Life: Printmaking (socially distanced, as always)

Making textures

Unofficial test prints. The first and third images are the same print in slightly different lighting. These will likely each wind up as the first layer to a two or three layer print, and so may never be seen in this form again.

I wasn’t as artistically productive as I wanted to be in 2020. While the pandemic kept me working from home for 10+ months, my job expanded to fill the time I’d reclaimed from my evening commute, and colleagues would ask for assistance regularly on nights and weekends. While there is plenty of work (my department has been notoriously understaffed), I suspect my colleagues also preferred to work constantly rather than read the same kind of pandemic news I’m reading too much of. Perhaps work was a shield against 2020’s damning news cycle.

“Doomscrolling” was my preferred method of coping – I like to keep informed AND look for patterns and solutions that may be useful – and my eyes tired from taking a break from one screen just to stare at another.

Also, angst about the election kept me from making the happy art I like to make. I can manage to find things I want to photography in just about any mood, but painting and printing require a lot more of my attitude and something closer to bravery, and I just haven’t had as much of that as I would like.

So: it’s nice to have made some acrylic monotype prints today, to have tried a new paper for this purpose, to have obtained interesting results, and to have learned something I can apply in the future. It brought me joy. We can all use more joy.

Writing: White ink on black paper

Who has black scrap paper? I do. Of course I do.

I write. A LOT. Years ago, I was distressed over how many disposable pens I could go through in a month (too many), and looked for environmentally responsible options. I switched to refillable cartridges/tubes for work and travel, and fountain pens that refill with bottled ink for home. Most of my writing now relies on no-waste refills!

The fountain pens are FANTASTIC and surprisingly ergonomic: I chose pens that are larger and easier to hold than disposable pens, and which glide over smooth papers, all without the strain of pressing down hard that normal paste-ink rollerball pens require.

Something was missing, though: nothing could beat the Uniball Signo white gel ink pens. I use them to write on black paper; I use them to write in photo albums; I use them to draw on watercolors. However, they are disposable, no refills are available, I consume them quickly, AND they dry up fast, so that efforts to stock up on them backfire. (The only thing BETTER is the Uniball Signo silver pen, but that only solves the drying up problem, and doesn’t work for all of my art needs.)

I tried to emulate my solution for replacing other pens: I purchased bottles of white ink and put them into fountain pens. Good opaque white inks clog up the fine feed, however, and I’ve had to clean the same pen every few pages (!!) while writing a long letter.

Glass pen tip dipped into Pilot Iroshizuku ink in Yama Budo (wild grape), to bring out the swirly ink channels.

Long story short: I bought a glass pen. Yes, a pen made of glass. Aside from the fact that I will OBVIOUSLY let it roll off a table and break eventually, it seems perfect: it has no moving parts, is easy to clean, and holds ink on its exterior grooves. Conveniently, it works with BOTH the thicker and thinner inks I’m testing it with.

This shows my reasonably natural writing with Higgins Super White. It’s waterproof, though my paper isn’t.

There is an adjustment to make: you need to dip the pen to add ink every paragraph or two. It’s manageable with practice.

Both of my chosen inks flow really well with it. The pen is easy to write with, even with my healthy fear of accidentally snapping it in two. (I have snapped metal garlic presses in half more than once, so I’m a bit sensitive.) It doesn’t glide AS smoothly as a fountain pen would, so it makes a little bit of noise on textured paper, but it glides well enough to write naturally when loaded with ink.

Here’s a sample on my soft German paper with the thicker ink, Herbin’s Encre de Calligraphie in blanc. It says right on the label, “Not for fountain pens,” though that didn’t stop me from trying for a while.

The Higgins ink lies very flat; the Herbin ink can be built up slightly, and is thicker and more opaque, but to my surprise, I can write finely with either one. (You can see the difference in thickness in opacity just by looking at the pen tip in the photos above.)

So: I have a solution to my disposable white gel ink pen problem! A FANCY solution. I’m delighted. I can now heartily recommend either or both of these inks on smooth, relatively non-absorbent (non-feathering) papers.

Art: Textile design by Märta Måås-Fjetterström

I received a gorgeous postcard in the mail today from Norway; it’s a card from a retrospective art show in Sweden of the artist Märta Måås-Fjetterström. She’s famous for her amazing carpets, which have been used in Nobel Prize ceremonies, and are in design collections of museums around the world.

I was delighted to search for her, and see some of her work. Her studio is still active and producing her designs, and so there are MANY search results!

Märta Måås-Fjetterström

Märta Maas-Fjetterström was an influential Mid-Century Swedish textile designer. Her pieces are prized as classic and timeless examples of Modernist Swedish textile ideals. Often inspired by nature, her carpets are both stylized and organic, evoking her earthly source material though the subtle depictions of flowers and landscapes.

Somehow, the WSJ has one of the best-illustrated article on the operation of her studio in the present time.

The Enduring Appeal of Märta Måås-Fjetterström’s Modernist Swedish Rugs

A Swedish artist working in the early years of the last century, quietly radical in her choices of clear, bright colors and abstract imagery. Pioneering painter Hilma af Klint, the subject of a blockbuster show currently on view at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, isn’t the only one who fits this description.

I learn so much from my friendly postcard senders!

Art/Science: Citrus Botanical Illustrations

This is a reminder that many citrus fruit used to have insanely thick peels, the way some pomelos do:

An early-modern ode to citrus fruit – in pictures

Johann Christoph Volkamer was a 17th -century Nuremberg silk merchant with passion for gardening that defined his life. He was obsessed with citrus fruit at a time when the genus was largely unknown in northern Europe. In 1708, he commissioned 256 plates of 170 varieties of the fruit – images collected in a new book by Prof Iris Lauterbach called JC Volkamer.

Art/Science: Marianne North’s botanical paintings

Details from the Kew Gardens postcard box collection of Marianne North’s work. I’m delighted to have come across this, and know I’ll need to keep some of these for myself, though my pen friends will enjoy all the others!

If you’ve read any of my prior blogs, you know I love scientific illustrations, both by hand and with photographs, especially for botany. I’m delighted to now have a Kew Gardens (UK) postcard box dedicated to Marianne North’s botanical oil paintings.

Kew has a collection of more than 800 of her oil paintings, which were not only attractive, but also novel for her time: they were painted in oil paints, when the convention was watercolor; and they were painted with details of their native environment, not just on a white background. North had been impressed by Kew’s plant collection, and wanted to go to where those plants came from, to study them in the field. Though her father had died and she was unmarried, she was wealthy enough to ignore conventions requiring her to travel under a male relative’s supervision, and set off at age 40 to explore 15 countries over 14 years.

I love that she painted a pitcher plant that had not previously been documented by Europeans, which excited the botanists, who worked her name into the formal species name. (I always have an issue with Europeans naming things outside of Europe after themselves, rather than getting input from local people IN that region, but in this instance I’m consoled that they at least named it after a female artist who called their attention to it.)

Marianne North Gallery

More than 800 remarkable paintings cover the walls of the Marianne North Gallery. A vivid collection of 19th century botanical art, the gallery is a treat for both art lovers and adventurous minds. As a woman who defied convention, North travelled the world solo to record the tropical and exotic plants that captivated her.

I like her work; I like her convictions about including the natural settings, which themselves convey a great deal of information; and I am impressed that she could do so much in oil paint, which I think of as requiring more time (to dry especially) and requiring much heavier supplies (and solvents!). I like that Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her in Sri Lanka. (I hadn’t known that JMC even WENT to Sri Lanka…)

Kew’s collection isn’t an accident: North not only gave it to them, she paid for, designed, and staged the building her collection resides in. She could afford to share her work and love of plants on a rather grand scale, and she did.

I’m enjoying her work (I love many of the plants she loved), and love the quality of the postcard collection, which will allow me to ply my friends with her art.

Book: Hokusai’s Landscapes, the Complete Series, by Sarah E. Thompson

What a great cover!

Hokusai’s Landscapes, the Complete Series
by Sarah E. Thompson
published by MFA Publications (The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
2019

Hokusai was a master of block printing, and he and his collaborators produced prints that extensively influenced the art world both within Japan and throughout Europe. This gorgeously produced hardcover book reproduces his famous collections, including the views of Mt. Fuji, famous bridges, and scenic waterfalls, along with gorgeous details and text that provides context for the locations the images are based on and explanations of the work frequently being performed in the scenes.

There are works dedicated to stops along historic pilgrimage trails, references to mountain-worship, works created to illustrate or allude to famous poems, and lovely blow-ups of details.

YES, he did more than one version of his famous wave!

YES, he did more than one version of Mt. Fuji in red light!

YES, he had a hazy, impractical idea of how large logs were sawn! But he really liked drawing that, and so you have to give him points for enthusiasm. He liked showing people at work generally, not just wealthy people lounging around, but people farming, gathering clams, washing fabric, and other ordinary tasks of daily working life. Even when someone fancy is present, there is always someone behind them, carrying their stuff!

I have multiple layers of interest in Hokusai’s work. I make prints of multiple types; I use Prussian Blue for much of my work (Prussian Blue is the color of cyanotypes!) ; I create some work in a series with grandiose names (I’ve got a set of acrylic ink & paint works in development since 2015 called One Thousand Abstract Thoughts, and the name may partly be Hokusai’s fault); and I am trying to understand how to document or commemorate specific places, or at least have a better grasp of how this was done prior to documentary photography.

I hadn’t seen all of the works in this collection before, and am thrilled to have it. The waterfalls and bridges are worth it – I’d seen so few of these!

Seeing more of his work organized in this way, I also can better distinguish what I like about Hokusai from other famous Japanese printmakers. Hokusai’s work has often appeared in collections / shows with other artists, including Hiroshige, who is similarly excellent but has a different compositional approach. (Hiroshige has more works that focus on specific details up-close, rather than these broad landscape and town scenes….)

This is a lovely book for fans who want to spend more time staring deeply into these well-designed and beautifully executed prints.

Art: Studio Olafur Eliasson’s “sometimes the river is the bridge”

You might already know I geek out over the experimental art/science of Studio Olafur Eliasson, which I’ve likened to the Exploratorium, but for fine artists, which somehow also has an amazing vegan restaurant for staff. (Ooooooo!)

The Studio has a new show in Japan right now, and the studio decided to avoid air freight by using land and sea-surface transport to get the exhibits from their current locations and/or Germany. The transport containers included art devices to make abstract, graphical records of the journey, and the show includes those results, and everything from water and light art to experiments in using kitchen and art studio scraps to make pigments and solid modules for future artwork.

It’s CLEVER and it’s ART. Such a happy combination!

Sometimes the river is the bridge – Studio Olafur Eliasson

Sometimes the river is the bridge – Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo – Studio Olafur Eliasson

The beautifully laid out pages, which include installation images of the exhibition, scroll horizontally. (On my computer do so rapidly, so be ready to use some fine motor control!). The studio’s layouts and images impress me, as they always do.

I love the images of the food-waste-derived pigments, especially. Plant pigments have an interesting history, and one I’ve dabbled with photographically: the alternative photography community (alternativephotography.com) uses plant pigments to make anthotypes, which are photographic prints using plant pigments. How? A positive transparency shields some portions of the pigment painted onto paper from fading, with some lovely results. (Malin Fabbri wrote a lovely textbook to teach you how!) It’s nice to see SOE’s technique, and the use of dehydration specifically.

The ‘materials lab’ section is where a lot of the innovation appears, and the experiments all look thoughtful. It’s nice to see the process-thinking behind the studio’s work, rather than only finished pieces.

If you need an art break from [*gesturing at the state of the world*] things, check it out.

Life: I used to draw!

A sketch from one of my early 1990s sketchbooks

Once upon a time, I would sit down and DRAW. Lots of us love to draw when we are kids, and I kept at it, and could draw for enjoyment into adulthood. This came in handy when I chose to study architecture (though you could get by with drafting for anything that required straight lines; note that I went to school before CADD was a thing, so I mean drafting by hand.)

I enjoyed sketching, not impress other people (as it feels is common in this new, social media age), but to REALLY LOOK AT THINGS CLOSELY and learn about them through that deep study and transforming them into two dimensions on paper. Few of my drawings are good (in the showing-off meaning), but I learned something from the process of creating each of them.

I don’t have any photos of my city’s old deYoung Museum, but I do have sketches of it! And of other things.

Some early 1990s sketches of the old deYoung in Golden Gate Park (in pencil and fine pen), Alcatraz, and a general northerly view over the San Francisco Bay (in soft pencil), all by me.

Some of the color drawings, despite the fact that I don’t much like the texture of colored pencils, showed I WAS learning how to use them!

Selections of colored pencil sketches in the same notebook as the other images in this entry; the lower right one is pastel.

I love that I took the time to MAKE these. I love that I gave myself that opportunity, even while taking a risk that nothing would really come of it, that I could enjoy both looking and drawing. It’s a rich experience, having that kind of focused attention and doing something with it. I had never really LOOKED at a cantaloupe closely, but one day I cut one open and knew I had to draw it and its lovely seeds.

I drew from life (from a place I really was, like the marina where I drew that boat, or the geometric shapes that were based on an origami project I had made with friends), and photos (the garden in the lower center was surely from a magazine), or that I invented (the house on the hill with Japanese-castle-like details and modern windows, if I remember correctly).

It’s fun for me to look back through this old sketchbook (which I came across while cleaning out a box in the garage), and think about how good it was that I took the time to study and enjoy the time I spent drawing these things. My life was challenging during that time period (tuition was becoming a serious hardship, etc.) , but this was something I did for myself, and I’m glad I did.

I have lots of interests, and my career has limited the time I can spend on my own projects, so I’ve given up drawing and painting to make room for work, sleep, and loved ones.

I felt I could only choose one creative pursuit, and I chose photography (and writing for my own websites, if you haven’t noticed). I have no regrets about that choice, but would love to “have it all” – including more time to study, draw, and paint.

Art: US Postal Service Stamps Honor Ruth Asawa

10 gorgeous images of Ruth Asawa’s sculptures

I am completely delighted that the US Postal Service is issuing stamps featuring sculptures by California artist Ruth Asawa.

We claim Asawa here: she created numerous sculptures we have, including the famous mermaid sculpture at Ghiradelli Square, the charming children’s clay figure sculpture near Union Square (now adjacent to the Apple Store), and a remarkable collection of woven wire structures that are included in the collection of our deYoung Museum; we’ve named a school after her!

It’s wonderful to see her work shared with others nationally in this highly democratic way.