Friday, October 3, 2014

Taking Artistic Liberties with Historical Markers

Baptismal Marker from 1723 along Wissahickon. Photo by Ken Januski.

When I quickly sketched the Gray Catbird who is the subject of my woodcut in progress I didn't really pay much attention to what he was standing on while he closely guarded his walnuts. I just tried to capture the pose of the bird. Today I happened to pass by the exact same area, with at least one walnut still in place but no Gray Catbird.

I was quite surprised to see what I eventually made the stump of a tree in the print was actually a very old historical marker, from 1723 no less!! Well my apologies to history and historical markers but I think that the tree trunk works better in the woodcut below. Still it is, at least to me, a thoughtful moment when I happen upon something that refers to events of 300 years ago. Of course the metamorphic rocks that litter the Wissahickon are just a bit older. How about 500 million years?! That is the claim of this study. It can be a humbling experience to see rocks that were formed that long ago.

Gray Catbird with Walnuts. Multi-block Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

Today I proofed the third color of the woodblock, not counting the black that will go on top. Anyone who is familiar with Gray Catbirds will know that their undertail coverts are a brilliant rusty brown, in stark contrast to the charcoal gray of most of the rest of their body. From the first I planned on incorporating that into the print. Later I decided that I might also use it in the tree trunk/ex-historical marker.

This is just a proof on earlier copier paper proofs. But it is getting closer. Once I decide on whether to change the color or shape of this color then I'll proceed to print the black on top of everything. Hopefully it will hold everything together. And I hope as well that it won't be too dull. I didn't remove the background thoroughly in the fairly recent crouching green heron print thinking that it might add to the print. When I discovered in the process that a plain background would be better it was too late. So almost from the first I've decided to keep this background plain, just the color of the paper. Time will tell whether that will work or leave the print looking flat and dull.

Gray Catbird with Walnuts. Multi-block Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

The morning after posting this I did a quick proof of the black block on top of the proofs from the colored blocks. So the final print will probably look somewhat like this. There is a lot of sloppiness in the proofs that will disappear to a large extent in the final print. For now I'm just trying to sort through the final decisions on color and shape. And of course the possible problem of the background just being too dull.

Chicken of  the Woods Tree Fungus. Photo by Ken Januski.

But dullness is not a problem in the photo above. I ran across this scene today along the Wissahickon as well. What a brilliant orange. I confess I know little about mushrooms and fungi. But a quick search for 'bright, orange tree fungi' when I got home convinced me that this is what is known as Chicken of the Woods mushroom, I assume because it tastes like chicken. Well as I said I know nothing about mushrooms so we're not having it for supper tonight. But you can't help but admire it for its visual beauty. On a cloudy day like today it was a burst of sunshine in the dark green foliage of the vegetation and the dark black of a fallen tree.


Ellen Snyder said...

Hi Ken,

Catbirds are so common here -- in every thicket, native and invasive. But I still love to see them. The contrast of rust vent and black cap with the gray body is simple but beautiful. Very deserving of one of your nice woodcuts.


Ken Januski said...

Hi Ellen,

I was just thinking while out the last few days that the ubiquitous Gray Catbirds are being replaced by the ubiquitous chipmunks. I guess fall and winter must be here!

One of these days I have to spend some time sketching chipmunks.

Ellen Snyder said...

Hi Ken,

I would love to see a woodcut of a chipmunk. My father studied chipmunks and I find them fascinating (except when they eat my tomatoes). I think one sitting on a stonewall (we have lots of those here!) or on a stump with its pouches full would be nice :-)

Regards, Ellen