Friday, August 15, 2014

Hummer on Yew Two-block Woodcut

Juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Yew. Two block woodcut by Ken Januski.
I was really taken by my memory sketch of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on a bouncing Yew twig from the last post, the one that included him doing a BIG back stretch. So I decided to use some of the cutoffs from a grab bag of Shina Plywood from McClain's Printmaking Supplies to make a very small print.

Since I wanted to concentrate on the pose of the hummer and not much else a very small block seemed the right way to go. On the other hand I really don't want what you might call 'illusionism.' I see so, so much of this, much of it helped along, if you want to call it that, by Photoshop. What I prefer is something that is still recognizable but that will never be mistaken for a photo, even one with all sorts of PS filters and special effects applied.

So after I'd made a template of the field sketch of the hummer, modified it, copied it onto the woodblock, carved and proofed it I decided that I'd use the other side of the block to print some abstract shapes. This procedure is all very hit or miss. I printed the two greens over the last three days and then printed the black on top today. Unfortunately much of the dark green doesn't show up in the photo.

You might ask why I'd ruin a good drawing, or at least one I was happy with, by adding all these distracting abstract shapes. I can only say that it relates to my dislike of illusionism and also I think to a desire to be a bit more modern, a bit more of my time. I realize that this is a slippery slope. Hula hoops were of my time way back when but they're not much remembered now. So it's easy to be so much of your time that your work is not striking except for the briefest of times. On the other hand there is Beethoven, for instance, or many, many others, who created a new view of art, one that has held sway for hundreds of years afterwards.

I think art always tries to find a way to be fresh. And the reason it does so is that for some artists that's the only way to be expressive. Anything else, for these artists, may look like art to others but to them just seems clichéd and empty. I don't think everyone does or should work this way. And I can't say that it's always successful. But sometimes it really is the only fulfilling way to work.

I should add that I also have tried to stay true to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird in his portrayal here. I like being able to do that but also add some abstraction, or what some might call decoration, as I have done.

I think that this is done but there's a chance that I'll add one more color in the abstract areas. The print is about 7x7 inches and the image itself about 4x4. So far it is in an edition of nine. Printed with Daniel Smith water-based inks on Rives Heavyweight paper.


Gabrielle said...

Ken - sorry I'm a little behind on your posts (and replying to your comments on my posts), but I had to say I REALLY like this print! I showed it to my husband and his jaw dropped. To quote him directly, "That's amazing!". Obviously the abstract shapes in the background worked for us.

I tried woodblock printing at PAFA this summer and really enjoyed it. What kind of wood do you typically use? We used white pine in class and it was very easy to cut into. I'll have to give Danial Smith water-based inks a try. Another student in my class who is an avid woodblock printmaker recommended Akua Intaglio Inks. Do you have any experience with those?

Also, thanks for letting us know about the Nature Blog Network. I had wondered what happened.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Gabrielle,

I'm going to rush out a reply here so you have the chance to perhaps buy some Shina plywood for woodcuts while it's still on sale. That's what I use and I get it from McClain's Printmaking in your neck of the woods I think. As of the last couple days they had packages of 4x6 inch plywood on sale. I'd recommend trying to get some.

It may be small for you but it's very soft and manageable. Of course it may also depend on your tools. The sharper and better quality metal that they use the easier it will be to cut with them.

If you do order from McClains ask for their catalog as well. Most of my cutting tools are either from there or 30+ year old tools from some of the same Japanese manufactures that they use. I'm sure you'll find some ideas for possible presents for yourself.

Glad you both liked the print so much! And sorry I missed you this summer. But it looks like you had a great experience at PAFA. That can't be beat.

Best wishes,


Gabrielle said...

Thanks for this information, Ken! I'll check out McClains for the wood. I got my gouges for class from Renaissance Graphic Arts, in Ivyland PA. Their price for the gouges I got seemed very reasonable based on what I was seeing in art supply stores, but that could just be my lack of experience with woodblock printing.

Do you ever have to sharpen your 30+ year old cutting tools?

Ken Januski said...

My 4x6 blocks arrived today. The nice thing about them outside of their smooth texture is that you can use both sides.

I have both woodworking tools and tools for wood carving and occasionally they serve for both. I tend to sharpen most of my tools myself, though I really haven't had to do that yet with any woodblock tools because I don't use them that much. And I don't do woodworking or woodcarving much anymore which means I've forgotten how to sharpen to some extent.

The one thing I did learn is that by far the hardest one to sharpen is a v-gouge. I ruined one v-gouge tool in a set that I had. One of my two 30 year old tools is a v-gouge. And I'm scared to death to try to sharpen it.

McClains will send Japanese tools bought from them to Japan for sharpening for a small fee, plus shipping to and from McClains. They ship the tools when they make other shipments so you don't pay a huge shipping price to and from Japan. I'm debating doing that when this one gets to where it needs to be sharpened. Today it sells for about $80 I think so spending $20 or so on sharpening doesn't seem like a bad deal to me, assuming that I'm not underestimating the cost of shipping to and from McClains.

I just checked Renaissance Arts and I'm guessing the set you bought is similar to one of the first sets I bought, the same one where I ruined the v-gouge trying to sharpen it. I forget the brand name of my set but I once looked online for it and couldn't find it. My guess is that it's been bought by someone else. Since then I've bought just individual tools and all of them Japanese. I use v-gouges much less now but I still do use them and I'm still conflicted about sharpening them.

In any case good luck with it. It sounds like you learned enough to have gotten bitten by the relief printmaking bug!