Thursday, May 2, 2024

New Page, New Editions

White-throated Sparrow Moku Hanga, Version 3. Printed on Echizen Kozo. Copyright 2024 by Ken Januski

White-throated Sparrow Moku Hanga, Version 2. Printed on Torinoko. Copyright 2024 by Ken Januski

I eventually printed two more editions of the White-throated Sparrow moku hanga. Above are the photos. Each print on one paper is slightly different from the ones on the two other papers. This is not some clever, or not so clever, marketing ploy on my part. I just wanted to experiment. When I have culled out the rejects from the newest two editions I will put them up for sale.

I have now been using moku hanga for seven years and it has been my primary medium for five or so I'd guess. And yet I don't have a page for it on this site, just some examples on the woodblock page. So finally today I've made one! About time. It is listed on the Gallery section on right side of this page as Moku Hanga.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

White-throated Sparrow Mokuhanga


Most of the printed edition of 'White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow' mokuhanga. Copyright 2024 by Ken Januski.

I have finally finished an edition of a new mokuhanga print, 'White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow.' After years of just showing a closely cropped view of just one print I've recently gotten in the habit of showing part of the printed edition of my moku hanga instead. I'm doing that because so much of the technical effort that goes into each print goes into printing an edition with all prints looking more or less identical. This is quite different than the creative energy that goes into creating a print whose visual appearance I'm happy with. It is completely against my nature and goes against all my artistic training, which was as a painter not a printmaker, to worry about the similarity of each print.  Because I spend a tremendous amount of time and effort coming up with a print I'm happy with it seems counterproductive, if not actually unenjoyable, to print an edition. But it does give me something tangible to show for all the effort and also allows me to sell more of them at lower prices. I also just take some pleasure in showing that I've become accomplished enough technically to actually print an edition. That wasn't always the case! And I think anyone who does want to see a larger view of just one print should be able to zoom in on this edition photo.

The new print is based on my looking at and sketching White-throated Sparrows over the last few years. I think I have some field sketches from 2023 but I didn't find them in a quick search so instead I'm showing this sumi brushpen this  sketch of a White-throated Sparrow from 2022.  It is nothing spectacular but I enjoy it and most of my quick sumi brushpen field sketches. Because they are done with live birds I have to concentrate on what I'm seeing since they can leave or move at any moment. And using the sumi brushpen forces me to simplify. Almost unconsciously I very quickly decide what to concentrate on and start there. So for me these sketches often have an electricity to them that I like. 

Sumi brush pen and wash field sketch of White-throated Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler, Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.

Someone might ask why I bother to spend so much time looking at birds in the field and sketching them in the field and then don't worry too much about accuracy in the actual prints. To put it simply I don't think birds or anything needs to be put in a photographic straight jacket. I like to be able to understand birds, both their appearance and their behavior, but my goal as an artist is to interpret all of that through my own artistic sensibilities and artistic abilities.  If I were doing traditional wildlife art or illustration I might be more interested in more classic field sketching. But I'm not. When I look at my more classical sketches from when I first started, excepting the many that were complete failures, I may like them but they don't inspire me to make a painting or print based on them. In the end I think all the looking and the brushpen field sketches get me to see the artistic possibilities in a bird, the things that I think might make a striking painting or print.

Watercolor and sumi brushpen sketch of White-throated Sparrow. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

I also have done some watercolor sketches based on photos I've taken. My intent is to both  explore the bird further and, I hope, to end up with a sketch I'm happy with.  I often accomplish the first goal but rarely the second. So in the works from photos both above and below I'm really not happy with the finished work. But in both I explored something that I had noticed in much of my viewing of the bird in the field, perhaps the striping on the mantle, perhaps the underside coloring, etc., etc. There is so much to see in birds that is far more interesting than identification characteristics.

Sumi brushpen and watercolor sketch of White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Oddly enough the little watercolor sketch above led me to the digital painting below. That in turn served as the basis for the new print. I think that it is all the transmogrifications that take place, from field sketch, to watercolor sketch from photo, to digital painting and perhaps back again that makes me feel that I've gotten far enough away from the bird and especially from any photo of the bird that it is relatively easy to feel free to make any changes that I think make sense artistically. I do not want to be limited by the bird or any other subject, though I also want to make sure that I am still in some way true to it. That is where all the looking at birds in field comes in. I think it gives me a pretty good intuitive sense of what they should look like.

Digital sketch using Procreate on iPad of White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow. Copyright 2024 by Ken Januski.

The watercolor sketch below is a quick watercolor sketch from a photo of a White-throated Sparrow. Most of ny watercolor sketches are quick. I don't like labored watercolors. But as a consequence they are also often unsuccessful. Such is the case with this. Still it was one more step along the way to getting what to me is a successful mokuhanga. I am quite happy with it in the two fields which it inhabits: bird art and mokuhanga. I can't ask for more than that.
Watercolor sketch of White-throated Sparrow. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Moving Along at a Ferocious Speed


Three working proofs of new mokuhanga of a White-throated Sparrow seen at Houston Meadow.  copyright 2024 by Ken Januski
It has been a long time since I’ve posted, and also a long time since I’ve done a new print. As often happens after  I post something I realize that I’ve left something unsaid. In this case it was the desire to put down what you see in the world around you, probably the same impulse that goes back to the cave drawings and perhaps earlier. That is a basic impulse of mine, along with the more ‘sophisticated’ idea of building a picture. They can seem quite contradictory but I don’t see any reason that you can’t have both.

There were many reasons for my hiatus in both printing and writing but a small one was based on this idea of putting down what you see.  I had wanted to write more about that. But it is too late now and my focus is back on this new mokuhanga. I would just say that the impetus for it was looking at and drawing White-throats in the field this fall and winter. When I took some photos of a few in the snow I knew that it might be the start of a new print. Though the photo was the final impetus it was still the looking at and drawing White-throated Sparrows that made me think of them as a rich subject.

I am getting close to the final proofing of the print though there are stilll some changes ahead. The proof at top and on left are printed in Nishinouchi, the one on right on Shin Torinoko. When it is finished I’ll post my second post of 2024.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

A Passing Reference

Red Phalarope at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. Copyright 2023.  9x12 inches.

 Earlier today I was looking through some of my earliest blog posts trying to find one in which I talked about the problem of making a painting that had a bird as the subject. I never did find it but I did run across one on ‘building a picture.’ It touches on the same subject.

In my many years  as an artist, but particularly in my early years, including all the time I was studying art in college, my art was about building pictures, not portraying something. During my many years  as an abstract artist that remained true. One of my main concerns was making the picture ‘hang together,’ or as Matisse said to have every inch of the surface contribute something to the overall work.

 As my work veered toward abstraction that seemed organic and seemed to reference the natural world in some way I also started considering those references when I built my pictures. An overall disillusionment with the art popular in galleries. and art magazines in the early 90s, coupled with my practice of drawing insects that I found in the garden, eventually led me to use birds as my primary subject.

As I did so I was surprised to find what an easy transition it was from abstraction to naturalism/realism! Except that I did have a fair idea of what birds looked like. And because I knew what they looked like it was easy to see how wrong my work often was! All the formal elements of abstraction could be used in realism. But accuracy was another matter.

To finally get to the  point (!!) I also realized that I didn’t want to fudge my inability to draw birds with some degree of accuracy and realism by resorting to abstraction. So I spent 5-10 years trying to paint and draw them somewhat realstically.

In doing so I sublimated my interest in building a picture. You may guess where this is going. I no longer want to sublimate building a picture to accurate bird portrayal. Sometimes I still get a pretty good balance I think. But sometimes I don’t even want a balance. I want to abstract the bird, especially in the interests of the entire picture,

Such is the case with my newest moku hanga. It is based not  only on a specific bird, a Red Phalarope, but also on the other birds even at the Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve that day. It also includes the island on which a number of the birds were situated, a tree on that island, the very bright washed out colors of the day, and the bubbler/aerator which  seemed to attract the phalarope. All highly abstracted, and all in the interest primarily of a visually exciting picture. Many of the subjects I just mentioned are seen as passing references, just an in music you may only need to use a note or two to recollect a much longer musical phrase.

In my journey through bird art I have tried a lot of things in order to actually build a good picture but also be true to the bird portrayed. Much of it has frustrated me because I felt giving up too much ‘art’ to keep the’ accuracy’, not just in terms of the bird itself but also in its environment and space. Many viewers might have actually felt the opposite, that I was letting ‘art’ get in the way of accuracy. But here’s the thing. Cubism is over 100 years old. Non-objective art is over 100 years old. Even Abstract Expressionism is over 50 years old. So much art has happened  over the last 100-150 years. I really don’t think bird art or wildlife art does well to ignore that. On second thought bird artists and wildlife artists would probably not do well, at least financially! I think that is probably part of the problem. The buying audience is very conservative, with some exceptions. I know bird/wildlife artists who are not at all conservative and yet do very well in terms of sales. So it is possible. In any case I at least I know that I can’t ignore the last 150 years of art, sales or no sales. To do so is like being forced to wear someone else’s clothes. So my art continues to try to find a way to portray the natural world with a contemporary visual vocabulary.

Friday, April 28, 2023

A Pileated Moku Hanga

Pileated Woodpecker at Flat Rock Dam moku hanga. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Soon after I finished my last moku hanga, at the end of January, 2023 I believe, I started thinking about a new print. Since nothing sprang to mind I started going through all of my old sketchbooks and came up with six to eight images that I thought had possibilities. Often they were based on something I'd seen while out birding. And before you knew it I went out birding and found something new that might work as the idea for a new print.

Pencil compositional sketch of Pleated, Buffleheads, Common Merganser and Flat Rock Dam. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

What I first saw were two Bufflehead and one male Common Merganser just above Flat Rock Dam on the Schuylkill River near where I live in Philadelphia. As I looked at them in the distance though I heard a Pileated Woodpecker calling behind me. I didn't look for it though, instead concentrating the waterfowl. My guess is that I was trying to see them well enough to get a mental image that I could then use as a subject for.a memory sketch/field sketch. I don't seem to have any so my guess is that they were just too far away and instead I concentrated on taking photos, even though neither are rare birds.

Finally they flew off and so I turned around to look for the Pileated, which was no longer calling and which I assume had flown off. But no, there he was at the top of a distant snag. Of course once I saw him he flew off. He was not the first I've seen along the Schuylkill. BUT they are the first I've seen there  in over 25 years! A few weeks earlier I'd seen one flying over the Schuylkill, hugging the shore as he flew. It was just such an odd sight. I'm much more used to seeing them deep in forests! 

Pencil studies of Pileateds from my photos. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Pencil studies of Pileateds from my photos. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Pencil studies of Pileateds from my photos. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Pencil compositional sketch of Pleated, Buffleheads, Common Merganser and Flat Rock Dam. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

In any case I started toying with idea of using the waterfowl and Pileated as the subject of my next print.  Though I know Pileateds well I know them to ID, not to draw. Drawing or painting them, even when highly abstracted, requires more complete knowledge. So I did a number of studies from my photos which are above.

I also kept working on a sketch of the entire print. One of the main decisions I made was to make the entire picture one seen from behind the Pileated, looking down on the Pileated, the Schuylkill and the waterfowl in it

Digital compositional and color study using Procreate on iPad. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Recently I've found myself developing compositional studies on my iPad using Procreate. A stylus is incredibly limited compared to a pen or pencil or paint brush. But used in conjunction with Procreate it is an incredibly quick way of sorting through, and modifying, different ideas for a print or painting. I"m sure it is limiting in ways I don't know about, leading me to make decisions based on the medium itself rather than the idea I would have without these digital tools. But right now I'm not worried about it.

Once I started the print, and the eight wood blocks I used to create it I didn't look back at the digital version. At that point the medium in front of me took over: watercolor, or watered down gouache and Japanese printmaking paper, washi. It is such a beautiful medium that only a masochist would ignore it and let the digital version be his guiding light as to where to take the print.

All 24 prints of the Pileated at Flat Rock Dam moku hanga. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski

I have to say it is still bizarre to think of myself as a printmaker and to think in terms of editions. I've always been a one-off painter. You only make one of a thing. All the effort goes into the final product. You don't spend anytime thinking about what you need to do to be able to reproduce an identical image more than once. It has driven me nuts. Until I sell a print made 5-10 years ago. At that point I'm glad I've taken the time and made the effort to print an edition.  And for those who don't know there is no printing press involved. I am the printing press, along with my baren. My guess is that it is far easier to make identical prints, without blemishes and mistakes, using a printing press  than it is the way I do it with a hand held baren. And I have ruined many, many, many prints by some errant sloppiness or lack of focus that can occur when doing all printing by hand, with no mechanical help.

That is why I now tend to show photos of the entire printed edition. It was so much work and it is such an accomplishment!! It also helps explain why moku hanga often is, and always should be, more expensive. There is just so much more work involved and so much greater risk of failure.

My old oil-based reduction linocuts and woodcuts were also full of risk and they were also printed by hand. I've never owned a press. But one of the additional appeals of moku hanga is that it seems to encourage a slower, less frantic pace, regardless. of complexity and possibility of failure. It seems to encourage a more human pace of production that does reduction printmaking. I'm starting to be experienced enough with it to be able to proceed at a saner and more human pace. Perhaps with time this would have also happened if I'd continued with reduction prints using traditional methods. But I doubt it would have ever gotten to the point I have with moku hanga.

A somewhat calm printmaker: something I never at all envisioned or desired and yet here I am, and very content with it.

The new print will be for sale in my Etsy store sometime about mid-May.


Friday, January 13, 2023

Orchestral Conductor or Courtroom Artist?

Three Brant, Three Black-bellied Plover. Moku Hanga. Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.

Northern Cardinal on Tomato Cage. Moku Hanga.  Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Boy it has been a long time since I've written here. That was not deliberate. The delay was due to the fact that almost as soon as I finished my newest moku hanga, 'Three Brant, Three Black-bellied Plover' at top I started thinking  about doing another moku hanga, 'Northern Cardinal on Tomato Cage', which is immediately above. It is not so much that they are related visually but that they are related in terms of the contradictions in my artistic motivation.

Sometimes I want to orchestrate my art work, like a conductor, matching this color here with that one there, this shape with that shape, etc., etc. It might sound very formal but I think it is also what gives both joy and delight to so much art. 'Three Brant, Three Black-bellied Plover' uses the same blocks that created the print below, 'Brant and Black-bellied Plover on Nummy Island.' It happened almost by accident when I used some overlapping color on the original print and liked what I saw. But I felt it didn't fit in with the general direction of the print so I got rid of it, thinking that I might come back to it in another version. That is how the print at very top, 'Three Brant, Three Black Bellied Plover', started. 

But I didn't want to carve all new blocks, nor did I want to re-carve the old. blocks in case I decided to print another edition of the first print. That meant that I had to set myself some odd formalistic limits in the second print. I wanted to use the same blocks, but with more overlapping color, without modifying the blocks. The answer was to print some of the old blocks upside down and right side up, and to selectively ink them, that is not print everything on the block. Oddly enough I was listening to some Bach fugues at the same time and realized that there was at least some similarity. I speak from the perspective of a non-musician who enjoys music. My understanding of a fugue is that it takes one or more 'subjects', then  modifies them perhaps playing them backwards or in some similar but creative and musical variation I wasn't trying to create a visual fugue. I couldn't even if I wanted to. But I was pursuing a formal method: theme and variation. If it is a fit subject for some of the greatest music in the world then it certainly is a fit subject for my art. 

All of this gets back to at least part of this blog's title "Orchestral Conductor"... This formal playing has been part of almost all art I've done, even as a child. Strict representation was never all that important to me. In fact representing the real world has only become important to me artistically as I've gotten older. Sometime this summer or early fall I did a sketch from life in the garden of a young Cardinal on a tomato trellis(second photo after this text). I loved it! It doesn't look like a photo, something I have almost no interest in. But it does capture at least for me the sense of seeing that young Cardinal. But is is so, so different in terms of artistic motivation than orchestrating visual elements like a conductor.

This motivation I think is a bit more similar to that of a courtroom artist. It's not the best simile in the world since a good deal of accuracy is wanted in a courtroom sketch. But because those sketches are done quickly from life they almost never look like a photo. But they can be exciting. In any case I find my now field sketches quite exciting, though not all are successful. Some are dreadful. That happens with working quickly, especially in ink, with a subject that may disappear at any moment.  But for me there is a tremendous artistic excitement in them.  I had that field sketch of the Cardinal of the tomato cage in my mind as I did the second version of the Brant and Black-bellied Plover. And I didn't want to post anything on that second version until I'd also done a moku hanga based on the young cardinal. That took another 3 months or more. I finished it yesterday.

You could say my work is erratic. Perhaps people do. But to me it is just a continuing synthesis of varied interests and motivations. I'm somewhere between and orchestra conductor and a court sketch artist using moku hanga as my medium.

Brant and Black-bellied Plover on Nummy Island. Moku Hanga. Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski

Young Cardinal on Tomato Cage. Field Sketch with Sumi Brush Pen. Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.


Monday, September 5, 2022

Ambition in Art

Brant and Black-bellied Plover on Nummy Island. Moku hanga print by Ken Januski, Copyright 2022.

One of the hazards of writing anything online is that eventually someone will read it. Of course the purpose of a blog, much more than social media I'd say, is to have people read it, not just like it but read it. The problem, at least if you're a person somewhat like me, and have some sense of conscientiousness, is that I may find that I disagree with what I've written, sometimes almost immediately after writing it.

What got me started on this was mentioning "ambition" in my last post. I mean exactly what I said. I missed the ambitiousness of much of my abstract work once I switched to more naturalist work. I also missed it in printmaking, especially moku hanga, at least my own moku hanga. One of the rewards of the International Moku Hanga Conference was seeing ambitious work by others. The same could also be said for the work at the annual exhibitions of the Society of Wildlife Artists, in which I've often been fortunate enough to exhibit.  Both have examples of ambitious art.

So what's the problem? Well the problem is that there is a lot of art that I like and admire that is not particularly ambitious. And there's also the problem, which I'll spare you showing visual examples of from my own work, where ambition just leads to constipation. It can become very stilted!

Leaping Eastern Cottontail at SCEE. Sumi brush pen and water brush painting from memory by Ken Januski. Copyright 2022.

The very quickly done(3-5 minutes) drawing from memory above is very exciting to me. It tries to capture, and does I think at least to me, the living leaping rabbit in front of me. I saw this rabbit at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education last week where it was here and gone in less than 30 seconds.  But is this drawingt ambitious as the term is usually used in art? Probably not. But what could be more ambitious than trying to get a feel for the actual encounter with an animal, or a person for that matter? But I didn't consider it ambitious when I did it. It was just something that I wanted to do. And I think that there is a lot of similar art, though probably much more 'realistic' than mine, which couldn't care less about ambition but just wants to capture something of what it sees, and perhaps feels.

On the other hand I think that there is a large audience for art that mainly values the subject, in my case animals most of the time, but has little or no reaction to how it is portrayed except perhaps by a photographic yardstick. "OMG I thought it was a photo!!" Though this is an honest expression of appreciation most times, or so I'd guess since I've never used it myself, it probably is not exactly welcome to the ears of the artist, unless he or she is trying to imitate a photo.

Many artists, and I'm sure also musicians, actors, and also craftsmen of whatever sort, can get bored with the language/tools they've been given to. work with. Almost as soon as they put pen to paper, chisel to stone, tomato sauce in pan, etc., etc. they fear that they're creating a cliche. I'm sure this doesn't affect all artists and craftsmen but I think it does affect a lot. Those artists want to refresh their art. What they do is first disliked my most, even their peers, eventually accepted by their peers, then by the general public, then appears on shopping bags and in commercials, where it is not even truly seen or heard anymore and some new artist will try once again to freshen the medium he uses. This is what I would call the good side of ambition in art. It really is a passion to express something that the language of the art currently doesn't seem to be able to say. (As and aside I most recently read about this in an explanation of Charlie Parker and his music. He wanted to play what he heard in his head but wasn't being played by anyone else). That is ambition born of passion.

There's also ambition I'm afraid born of the academy, and every age has its academy, though it may not know what it is. The Impressionists were the enfant terribles of their day, reacting against salon painters. But every age has an academy and many artists are ambitious within the constraints and goals, spoken or unspoken, of it. This to me is a bad type of ambition because it really is just art that tries to mimic other 'successful' art of its time. I'm sure most artists can think of examples of artists they know, sometimes successful ones, who seem more to be copying more or less someone who is currently successful, rather than developing their own artistic voice.

I haven't been to art school in ages so who knows what is taught today. But I wouldn't be completely surprised to hear at least some teachers suggesting that artists develop their own voice. This is something I'm pretty sympathetic to but I'm not sure every artist will fare well with that goal. "Uh, oh, is this really me? Am I copying someone else? Is it slightly derivative? Etc., etc." I did spend some years in graduate school where such questions seem to turn artists into deer in headlights, sometimes including myself. I don't want to go to far afield but I would say that this can be another example of ambition in art being bad for some artists.

Perhaps some artists should just do what they love and go from there. The Society of Wildlife Artists mentions something about 'encouraging appreciation and delight in the natural world' on their web site. I think this means to highlight nature rather than art, though I could be wrong. And in some ways I think I must be because much of the art shown there is delightful, and that delight I think is created by a collaboration between artist and nature. The artist has to notice what is delightful AND find a way of expressing that. This is another form of ambition in art, but one like ones I mentioned earlier that stems from passion.

And on that SWLA note I should add that I'm quite happy to have had two of my works chosen for the annual show in London in mid-October. My new moku hanga of the Brant and Black-bellied Plover at top of this post is one of the works. The other is my next to last moku hanga: Bobolink at Dixon Meadow shown below. I was tempted to submit my more recent Nashville Warbler on Bean Trellis in Winter, which I still really, really like! But it doesn't seem to have been particularly popular  and the costs involved with shipping and couriers have made me limit my entries to just two.

Bobolink At Dixon Meadow Preserver. Moku hanga by Ken Januski, copyright 2021.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Two (Moku Hanga) for 2022


Original Moku Hanga of Nashville Warbler on Bean  Trellis in Winter. Copyright  2022 by Ken Januski

Original Moku Hanga of Bobolink at Dixon Meadow. Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.

I've finally finished my second Moku Hanga of 2022, this one a revisit of my first one ever: Nashville Warbler on Bean Trellis in Winter. I don't believe I ever showed the final version of the Bobolink at Dixon Meadow so I'm showing it as well.

It's not surprising that I did another version of the Nashville Warbler. Being my first moku hanga ever and being done with exactly no training in the art/skill/process it came into being more through will power, trust in my artistic abilities regardless of medium as well as sheer terror at all that was going wrong as I proceeded trying to print an edition!! And yet I still liked it, and it seems some other people did as well. But there was absolutely no consistency from print to print so I removed it from sale.

In the five plus years since I made the first version I've learned a lot. As I think I wrote previously about the International Moku Hanga Conference last December I learned a lot from presentations there, but I also had my ambitions raised. As with wildlife art when I first ran into The Society of Wildlife Artists I had to run into some accomplished artists in the field to see all that was possible and also I'd say to translate the ambitions I used to have in my abstract work into wildlife art, except here it was to moku hanga. One of the surprising things about the conference and other smaller online meetings that were an outgrowth of it was the discovery of what a great variety of accomplished and contemporary moku hanga there is out there in the world.

All of that I think informed these prints, as well as my continued desire to portray the natural world, something for which I don't make the slightest apology. If you're not smart enough to see that it is just as valid as any other 'subject' that is your blindness, not my anachronistic romanticism about nature. I think just about anything can be the subject of art, including wildlife.

But that is a bit of tangent. I really don't have a lot to say about these prints except to say that in the newest one I did a lot of experimenting on the background. I wanted it to be vibrant but I also wanted it to evoke in some way the very inhospitable weather we had when the Nashville Warbler was in our yard many winters ago. In that experimentation I  ended up varying what I printed even in the final edition. So these prints will be called e/v for Edition Varie. But I also found that I was getting tired of tossing prints from the edition, often each of which might have a few hours devoted to it, because of small blemishes.

I can understand the tradition of only choosing prints that are identical, that are without blemish of any sort, etc., etc. If I'd trained as a printmaker perhaps I'd believe in it as well. But it seems to be that there is a tyranny there, that values the skill of the printer over the artistic quality of the artist, who sometimes is the printer as well, especially in most modern moku hanga.

In fact almost everything is done by hand, by one person in modern moku hanga. I'm just guessing but with five blocks on my new print, multiple printings of some of the blocks and multiple colors as well on some that this leads at least to 10 impressions for each print, 10 times that something can go wrong, often just the slightest thing. I have been relatively strict in culling out prints in the past that have had very minor blemishes. But I'm getting more and more reluctant to do so given the work involved. So when I finally number the edition of the Nashville Warbler I may include more prints that I normally would. I think that this is a step in the right direction.

Otherwise I think printing can just become too inhibiting and just not worthwhile from an economic perspective as well as psychological perspective. Rules should not stamp the joy out of it. This I'm sure will rankle at least some print collectors. But my feeling toward them would probably be the same as it is to those art collectors who won't accept any thing out of order in the feather details of birds. Those demands are just too inhibiting I think for the serious artist to bother with.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Continuity of Medium or Continuity of Subject

Bobolink at Dixon Meadow Preserve. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. Copyright 2022.

Though I've been finished with the moku hanga above of Bobolink at Dixon Meadow above for quite a while and am almost finished with a new one, Nashville Warbler on Bean Trellis in Winter, proofs of which are below, I haven't written about them or shown them here.

There's a simple reason: I didn't know what to say. Given my occasional loquacity that might be hard for some to believe. I suppose it might also be related to not wanting to repeat myself. In any case I've been happy with my recent moku hanga prints but I just haven't known what to say about them. I think that they should speak for themselves.


Nashville Warbler on Bean Trellis in Winter. Moku Hanga proofs by Ken Januski. Copyright 2022.

At the same time I've also been doing field sketches of birds,  almost all of them about 3x5 inches big and none I think taking more than five minutes. It may be that it's trying to find a link between them and my moku hanga that has stymied me. They are such different methods.

Even my prints have shown different methods, some being more concerned with line and carving like these two recent ones, but some if not most also being concerned with design, color, texture, etc. In the Nashville Warbler print I've gotten involved with texture, something that I've previously ignored to a large extent in moku hanga. Oddly one reason I started with moku hanga is that I liked the flat color that could be created with it. Now I no longer, at least temporarily, want that flat color. Who knew?

And yet these are all somewhat formal concerns and that in fact unites them in a way. That is not at all true with field sketches. In them I'm trying to capture the likeness of a living being that is right in front of me and may bolt at any minute. That is not formal at all. I still make some formal decisions in the few minutes I spend on these but that is a minor concern. My main concern is capturing the living thing that is right in front of me, not just in terms of shape and markings but probably more in terms of movement and liveliness. I like these sketches to look alive, something that more developed sketches, particularly from photos, often lack. I will take liveliness over detail any day.

But for all that is still hard to connect them with my prints, though often my prints are based on them.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of  Blue Jay by Ken Januski.  Copyright 2022.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Eastern Phoebe by Ken Januski. Copyright 2022

Sumi brush pen field sketch of female Northern Cardinal that appeared outside my studio window.Copy right 2022 by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Palm Warbler, the first seen this year. Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketches of Tufted Titmouse by Ken Januski. Copyright 2022.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Yellow-rumped Warbler seen today at Houston Meadow. Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.

Because I often switch media, or often styles within the same medium, I may look a bit flighty or at least not committed to a particular medium, such as moku hanga. I have wondered about this. And I've decided that my commitment is to a subject, the natural world in particular birds.

During my formal artistic education the last thing I wanted was subject matter. I could be pretty ruthless in making sure that there was none, not even any vague reference to something from the physical world. But over time I decided that this was just silly. You have just as much artistic freedom with a subject as without one, and all in all I think subject matter both makes the art more interesting and more rewarding.

So my art may lack much continuity of medium over the last 10-15 years. But it has a very strong continuity of subject and I'm perfectly happy with that.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Craft, Technique, Mokuhanga

My carving tools for moku hanga, including a newly sharped aisuki chisel. Along with baren that has just been newly wrapped in bamboo sheath. The bamboo was softened before wrapping using the stone at bottom right.

Most of the proofs I made as I developed the moku hanga of the Bobolink at Dixon Meadow Preserve. I will start printing edition today or tomorrow.

I had a great revelation today. After thinking about a new blog post that would talk about the 4th International Mokuhanga Conference as well as the craft and technique that is part of mokuhanga I kept coming up with this big caveat:  I generally don't like technique in my work or anyone's.

The revelation, at least to me if not necessarily the rest of the world, is that craft and technique are different! Though I've never really cared about technique and did not have an artistic education that stressed it I nonetheless have always been appreciative of tools, of any sort, and learning how to appreciate them and use them as they were made to be used. There is a great sense of both accomplishment and also something akin to moral grounding in appreciating a good tool and learning how to use it for its intended purpose. Good tools are a gift to humanity, just like art and nature.

Today I finally realized that craft is learning how to use the tools of your craft. In mokuhanga in particular    it means that you learn, slowly, how to use the various carving tools, and also how to sharpen them, learning how they differ from most western-style tools. I have no problem at all with this type of craftsmanship. It's necessary first off. You can't do much carving if you don't have sharp tools and know how to use them. But it also entails I think an appreciation for the maker of the tools, especially all the hand tools that are used in mokuhanga, as well as for their history. Back when I dabbled, and I do mean dabbled, in fine carpentry,  I loved buying using chisels and planes from the 1800s or earlier(always at a very cheap price I should add). I had gotten tired of power tools, which probably are necessary if you need to work quickly, but otherwise are to me just a pain. There is something much more rewarding, though with a learning curve, in hand tools, like chisels and planes. But in addition I just got a real kick out of using a 19th century plane once used by someone in France, or a chisel used in England or early America, etc., etc. You are holding a piece of history and also continuing it. 

Craft also means I forgot to mention learning about how barens work, how the wood you carve works, in particular how Japanese paper works. The recovered baren at top would look quite amateurish if I turned it over so you could see how the bamboo ends are tied off among other things. But it's something I've been dreading doing for quite a while and yet I knew that you really have to learn how to do it. Your bamboo cover will eventually develop problems and they will damage the much more expensive coil that is beneath the bamboo cover. This is my second recovering. The first was adequate but the bamboo had cracked just outside the surface of the baren. I knew it was only a matter of time before it migrated onto the surface and would cause me to stop printing and replace it. Since I was about to start printing the edition of the bobolink I decided it was best to do my second recovering before I started. It has been more than adequate and I'm finally experiencing what others have talked about, the feeling of great sensitivity in the baren. So these are just some aspects, at least to me, of craft in mokuhanga. I guess you could say that learning how to print a good bokashi(shading) or many other types of. surfaces is also a craft. And I think that is true. Bokashi is also a tool in your toolbox, though it was one that for a long time I really couldn't see myself using. But I think this may be where the confusion comes. Having the ability to print a good bokashi is having the craft of bokashi. But often it seems that it. is used more to show that you can do it rather than because the print calls for it. Then it becomes technique.

Technique. as distinguished from craft, seems often to just mean facility. Facility is of course useful. But there are often times where facile is also soulless. Artists I think know this, but audiences often don't. In any case that is why I've been ambivalent about craft in printmaking and especially moku hanga. Now I realize that I'm not ambivalent. I like and appreciate craft in printmaking and moku hanga. It's technique that has become facile that I don't like. (I should add that when I first started making wildlife art I used a very vigorous compressed charcoal and heavy erasure method of working. I'd used it for years in my abstract work and I was sure that my facility in its use would cover my very significant ignorance of the structure of birds. It worked I think but it was a dead end. So I forgot about and instead spent years going back to the remedial work of figuring out how birds are put together. But I did abandon ship on my facility with charcoal).

I should add that I think that there is a fair amount of facile technique in printmaking, which perhaps has something to do with my never being totally taken with it. But it's not necessary to printmaking. I don't want to get off on a tangent so I'll just say in summary that much printmaking, though less so moku hanga I think, seems musclebound. The soul of the artist is buried under the avalanche of technique.

Enough! Now back to Moku Hanga and the 4th International Moku Hanga Conference. I felt both odd and apprehensive about applying for the Sumi-Fusion Exhibition that was part of it. Though I'm now in my sixth year of moku hanga printing I've also done painting and sketching during that time. I've certainly not been fully involved in it. And I've never studied it with anyone. Finally I know that I have mastered neither craft or technique. So in many ways you could say I'm an impostor.

On the other hand since the first time I tried it I fell in love with it, in spite of the huge number of travails along the way. So I decided to apply for the exhibition and also register and pay my fee for largely but not completely virtual conference. My understanding is that the actual conference was open to anyone living in Japan but due to the pandemic was not open to outside visitors.

Practically speaking I have to say the organizers did a tremendous job. I have always avoided Zoom but finally was baptized at the conference. It was the only way to participate, or even just to watch presentations and discussions live. For me there were almost no technical problems. I could see almost any demonstration or talk that I wanted to. When you consider that the conference had to be set up so that people in a least 3 major time zones could do so it really seems like an amazing technical feat.

But technology was not my main concern. I just want to note what an accomplishment it was. My first goal I think, outside of happily having my work accepted to the exhibition, was to learn some craft. I really wanted to know more about sharpening tools, using barens effectively and also recovering them in bamboo, which is often necessary. There were great video demonstrations on these topics that I've watched over and over.

What I didn't really expect to gain was an appreciation for the wealth of types of contemporary mokuhanga as well as the variety of people from all over the world. This was really a pleasant surprise. And there was something more. Seeing real mokuhanga artists!

This may seem silly. What do I mean? Even though I made art from an early age I never really thought I could be an artist. As far as I know there were none in the town where I grew up. Even when I went to college and made very regular visits to a major museum in a large US city I didn't connect with artists whose works I saw in the museum. They were from history not real life. It was only when I ended up going to college in the San Francisco area studying studio art that I met real artists who were making a living from their art: real life artists! It seems silly but sometimes you just have to see such things to believe that they are possible. The same was true though to a lesser extent with seeing so many mokuhanga artists and seeing them talk about their work. It just gave me a much greater appreciation of mokuhanga as a living breathing thing.

Seeing so many people talk about mokuhanga also reinforced some of my own feelings: that it is a natural way to work, using natural materials, largely without the use of toxic chemicals. It's always struck me as very organic and earthbound and that feeling was largely corroborated by many of the artists who gave talks or demonstrations. Though I don't think it was mentioned all that much I do think I heard others say what I've often felt: that you are in total control with mokuhanga. You don't need an expensive, heavy, bulky printing press. Your press is you, your baren and the table in front of you. There is so much control of the process at your fingertips.

Total control is of course good and bad. When things go wrong you generally can't blame the press or anyone/thing other than yourself. This happened to me just the other day when I went to fine-tune the carving on a woodblock. Thin previously carved lines kept breaking on me. That's most likely because is has been so dry here. But it is something that people learn to work around. You don't have to stop printing while awaiting delivery of a repair part for your press.

Having seen many Society of Wildlife Artist's Exhibitions online, attended one in person and having shown in many I couldn't help comparing the two though they are different in that one is primarily an exhibition and the other a conference that includes an exhibition(s). What struck me is the variety of subjects in the papers given at the conference: some were quite historical with one considering the effect of new pigments on the quality of ukiyo-e prints, another, if I remember correctly, Tibetan carving in relation to mokuhanga. I would not at all suggest that papers start being given at SWLA but I do have to say that it was a fascinating experience to see so many people connected to mokuhanga in so many different ways. I wish that I had had time to watch all of the presentations, even though most are still online today. I just have not had the time. And of course there was Zoom fatigue.

But all in all I couldn't have been happier with the conference. There was a tremendous amount to digest and I have to thank everyone involved for making it possible.

If there's anything I regret it's not being able to visit the sumi ink shop which actual visitors were able to do. I've always loved sumi, well at least since I first used it, and it would have been fascinating to see. Having never been to Japan, and with no immediate plans to do so, I do have to say nonetheless that it has become much more of an interesting place to visit. I started reading a history of Japanese art right around the time the conference started. That also has piqued my interest, in particular in architecture, something that Nara which hosted the conference seems to have plenty of. Well perhaps next time!

Finally, back at the very top, are some pictorial examples of craft in mokuhanga. The first photo shows my carving tools, including a newly sharpened aisuki chisel and a newly wrapped baren. This one worked much better, though it is still amateurish, because I used the stone at bottom right to soften the bamboo before covering. The second photo shows many of the proofs of my current mokuhanga. I hope to start printing today or tomorrow.