Today's postings

  1. [Baren 39013] Baren 2002 Brochure and... (ArtfulCarol #
  2. [Baren 39014] Re: New Baren Digest (HTML) V47 #4833 (May 24, 2009) (Marilynn Smith)
  3. [Baren 39015] Re: Baren brochure & blog update (Elizabeth Atwood)
  4. [Baren 39016] RE: blog link and no woodcut material (Charlie overshoe)
  5. [Baren 39017] Baren Member blogs: Update Notification (Blog Manager)
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Message 1
From: ArtfulCarol #
Date: Sun, 24 May 2009 14:46:39 GMT
Subject: [Baren 39013] Baren 2002 Brochure and...
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The 2002 Baren brochure that Julio wrote about is a beauty. It doesn't
need much updating. I have been making them available at my art exhibits,
which included woodblock prints and several other types of art I do.
Two of my woodblocks are now in the Rockefeller Collection. Woodblock
prints are listed on my business card. Get your cards out. You never can
Carol L.
Irvington, NY
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Message 2
From: Marilynn Smith
Date: Sun, 24 May 2009 16:18:37 GMT
Subject: [Baren 39014] Re: New Baren Digest (HTML) V47 #4833 (May 24, 2009)
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Hello all,

I mailed the first of my ox prints the other day. The first to go out
are to the folks who have sent me my prints. I have to run a few more
because it was so hot in my garage in Baja that I did not print quit
enough for the whole list. I promise to get busy on that and the rest
of you will get your ox as soon as I can get them all printed and in
the mail. In fact the envelopes are all addressed!! Thanks for all
the lovely prints.

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Message 3
From: Elizabeth Atwood
Date: Sun, 24 May 2009 18:01:41 GMT
Subject: [Baren 39015] Re: Baren brochure & blog update
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I'd love to be able to make a copy of the brochure.................
but the urls given do not work. Any help? ElizA
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Message 4
From: Charlie overshoe
Date: Mon, 25 May 2009 11:52:35 GMT
Subject: [Baren 39016] RE: blog link and no woodcut material
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I can speak only for myself but .... I enjoy seeing what people are doing in the art world. It is interesting to see what a fellow printmaker does besides relief printing..... be it drawing, oil painting, or working with acrylics, clay, wood, fabric, etc. To confine our blogs to just the one discipline ( if we work in multiple medias) seems very one dimensional to me.

>My paintings are part of my art practice, but they are really something I do for me
>and my prints develope from them. Indeed most prints start off as paintings in black
>and white on the lino and the cutting is the step that lasts while the painting is cleared

Digest Appendix

Postings made on [Baren] members' blogs
over the past 24 hours ...

Subject: Episode : A Walk in the Woods
Posted by: Dave Bull

This is what you get when you put a little digital recorder in your pocket, clip a mic to your lapel, and head off into the nearby woods for a morning walk. (Some 'tech notes' are in the first comment, below ...)

* * *

So here we are, back in the RoundTable, with what may turn out to be ... another slightly overlong post! I did this the other day - started to post a short note, and ended up having it run and run ...

So, do I actually have so much free time these days that I can spend so much time on this sort of thing? I thought David was supposed to be so 'busy.' Of course David is busy, but it's that time when one print is finished, it's out for packing and shipping, the waiting desk work is done, the bookkeeping is done. Most of the email - not all of it for sure - is caught up on. The next job of course is - designing the next print!

For some of the prints in this series, I've known what I was going to do with it, quite some time in advance. But for some of the others, I haven't had a clue, and this is one of those. The next print - Forest in Summer - I don't have the slightest idea what to do.

So, instead of buckling down to it this morning, time for a bit of procrastination ... Let's see what comes out ...

When I set this RoundTable up some years ago, I chose that name for a specific reason, rather than name it 'Dave's Blog', or the 'Woodblock Blog', or some such thing. Because I had thought that what I would like to encourage was a kind of literal 'roundtable', where a group of like-minded people would chat together about the topics that were of interest. Not one guy at the head of a long table, putting things out and getting responses, but more of an environment where everybody put things into the mix.

But because of the way that the 'net works - people drop by and browse the pages, perhaps leave a comment if they feel so inclined, and then click away - there is actually nothing RoundTablish about it at all. Dave talks, and people sometimes add comments to that.

It's too bad. It's easy enough for me to try and encourage more participation, but perhaps it just can't be helped. This is just the way that the blog format works.

Anyway, we've got some time this morning, thanks to the procrastination, so let's put something down ...

* * *

I saw this TV program last night. As I have mentioned before, I have no TV, but one of my collectors sent me a DVD dub of a program on traditional printmaking that was broadcast recently on NH ... on a major national network here, thinking that I would be interested in watching it. I had actually already heard about this program, because it has received quite wide media coverage; it's been in the papers, people have been sending me emails about it, even my neighbours have asked, "Did you see that special program about the woodblocks?"

So yes, I was interested in seeing it, and set aside the time last night. But I tell you, by the time the ninety minutes were up, I was standing on my chair ... Cheering? No ... screaming!

It was about some woodblocks. It must be a few years ago, somebody in one of the distant rural parts of Japan, somebody from what must have been a wealthy family around a hundred years ago, unearthed from their storeroom a pile of woodblocks. They didn't know what they were, and actually, as we learned in the program, started splitting them up and using them as fuel for their wood stove. One day, one of the guys who was feeding the stove looked a bit closely at the piece of wood, and seeing how intricately carved the surface was, thought that it might be a good idea to perhaps check with somebody to see if this stuff could be useful to anybody.

Well, of course you know what happened; once word got out that these looked like old printing blocks from the late Edo period, the museum people descended in droves, and the blocks are now securely protected in a museum where they are being thoroughly studied and investigated.

It turns out that these are indeed blocks from the late Edo / early Meiji period. By investigating the designs carved onto them, they can be matched up with known prints from that time, many of which were designed by some of the big names from those periods, people like Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi. Now that alone would make these blocks 'treasures', but what really puts this whole thing over the top is the fact that these blocks show absolutely no signs of being re-printed in the intervening years.

The reason this is such a bit deal is that anytime old blocks surface here and there, as they occasionally do, they are invariably used for printing. People want to see the design, so somebody rubs pigments on and tries printing them. I even do this myself with blocks from a flea market; try taking an impression from them, to get an idea of what the print looked like. So whenever we do run across old blocks, we never really can tell just how old the pigment residue is. It could be ten years old, it could be a hundred; who knows.

These blocks though, are documented to have been untouched since the 'old days'. This is a real big deal for researchers who are trying to pin down just what materials were used to make pigments in the old days; what kinds of minerals, what kinds of plants, etc. etc. So these blocks are a fabulous treasure for them - a literal 'time machine' directly back into the old workshops.

They have been subjecting these blocks to all kinds of scientific analysis - X-ray diffraction, or spectrographic analysis, or whatever else they think is useful. And they are really getting results, finding that this was made with lead, this was made with such-and-such, and so on. This is a wonderful resource for them.

Now what they did next, either as part of the research, or to try and make the TV program more interesting, was to arrange for a contemporary printmaker to make a reproduction of one of these same designs (carving a fresh set of blocks, because of course nobody is now allowed to mess with these old ones), with the idea that for the printing, they would use these exact same materials for the pigments.

Remember, that all the old prints we now see in our museums and collections are hugely faded. Some of the pigments were 'fugitive', and lost their colour richness over time, while others were prone to oxidization, becoming blackened as the years go by. So a fresh reproduction like this would provide the world with a way to see exactly what one of the old prints looked like when it was first made, and when seen side-by-side together with one of the remaining copies of that design from a museum collection, would provide an exact 'measure' of just how, and in what way, the fading had taken place.

Great idea! And I really should have been standing on my chair cheering by the end of the program!

But instead, what happened next had me leaning forward to the screen, in shock at what I was seeing. They showed an outline of the process by which this craftsman had made his reproduction - tracing an original to get the outlines, then pasting that down on an block, carving it, then later moving on to the printing stage, etc. etc.

* * *

Before we can talk about what I saw, I have to speak about myself for a minute.

When interviewers came to me - this is going back many years - they would ask me, "What is the most difficult part of the process?" They kind of knew what I was going to say, and I too, stepped into their expectations, and usually replied something like, "Yes, it's the hairlines - these delicate ukiyo-e hairlines - this is the most difficult part!" Then I would describe it in the way that was expected of me:

"I save the hairlines for the last. I get myself in 'tip-top' condition; all the rest of the work is done, and I'm well 'warmed up'. I sharpen the knife very carefully of course. I then sit before the block. Take deep breaths. Then one by one, carefully - ever so carefully - I carve the hairs."

Now this is horse-radish ... absolute horse-radish.

Don't misunderstand; I wasn't lying to them, this actually was the way I myself was thinking at the time. But eventually, over years of repetitious work, I came to understand that this was completely the wrong approach to the job. Whether it is a juicy fat line in the image, or the most delicate of wispy lines, it makes no difference at all in the way you approach your work. You sharpen the tool in the way that will give the best result for the job at hand, then you sit down, pick up the tool, and cut the line. That's it, and that's all. No drama, no deep breaths, no fuss, no nothing. Just carve what you see.

If you approach the work full of tension - whether real or imagined - that tension will clearly be expressed in the finished work. Carving hair is no different than carving any other part of the block. Of course, there are techniques involved; you hold the knife a certain way, make the cuts in a certain sequence, etc. etc., but in 'mood' it is no different than any other part of the job.

But in this program, they just poured it on. I have no idea if it was the craftsman's idea, or something that the producers came up with, but they really made the episode into a mini-drama in its own right. He posed with the block in place on the desk in front of him ... gazed at what he was about to undertake ... dabbed sweat from his forehead ... he even held his breath as he started to cut. Drama, drama drama.

And it was a mess.

He started to carve; one hair ... two hairs ... And by then I'm yelling at the screen, "Stop! Stop! You're totally screwing it up!" The hairs were crooked, the way the knife was sharpened was totally unsuitable for the job, and it seems that even the piece of wood was not properly selected for this. It was a mess.

[Long item has been trimmed at this point. The full blog entry can be viewed here]

This item is taken from the blog Woodblock RoundTable.
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