Wednesday, February 28, 2018

One Dog A-Leaping

White-line woodcut block

I found this block recently. I had almost forgotten that I had carved it and printed it. It would have been 6 or 7 years ago....

Even before that, I painted this:

Before the Leap, oil on canvas

It is a composition I really like, and as soon as I was introduced to the idea of a jigsaw print, I knew this image would lend itself well to the technique - there is a clear delineation between the blues and greens of the water and the yellows and browns of the dog and rocks.

Eventually, I printed this:

Life on the Edge, jigsaw reduction print, 7"x12"

You can decide which dog is your favorite.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Simply Complex

Green Wave, jigsaw reduction woodblock print, 6"x8"

The print above came from this painting:

Being Green, oil on canvas, 6"x8"

Which came from a plein air study that is around here somewhere..... I'll show you another time when it returns from vacation.

When I painted the on-site study, I watched wave after wave and painted the light on the surface of the water as it moved.

In just one wave there are so many distinct observable phenomena. Firstly, the foam which is also water but behaves so differently and is always opaque. It creates shapes like solid forms do and it has dimension and, therefore, shadows too.

Water reflects or reveals other things around it. When transparent,  the shapes and colors under the wave - rocks, sand seaweed and maybe some critters - are visible.

In this plein air painting, I focused on the wave lifting the seaweed up as it passed by:

 Seaweed in the Wave, oil on gessoed board, 6"x6"

Opacity allows all the colors on the other side to reflect from the sky and the rocks above the surface.

And then it will change fast- when the surface of the water shifts you can seemingly see the underneath and the above at the same time.

That is why, if a see a color, I brush it on. Something made it appear. 

Sometimes I see bright red in a simple wave study. By the end of the painting, it might be covered by other colors. But the fact that is was there is mirrored in the painting too.

At first, the red seems out of place, but there are species of algae and seaweeds that are red that might have lent their color to something. There is trash or buoys or my shirt or who knows what else. It was there, so it is in my study.

In this little print, the red isn’t there. But it might be in the relationships I chose while mixing hues of ink. I don't remember, but somewhere my brain has all of this stored up and I like to think I call on the library of imagery and color relationships I learn outside when I am working in the studio.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Happy Faces

Three Pups in Progress from two different unfinished paintings

There are several paintings that are very nearly finished here in the studio. 

All happy dogs exploring and swimming and playing on the coast. You will see them sometime next week. 

If you want to see them before anyone else, sign up for the newsletter. Newsletter subscribers always get free shipping and first dibs on new artwork.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chorus of Gulls

Low Tide Seat, white-line woodcut print, 6"x9"

This isn't a chorus of gulls, of course. It is just a lonely one. Hanging out, thinking gull thoughts. Specifically, great black-backed gull thoughts. You may have seen the story of this gull earning his spot in this print in a past post.

Any coastal traveler knows that, sometimes, instead of one gull, there are hundreds or thousands of them. It is quite an experience to stumble upon a giant flock. 

An explosion of wings and noise as they sound the alarm: "INTRUDER INTRUDER INTRUDER"
They all take up the call until their are hundreds of crying, scolding birds swirling around and screeching.

Unless it is nesting season, they probably won't attack you, but the sudden burst of birds like a gravity-defying downpour is certainly startling.

Last night, I was reading a novel about a British naval officer from the 1790s. The main character was on a mission near some jungles and he could hear monkeys hooting and hollering. He likened the racket to a Greek chorus - laughing at him, jeering and criticizing.

I admit that it has been a looooong time since I have thought about Greek choruses. But I instantly empathized with the captain. 

I've never painted with monkeys, but painting surrounded by gulls bursting out into raucous songs that sound like laughter has this same, creepy feel.

Once you've set up, the same gulls that yelled at you for disturbing them might come back and hang out, creating a quiet peace with you. Maybe they are keeping you company. Maybe they have accepted you as one of them for a short time.

Then maybe you step back from your painting or maybe you kick a rock or curse a brush stroke or drop something or maybe nothing at all happens and they start again. Cursing and yelling and laughing and playing the role of Greek chorus. 

It is easy to imagine that the closest gulls are watching you paint, critiquing your brushstrokes and then calling out to their peers:


Memories like that make this one black-backed all the more charming as he sits on this rock, quietly keeping his opinions to himself.

Monday, February 19, 2018

It's a Jigsaw and a White-line

Marsh Spring, jigsaw relief print, 4.5"x11"

If you have been thinking about taking the jigsaw printmaking workshop coming up this April, you've seen this photo:

On the right, you can see a proof of Marsh Spring and the block I used to print it.

Both Bright Day and Marsh Spring were created with soft blocks that cut very easily with an Xacto knife. Each color you see in the print is a separate piece of the block.

While there is just one layer of color in this print, you can also reduce the block and layer as many colors as you want. 

Want to make a color print yourself using non-toxic, easy to cut materials?

We will talk about how to make prints both ways in the workshop. 

We'll also talk about color theory and design. And materials. And paper. And...

A whole bunch of topics come up in these workshops, really, so you'll leave with prints and lots of skills to keep making art for years after!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wet Dog at Dusk

Wet Dog at Dusk, oil on canvas, 12"x12"

Here is Measure's modeling debut.

She is just over a year old now, but when she was enjoying a lovely evening sky last fall she was about 9 months old.

It is rough being a puppy artist assistant, so she needed to rest on these warm rocks for a spell. Don't tell her that modeling is work too or she'll demand a raise.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Wood for White-line Woodcuts

© Hannah Phelps
Pine board from a construction project on Appledore Island re-purposed for printmaking.

Back in the early 1900's when the white-line woodcut technique was invented, artists used pine for to make their prints. There wasn't a convenient Home Depot in Provincetown, MA back then, so they probably used scraps from construction projects

When I started, I used birch plywood because I had a pile of it lying around. I continued to use that for years. At first, they were “handy panels” from Home Depot or Lowes, but eventually, I bought some cabinet-grade Baltic birch from a real lumber yard.

Then I tried pine just for fun. I knew that it was traditional and I wanted to see how it worked. I like it and I still use it from time to time. It is very soft which makes it easy to carve.

Shina is a wood from Japan that I started using for jigsaws. One day I tried a white-line on it and liked it. It is a little harder than pine and a little less brittle than birch - a great combo.

Which wood to use for the next one? Who knows. Whatever is at the top of the pile, most likely.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Press of Wet Dog Press

Last fall, the studio in New Boston got a giant makeover - walls  painted, floors ripped up and replaced and supplies reorganized.

Lots of work, for sure, but it looks great now.

And the old space needed freshening up to welcome a new addition....

An Etching Press!

To celebrate, I have followed the example of other printmakers with their own presses and given the studio a new name.

Choosing "Wet Dog Press" was inspired by some friends of mine. Along with paint, ink, canvas, paper and brushes, who is always around when I'm working either outside or in?

A Wet Dog or two more than willing to shake salt or fresh or muddy water all over everything. Thanks to the mucky assistant goldens for the inspiration.

After a few months of cleaning and testing the press, it is now ready for its first edition.

The first print for the new press is in the proofing stage right now and it is...

A Wet Dog, of course. A black and white image so the press and I can learn more about each other without the complication of layers and colors.

It won't be the first print this press and I create together - we collaborated on a small marsh scene, just to play a little. The little print you can see below taught me how much pressure I need to get a solid, clean impression, so we are off to a good start!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Wet Dog Repose

Wet Dog Repose, oil on canvas, 12"x12"

Coast on a rock. Watching something. He’s been swimming. He's climbed up all the tall rocks and clambered back down. He’s found an empty water bottle and lorded it over his sister. He’s eaten an old fish head. He’s run in circles of joy in the fields. 

And now he rests on this rock, warmed by the sun. Just a short breather before another round of craziness.

He must take at least one more smelly dip before getting into the car. That is the Way of the Wet Dog.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Digital Prints verses Handmade Prints

Odiorne Rocks!, white-line woodcut print, 7"x7"
Example of a Handmade Print 

We call both of these things “prints”, so what is the difference?

Digital reproductions, sometimes called giclees, come from computer printers. This doesn’t make them easy to produce, necessarily.

You have to start with a great photo of the original art and then tinker with the file to make sure the colors print correctly. Several proofs are required before you reach the stage when you can just hit a button to get a reliably great product.

But once you get a print that looks great, it is that easy - press a button and a beautiful print emerges from your printer. You can even create multiple sizes right from that same file. The inks must cure for about a day and then the print is ready for framing.

Hand-pulled prints are different. They start with a matrix, in my case that is usually wood.

A design is transferred to the block somehow - rubbing with a spoon from tracing paper, using a lithographic technique, drawing directly on it - there are many ways to do this and they all take time.

Once the drawing is on the block, you need to carve away any areas you don’t want printed. Depending on how many white shapes you want and how big your block is, this takes hours or days.

If you want are sticking to a black and white image, you now roll some black ink out, apply it to the block and print with a baren or a wooden spoon using a lot of elbow grease. You can also use an etching press or a platen style press if you have access to one.

You peel the image off the block and judge your inking - are there lighter areas where there isn’t enough ink, do you want to add one of a zillion modifiers to the ink for any reason, are there weird smudges anywhere and if so, what could have caused them - do you need more pressure or less? Did the print slide? 

Make some adjustments, roll more ink on the block and examine your second print. Repeat as needed.

You print enough at this stage to get a “clean” image and then decide if you want to continue carving or start the edition.

If you want to carve more, you have to clean the block and let it dry before you can cut into it.

Then start the proofing process again.

If you are satisfied, you can go ahead and print your edition, examining each carefully as you peel it off the block for impurities.

Print as many as you want, lay them out to dry for days or maybe weeks. Then count the good ones, hand sign and number them. Now you have your limited edition of a black and white woodblock print.

Now, say you want color....

There are numerous ways to create color prints.

You can hand color the black and white prints you just finished by painting them, one by one, with watercolor.

If you know ahead of time you want a color print, you can make a white-line woodcut. I have described this process many times and you can read about it here. Depending on how big you block is, getting one print will probably take several days and each subsequent print will be hours more.

You can use a different block for each color you want to use. That means you have to carefully carve the correct areas on each block. Follow the steps for proofing a black and white image until each block is “clean”.

Then pick one of your blocks and print the appropriate color on however many pieces of paper you want. Repeat with the next block and color, making sure they line up correctly on the images you have already printed.

Then keep going until all your blocks have been printed in the correct colors.

You can do this same thing with just one block if you carve successively between layers. This is called the reduction method and I have written about it before here.

You can also cut the block in pieces and ink different pieces with different colors reassemble them and then print one layer. That is called the jigsaw method and I have written about that multiple times, including in this post.

Sounds like a lot of work, eh?

Don't mistake this for a giclee bashing post. There is nothing wrong with digital reproductions. They are a great alternative for people who want to own fine art with limited budgets. Artists still had to create some sort of original either with a photograph, a painting or something on their computer in the first place.

But PLEASE don’t confuse them with handmade printmaking methods that take months of days full of busy hours to create start to finish by hand.

I happen to make woodblock prints, but other handmade printmaking methods include:


Check them and admire the skilled craftsmen who create these wonderful prints by hand.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dawn of the Wet Dogs

Wet Dogs at Dawn, oil on canvas, 12"x12"

Early morning - before 5 - we arise to get the dogs on the beach and off again before it gets too crowded. We have four or five, depending on who is around. A closed pack that does not subscribe to a “the more the merrier” philosophy of beach-going.

Missing this date is not an option. Before the alarm, two goldens are in my face - “Is it time to get up yet?” “No, settle.” 
Eventually, I give up, throw some clothes on, and grab the essentials stored in a filthy little construction nail pouch that ties easily around my waist - balls, check, treats, check, poop bags, check.

Leashed, the dogs drag me across and then down the street to the beach access.

To pretend I am in control of the situation, they must sit while I unclip their leashes.

I throw the ball into the sea right away and wait for the others to show up. If the dogs are in the water, they aren’t bothering anyone else.

Not that there is anyone to bother - we are alone for the moment - my goldens and I. 
The young one already on his way back with the ball and the older one who had taken off with him has now turned parallel to the shore for her daily lap of the entire beach. She’ll come out for a brief visit when we turn around at the jetty. Swimming, not walking, is what she is there to do.

The younger dog, Flash, just cares about the ball. In this scene, he is probably looking to see if someone is about to throw it again. Swimming is just a means to the ball.
The painting above is the first in a series featuring dogs on the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. You can see more of them on the website now, but they'll be showing up here on the blog too!

Friday, February 2, 2018

From Little to Big

Vanguard, jigsaw reduction woodblock print, 16"x24"

A couple of days ago, I told you about a plein air painting from 2008 that inspired two smaller pieces - another painting and a white-line woodcut.

Even though the next two iterations of the composition were tiny, the idea loomed large and demanded another try.

It took many years to feel ready to attempt a giant version, but now there is Vanguard, which is the same design scaled up to 16"x24". 

Like most jigsaw reduction prints, this took months. The first colors were laid down in the fall of 2016 and the last on Memorial Day weekend of 2017.

Part of the delay is drying time. Oil based inks dry fast in the initial layers and slow down as they pile on top of each other.

Even if they set immediately, it takes a while to decide how to proceed between layers. 

There is a general idea of what colors and shapes will go where and a plan for each layer, but I wait to see how each layer behaves before making final decisions. 

It appears that both the ink and my ideas need the curing time. 

Sometimes that is a ten-year period.

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