Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Completed Bufflehead and Mergansers Woodcut

Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Bufflehead at Flat Rock Dam. Two-block Woodcut by Ken Januski.
I finally finished the two block woodcut of the Red-breasted and Common Mergansers with Bufflehead at Flat Rock Dam yesterday. It seems like it took forever, most of that time being spent with the final black block.

The problem was that I just couldn't get an even inking that both filled all of the framing edges but also filled the heads of the merganers, and yet didn't fill them so much that it blotted out the small orange/red eye of the Red-breasted Merganser in the foreground. I switched from Daniel Smith to Caligo in the proofing stage, trying to get the inking that I wanted. I finally decided to stick with the Daniel Smith, which is the ink I used for the other colors. But even then I went back and forth as I printed from a thinner ink to a thicker ink trying to get it just right. The print above, one of an edition of somewhere between eight and twelve, is one of the best but still leaves something to be desired.

I realize in using the heavy black outline, including frame, type of woodcut that I veer toward the heavy-handed and cartoonish. But I also find something quite desirable about this method. I have no interest in fussy brushwork that manages to get a great deal of plumage detail. Instead I find, at least at the moment, something appealing in this stark almost primitive portrayal of the subject at hand. But still I do think that if the black ink had worked more smoothly my goals, simple though they are, might have been more thoroughly accomplished.

Finally I should add that there is a little more color richness to the actual print than can be seen in this scan.

I'm still tempted to do something with the recent combination of drake Canvasback and drake Hooded Merganser seen at Morris Arboretum on Monday. But after that I think the season of waterfowl will be over. Though there is snow predicted for Friday. Perhaps one more opportunity for some colorful ducks.

One last thought, which I hate to bring up for any reader who's not a printmaker. I continue to be amazed at how much dumb technique plays a part in printmaking.  I don't like technique and I think I always kept my distance from printmakers in my art education because so many seemed thoroughly enamored of the esoterica of technique. I still dislike it. But the more you print the more you realize that at a basic level it is an integral part of printmaking. If you want to print an edition, i.e. more than one copy of a print, then consistency between the prints of an edition is desirable. And as with this print you don't want splotchy areas, or smudges or dried ink or any of the other small things that can ruin a print. It's a very different mindset from that of a painter or draftsman, unless I suppose you're looking for a very polished surface in either of those. With a painting you just work on one painting. It works or it doesn't and then you move on to the next painting.

Printmaking requires more thought and care I think, not that this in turn makes it better than painting. I like printmaking both for the surprise it offers, and for the need to have a dialog with the materials and process, but also because I can print more than one. And I better be able to for all the work involved. The virtue of this is that I can sell more prints for less. And even when I have sold one or many I probably still have a few more to sell. It's an odd way to work, and for me a very different one after so many years as a painter. But it seems like the right method for me now and it's one I imagine I'll continue for quiet a while, eventually learning the technique that I have so little interest in.

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