Friday, March 20, 2020

Metamorphosing Amberwings and Background

Eastern Amberwings II. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski, copyright  2020. 8x10 inches.

I've just finished the second of two Moku Hanga based on Eastern Amberwing dragonflies. Above is the second version. I got the idea for  it as I was printing the background blue for a second time  on the first version(below) and accidentally printed  it upside down. I'd done  the same thing on my recent Golden-crowned  Kinglets Moku Hanga and both times was intrigued by how it changed the  print.

This time I decided to finish the first print without the upside down overprinting. But when I'd finished  the edition I kept  wanting to explore the overprinting and see where  it would lead.

Eastern Amberwings I. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski, copyright  2020. 8x10 inches.

One of the odder things about both prints is that the first print is printed on much better paper than the second. And yet the  first print looks sloppier, especially in the background. So at the moment I much prefer the second more abstract print. But it's possible another printing of the first  would  make it look stronger.

Something I continue to realize  about my work -- it almost catches me by surprise -- is  that I really don't like traditional space in my own work. Perhaps this is  just a matter of the influences of  the time when I first started making art. Much twentieth century art rebelled against a confined flat space in painting, particularly an illusionistic one. Instead either complete  two dimensional  flatness with no hint of depth was admired or more of a pulsating space, as for  instance in Piet Mondrian or Stuart Davis where  various parts of the canvas/picture, no matter how abstract, seemed to intermittently call out for attention. Similar  to the latter I think  was the popularity of collage where fragments of different pictures or representations were pasted together to create something new.

Though I did go through an abstract period  of wanting absolute flatness  and no hint of space I've always been more attracted to the broken, often pulsating space of collage or painters like Stuart Davis. Perhaps if  I'd never left the small town I grew up in and had spent less time in large cities my perspective  would be different. Certainly large cities do have a more pulsating environment with something new always catching your attention.

And yet when I look, very briefly, at video  games or even commercials during  some televised sporting events their wild  cacophony and chaos make the pulsating space of Mondrian and  Davis  look positively bucolic. That type of  non-stop activity seems to me to lead to mental chaos. No wonder so many people  have short attention spans.

But I digress!!!!! I really went through all of  that to explain why I have what may seem to some to be a perverse desire to ruin a good picture. Again this reminds me of  painters  who made sure that their paintings, even when realistic, showed signs of  process, most noticeably in paint drips.  And of course paint drips eventually became one of  the biggest  cliches in modern art.  It's hard  to say how much  coming  of  age when showing process was de rigeur  in art has influenced my own ideas of  what art should  be. But I'm sure I still have a bias for signs of process and for collage.

All I can say is that there is an intuitive desire to  prevent my own work from having a space that seems too confined, too settled. So I often do things to prevent that. I do it  because  is seems  right to me. It gives the picture the ability to breathe, not to be claustrophobic.

So when I mistakenly printed  the background upside down in my last too prints  I was very happy  with the result. It seemed to open up the space in both, to give the prints some room to breathe. But that in itself doesn't make a good painting or  print. It can just look completely out of place. So  for me the challenge of the second Eastern Amberwings print was to develop  the broken background with the  rest of the print so that it all looked cohesive, like it belonged  together. That is what I think I've done.

I have great admiration for  many artists who work with traditional space. But for  me I always get a bit antsy when I see it in my own work. There is a desire to try for something else.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Pick Your Poison: Reduction Cuts versus Moku Hanga

Proof of Eastern Amberwing Moku Hanga. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski.

Multi-block woodcut of Blackpoll Warblers among Swamp Dogwood,  Copyright 2014 by Ken Januski.

This will be a very short post. I decided to write it after I took a look at my Etsy shop's stats for  last year and saw that the Blackpoll Warblers among Swamp Dogwood was by far the most viewed work  for 2019. But no sales.

It reminded  me of just how difficult it is to make any sense out of  web stats. It also reminded me of Robert Gillmor saying in 'Cutting Away' that he could never tell which prints would be popular. That is my experience. The ones that I think will be popular, largely often because I think that they are just plain good, often are not. Throwaways, in the sense that I did them relatively  quickly, are more popular than I would  have guessed. So as usual I just do what I like  and assume that my work will eventually find an  audience.

But the reduction part of the Blackpoll Warblers also  reminded me of  the blood, sweat and tears, and at one time volatile fumes as well, that accompany them. Though there was always something thrilling about doing them I eventually gave it up. I didn't find the mental wear and tear, coupled with piles and piles of print that had to be rejected as I made more changes, were worth  it. Surely there must be a better way.

For me that is moku hanga, as seen in a recent proof of an Eastern Amberwing.  There is still a fair amount to  do  and  I need to switch to at least one and perhaps two better papers for  the edition.

Why you might ask do I so prefer one over  the other? Well I'm sure that there are different answers for different people and I should also add that I don't really do traditional moku hanga. But I think the most telling  word is  this: organic. Everything about moku hanga seems organic: the materials used, the method of printing,  the many slow, at least for me, processes that make up moku  hanga.

In both reduction prints and in moku hanga, especially as I continue to  add blocks of new colors, it can seem like trying to juggle too many balls at the same time. With reduction cuts I was exhausted by the time I was done. Moku hanga can proceed at a much calmer pace, though of course this wasn't true  when it was done in its heyday in Japan I imagine since it was a business. But for me the lack of solvents, the ease of  printing, even though I recall that my first print proved no easier and probably harder than my first reduction print, the small space required to both carve and print all make it something that fits easily into my life. In many ways  it seems organic.

I say 'pick your poison'  in the title because the difficulty of both can make  them both occasionally seem like two unpleasant choices. But they both can create wonderful prints. The difference  I guess is that moku hang always seems to carry its own antidote  to the poison. Just sit back and take your time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Spacing Out with Moku Hanga, and Without

Original moku hanga of Golden-crowned Kinglets, by Ken Januski.  Copyright 2020.

I ended 2019 with a different version of this print. In fact this version was supposed to be the same, just on different paper. "The best laid plans of mice and men...", etc., etc. I had to mix up one new color because I didn't have quite enough of the color I'd used on the 2019  version of the print. Though it looked the  same in the paint pot it looked darker when actually printed. That combined with the neutral buff color  of the Nishinouchi paper on which it's printed compared to the bright white of the original print on Shin Torinoko  made me make one other color  change. That was the last color in blue/gray that overlaps and intertwines some of the other shapes.

I made that last change because I was afraid that the print was becoming too monotone, or monotous as you might say. In doing so I think I've made a bolder print, at least in terms of design, but it loses I think some of the luminosity of the first version.

So why even bother with a second version you might ask? Well it's mainly due to my old printmaking bugbear, technique, and more specifically smooth paint  coverage. Shin Torinoko is  a much more inexpensive paper than Nishinouchi. I was completely happy using it for non-moku hanga printing. But in all my use of  it in moku hanga it has turned out blotchier and less smooth than I'd like. Sometimes this is an appealing accident in that it creates to me an almost fresco-like quality. Of course I should add  that much of this could also be due  to bad technique on my part. But it does seem consistent with Shin Torinoko.

When I switch to Nishinouchi however  the  paint seems to go  on more smoothly and also with far less effort  on the part of me and the baren which I use to rub the paper into the wood block. I think that smoother surface shows up  here, though there are still a few uneven areas. I recently read that you can improve but never master tea, tai chi and tango. I'm familiar with the first two and it makes sense to me. With tango I reserve judgment. But I think you might also add moku hanga to the list. I'm a raw beginner at it but I've seen very accomplished  work. And yet I'd guess that the creators of that work would also say that there is always something more to be learned!

Full print with border of Golden-crowned  Kinglets Moku Hanga by Ken Januski.  Copyright 2020.

Above is another photo of the same print but this time I've included the border so that the color of the paper is more easily seen. And below, for anyone who's interested, a view of my makeshift moku hanga, and just about every other type of artmaking, studio.

All Nine Paint Pots Used in printing  the Golden-crowned Kinglets moku hanga, along with part of the edition. Printed  in 2020.

Ten Terns.Original Linocut by  Ken Januski. Copyright 2020.

I also sold an old print recently, followed by a sale of the first version of this print. The older print is above. I'm still quite fond  of it and I still recollect it's source: our first sighting of a Black Tern,  almost 10 years ago at Cape May Point State Park.

Besides wanting to show a print that I've recently sold I'm showing it  for another reason. When I first started doing wildlife art I hated working from photos, something I've disliked since a youth.  But I also realized that my work from life with wildlife was  extremely primitive!! I found that linocuts allowed me to be more abstract and also expressionistic while portraying wildlife. They allowed me to include subject matter but also to treat it more abstractly. Because I abstracted so much I was able to use photos.

But, as this print reminds me, I still used photos more than I wanted. They were always my own photos, never those of anyone else. So generally they had some emotional impact, perhaps partially just due to memory. Still it bothered me then to use photos and it still does.

This may just be a personal idiosyncracy. But it is definitely real on my part. Part of what bothers me I think is that I use the default definition of space that the photograph portrays. In this instance, these birds in front of those birds, etc., etc. My newest print at top though I think shows something different. There is I think a bit of warping of  space. It is more fluid.

Many years ago I interviewed Frank Stella by phone regarding his new book 'Working Space.' Though I'd never been thrilled with his  earlier work I was interested in his seemingly new interest in creating space in art and a harkening back to the work of  Peter Paul Rubens among others. I hate to say more because I read and reread the book so many years ago and interviewed him also so many years ago. But I mention it because I'd started to move away from flat space in my own abstract work. I'd even gotten so heretical as to include abstract shapes that might connote something real. And I'd recently seen the work of  Tintoretto at the Scuola  di San Rocco in Venice. It was a revelation  of paintings that seemed to take space as one of their main themes and then play with it.

I realize that for many this may seem hopelessly theoretical and in the weeds. So  I won't continue. I'm not doctrinaire about it. But almost by accident I found myself  more interested in creating a sense of space in flat painting at just about the time I was reading Frank Stella who seemed to have a similar  interest, though in his case it was wall sculptures rather than painting.

I think this interest has stayed with me and pops up in my work from time to time. When it does, as in the recent Golden-crowned Kinglets prints, it always goes away from photographic space toward a more plastic sense of space.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Cape May Field Sketches - Part Seven

Sumi brush pen sketch of Black-bellied Plover at Nummy Island, by Ken Januski.

We visit Cape May, NJ at least once a year most years and during that visit I almost always do some field sketches. For many years I've also posted some of them here. But it seems like I've not done so in a number of years and 2019 is rapidly disappearing.

So, hoping that my post doesn't get eaten by Blogger as happened the other day with my last post, I'm trying for a quick one that will mainly just have captions  on  the various drawings. These are not photographic studies. They are generally done very quickly, before the bird changes position or flies off. Sometimes they are hard to  do. A photo is so much quicker and easier. But photos always lack in liveliness. For me there's nothing more exciting than field sketches, mine or those of others. And if I ever do use photos it's always because I feel like I've really gotten acquainted  with the bird through  sketching. That allows me to take some liberties with any photos I might use.

Sumi brush pen sketch of Black-bellied Plover at Nummy Island, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of Boat-tailed Grackle staring up at Double-crested Cormorant at The Wetlands  Institute, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of five American Avocet at South Cape May  Meadows, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of juvenile Hudsonian Godwit at Nummy Island, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of juvenile Hudsonian Godwit at Nummy Island, by Ken Januski.i.

Sumi brush pen sketches of various shorebirds and Least Tern, the latter at Two Mile Landing, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of male Bobolink at Garrett Family Preserve, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of Least Terns at South Cape May Meadows, by Ken Januski.
Sumi brush pen sketch of Horseshoe Crab, Red Knot and Laughing Gull at Reed's Beach, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of sitting Pectoral Sandpiper at South Cape May Meadows, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of three of 140 Black Skimmers at South Cape May Meadows, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of three Whimbrel at Two  Mile Landing, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of two American Avocet at South Cape May Meadows, by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketch of Wild Turkey at Belleplain State Forest, by Ken Januski.

And since I seem to have made it through this entire post without technical hiccups I'll celebrate by wishing all readers a Happy New Year. I should add that I hope Blogger will survive. I hesitated devoting more of my energy to Facebook than it for years until I realized most of the people whose work I was interested in were on Facebook and most of my own Blogger readers seemed to be bots and other undesirables. But Blogger offers much that Facebook and other social media does not. Hopefully it and its audience will come back to life.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Last Moku Hanga of 2019

I'm sorry to say that Blogger just ate the 60-90 minutes worth of work I'd put into this post. I'm not going to try to reconstruct it. Perhaps Blogger is a dead technology. Or more likely it is just something  that Google has ignored Blogger for  years. It's always possible that the cause has nothing to do with Google but I think that's very unlikely. Certainly something like this should not happen. There should have been a draft version saved.  In any case this is my newest moku hanga print. It's about 6x8 inches excluding the 1 inch border. It is printed in a small edition of 10 on Shin Torinoko paper. Soon I'll print a larger edition on Nishinouchi paper.

This print was based on this sumi brush pen and watercolor sketch of three years ago. I was never really happy with it but continued to think it had potential. I'd say that over 50% of  my most successful prints  have come from studies like this. Sometimes I use them immediately after making them and sometimes they sit around for years before I'm convinced I can use them successfully in a more developed  work. But almost always they have more appeal than working from photos  and they are more successful.

I can't recall the exact sequence but I think I copied the sumi brush pen sketch onto paper, reworked it, glued on some bits and pieces until I had a composition that I thought would work for a new print.  In any case this is pretty much the last sketch I did before starting the  print.

I then copied that sketch at a size that matched a block of Shina plywood I was carving and carved the keyblock, seen above. It always seems attractive to me at this point before it's been inked for the first time. Eventually I printed the numerous kyogo from it. They were then used as color guides for the remaining nine blocks that I used to come up with the finished print. One of them is shown below.

As I said at the start this post was originally much, much longer. But all of that was eaten by Blogger and the draft version had all of 2 letters left in it. So for better or worse I'm leaving it like this. It's not as loquacious but I hope will interest some readers as is. I should add that I'm quite happy with this print and with the growing comfort I'm finding in the process of moku hanga. Technically I continue  to  have great room for improvement. And I'd like to get better technically. But that is never my primary goal, in printmaking or any other medium.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A New Moku Hanga Print; Return from SWLA Annual Exhibition

Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. 10.5x8.5 inches. Printed in 2019 on Echizen Kozo paper.

It's taken quite a while but I've finished my eighth moku hanga print: Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. The entire print as 10.5x8.5 inches and it's printed on Echizen Kozo paper. I haven't sorted out what prints will be in the edition but I expect it to be around 25.

I originally planned the print to be on Nishinouchi paper and spent forever proofing various versions on it. But after I'd started printing I realized that I had no Nishinouchi paper left other than the first 12 or so prints that I'd already printed. Since I was soon leaving on vacation I didn't want to leave it on hold until I got back and new paper arrived. So instead I did a small version on Echizen Kozo. Echizen Kozo is a much more expensive paper but still I was shocked at how much more I preferred the resulting image. So when I returned from vacation I continued printing on the Echizen Kozo. Though I like the Nishinouchi version I don't think I have it in me to go back and print a larger edition on it. One thought I have had about the two papers is that I might prefer the appearance of the Echizen Kozo when I leave a fair amount of bare paper on the print. For prints where there is little or no bare paper Nishinouchi may be fine. I do know that I've been happy with it on some earlier prints.

Below is both the version on Nishinouchi and a photo of about half of the edition on Echizen Kozo.

Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. 10.5x8.5 inches. Printed in 2019 on Nishinouchi.

Twelve of the entire printing of 30 prints on Echizen Kozo paper. Some will be culled for a final edition of around 25.

I decided to use these shorebirds as the subject of a new moku hanga print soon after drawing some Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers from life at Morris Arboretum. They are not the best field sketches I've ever done but along with some similar field sketches from May of this year they were the inspiration for this print. I think I like them because I know that they are an honest response to a bird that is right in front of me.That type of inspiration I almost never find in my photos. For me it remains true that my art inspired by photos looks exactly like that: art inspired by photos, not by real life. Below are some of those field sketches.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Solitary Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Spotted Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Spotted Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Solitary Sandpiper, feeding Wood Ducks and dragonfly at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.

Late this summer I also did some sketches from photos of both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. I didn't do them with any intention of preparatory sketches for a print but just because I wanted to study the structure and movement of the birds. They are below.

Sumi brush pen sketches of Solitary Sandpipers by Ken Januski.

Ball point pen sketches of Spotted Sandpipers by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketches of Spotted Sandpipers by Ken Januski.

Most of the motivation for this print came from seeing and sketching Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers from life. As I began the sketch for the print I decided to put in another shorebird that I've often sketched from life, the Least Sandpiper. I'm not including any of those sketches since they are from a few years ago. When I did start sketching the preliminary drawing for the print I also used some of my photos, but only after all of those field sketches.

Once I started the actual print though more formal considerations took over: how does the print look? Do those colors and shapes work together, etc., etc. It's these types of decisions and the many, many proofs that accompany them that make my prints take so long to complete. I used to take forever to complete large abstract painting. Now I seem to be doing the same with prints. Even when I try to be quick, as with the Great-crested Flycatcher shown in an earlier post it seems nearly impossible!!

A few days after we returned from Cape May 'The Natural Eye', the annual exhibit of the Society of Wildlife Artists opened in London, UK. I'm happy to say that all three of my prints were accepted for the show, though sadly enough none of them sold. A review of that show on the Making A Mark blog is here. Though we couldn't see that show in person this year the many photographs available online show what an exhilarating show it was once again. Mall Galleries has an online gallery of the show and this is a link to my Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker print. I have links to some photos, including 80+ by Making A Mark, on my Ken Januski Artist Facebook page. One of  the many things I like about the show is that in it many artists also look like they spend a lot of  time working on their artwork. By that I don't mean the man-hours that I often see artists boasting about as though that has something to do with the quality of their art work. It doesn't, unless in inverse proportion.What I mean is that they don't go for cliches, formulas, etc., etc. So much of the work looks like a real artist created it, someone interested in creating something fresh and individually expressive!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Moku Hanga in Progress, and in London for SWLA

Spotted, Solitary and Least Sandpipers. Working  proof  of  moku  hanga print by Ken Januski.

I'm not sure if I've ever shown a work in progress from my Moku Hanga prints. But I easily could. That's because they take forever. I'm now on week three of this print. And I still don't have the final design, or colors. But  I'm getting close.

I had been planning to write my next post on my field sketches, both those done at Cape May in May and also those done around  here. But having three of my works in The Society of  Wildlife Artist's  annual show 'The Natural Eye': Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker at Andorra' has been a bit of a distraction, though certainly a pleasant one.

The three framed works waiting to be shipped off to 'The Natural Eye', accompanied  by  the  hope  that at least one of them would get in!

I'll go on a bit more about  the SWLA show later but for now I'll try to finish a thought and stick with this print. Though not a field  sketch it is based on and inspired by them.I think it was in May that I did some field sketches of both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers at Morris Arboretum. They ended up being somewhat clumsy works but they still captured the life of the birds. And as I've said probably a million times over the course of this blog it's next to impossible for me to get that feeling of life when I'm working from photos. So it's much easier for me to be inspired by my sketches though I often will use my photos to at least see the details, and  then decide how important it is  to try to get them into the work. In this instance I also added two Least Sandpipers which I'd also seen and sketched  at Morris Arboretum in  previous years.

Once I get started on a work, particularly a print, though it used to be just as true in my large abstract paintings, my main concern becomes the orchestration of shapes, colors, textures,  and movement. Often I get seduced by the colors, shapes, etc. and find I've gotten too far away from the original impetus. So  I find it's always a dialogue/dance/or whatever you want  to call it between the original impetus and the logic and poetry of  the medium itself. I think that is why they always take so long for me to complete.

When it comes to most wildlife art, and again to repeat something I've said a million times, I  often find that it seems to get all of its emotional resonance from the reaction to  a PHOTO of something not to the real thing. That is why I love 'The Natural Eye'. Once again viewing the online gallery this year I find it positively thrilling. The art about nature  should  be as exciting as nature, or  even moreso in that it combines  the excitement of  both art AND  nature. It was particularly thrilling to be able to walk through  it in person last year both to admire and enjoy all the art work that was in it but also to honestly assess whether my own work really belonged there  or  perhaps  had gotten there by some fluke, twist of fate or whatever. Almost all artists and some time doubt themselves. I'm happy to say that I  left feeling that my work did  hold its own!

But that is not what is most important. What's most important  is  that this show demonstrates that it's quite possible to make the most ambitious, exciting, moving art possible all using wildlife as its subject. The Society of Wildlife Artists should be proud of themselves for coming up  with such a rewarding exhibit year after year.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Continuing with Moku Hanga

Avocet and Moorhen at Minsmere.  Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. 6"x4", 2019.

I don't think that there are any excuses for the huge gaps between my blog postings. Suffice it to say that the lack of  comments, overabundance of  spam, and other online outlets all took their toll. Nonetheless I  hate to let  this  blog  just die, especially as it's sort  of  become a  blog about  my progress  with moku hanga. So with that said  here are  my two newest prints.

Above  is a  6x4 inch print of  an Avocet and Eurasian Moorhen  that we saw at Minsmere RSPB  last year on our trip  to England for  'The Natural Eye' show  of  the Society of Wildlife Artists. Below is  the newest print,  a  4x6 inch print  of a Great Crested Flycatcher, motivated as you might expect by seeing  some of  the first  returning birds  of  spring.

Great Crested Flycatcher against Blue Sky.  Moku  Hanga by Ken Januski. 6"x8", 2019.

Technically speaking I'm not sure why anyone would take up moku  hanga. There are so  many things  to consider  and so many things that can go  wrong: paper  that is  too wet or  too dry, bad paper, paper with too little or too much,  paint  that is  too  wet  or  too dry, too splotchy or  too saturated, smudging  everywhere, colors that don't print the way I think that they will,  wood  that  is drier than I'd like  and  breaks  as I'm  carving a  crucial  line, etc.,  etc.,  etc.

Some love  moku hanga I'd guess because  of  the  great moku hanga art  that was done in Japan during  its heyday. I admire  it, both artistically with hardly a  thought of the technical difficulties, but  also for  the incredible technical craftsmanship.  I understand why artists want to continue that noble  tradition.

Others  today love  it  for a variety of other reasons  but I suspect  one  of the top ones  is  that it  is largely non-toxic, i.e. safe,  and because  it  is  so  connected  to  nature.  The paper is made  from plants, the baren  often  is  made  largely from bamboo. Only perhaps  the watercolors  and/or  gouache  used by many might have some  man-made ingredients.

For me  the safety is  important. When I switched,  to a  large  extent, from painting to  printmaking  around 10 years ago I was thrilled by printmaking, all done without a press. But  I was bothered by the toxic fumes of  the paint/ink solvents. Did I  really want to use  them?

I also  found that I much admired  some  contemporary moku hanga, used as a means of modern expression.  I'd guess that the last two, safety and exciting  examples, are what got me started.

But what kept me going, especially after the trials  and tribulations  of  the first  couple of  prints,  was  my understanding  that I  was beginning to get  control  of  the medium. It was  starting  to be a  useful  tool. At some point  your  artistic medium has  to start seeming like  a useful  tool, one that helps  you  do  what you  want, rather than  a constant  opponent, one that you wonder  if  you  can ever best. Oddly enough that happened  with me.

There are  still  numerous  technical mistakes  and difficulties  with my moku  hanga prints. But I'm comfortable  enough with it, and also  know what rich possibilities it has that I've come to feel  somewhat comfortable with it.

Too much of my experience  with printmaking has been reminiscent of  battles. I'm often happy with the results  but never relish the process  and regret how  many prints have blemishes which necessitate  discarding them. That seems to be, finally, less the case with moku hanga.

I'm not going to say too much about these two prints themselves. In both of them I'm trying  to  find a  contemporary artistic  vocabulary to express what I  want, and also to use  the subject  of birds, insects, nature and the environment. Even with perfect mastery of a medium that is still a  large  task. How  do you  take  traditional,  some might  say ancient, subjects and make them fresh? I find that moku hanga  has helped  me to do that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Starting My Third Year of Moku Hanga Prints

Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. Edition not complete as of 02.10.19 but it will be between 20 and 25. Printed on Echizen Kozo paper.

The title is true and accurate but it's possibly misleading. I did make my first moku hanga print at the beginning of 2017. I did that largely because I'd seen the prints of one wildlife artist in particular who used and still uses moku hanga to make brilliantly colored, quite creative prints. His colors in particular seemed to offer something richer than what I was getting in my previous linocuts and woodcuts. I'm not naming names here, more for privacy reasons than anything else, of that artist or of another family that was also instrumental in my deciding to try moku hanga. The family bought a large number of my works in late 2016 and it was the proceeds of those sales which helped to fund most of my early moku hanga supplies. So I first should say thanks to both the artist and the family. If you read this I imagine you will know who you are.

Back to why the title might be misleading though. The fact is that the print at top of this post is only my sixth moku hanga print!! What can I say? As soon as I tried my first moku hanga print I loved the possibilities that I was now seeing first  hand. On the other hand when I made that first print technical difficulties required me to yell out to my wife that I'd have to skip lunch and then as the day went on I had to yell out again and ask if we could delay supper.

Everything went wrong!! The paper was too wet or too dry. I had all sorts of splotches in my print rather than the smooth, rich, even color I was expecting. My fingers got  paint on them and they went onto the paper. I can't even remember everything that went wrong. I do know that the prints  did not look as similar to one another as I would have liked(that is an understatement!!).

But still the possibilities were obvious. In other words I was hooked. I haven't done any other types of printmaking since then. But given all the problems I encountered I knew that I would have to modify what I did in moku hanga to some extent. For  one thing I wasn't going to be able to carve small outlines around every shape. If I'd taken a course I might have learned this right off. But I learned everything from books and trial and error.

Anyone who does moku hanga printmaking I think will tell you how complicated  it can be. There are so many variables, so many things to learn, and such a rich tradition to contend with. To make a long story short I had to learn how to approach moku hanga in a way that made sense for me.

It's also true that after an initial start in printmaking of just using anything as a subject I've gotten more and more ambitious.  I want my prints to some extent to be the same as paintings, just done as multiples. So I wanted ambitous prints, but using a medium in which I was a rank beginner.

The end result is that it takes me a long time before I decided to actually make a new print. I may spend months toying around with various possibilities. So.................. that is why I say that this is my third year of making moku hanga prints. It's 100 percent true. I just haven't done many during that time.

I think that the first print in which I haven't felt the need to tear my hair out as I printed the edition is  this one of  a female Purple Finch and male Hairy Woodpecker. I had few if any problems in the first edition of 20 on Nishinouchi paper.  Well major problems I should say. There were some minor problems, like ink coverage. But the new, as yet unfinished edition on Echizen Kozo, printed at top seemed to have fewer problems with ink coverage. Until the paper seemed to pull off the page as I printed additonal prints!! I  think that problem is resolving itself and so all in all this will be a second edition of about 20, with, I hope, better ink coverage.

Printing the Purple Finch has been the first time that I've largely liked the process. I'm not screaming and tearing out my hair as I print part of the edition each day. And I'm quite happy with the results.

So as I start my third year of moku hanga I have to say it seems the perfect medium for  me as a printmaker. I don't need to use toxic chemicals. I don't need a printing press. I don't need a lot of room. I do all my printing in my very small studio(once a bedroom). I think all artists hope for the day when their tools  become an extension of  their  hands. That is now the case with me and moku hanga. There are still a million ways I'm sure in which the technique can become better and more predictable. But it is predictable enough right now. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into moku hanga.

I should add that this print was based on an actual scene at The Wissahickon Environmental Center in late 2018. It is based on sketches and photos I made on a very misty, foggy day. I've tried to keep some of that sense in the print.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Moku Hanga and 'The Natural Eye -2018'

Completed 8 block Moku Hanga print of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

It was approximately 12 year ago that I made my first artworks using birds as subject matter. Perhaps some day I'll show them as proof of just how bad they were. But not today. Sufice it to say though that the transition from many years of abstract painting and drawing was not easy. I still cringe when I look at the watercolors from that time.

But as bad as the work was there was another problem. I had no guidelines, no one I was trying to emulate. I'm not quite sure how I stumbled upon 'Drawing Birds' by John Busby.  Perhaps it was through the Wildlife Art section of  Birdforum but I don't think so. To make a long story short it was through that book that I realized it was possible to make art based on birds that was lively,  exciting and not totally removed from the world of art as I knew it.

Eventually I realized that there was a particular group, with an annual exhibit that included some of the artists from that book but that included even more artists that I liked. The group was The Society of Wildlife Artists. As the years went on and as I realized that artists I admired from Birdforum, like Nick Derry and Tim Wootton, actually were members and exhibited there I decided to apply for the show. This was a blind leap on my part. It wasn't so much that I thought my work was good enough to get in. I just admired the work that was in it so much that I wanted to also be in.

So it was a great shock about 8 years or so ago to find out that two of my linocuts were chosen to be included in the annual show. There was a bit of a problem with Customs that made me fear that even though  I had shipped the works there that they still would not get in. By some miracle, still unexplained to me, they did make it through Customs  and into the show. The Mall Galleries were kind enough to send me a couple of photos  of  my work on  the wall.

Since then I've applied numerous times, only stopping when either the costs got too high, or I couldn't figure out the newly required need for a VAT number for English tax purposes. But eventually I figured the VAT problem out and have been thrilled to be in the show three additional times. As time went on much of the work in the show was made available online for both viewing and purchasing. I had to pinch myself when I saw my work in the same online gallery, reflective of course of the real gallery, with so many artists I  admired. They are in fact with rare exception the artists who I most admire in the world who also use wildlife as their subject.

But there has always been a nagging problem. It doesn't  quite seem real because I've never actually been to London to see the show. Since my wife's  best friend moved back to England a few years ago I've thought that the next time I get in, assuming I do, that we should make a real effort to go to London to see the show.

It seems the time has come. I'm happy to say that my three most recent moku hanga prints were all accepted to this year's show! that includes the newest one, an American Woodcock at Magee Marsh, as seen at the top of this post.

That work as well as my other works, and many of  the other works in the show can now be seen at What's On - The Natural Eye. I've long admired from across the Atlantic the work in the show. For a change I'll be able to see it in person.

Pencil field sketch of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Most of the time it's difficult for me to start a new print. This wasn't as true when I started off with my first linocuts. The best process seemed to be to just start with a vague idea, improvise as I went along and then stop  when I was happy. I still like those prints, though I'm happy to be done with the need for solvents for oil-based inks that I used in them.

But as I went on making prints, and as they got more complicated, I got more deliberative. This was especially true as I moved to multi-block prints, and even more true when I turned to moku hanga at  the beginning of 2017.

I also have had a hard time reconciling realism and abstraction. So on the most recent print of  the American Woodcock I started off with a field sketch of one from Magee Marsh(above), then started doing more simplified and abstracted versions.

Two pencil and Neocolor II studies of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

In the studies above I think you can see how I simplified the woodcock but still tried to keep its essential characteristics.

Watercolor of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Early on I realized that birds exist in an environment. For me they just don't look right when they seem to be portraits, as from a photographic studio. So over many years I've struggled with giving  them an environment that in some ways seems believable, but that also doesn't detract from the appearance of the painting. It all needs to add up. So that's what I was experimenting with in  the  watercolor above. The watercolor studies below helped me on my way to the simplifications I showed earlier.

Watercolor studies of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Below you see one of the final attempts to meld the abstracted bird with a more abstracted environment. It wasn't too many steps from there to the finished print.

Neo-color II crayon study of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Most if not all artists are products of their history, their likes and dislikes in art, etc. I doubt that it will be obvious but the final print does have an attempt by me to include a reference to one of my favorite contemporary painters, Richard Diebenkorn, especially his Ocean Park series. Most likely this will make sense only to me. But it is one of the many parts of the final moku hanga print.

Moku hanga is a type of printmaking with quite a tradition. I admire it and appreciate it but can't see myself making traditional Japanese woodblock prints. So in some ways my prints probably seem sacrilegious to that tradition. But that's not my intent. I'm just trying to take many of the admirable elements I see in that tradition and turn them to my own uses. I think I'm getting closer, at lest in my own eyes.