Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ending 2016 with Two Woodcuts(Or Keep Calm During Chaos)

Wood Ducks in Snow on Wissahickon Creek. Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

It's always a bit of a struggle to keep politics, or other things that occasionally seem important, out of what is supposed to be a blog about art, birds and nature. I try to but Trump blasts away all my resolve due to his constant attack on decency, logic, reason, fairness and just about any other quality that used to be considered part of 'civilized' behavior. So I'll just say that I expect chaos both here and in the rest of the world, largely due to Trump. It may not be immediately evident, especially if you ignore his tweets(as everyone should), but it will eventually become so. That being the case I think the Wood Ducks portrayed above, seen in a blustery winter storm a number of springs ago, may serve as a good example. They look calm and serene amidst the chaos. Hopefully the world can do the same under whatever conditions he brings about.

I'd originally intended this small 4x6 woodcut as a season's greeting card that I tried to whip out in time for the holidays just as I was also finishing the woodcut below. But I soon let it got more complicated than I should have, especially at such a small scale. Still in the end I'm happy with how it worked out. It does have the misty, blustery feel of the actual day that I saw the Wood Ducks. It is printed on a good quality Japanese paper, Nishinouchi. The ink went on a bit more sparsely than I expected but in the end it didn't seem to be a problem. I was also impressed that I could keep adding new colors and the paper accepted them without problem.

I loved this scene when I first saw it a few years ago. This print, like many I've done, is based on a watercolor I did of the original scene. Little did I know as I did it that it might need to serve as a motto for the next 4, and God Forbid, 8 years: Remain Calm During Chaos!

Killdeer and Great Blue Heron in Snow at Manayunk Canal. Two-block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

I finished the Killdeer and Great Blue Heron woodcut a few weeks ago, just adding a few minor tweaks to the last version that I posted here. As usual with prints, especially reduction prints, I often find at the end that there is something I wish I'd done differently earlier on. With a painting I can just paint over it. But not in a print. So printmaking I think really forces you to live with simplification. You can only tweak so much. The final tweaking probably took two weeks and affected only about 10% of the entire area of the print. But I do think it made the print a bit livelier, both in terms of color and tone.

As anyone who has followed my work and this blog for very long knows I'm always trying to reconcile naturalism/realism and abstraction. To me this print goes quite a way in that direction, though here I think I'm a bit more realistic than in some of my other attempts. Others may view it differently.

I've been listening to a lot of music by Beethoven recently as well as reading two biographies and taking a number of audio courses. At one point Beethoven talks about writing for the future not the past. With wildlife art it's easy to get tricked into sticking with the past. But in the end I think it's a mistake. Art needs to remain lively and not just be an imitation of the past. That is my goal in my hybrid realistic/abstract work. For me it works and is endlessly fulfilling I hope that also proves true to people who view it.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Reduction Woodcut, Recalcitrant Snipe, Leftovers, Trump's Greatest Sin

Killdeer and Great Blue Heron. Partially completed reduction woodcut by Ken Januski.

I guess one of the benefits of writing posts so infrequently these days is that I can ramble all over the place in terms of subjects covered. Thus the title.

My most recent artwork is the reduction woodcut above, based on one of numerous sightings of Killdeer and Great Blue Heron in the Manayunk Canal over the last few winters. I'm moving along more speedily than normal on this one, spending less time in endless deliberation about what to do next. I think one or at most two colors are still left and I plan that they will just be in a few small areas.

Wilson's Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs at Ottawa NWR. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

I say 'recalcitrant' snipe in the title because I keep going back to these snipe seen at Ottawa NWR a number of years ago in the hopes of getting a painting, print, drawing I'm happy with. Above is the newest effort, I think 11x17 or something like that. It's the biggest watercolor I've done in a while.

Wilson's Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs at Ottawa NWR. Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

Next is an acrylic painting, actually smaller than the watercolor, that I painted then repainted a number of years ago. It seems like such a great subject and yet I'm not completely happy with any of my attempts. I've also done numerous pen and ink and watercolor studies along the way. So we shall see. Sometimes it almost seems like you need to exorcise a subject. I do think eventually that I'll get a good print out of this subject.

Chipping Sparrow in Pines. Brush Painting by Ken Januski.

When I print I always tear large sheets of printmaking paper to size. And always there are small leftover strips of good paper. I've never known what to do with them so they just accumulate. Recently I ordered a new Chinese brush, ink stick and grinding stone from Oriental Art Supply. I realized that this leftover paper might be just the ticket for experimenting with the new brush and ink. So after about 5-6 horrible failures I ended up with this passable brush painting of a Chipping Sparrow in a pine tree. One reason I wanted a better quality ink stick was so that I could get richer blacks. As you can see there are at least one or two here.

'Tula' salvia in backyard. Photo by Ken Januski.

I haven't written anything on Trump and the election so far. I'm not completely shocked by the results. The white working class has been effectively abandoned by Democrats for years. There's also a sense of moral superiority in many Democrats that I think fuels a resentment of them, a resentment Trump was all too happy to take advantage of. But what of Trump? To a certain extent I agree with both Obama and Clinton in the idea of at least giving him a chance.

But for all of his faults, and everyone except the blind know that they are legion, there is one that I think will do more harm than anything else: his lack of civility, respect for others, and respect for truth, all willingly jettisoned by him. As he said to the Wall Street Journal when questioned about whether he'd gone too far in some of his statements he said: "No, I won!"

Most Americans know that the presidency is more than just a matter of winning. It's not a football game, or a backstreet brawl, though I suppose it has been in the distant past. But in an age where there is already far too much ranting, too much eager willingness to  not even consider the other side, Trump sets the worst possible precedent. Anything and everything is legitimate as long as you win. History will decide I fear that this is his very worst legacy.

I should add, as others have, that he might actually be successful. History never unfolds as predicted. But I'll still never forgive him for his utter degradation of the process.

And, to end on a happier note, the last photo  is of 'Tula' Mexican Sage, almost always the last flower blooming in our garden, even in December. We buy this plant at about 12 inches tall every few years, then watch it grow and grow until November without flowering. And then finally in a race against a hard frost it starts to bloom. Each day we wonder: will it be the last? Not so far.