Sunday, April 26, 2020

I Break for Curlews

Curlew and Great Cormorant at River Deben. Acrylic in progress by Ken Januski, copyright 2020.

Over the many years of this blog I've written occasionally about the sideways nature of my progress in art, or perhaps assumed progress. My point is that I often head off in a different direction and/or medium at some point. I think the reason for  this is pretty simple: I need a break, though maybe I didn't  realize  it.

I wasn't really planning on a break from my moku hanga printmaking but a notice that it was World Curlew Day prompted me to take a look at my photos of the only Curlew we've ever seen, both in England about 18 months ago. Looking at them convinced me to paint the watercolor that is further down in this post. It was a quick one so that I could get it painted on the correct day.

This is  a fairly accurate portrayal of the scene. I just moved the position of the two birds closer together so that I could get them both in the picture. I also decided, intuitively, that a vertical format seemed best. So that's why there's so much seemingly empty space at top.  It was a fortuitous accident I think.

But it also reminded me of one of the main problems  I, and as far as I know just about everyone else, have with watercolor. You really can't  change much. Much of its appeal is the sense of freshness and light. If you try to paint over what you've already painted the painting often seems turgid, muddy and stale. And I know I've seen a lot of such paintings, including many of  my own.

After I'd finished the watercolor below I still felt like I'd like  to make some changes. I'm not sure why, perhaps it was just a matter of feeling like I had more time on my hands due to staying at home due to Covid-19, but I decided to try to repaint the scene in acrylic.

Most of my artistic career has been as an abstract painter in acrylic and later oil, though as I continue with both watercolor and printmaking that statement will eventually no longer be true. I think  I still try to  paint in watercolor as though it is one of those media. Every mark is put down just to see what it looks like  and then I can change it  if  I don't like it. But  of course watercolor doesn't work that way. And neither by the way does most printmaking. I suppose the amount of pre-planning and deliberateness necessary in both could easily build up a desire to return to  a more spontaneous and forgiving medium.

So it has been enjoyable to return to a medium where I can change  things over and over and over. The painting at top is close to being done. I guess the nature of a painting that can be changed endlessly is that it possibly could  NEVER be done! But most artists I think realize that you eventually just need to move on to something new. So I don't think I'll too much more on this.

I don't know how long I'll stay with acrylic. I'm enjoying it now and have ordered new canvases and some new paint. (Finding my large jar of white completely dried out will tend to get me to order new paint  given how  important it is!!).

I think it's important to keep art enjoyable. Sometimes that means changing media, subject or who knows  what for a while. I always find that I'm happy to return to other  media, like moku hanga perhaps, when I eventually do. 
Curlew and Great Cormorant at River Deben. Watercolor by Ken Januski, copyright 2020.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What's With All That Gray?

Original Moku  Hanga of Male Canvasback and Hooded Merganser. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski. 8x10 inches on  Nishinouchi Japanese paper.

This new moku hanga came about due to a combination of two things: Facebook reminding me of a field sketch I'd done and posted about 4 years ago of a male Canvasback and Hooded Merganser at Morris Arboretum and the resulting large charcoal drawing I'd done based on the field sketch and photos; and The International Moku Hanga Conference whose theme this year is the use of sumi in moku hanga.

Charcoal Drawing of Drake Canvasback and Hooded Merganser.Copyright 2015 by Ken Januski

Field Sketches of Drake Canvasback and Hooded Merganer seen at Morris Arboretum. Copyright 2015 by Ken Januski

Original Woodcut of Drake Canvasback and Hooded Merganser. Copyright 2015 by Ken Januski

What I particularly liked about the charcoal drawing was the rich blacks I'd used in it. It reminded me of the rich black I used to get by using compressed charcoal and heavy duty erasers in my abstract work. I also did a woodblock print based on the drawing, in fact I did  two variations, but I was never completely happy with them.

In any case I'd been toying with submitting  to the conference(though my guess is now  that it might be cancelled/postponed) and thought I would submit some of my earlier moku hanga. But the notion of incorporating  a large amount of sumi in a  new moku hanga was intriguing. And I did  love the blacks and grays I'd gotten in my little exploration of both Chinese and Japanese brush painting. So I thought I'd try a new version of the Canvasback and Hooded Merganser.

But a funny thing happened. As I started this new print I eventually shied away from the deep blacks that had dominated the charcoal  drawing and the previous woodblock prints based on it. I was reminded of just how rich and vibrant various grays could be both in brush painting from China and Japan and in ink wash drawings  in traditional European and American art. My personal favorites of the latter were Rembrandt and, much more recently, Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff(with whom I'd studied and done many wash drawings in life drawing classes). Ink wash drawings can capture light in the way no other medium can, with  the possible exception of  watercolor.

So before I knew it I was doing a moku hanga print  that did include some deep blacks but also used a variety of  grays.  That's what you see at top. The grays don't sing as much as I'd like and the blacks are not as deep as I'd like but I'm happy with it. Monochromatic art is not everyone's cup of tea. But it has great possibilities. I've actually written years ago on this very blog about how I think tonal orchestration may be the most  important aspect of painting, but an orchestration that is  after the fact and intuitive, not formulaic. My guess is that I could spend years doing such work before I'd be  able  to really explore its potential. And I doubt I'll do that. But I am glad I tried!

Part of the edition. This photo shows 12 of the prints.  I've started a second batch of 12.

Though I spent a lot of time in art school, and though I knew a couple of printmakers during that time I never actually studied  it. I'm largely self-taught. That's neither here nor there but  it  does mean I'm never quite sure how common my approach to printmaking is. That said I'll just say that I spend forever proofing the prints, changing it after almost every proof. There is some planning but far more improvisation. There are generally more proofs than actual prints. By the time I  finally get a print  that I'm happy  with I'm exhausted. I really don't feel like spending much time printing an edition.

And yet! It seems silly to have spent all that time and energy for just one print. So I try to buckle down and print an edition. An added benefit, as I'm sure I've mentioned  before, is that I may sell one of the prints from an edition years after I've made it. I like that. Both the sales and the appreciation. Another benefit of having to print an edition is that it forces technical practice on me. I don't like technique. But most good artists have some sort of technique, even if it's nothing more than knowledge built on experience. I already have a lot of experience with composition. What I lack is experience with printing. So every edition I  print, even when reluctantly, does give me more experience. And I think makes me a better printer.