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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Making Good Progress, or Not, with Moku Hanga

Original moku hanga of 'Ruby-crowned Kinglet on Honeysuckle - Winter 2021'. 5.75 x 8 inches on Nishinouchi paper. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

I'm now approaching my 5th year of moku hanga, though since I've  done a fair amount of painting during that time, it's really not a full five years. I started off with just about the cheapest baren you could buy, eventually bought and used a plastic baren designed by Kurosaki and have replaced the face numerous times. But I always have a nagging unhappiness with some part of each print and normally it seems to be due to uneven paint coverage, though there are of course always just the plain old mistakes of one sort or  another that are always there.

In any case, and particularly after watching a video of Hideki Goto, master baren maker, from the 2107 International Moku  Hanga Conference, I decided it was time to buy a better baren. Eventually I bought a murasaki baren from McClain's Printmaking Supplies. I decided that a simple design was probably the best way to test it. I also decided to use a small 5.75x8 inch Shina block since it was just a test.

That made some sense, until I saw all my carved lines crumble in front of  me  as I tried to carve them. It reminded me of my first first Chinese brush paintings from many years ago. The ink on the brush seemed to almost leap from the brush to the paper where it created a huge blob, before the brush even touched the paper. Here the somewhat thin line seemed to break before I'd touched the carving knife to the wood. It's possible that the wood had dried out a bit  and that was the problem, but  mainly I think it was that I was trying to cut pretty thin lines for the  size of the wood.

So I  had to give up on that block and re-carve the block that included all of the lines. I spent more time testing the wood  and my carving abilities than I did testing the new baren. And I'm sure I would  have spent even more time on the carving if I hadn't  watched another  demo from  the 2017 International Moku Conference, this  one by master carver Shoichi Kitamura. Because he spoke in Japanese and was then translated I couldn't follow everything. But at one point he cut a line about a quarter inch from the fine lines he planned to carve. I'd always understood that this line was cut AFTER the real carving. He said that this relieved the pressure on the wood as he carved. And that seemed to be the case. By using that method my re-carving had none of  the broken lines of  my first line block!

As anyone who's read this blog for a while probably knows I'm not fond of bad use of the English language. Going forward(argh!!!) I try not to use redundancies, verbal barnacle-like accretions that clarify nothing  and just weigh down sentences, etc.  So when I use 'good progress' in the title  to this post I'm joking. What other kind of  progress is there? If it's bad it must be regression not progression. But the title  also explains  my feelings about moku hanga. Sometimes I think I'm making progress and other times I'm not so sure.

I've also been listening, thanks to McClain's Printmaking Supplies mentioning it in a recent newsletter, to The Unfinished Print, a series of  podcasts with interviews of  contemporary moku hanga printmakers. I think I've listened to four episodes now. And one of  the things that most struck me is  that, wonder of  wonders, I'm not the only person who finds  the medium difficult!!! But also I'm not the only one who can't  resist continuing with it.

Finally, after I'd finished re-carving the line block, I was able to concentrate more on color and using the murasaki baren to get better paint coverage. In this I'm very happy. It has worked quite well, at least by my standards. Some of the uneven paint coverage that remains is due less to the new baren than it is  to the fact that I'm using a floating kento. And I'm using a floating kento, rather than a kento carved into each block, because my blocks are so small that they really don't allow room to cut a kento.

That was mistake number two in my 'simple' test. Things are never all that simple when you use a floating kento! In any case the few areas of troublesome paint  were normally along the  bottom edge of the floating kento where I really couldn't bring the baren as far down as I needed to. As they say though  I'm now extraordinarily deep in the weeds so I won't pursue this. Suffice it to say that other than this little problem the new baren worked extraordinarily well and I'm happy that I purchased it.

In art it's often true that just about the hardest thing to do well is something 'simple.' I think I re-learned  that lesson here. I thought it would be a simple little moku hanga that would allow me to test the new baren. It was anything but simple! Still I am happy with the results.

It does however differ quite a bit from my print that will be in the Sumi-Fuison  Exhibit at the 2021 International Moku Hanga Conference.

'A Frenzy of Golden-Crowned Kinglets'. Original moku hanga by Ken Januski, copyright 2020.

Given the complexity of this print it seems like a huge step backwards to do something as simple as the new Ruby-crowned Kinglet print. In many ways  I think  that is true. But I felt like I needed to get more control of my paint application and this seemed the simplest way to try it! Though of  course it  wasn't  anywhere  as near as simple as I'd expected.

I'd encourage everyone to look at the online version of  Sumi-Fusion at the link above. It reminds me of just how varied and rich  contemporary moku  hanga is. I'm honored, and still a bit shocked, to have one of my prints chosen for inclusion in this exhibition!!!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Art Is A Favor That Is Given To You

 

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



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

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

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

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

Monday, October 4, 2021

Bouncing Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Digital sketch of  Red Phalarope. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

It All Started with Shina

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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Friday, July 2, 2021

Three Red Knots, Ten Warblers and Some Laughing Gulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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



 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

In Between

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Acrylic painting of Louisiana Waterthrush. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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