Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Making Good Progress, or Not, with Moku Hanga

Original moku hanga of 'Ruby-crowned Kinglet on Honeysuckle - Winter 2021'. 5.75 x 8 inches on Nishinouchi paper. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

I'm now approaching my 5th year of moku hanga, though since I've  done a fair amount of painting during that time, it's really not a full five years. I started off with just about the cheapest baren you could buy, eventually bought and used a plastic baren designed by Kurosaki and have replaced the face numerous times. But I always have a nagging unhappiness with some part of each print and normally it seems to be due to uneven paint coverage, though there are of course always just the plain old mistakes of one sort or  another that are always there.

In any case, and particularly after watching a video of Hideki Goto, master baren maker, from the 2107 International Moku  Hanga Conference, I decided it was time to buy a better baren. Eventually I bought a murasaki baren from McClain's Printmaking Supplies. I decided that a simple design was probably the best way to test it. I also decided to use a small 5.75x8 inch Shina block since it was just a test.

That made some sense, until I saw all my carved lines crumble in front of  me  as I tried to carve them. It reminded me of my first first Chinese brush paintings from many years ago. The ink on the brush seemed to almost leap from the brush to the paper where it created a huge blob, before the brush even touched the paper. Here the somewhat thin line seemed to break before I'd touched the carving knife to the wood. It's possible that the wood had dried out a bit  and that was the problem, but  mainly I think it was that I was trying to cut pretty thin lines for the  size of the wood.

So I  had to give up on that block and re-carve the block that included all of the lines. I spent more time testing the wood  and my carving abilities than I did testing the new baren. And I'm sure I would  have spent even more time on the carving if I hadn't  watched another  demo from  the 2017 International Moku Conference, this  one by master carver Shoichi Kitamura. Because he spoke in Japanese and was then translated I couldn't follow everything. But at one point he cut a line about a quarter inch from the fine lines he planned to carve. I'd always understood that this line was cut AFTER the real carving. He said that this relieved the pressure on the wood as he carved. And that seemed to be the case. By using that method my re-carving had none of  the broken lines of  my first line block!

As anyone who's read this blog for a while probably knows I'm not fond of bad use of the English language. Going forward(argh!!!) I try not to use redundancies, verbal barnacle-like accretions that clarify nothing  and just weigh down sentences, etc.  So when I use 'good progress' in the title  to this post I'm joking. What other kind of  progress is there? If it's bad it must be regression not progression. But the title  also explains  my feelings about moku hanga. Sometimes I think I'm making progress and other times I'm not so sure.

I've also been listening, thanks to McClain's Printmaking Supplies mentioning it in a recent newsletter, to The Unfinished Print, a series of  podcasts with interviews of  contemporary moku hanga printmakers. I think I've listened to four episodes now. And one of  the things that most struck me is  that, wonder of  wonders, I'm not the only person who finds  the medium difficult!!! But also I'm not the only one who can't  resist continuing with it.

Finally, after I'd finished re-carving the line block, I was able to concentrate more on color and using the murasaki baren to get better paint coverage. In this I'm very happy. It has worked quite well, at least by my standards. Some of the uneven paint coverage that remains is due less to the new baren than it is  to the fact that I'm using a floating kento. And I'm using a floating kento, rather than a kento carved into each block, because my blocks are so small that they really don't allow room to cut a kento.

That was mistake number two in my 'simple' test. Things are never all that simple when you use a floating kento! In any case the few areas of troublesome paint  were normally along the  bottom edge of the floating kento where I really couldn't bring the baren as far down as I needed to. As they say though  I'm now extraordinarily deep in the weeds so I won't pursue this. Suffice it to say that other than this little problem the new baren worked extraordinarily well and I'm happy that I purchased it.

In art it's often true that just about the hardest thing to do well is something 'simple.' I think I re-learned  that lesson here. I thought it would be a simple little moku hanga that would allow me to test the new baren. It was anything but simple! Still I am happy with the results.

It does however differ quite a bit from my print that will be in the Sumi-Fuison  Exhibit at the 2021 International Moku Hanga Conference.

'A Frenzy of Golden-Crowned Kinglets'. Original moku hanga by Ken Januski, copyright 2020.

Given the complexity of this print it seems like a huge step backwards to do something as simple as the new Ruby-crowned Kinglet print. In many ways  I think  that is true. But I felt like I needed to get more control of my paint application and this seemed the simplest way to try it! Though of  course it  wasn't  anywhere  as near as simple as I'd expected.

I'd encourage everyone to look at the online version of  Sumi-Fusion at the link above. It reminds me of just how varied and rich  contemporary moku  hanga is. I'm honored, and still a bit shocked, to have one of my prints chosen for inclusion in this exhibition!!!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Art Is A Favor That Is Given To You


Whimbrels at 2-Mile Landing. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski, copyright 2021.

Every time I'm in an exhibition I  try to advertise the exhibition, just as I'd guess most artists do, unless they are so well known that they don't  need to. But it is tiresome. After all I think my art and the art in the exhibitions I'm in  stand on their own. I shouldn't have to beg people  to  take a look at it.

I was thinking about that this morning in relation to  The Natural Eye whose official opening is today. If you actually spend a bit of  time looking at this exhibition, especially if you have the chance to see it  in person, you will realize I think how lucky you are  to have seen it. And  though I've only seen it online the exuberance comes through. It is both accomplished art and a celebration of nature.

There  are many people I'm happy to  say that want to celebrate nature. But the attempts don't always come off. It is not easy I don't believe. Can you make art that is as exuberant as nature itself? I think that it is  possible and I think you'll find much of it  in this exhibit.

As I said at the  top: art is a favor that is  given to you, just like nature, if  you have the good sense to give it a chance.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Bouncing Around

Red Phalarope at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve. Acrylic painting by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

I sometimes confuse myself by switching media and perhaps styles so I wouldn't be surprised if I also confuse  others. I can only say that it always makes sense to me when I do so.

In all my years of making art, and thinking about it, and in reading about and enjoying  the art of others, both visual and otherwise I've come to the conclusion  that good artists always develop their own language. I guess you could also say  they develop  their own set of  tools to  help them accomplish whatever it  is  that they  want to accomplish.

Sometimes this  language probably doesn't seem too different than the language of  others though the good artist may have an incredible mastery of  that language. But other times artists create their own language, like  for instance Beethoven. And they also are often masters of  that language.

I've always had a fear of cliche in my artmaking, though that has nothing to do with taking on 'cliched' subjects. A good artist can always make a cliched subject  come alive. I often think of  this in terms of abstraction. I don't want to emulate the more  realistic painters of the past in my painting, or  in my prints either. So I think  about abstracting  the subject. But that is much easier said than done. So many ways of abstracting a subject seem cliched to me. I'm not so  much talking about the work of others as my own.

Almost as soon as I put down a mark I think: OH, what a cliche that is!! This can be enervating. And yet for me it seems the only path to take. So, to make a long story short, I think that so much of  my changing media and perhaps styles is just me trying to find a way to portray a subject in a way that doesn't  seem cliched.

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls. Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Because printmaking is less spontaneous than painting, especially for someone like me who has spent more  years as a painter than a printmaker, I also need a better idea of the structure, or  perhaps the image, of a print before I start working on it.  I can't just put back all the wood I've carved away when I've made a mistake. In painting, at least acrylic or oil painting,  I can just paint right over any mistakes  I've made. You can't do  this in watercolor.

Digital sketch of  Red Phalarope. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Unless, that is you make a digital sketch, painting, watercolor! I bought an i-pad about 6 months or  so ago because I just got sick of the constant slowness of  my windows pc. I'm not sure of  the cause  but I  suspect part of  it is all that is being done behind the scenes to keep  it secure. I could  be wrong. Either way I  bought an i-pad.  And because  I've learned  that with computers  it's  often best to buy  what  you need at the start I also bought an i-pencil.  I had no specific plans for using it. The graphic styluses  and software programs I used in the distant past drove me nuts.

But  that was 15-20 years ago. Still I had had the i-pad and i-pencil  for 3-4 months and did no sketches during that time. I can't really remember whether it  was viewing the video  of Hockney's  Arrival of  Spring  at the Royal Academy of Arts  https://makingamark.blogspot.com/2021/09/review-david-hockney-arrival-of-spring.html or my deciding that I wanted to do sketches from the photos I'd just taken of a Red Phalarope at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve that prompted me to make the digital sketch that is above.

I wanted to  do  the sketches for documentary evidence  of  the sighting in e-bird and I thought a composite of sketches  from my numerous distant photos was really the most revealing way to show  what  I'd  seen, proof that this was a rare Red Phalarope. But I also was quite  taken with the Hockney show, and realized, especially after I'd  also bought  the  catalog, how accomplished the show  was.

I'm not a fan at all of digital art. In fact I definitely stay away from it.  One more  example of  technology being  used because  it's there  not  because it  works better than an older technology.  So I was surprised at how easy it was for  me to see the artistic choices that Hockney was making in these digital paintings.

All art really is about making choices, with notes,  with words,  with marks with colors, or with their digital equivalent. I could  see the rich results that Hockney got, not  the same results he would get with traditional media, but still rich  results. That I think opened me up to the idea  of  digital painting.

Red Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Green Heron and Belted Kingfisher at Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve. Digital Painting by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021 by Ken  Januski

Above is the first digital painting I've ever done. Unlike Hockney I  don't have any color  printer let alone a huge one. So I can't print this out. It only lives on a screen. There is  much to dislike about  this. People spend too much time in front of  screens as is. There is also the brighter than life luminosity of anything seen on a screen. BUT it was astonishing how easy I found it  to make  changes. Like Hockney I found that using  layers made things much easier  for  me. Extraordinarily easier. I could make  changes  right and left, forward and backwards, upside down and right side up.

In other words it seemed to be an extremely quick  way to  combine realism and abstraction but with the added ability to  get rid of anything  that struck me  as a cliche almost immediately. I didn't have to move away from a  cliche by finishing a painting or  print and then starting another to try another path. I  could  try another path in about  5 seconds.

So that was exhilarating. BUT  it's still on a screen. There's no tactility, no sense of the handmade. I knew that my best bet was to try to reproduce it in one way or another with paint  on canvas.  The end result is a the top  of  the post.

So that I hope explains somewhat  why I might seem to bounce around a bit artistically. I'm just  trying to make compelling and not cliched images. Often for  me that means switching media  and  sometimes styles. But it's always in the interest of  portraying something in a compelling way.

Whimbrels at 2-Mile Landing. Moku Hanga print. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

Sometimes I try to move from one medium to  another without realizing that it might not be easy to do  without major changes. This and the other moku hanga print above I'm happy to  say are going once again to be in the annual exhibit  of The Society of  Wildlife Artists at the Mall Galleries  in London. This  is a link to an online gallery of much  of  the work, including mine, https://www.mallgalleries.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/natural-eye-2021.

This was based on a fairly painterly painting. I tried to reproduce that in this print. And I think  I was successful.  It's perhaps even more vibrant than the painting itself. But it also has all sort of niggling areas, areas that require more care and craftsmanship than I  care to give them. A master carver could have carved a closer imitation of the painting. But I'm not  one and never will be. It's not my main goal. In the end I learned that, at least for  now, I should use larger areas of color in my moku hanga. And that's pretty much what I did in the subsequent print of  the Red  Knots. It is a continuing search for the right image and the right medium

Based on what I just  said I can pretty much guarantee I will  not try a moku hanga of the Red Phalarope, at least not without massive changes!! I should add that since I've done so many acrylic paintings over the last 12-18  months I  have added a link to  them under the Gallery heading at top right  of this page.


Thursday, August 26, 2021

It All Started with Shina

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls  at Reed's Beach. Moku Hanga print on Nishinouchi paper by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021.

  I'm very happy to say  that one of  my Moku  Hanga prints will be included  in the Sumi-Fusion Exhibition at the International Moku Hanga Conference 2021. I had hoped that I would have at least one print accepted but I also feared that my relative newness to the medium, not to mention my skills with it, might work against me.

I received an email about  it  last week after just completing these two versions  of the Red Knots and Laughing Gulls moku hanga. Above is  an edition on Nishinouchi. Below is the first version on Masa Dosa. Unfortunately the photo is not shot in the brightest light so it looks a bit dark.

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls  at Reed's Beach. Moku Hanga print on Masa Dosa paper by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021.

I can still remember how I made my first step toward Moku Hanga. I was printing a linocut of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth  in 2013. I was using Gamblin oil based  inks. But I decided I'd like to try printing the background on Shina plywood, just to see what happened. There was such a feeling of openess, of a breathing surface to the result that I became completely taken with Shina. That print is below.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. Three block combination Woodcut/Linocut by Ken Januski. Copyright 2013.

In my many years as an abstract painter I primarily used acrylic paint. Only toward the end, partly due to a gift from a new graduate student who wanted to encourage me, a newly graduated graduate student, to switch to oil painting, did I start painting in oil. To make a very long story fairly short I never minded the somewhat plastic surface of acrylic painting. I sort of liked the fact that you couldn't sink into it, that it instead seemed to come out at you.

So when I started printing, first with linocuts then woodcuts I wasn't bothered by the plastic surface that could result from the oil based inks that I used, especially when I painted one color over another over another, etc. But then I was. Too much plastic I thought! So that is what I liked with the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth print. It was softer.

Again to make another long story short four years later I eventually did my first experiment with Moku Hanga. That was in early 2017. I have not turned back to other methods of printmaking. But I have also struggled! In this type of printmaking there are no machines involved, no printing presses. At least for me. The simplicity, the non-toxic materials, the immediacy and the complex tradition are both appealing, and also to a certain extent difficult. For better or worse you the printmaker have pretty much control over everything. If you're successful you'll get a striking print. But there are a million things that can go wrong.

I've always been happy with my Moku Hanga prints. But I've also known how much better they could be, at least in terms of technique. So that's a large part of the reason that I applied for this show with trepidation. I'm happy to say I'm glad it didn't get the better of me and scare me off from applying! Below is the print that will be in the show. It is in Nara, Japan in late November/early December 2021. As with 'The Natural Eye,' the annual exhibition of The Society of Wildlife Artists', it  is an honor to be in this exhibition. There will be an online exhibition  and I will eventually write a short post on that when it is online.

A Frenzy of Golden-crowed Kinglets. Moku  Hanga print on Nishinouchi p
aper by Ken Januski. Copyright 2020.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Three Red Knots, Ten Warblers and Some Laughing Gulls

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls. Late proof  of 11x8.5 inch moku hanga. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything and I am well aware of that. To make a very long story short I was worried about making my last print a bit too painterly and thus introducing more technical problems into moku hanga  than I wanted to deal with. This was especially true because I'm not enamored of technique, though I  can admire it in others. It's just not where I want to spend my time and energy.

So I've been thinking about a way to continue moku  hanga but with simpler  shapes, perhaps more outlines and less need for getting extremely small areas to register correctly. Basically this  just means using the strengths of an artistic medium in concert with my own artistic strengths.

I've been working on this print of some Red Knots and Laughing Gulls for about a month. It was prompted by a news report  of  a great decline in  the count of Red Knots along the Delaware Bay this spring. This print is based on photos and field sketches from there from 2019. Most likely this is  the final test proof and I'll start printing an edition soon. This proof is on Masa Dosa.

So.................it may be that my moku  hanga will continue in a simpler manner such as you see here. Time will tell. But speaking of painterly that really is my background.  I've spent more  time as a painter than a printmaker though that is slowly changing. In the spring  of  last year I  did my first acrylic painting of an American wood warbler. Once I started I couldn't stop. So over the next year I painted the seven paintings and ten warbler species that you see below. It was greatly liberating to have the painterly freedom that most printing lacks.

But now for a change it's nice to be back in a more disciplined medium.

Canada, Blackburnian and Black-throated Green Warblers. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

Lousiana Warbler Along Wissahickon. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Mourning and Black-throated Blue Warblers. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

Pine Warbler with Ring-necked Ducks. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Prothonotary Warbler along Wissahickon. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

Red Knots and Laughing Gulls. Late proof  of 11x8.5 inch moku hanga. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

American Redstart, Northern Parula and Black-throated Blue Warbler. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski

Yellow-breasted Chat. 9x12 acrylic painting. Copyright 2020 by Ken Januski


Thursday, May 6, 2021

In Between

Acrylic painting in progress of Pine Warbler and Ring-necked Ducks. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

It's a bit surprising to me that I haven't posted something new in over two months. It is NOT Covid-related. I know, or  at least I've heard, that Covid has left many people in odd states of suspended animation, at least in terms of their mental state. But for me it was something else completely.

After finishing my last moku hanga I realized that once again I was trying to treat my print like a painting, where if something didn't look quite right I could always put a little dab of color here, change a shape there, etc., etc. This is part of the beauty of painting, especially oil or acrylic painting. But it seems like a mistake for printmaking, which with the exception of lithography really is primarily linear.

Moku hanga is great for color but to a large extent it seems to be kept within clearly delineated shapes. Though I do love line and shape I don't like to be completely beholden to them. But I won't go on. To make a long story short: in printmaking I seem to always swing back and forth between more painterly prints and more linear ones. At some point they just get too painterly and I pause to think about what I'm doing.

But as John Kruk, at least I believe it was him, said in the leadup to a broadcast of a recent Philadelphia Phillies game: "Think long, think wrong." He was referring to a pitcher, thinking too much about his pitches but it could just as well be applied to artists. It's easy to get so lost in thinking about your art that you stop doing any.

For me one antidote to that is painting, especially acrylic painting. I rediscovered this medium during semi-lockdown last year. The freedom it offered was thoroughly welcome. After all the planning and constraints of the moku hanga method it was great to feel completely free. So  rather than think more about my printmaking I just switched back to acrylic. I did two new paintings, the Pine Warbler with Ring-necked Ducks above and the Louisiana Waterthrush above.

But after I'd gotten this far I decided I needed to let them sit before determining whether to do more or  to call them done. A month or  more  later I'm still letting  them sit.

Acrylic painting of Louisiana Waterthrush. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Sometime in April, knowing that migration would soon be starting I decided to do a few pencil and watercolor studies of warblers from photos I've taken over the years. They are seen in the next two photos. Their only purpose is to try to familiarize myself with their shapes, stances, anything  that seems unique to  them, so that when I see them live I might be able to sketch them. This never works!!!

The sketches may be alright in their own right but when I'm faced with a nano-second view of a warbler, as I have been a lot over the last few weeks, just about everything I know falls by the wayside. I think the best you can say is that some knowledge gets buried deep in your consciousness somewhere and may come out without  you even knowing it. I wouldn't put money on that though.

Pencil and watercolor sketches of Palm Warblers. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Pencil and watercolor sketches of Palm Warblers. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

One other thing  that happened during  the first few months of  the year is that I bought a very small drawing by John Busby, author of 'Drawing Birds' and numerous other books. In looking at the whimbrel drawing I realized how thoroughly Busby knew his subject and how deft he was with his mark making. There is  an unbelievable grace, liveliness and relaxed quality to the drawing.

This in turn got me to reread some of his other books. That coupled with the arrival of larger migrants that might stay in one spot for  a second or two convinced me to do some field sketches  with my sumi brush pen. The Bobolink  and Green Heron drawings were done just as lines. When I got  back to the studio I used a waterbrush to create a gray wash from newly put down ink from the brush. I also added larger areas of black using the brush by itself.

Sumi brush pen sketch with wash of Bobolink on Dandelion. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

Sumi brush pen sketch with wash of Green Heron. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

And finally I was struck by the complex shapes a Great Blue Heron made as it clumsily came in for a landing at the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve a few weeks ago. I remembered John Busby talking about birding with the purpose of collecting interesting shapes rather than making finely differentiated bird IDs. So when I got home I tried to recreate the scene from  memory, including  the complex shape  of the heron and the Belted Kingfisher flying above him.

It's been said that all art really aspires to music. This  makes sense to me and I think applies most to painting. Painting, especially abstract painting, really can be like music. But there's also an inherent human  drive to draw. In this sense you can say all art aspires to drawing. But drawing can become too mimetic, too detailed and too dead at times. At that time you might say that all art aspires to cartoons. This may seem sacrilegious but I often think that it is true. A cartoon-like  drawing, like the one below, can often get closer to life than anything else.

Sumi brush pen sketch with wash of Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski

And now migration is  in full swing. It's difficult  to spend any time working on art, unless it's  sketching in the field. I remain 'in between.' When migration has ended hopefully I'll have figured out how to finish  the paintings and also how to  proceed with printmaking.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Craftsmanship and Art


Whimbrel at 2-Mile Landing. Original Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. Copyright 2021.

I've spent a lot of time over at least the last five years listening to, reading about, and listening to audiobooks about music, particularly classical music. One of  the things that I've particularly noticed is that, at least in the past and I'd guess today as well, musicians learn some basics, for example harmony, sonata form and other forms, etc. The vocabulary for musical notation is astounding. I say all this as a non-musician so I realize that I'd have a slightly different take on this  if  I were a musician. But on the whole I think I'm correct.

Still it stands in stark contrast to my artistic  education and I'd guess the artistic education of  many. I have a lot of art education. 80% I'd guess is  in studio  art, two years at a community college, a year plus as an undergraduate at a very good school on west coast, and graduate studies at the same west coast school and at an Ivy League school on the east coast.  And two graduate degrees in  art. Big Deal! No, not at all. All that education doesn't  necessarily translate  into good art. I only mention it because there was a common theme to those many years of art education as a studio artist: be enthusiastic about what you do and  have at it! That was it, though  it wasn't put in such blunt  terms.

Was I unhappy with this?  No. It's just what I wanted. Particularly I wanted to PAINT, and paint I did, mostly on my own, but also with a few regular studio mates, especially on the west coast.  I don't think either we the students or our teachers expected we'd get a much out of the formal classes. We'd  learn and improve  through  studio practice.

It's only in retrospect, realizing how much theory that there is in music and musical education, that I  wonder about art education. Is there something similar in art? Is it just taught at schools other than the ones I went to? Would I have wanted a different education, one more structured and with a distinct syllabus, if I actually had the opportunity? My guess  is  that no I would not.

There of course is  the old nostrum about reinventing the wheel. Generally it is a very good nostrum. I'm just not sure how well it works  in art. Since I live in Philadelphia I do have to  wonder  about the Pennsylvania Academy of Art. I never took any courses there though I have known people who studied there. But I never talked to them about their training. But  I do have the impression  that at least the painters get a fairly classical education. And at least one  of my old  friends who shared a studio  above mine  and who studied there went on to fame and fortune as a  more or  less contemporary classical  painter. I could tell that we looked at painting quite differently, though I don't think he ever looked down on my own work. And I admired  the technique and ambition of his own work. But we did  seem to come from different worlds.

In any case it just reminds me that people do get different training in the arts and often that training stays with them.

Before I started classes at the west coast school I arrived on campus a few months  early and took  some printmaking courses in the student union.  They were pretty much one on one  and I loved them. I learned enough to do some lithography, etching and a bit of  aquatint, just enough  for me to start experimenting on my own. I loved it. But in a  few months my classes started, I had almost 24 hour access to a painting studio  and I jumped back into painting. The person who  taught  me printmaking at the student union was also a student in printmaking. So I was introduced to both the faculty and her fellow students in printmaking. But there was just something that put me off about taking a course in it. There seemed to be some odor of technique, of tradition, of something or other that just seemed  foreign to the freewheeling  attitude  I had toward art. I never had any subsequent training in printmaking.

So here we are today, where I have been doing more  printmaking  than painting over the last 10 years or more. I started with linoleum block printing, then added some shina wood blocks  in conjunction with lino, then did just western style printing with one or more  shina wood blocks. And now I'm finishing  my fourth year of moku  hanga. My most recent print, about 6x8  inches  is at the top of this post.

This very lengthy introduction  to my newest print stems from the fact that it could look to many like  I have neither general printmaking technique, nor more  specific moku hanga technique. Additionally I realize that almost all of  my moku hanga prints probably seem quite foreign to the spirit of traditional  moku hanga. I have to say I can't  really deny that.

And this I think gets to the title of this post:  Craftsmanship  and Art. When I was getting my education in art crafts, at least as far as I could tell, were starting to be considered by many  in the art world if not as exactly equals then at least on the same fluid, sliding scale. But that's not what I'm talking about. I have no argument with the idea  of  traditional crafts as art. (I don't know enough about non-traditional crafts to have an opinion on them). But some art media I believe have more of a craftsmanship tradition than others, at least today. Printmaking seems to value craft more  than painting.

One of the first things I realized once I started using more  than one block in any type of relief print was that registration was a big consideration. If you use more than one block it generally is with the purpose of  using a different color and you want the second color to register(match up)  with what you've already printed on your printmaking paper from printing the first block. As I didn't have a printing press I used various handmade jigs and devices to help with registration. They helped but there were still problems.

The thing is I didn't really consider them serious problems. For myself I didn't care all that much if things lined up properly. My guess is that if  I went through all of my multiple block prints of any type I'd find that areas of color rarely match up perfectly. It's not a goal of  mine.

Now I have to say, as I'm sure most printmakers will say,  that sounds a lot like sour grapes or something similar. You choose to be happy with less than perfect registration in printing because you're technically incapable  of getting perfect registration! I'd have to agree that I'm technically incapable of  getting perfect registration. But  I also don't believe it's worth the time and effort, at least for me. Just what is gained  and what is lost by perfect registration? For me not much is gained, but a lot might be lost, including the ability for the print to breathe.

But it's very easy to see where at least in printmaking  good registration is just considered part of the craft of printmaking. Since I  didn't have an education in printmaking I'm only guessing that this  is the case. But I'm pretty sure that I'm right.

This is only one element of  what I consider, from an outsider's perspective, to be the craft of printmaking. Another element is consistency in prints in an edition. Especially with  a complicated print involving many colors, many blocks, perhaps intricate carving there are more and more areas where the smallest little slip or lack of concentration will make one print slightly different than another. Printmakers have to decide whether or not  to include small anomalies in an edition,  My guess is that much of the final decision depends on how you've  been trained.

For me this  is  particularly difficult where I've spent a lot of time and effort in the printing, mainly due to it being a complicated print. After all that effort do I really want to toss out more  than 50% of  what I've printed? Of course not and yet expectations are that there be at least some basic similarity between prints in an edition. My guess is that I'm more lenient than many but still I cull a lot from editions.

It's easy to understand this desire to have a consistent edition. And yet here too I find  that the craftsmanship of  printing is perhaps getting in the way a bit of the art of printing.

Moku hanga has a much better method of registration than western hand-printed prints. And yet I suspect that because of this there is a greater expectation of excellent registration in moku  hanga prints. By those standards I fail pretty badly. I suspect moku hanga also has particularly high standards of paint application, even surface, etc., etc. mainly due to the incredible craftsmanship  of  traditional moku hanga. Though I strive for these and don't usually have deliberately uneven surfaces it's not something  I care about all that much. It undoubtedly is part of traditional moku hanga. It's just not something I can bring myself to consider the most important part of the print. I usually won't cull a print because the color application isn't the best.

For me it is the overall experience of the print that is most important. What is it like visually, not technically? For me that means that I'm often quite happy with my prints, especially my moku hanga, even though I'm also disappointed that the registration isn't a bit better, the paint coverage a bit better, etc., etc. For many I imagine  it looks as though I've failed at the craft of printing and it's hard to see beyond that. I can only guess but I expect that this is true. I can understand it. But I'm still quite happy with my prints.

It may be pushing this to suggest something similar in painting and drawing but I'm going to anyway. I love drawing, and painting as well. But I don't at all like drawings that enclose shapes in non-stop, continuous, undifferentiated lines. That may be a technique that was taught in classical academies hundreds of years ago but it is largely lifeless. The varying and incomplete lines of someone like  Rembrandt are far more impressive. They go beyond technique into art, into something that is moving. The art of Rembrandt breathes.

I've gone on at such great length that I'm reluctant to say much more. In some ways I'm just thinking out loud. In the end I guess  I'd use Winslow Homer as an example. He did quality wood engravings in his younger years. He was a master of line. But as he matured he didn't let himself be constrained by line. Instead it became an often invisible structure in his wonderfully free watercolors. Technique has its uses but it can also be the kiss of death for  an artist. My guess is that many artists would be better off knowing when to forget about technique. On the other hand I can't help but think of Odubel Herrera, Pat Burrell and Hunter Pence, all players at one time or another for the local Philadelphia Phillies. I used to scream every time I saw one of them at the plate with their idiosyncratic wild swings. But they still got hits. I hope my prints don't remind anyone of them, especially Pence or Herrera!


Monday, January 11, 2021

WIP - 2021

Working proof on moku hanga of Whimbrel at 2-Mile Landing. Copyright 2021 by Ken Januski.

 Very sloppy printing I know. This is the best of four proofs I've done on a new moku hanga. It might look familiar as it's based on the acrylic painting I showed in the last post. So far I've used seven 6x8 inch blocks. I need at least one and perhaps two more. As I got further along in proofing I started losing patience in my printing because I was eager to see if the print was starting to come together. So what had been a fairly nicely printed proof got sloppy at the end.

When I started I just grabbed some paper that was lying around, not even sure if it was printmaking paper. Only as I was printing did I happen to see an Arches watermark. Eventually I'll print on a different paper but this one has been fine for proofing.

After I'd done block six I believe, the dark green block I still had only areas of flat color. Something inme wanted to scream. Though flat color, with possible grading through bokashi, and with some complex but regular pattern are part of traditional moku hanga I needed something different. That's been true in most of my moku hanga. I just am not comfortable with all that flat color. So I carved into much of that green block, creating quite a lot of pattern, movement, etc. I think it  was just what the print needed. I did the same to a lesser extent with the last block, the brown one, though that one I had planned at least a little variation on.

So there you have it: a work in progress.  As with most of my work it is an ongoing dance between simple and complex. Stayed tuned to see where the dance ends.