Most often they can only be done by using photos. Humans don't see that way.

So deciding to use a photo of a bird leaping up into the air was hard for me. Not only will any art I do based on it look like it came from  a photo but it might also look quite cliched: Bird In Flight. Nonetheless I decided to go ahead and use this as a subject. I did so because I think it's fascinating to see birds in flight. And I wanted to try to  capture it.

As I was working on some of my recent acrylic paintings I kept noticing the sketch I'd done weeks previously of the Black-throated Blue. I guess you could say it just kept calling to me. Finally I decided to return to moku hanga using it as a subject. At top you see the finished result. There are two slightly different versions, one in a  edition of 9, and the one pictured here in an edition of 8.





 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Painter Watching 'Painters Painting', with Birds

Three Chipping Sparrows  at Houston Meadow. 9x12 Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski. Copyright @2020  by  Ken Januski.

I recently stumbled upon the old documentary film Painters Painting, by Emile de Antonio(1972). I would say that of all the films I've ever watched about art this was the most influential.  Now I'm sure  some readers might say: oh no, those horribly  antiquated old male chauvinists and all their heroic paint-splattered gestures.  Or  perhaps  any number  of other things. And some will respond: oh yes, what a great film about great artists, including Helen Frankenthaler.

I have loved seeing it again but for a different reason than many might think. It reminded me that most  if  not  all people, especially artists, probably have  formative periods where  the influences of  those times stick  with them more  than  any other later influences.  I have no  appreciation at all of  Pop(actually included in this film), Minimalism,  photographic appropriation, and any of the myriad  art fads/movements that have occurred over the last 50 years or more whose names I probably don't even know.

I used to always be puzzled when I  read that some of my favorite  artists didn't  go to museums or more particularly to  galleries as they got  older. They seemed to lose interest in newer art. Now  that I'm older  I understand this  better. Though there may be new art, that does not necessarily make it compelling new art. It may seem to an older artist not all that much different than various types of art he has seen in his lifetime. I  recently read Matisse's take on this  in the second volume I believe of Hilary Spurling's biography. He didn't  criticize newer art, as I'm much more  likely to do,  but  just said  that was the nature of the world, that youth always needed to  find its own 'new'  way. That makes sense to me. He didn't criticize newer art. He just wasn't particularly interested in it.

All of which means I think that many artists still seem anchored  by  their  formative period,  just as supposedly James Joyce was by his  Christianity. He might reject  it  but it remained influential even as he got older. That's what I've realized as I have re-watched Painters Painting.

The things I thought about, or maybe just felt, when I was a young artist still are with me in one way or another. So when Frank Stella, probably the  fastest talking artist I've ever heard, talks about his desire to remove any sense of  space, of depth, of reference to the real world in his paintings of  the the time of the film it rings  a bell. That's what I wanted to do in the late 70s. There just seemed to  be something too quaint,  cute, sentimental about including any  type  of  subject matter. Eventually, quite  obviously to anyone who knows my work, I changed my mind. But it was a goal that affected me and hundreds  if not thousands or  hundreds of thousands of  artists at one time.

So that is what is so fascinating about this film. It's not spin. And though there are  segments with art critics and gallery owners and even some collectors the film is  primarily the artists, mainly painters, talking. And you feel that they are absolutely sincere. This is  what they thought and felt  deeply as they made their art. It's not often you  get to see something like this. Even if you hate their art, and I definitely don't,  I think many people who  see the film will be taken by their  passion and perhaps begin to see their art freshly.

On the other hand, even if they're impressed by their sincerity, they might still wonder why  in the world  anyone would  want to remove any  reference  to the visible  world from their work. And I  can't  explain it myself. But it was something that I definitely felt. And I don't believe it  was because I learned  this  in school or  in any other way. I just seem to  have absorbed it from somewhere, just like many people  just seem  incapable  of listening to classical music  right now. It 'seems' irrelevant, though of course  it's not.

I really didn't  know much about de Antonio, the director. But I just learned that he was fairly leftist and mainly did political  films. Supposedly the FBI had  a large file on him. But in my recent viewing  I  happened to notice a couple of things I hadn't before. Like when one of the artists, I think Kenneth Noland or maybe Morris Louis, says that he realizes his  work is only for  very rich  people  with sophisticated taste. Of when de Antonio quizzes Leo Castelli about how much he makes, about the whole monetary aspect  of the art business. It's just something I noticed in passing. But it made me wonder if underneath it the director didn't  have some questions  about who was actually buying and appreciating the  work. At one point someone, perhaps Castelli, talks  about  the competitive  aspect of collecting, where  one rich person wants to keep up with another rich collector. And thus art stars are born. Though they are talented, perhaps  even great artists, they're also part of something that is driven by the egos of  certain rich collectors.

So I've thoroughly enjoyed  the film. But it also  makes me think about how  hard  it  was for me to go into  'wildlife art.' It  must represent everything that Stella was trying  to  get rid of  at the time. It's still pretty much not  taken seriously by  galleries  other than those  that specialize  in  it.

But  one thing I've realized  over  the years and that this  film inadvertently affirms  is that the art world  is  thoroughly affected by fashion.  What is  popular, what is new, what  is  obviously the next step  in the development of  art, really isn't. Fads and trends come and go. You might have a harder time selling something  that isn't currently fashionable, or  you might not get it  into  the most prestigious galleries but it  is still art and it might very well be  far better art than that that is in the galleries. There is  a lot  of  fiction in the art world, especially the art world of rich collectors.

In revisiting my theoretical past as an artist, so to speak, it's been enlightening. It was a hard decision to  go from large abstract paintings to much smaller art based on nature and wildlife. But  I've never regretted it. It seems foolish to  me now to want to exclude the outside  world, especially the natural  world, from  my art. But I'm still affected by the tastes I had so many years ago. It's still hard for me to allow much  if any atmospheric space in my work. I  still like it to be somewhat flat, somewhat like the work of  Stuart Davis in coming out  at the viewer rather than receding into space. I won't go on about this. But it has been interesting to revisit the art that was so important to me at one time.

And I'm sure it still has had some affect on my newest painting, the three chipping sparrows at top.