Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Changing Colors with the Seasons

Spring, Summer and Fall prints all from one block

White-line woodcuts are printed one at a time by hand. Using a brush, you paint and print one shape at a time until you are satisfied that you are done.

When you go to print again, you can certainly use the same colors you did before. If you mixed enough of paint in the first place, your print might look identical to the first one.

Most of the time, that doesn’t happen. Instead, you try to make the second print look just like the first, but you don’t match the colors exactly. You might not even know the new one isn’t the same until you get that first one out and compare them.

Here’s the fun part - the first one isn’t really better than the second or third or however many you end up printing. It is just different. And that is exciting.

Next time, you might intentionally mix different colors on purpose.

You can’t do that as easily with painting or with every type of printmaking. With white-line woodcuts, you can play with color relationships and harmonies on the exact same design very easily.

Say you have a beautiful image of a beach. Print some inspired by a sunny, bright summer day and another with a grey sky and moody seas. In a still life, you could try a green vase with red roses one day and a red one with white flowers the next.


Come carve a block at the workshop on May 6 & 7 and print it multiple times with the same pallet or a completely different one and see what happens!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Along the Lines

First Watch, white-line woodcut print

Last week, you saw how learning a new medium can help you improve upon your current skills. Specifically, learning printmaking can strengthen the design of your paintings.

Along those same lines (pun intended) the outlines around all the shapes in a white-line woodcut can unify your images if you pay attention to it in the beginning.

Each line you are to carve in a white-line woodcut defines two shapes. This is always true in painting and drawing and real life - each edge you see is where something begins and something else ends. We don’t always pay attention to both of these things.

This is the idea between “positive” and “negative” shapes. Draw a circle on a blank piece of paper and you have really drawn two things - the circle defined by an outline and the non-circle shape surrounding it.

With white-line woodcuts, you can use a line that defines a bunch of different things to track along the entire image. Long, shared edges like that move the viewer's eye exactly where you want it to go.

In the white-line print at the top of the post, there are many lines that travel all the way from the left side of the image to the right side, even if they are informing different shapes along the way. It is more obvious in the water, but I did it in the rocks too.

You don't have to be a printmaker to do this. Celia Beaux used a similar technique in this painting:

Ernesta (Child with Nurse), 1894

There is one "line" that you can trace from the bottom right corner all the way to the middle of the top of the image - it swoops to the left, catches the outside of the little girl's dress, takes a right turn at her shoulder and shoots up her arm and into the nanny's.

You could have a lot of fun tracing this type of energy in Georges Rouault's paintings too. Also notice how his strong outlines describe the positive shapes of the women and the negative shapes between them at the same time:


Automne (Autumn) (1939-1946)

No matter what type of artist you are right now, you can use white-line woodcuts to practice this design technique.

Need some help learning about white-line woodcuts? Sign up for my workshop!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

One Way Printmaking Improves Your Painting

White-line Woodcut Print in Progress

After I fell in love with the white-line woodcut printing method, I realized that creating them was improving my painting.

I wouldn’t have expected that. In fact, I would have predicted that adding a medium would have meant less time painting which would lead to atrophied painting skills.

Instead, I found myself anticipating prints while I was painting. And that became a very useful thing.

 New Look at an Old Friend, oil on board
inspiration for the print pictured above

Right from the beginning, I had used some of my plein air sketches as references for my prints. I quickly transitioned into thinking about what would make a great print while I was painting.

That meant focusing, first and foremost, on creating solid compositions.

Compositions ARE paintings, really. Without a great composition, a painting will never work out no matter how skillful the brushwork is, no matter how vibrant the colors are, no matter how well it is rendered.

Before printmaking, I occasionally got a bit lazy about that. With oil paints, you can wipe off and start over or paint over things that don’t look right. With printmaking, it is a lot harder to fix mistakes - sometimes even impossible. Planning everything in advance doesn’t just make things easier - it is crucial.

Which really is true for painting too - if you want to get anywhere.

This was something I already knew and valued, but I didn’t always act like I knew and valued it. After printmaking for a short time, I painted like a printmaker - planning in advance.

And that made all my paintings more successful. I designed the compositions carefully right from the start and the rest of the session went smoothly.

Want to improve your painting? Paint like a printmaker. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

White-line woodcuts - A Love Story

 White-line woodcut progression

The very first time I saw a white-line woodcut, I fell instantly in love.

I think I knew it, but I didn’t believe it was happening. Is it really possible to fall in love with an art-making method?

Here is what happened and you can decide:

When I had happily been painting for about a decade, I signed up for a printmaking class. I don't remember why - maybe I wanted to understand printmaking terms better on museum trips, maybe I had extra time and money lying around, maybe a little angel whispered in my ear.

During the next several weeks, the other students and I worked our way through monotypes, collagraphs, etching, screenprints, solar plates, and, one fateful night, reliefs.

At the beginning of that evening’s class, the instructor showed us blocks and examples of block prints other students had created. She also shared a small book about Blanche Lazzell, a white-line woodcut artist. The teacher had a white-line block with some paper attached to it that she had been using as a demo for years. Using watercolor and a wooden spoon, she added another petal to her flower design right in front of us.

I had a little linoleum block and I was carving a small still life, but I had a real hard time focusing. Every few minutes, I would put down my Speedball carving tool and made my way across the room to look at the Blanche Lazzell book. Then I would scold myself to get back to work and return to carving my little block.

All night long, the book and the instructor’s block called to me like a Siren and I didn’t finish my linoleum carving that evening.

If I dreamt of white-line woodcuts that night, I don't remember it. What I do remember is that I leapt out of bed at 5:30 the next morning (not my usual get up time), and rushed around gathering a small piece of spare plywood, a utility knife and a crusty water color set. I quickly drew a small design loosely based on mountains in winter, transferred it to the paper, carved it, inked it and printed it. 

Before breakfast, I had created my first white-line woodcut start to finish.

Since the night white-line woodcuts and I fell in love with each other, I have met other obsessed souls. There is something unique and special about them. 

Maybe you have already fallen in love... 

Maybe you would like to see what power this medium holds over those of us who are under its spell. 

Either way, you could find out if this is for you by signing up for my workshop! It is in May in Manchester, NH.

Find out more by clicking here!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Painting Victory, Part II

Tubes of the Trade, 8" x 10", oil on canvas 

This is the final painting I completed for Strada Easel's September Challenge.

The challenge, in case you don't remember from the last post, was to paint from life everyday in September. That doesn't mean plein air landscapes only - still life counts. When I didn't have a ton of time or I thought it might rain, I set up a still life on my front porch. Just like when I paint landscapes outside, I stopped when the light and shadows changed dramatically from my original composition.

On the last day, I laid some of my paint tubes on a stool on the porch. This turned out to be my favorite painting of the whole month. I learned more about myself as a painter and about what I still need to learn than I had in years from this sill little pile of paints.

When I painted the tubes, I got into the correct frame of mind for painting very quickly. This is a state in which artists cease identifying the scene as objects - metal tubes, white paper labels, plastic black caps, wooden stool - and start focusing on what we really see - colors, shapes, tones, values.

We are often taught to do this by painting and drawing white, grey and black shapes - spheres, cones, cylinders, cubes, rectangular boxes.

The idea is that these shapes are pretty much everywhere, so if you learn how light hits a cylinder, you can paint a tree trunk, if you can paint a sphere, you can paint a tomato, etc

New paint tubes look like a combination of cones and cylinders, but older, partially empty tubes don’t look like anything else - just scrunched up metal with white paper stuck to it.

For a long time, I thought I was pretty good at painting shapes and colors instead of "trees", "rocks", or "lemons" but painting the tubes showed me that I was far from entering that perfect state non-object thinking.

When I painted the used tubes, I reached a deep state of looking and painting exactly what I saw because I had no choice. It was very difficult and humbling and extremely fun.

Winter is coming, and with it, maybe some more still lifes of challenging subjects.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Painting Victory, Part One

Day 13 of the STRADA September 30-Day Challenge

As you can see from the photo above, my outdoor easel is a not ideal. I am making it work, but it would be nice for it to be a bit taller and to avoid using a bulldog clip to secure my paintings.

The thing is, I have other easels - an embarrassing number of them. But this set-up is the only one that fits entirely inside my backpack. That leaves my hands free for lunch, dog water and a bowl. I haven't weighed it recently, but it isn't too heavy when it is all packed.

But it still kind of sucks. So when I received the following email from Strada Designs, I got excited:


September is a beautiful time of year to paint and we are committed to helping artists improve their work. One of the best ways to improve is to make a personal daily commitment to painting. Beginning September 1st, do a plein air painting each day.  Post the image of your piece for that day on Facebook.  Remember to use the hashtag #stradaeasel so we can keep track and share your progress on our Facebook page. At the end of the month if you have painted and posted each day for thirty days straight (the entire month of September) you will be entered to win a STRADA Easel of your choice. 


I took the Challenge because I knew that the worst that would happen is that I would paint a lot, and that is always a good thing.

Not only did I complete the Challenge, but I actually painted for 34 days straight because I was on Appledore Island at the end of August. While on the island, I painted more than one panel a day - usually 3 or 4 - so I think the total was 40 paintings.

Strada will announce the five winners tomorrow night. But I feel like I don't need to win an easel to feel like a champ. Over the next few posts, I'll tell you about my major revelations.

The main thing I learned - re-learned really - is that I enjoy painting. That might sound dumb to anyone out there who doesn't paint - everyone assumes that artists have an undying passion that motivates them to work all the time. The truth is that painting is a lot of work and sometimes we avoid doing it. But the Challenge forced me to get started everyday. Even when it was raining. Even when I thought there was nothing to paint. Even when I was tired or busy.

I painted through two migraines, four days of agility competitions, many cloudy or rainy days, an open studio, and a reception for a solo exhibit. I also planned and carved layer one of a new 16” x 24” woodcut.

I always ended up enjoying painting, even when I really dreaded doing it.  

Rediscovering a joy in painting is Victory Number One.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Solitude vs. Isolation

Appledore Blue, jigsaw reduction woodblock print, 6" x 8"

As you know, I visited Appledore Island to teach printmaking and paint a bit in August. While I was out there, someone told me that the Peabody Essex Museum, (currently exhibiting a bunch of Childe Hassam's Appledore paintings) had asked our students some questions about their experiences creating art on the island for the museum's blog. 

I never read the questionnaire, but I heard that one of the questions was something like: How did the solitude of the island affect your art? 

I passionately responded, “Solitude? Where did anyone find any solitude? I’ve been racing all over this island trying to find some!”

That very morning I had rushed out of bed early to paint some dramatic light before breakfast only to find that two artists and a poet already set up near my chosen spot and a gaggle of museum curators had gathered for a little tour of good sunrise viewing sites.

While I enjoyed the first light from my rocky perch, I didn't get any painting done.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about this issue deeply, because something about the island does change my perspective about painting. There is something special about the place, for sure.

The mysterious "altered state of being" reminds me of how I felt when I was in SEA Semester as a college student. I was on a sail boat with around 30 other people for 6 weeks. We did stop a few times and see other folks, but for the most part it was just us.

What I felt on that boat was definitely not the result of solitude. Think about it - 30-odd people on one ship out at sea means no one is alone. Ever.

We had no solitude - we had an isolated community.  Just like on Appledore. I don’t really know how many people were on the island when I was there. Well short of the 120 maximum amount the place can hold these days. Less than 50, probably. But the island isn’t very big. 

The buddy system is encouraged. The rules are fair but strict, as any violation means extra work for someone else. Everyone eats together on a firm schedule. We sleep in close quarters and hope to fall asleep before our neighbors start snoring. 

There are also smaller sub-communities of artists or scientists or staff or alumni within the general population. During dinner, we artists share our experiences of the day, report on exhibits we enjoyed earlier in the summer, our favorite artists or a newly discovered color. We take advantage of being isolated from our non-artist friends and families and co-workers and everyone else with other like-minded fellows.

Solitude is what I get when I go to the printmaking studio alone early in the morning or lug my painting pack into the woods. Solitude is alone-ness without loneliness. Important to my creative process, but not why I go to Appledore Island.

On the island, it is not solitude that changes our attitudes about our surroundings, our creative work and our companions. It is shared isolation from the mainland and a shared appreciation for the history, culture and natural beauty of the place. It is a shared rigid schedule that allows space in our day for focusing on our art creation. 

It is a shared interest in creating and helping each other do so. Together.

Note: I wrote this before I read the blog entry PEM published earlier in the month. I encourage you to head over there and see what some other artists think. You will also be treated to a marvelous poem. I was surprised to see that they've included a photo of me drawing and a second one of my paintings and a print from last summer. 


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