Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Tradition: The Thoughtless Gift Guide

Back in 2004, when for one bright shining moment I was actually putting my college training to use, I was publishing regularly in the Buffalo Beast, a always very political, often very funny and offensive at every opportunity free newspaper circulated in the city of Buffalo, NY. The paper -- co-founded by a guy named Matt Taibbi who, I've heard, left to go work on some rag called Rolling Stone, or something -- is long gone, but my clip file endures. One of my favorite pieces, from Christmas 2004 is reprinted without permission below. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Buffalo Beast #65
The Thoughtless Gift Guide
By Jeff Dean
It's noon on Christmas eve and you've just learned that cousin Todd has been paroled and will be coming to Christmas dinner, or maybe you are "secret Santa" to the new kid in shipping who eats his lunch in the john. The clock is ticking, your credit card is scorched and suddenly you've gone from jolly to humbug. Don't panic. There are plenty of options for the last-minute gift-giver who has neither the thought nor the cash to put into another gift.
It goes without saying that you will start your hunt at a discount chain store such as Wal-Mart or Target. These stores have anticipated your arrival and have stocked their doorways and front aisles with dozens of thoughtless gifts, most under $10.
For the less-than-special woman in your life, consider a scarf and glove set, handsome winter accessories that are colorful, yet as protective as cheesecloth. Slipper sets are also popular because, hey, everyone has feet (though, with the war, you may want to check first). Resin fountains and musical water globes sporting fairies, angels and critters are also a favorite with the get-in-get-the-hell-out shopper. Why not splurge and pick up a matching resin garden stone inscribed with wispy verse?
There is no shortage of thoughtless gifts for the gent you have to buy for. Motorized tie racks, TV shaped remote control caddies, talking pedometers and 3-in-1 anythings abound at holiday time. Particularly obnoxious are the miniature pool or dart sets. Imagine the hours of fun you'll have imagining your lame-ass brother-in-law actually shooting pool on his lame-ass 5x7 inch table. And who doesn't like snacks? You could go spend an arm and a leg at Hickory Farms, or you could just stop at the drugstore and pick up a box from the Chestnut Creek Country Snack collection. For less than $5 you get smoked cheese spread, crackers, tea and sausage. The peace of mind is free.
A very popular "oh shit" gift is the mug set. Usually packaged with coffee, cocoa or soup, these handy packs come with mugs or bowls emblazoned with popular logos. This year, among the traditional Campbell's and Hershey's packs, you will find sets from John Deere, Field & Stream and NASCAR.
Maybe you've given the mug set too many times to the loser on your list, but you still don't want to come off like you care. No problem, with Kammenstein's hardwood mug tree, which prices at about half of what another mug set would have set you back.
If your budget is a little more flexible, consider a multipurpose watch. Toolmaker Stanley has lent its name to a line of watches that, in addition to, presumably, telling time, also open bottles, drive screws flash lights and offer level gauges. The watches come in metal replica toolboxes that can also double as an attractive casket for small pets.
For the ladies who barely blip on your emotional radar, seek out a nice shrink-wrapped tub of hyper-allergenic lotions and soaps, such as Wal-Mart's 20-pound Comfort & Care set, which includes bubble baths, shampoos and loofahs wrapped in a huge gilt basket so tasteless Donald Trump would roll his eyes.
If you want to be more subtly obnoxious, spring for the Febreze ScentStories player. Clocking in at just under $30, this useless gem uses fragrance cartridges to tell a story, such as "Walking Barefoot on the Beach" or "Relaxing in the Hammock." The cartridge cycles through different scents as it plays, supposedly telling an olfactory tale. Sounds ridiculous, but just try to find one.

There are so many choices for the thoughtless gift-giver, you'll wish you were obligated to put more names on your list. But instead, just relax, have a cup of Harley Davidson cocoa, maybe a bite off the sausage log, and be glad it's over for another year.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

But WAIT! There's MORE!

This isn't a very good photo, but the darker green is actually a fairly bright, grassy green. I was pleased with the color, and I had called this print finished. Still, something was nagging at me about it.

I've long believed that you need three tones of color to show depth. Sometimes you can use shading, sometimes you need three colors.

To me, this lacked depth. The dome has three levels of color -- white and two grays, and I think it gives the dome a good feel. While the Poinsettias aren't bad, they just don't pop for me. So I went back.

So, I carved out larger areas where I had carved for the light yellow-green, and added some cross-hatching in places (notably, on the stems). I then overprinted with a fairly dark green. I definitely got the effect I wanted, but now I have a different problem: The leaves feel too 2D. That's fine, except that I have carved away all that area. With reduction printing, there's no going back.

Well, there's always a way to go back. I will carve another block and attempt to add in some darker areas and maybe do some shadowing in those hatched areas in the center. It's a lot of work, but I think this print deserves it, and you know I could use the practice. The center of the sunflower in "Sunflower Farm (2014) used the same save.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Going Green

Just one more color to go. I'm really pleased with the colors and the coverage I'm getting from my Renaissance Graphics ink.

This light green will serve as the base for a darker green. I've had few issues with this print, and I'm surprised a bit because when a large area gets cut away, I am often plagued by ink getting on the block in areas it shouldn't be. Am--am I getting better? Gasp!🤔😁

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Stab of Color

I enjoy revealing prints to you one color at a time, because that's how I see it. Even though I know what the end image will be, I'm usually working off of a pencil and marker sketch. Like watching a Polaroid develop, printing each state reveals more and more, until at last the image is whole.

Here, you see the dome of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is complete, bright against a bright blue sky.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Under The Dome: Pt. 2

I think you can see where I'm going with this. If you live in Western New York, you can see EXACTLY where I'm going with this. The gray days are over. Let's put some color on this baby.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Under The Dome

I'm warmed up now, and ready to be challenged. This is the first color I printed, a nice light sky blue. I shot it backlit so you can see the detail. I hadn't realized how intricate the lines were going to be until I started drawing it out. Cutting was okay, but I need a new prescription for my glasses.

I should have shot the 2nd color backlit as well! I think you can see the color difference here. There are two grays, one light and one dark. I'm not sure which this one is yet! I will have to make the call after the ink dries. That is the drawback of reduction printing -- you can't play with colors as much. You pretty much have to have your decisions made going in. Not that it couldn't be corrected (see the newt print), but what an unnecessary step. Oh well, the debacle at the beginning of the newt print has left me wary and wiser!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Back & Forth

Years ago I worked in a shop with a talented printmaker who had studied under Frasconi. He showed me a number of his large portrait woodcuts, intricate and beautiful. The backgrounds, however, were just a series of scribbles made with a Steel. He commented that after the portrait was complete, he got bored. I get that, and the struggle with background is real.

I have struggled with background since I was in grade school. How tedious to detail what's BEHIND your subject. And too much detail camouflages the subject.

Luckily, I also study cartooning, and that has helped me immensely. Take any cartoon, and you will see most are not detailed, and instead they use spare symbols to impress upon a viewer the IDEA of what the symbols represent. Three rectangles in a blank field is a wall. A squiggle represents water, a few jagged spikes may be grass.

To that sensibility, I added an old technique I learned in kindergarten, but I've found traces it's roots to the surrealists: scribble drawings. I used the same technique with the Newt print, and found that it gives much depth. I imagine you will see more of this as I go.

This print was more an exercise than a work, but I'm quite happy with it. I'm very happy with the colors. I'm obsessed with photographing flowers, but I still haven't developed that as a skill for printmaking, thus the more abstract impression seen here.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

All Newt Review II

 Presently untitled, here is the final finished print, in the last two states. I always love how the black ties everything together. It's a little more primitive than I'd originally conceived, but it works for this print, particularly in the shading. If I were to do it over again -- and I am NOT!-- I might make the pink bolder, and the colors on the mushrooms darker. But I'm happy with it!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hello There, Newtiful!

So here's our little guy, creeping across the forest floor. I'm still figuring out the background and how to finish, but I've no shortage of ideas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Contrasting Opinion

Yesterday I fretted about the contrasting colors and whether there would be enough contrast when the ink dried. As you can see, everything worked well. Now we get back into the darker colors, and I think that orange is really going to pop. I'm trying something new with the background, and I'm going to worry all through that too!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Twofer Tuesday

Having rescued the print from the trick brown I used on the disappearing mushroom, I did a nice bright pink. The animal in the picture is a newt, very comon in the woods in Western New York. They are a striking bright orange with fluorescent pink dots. I prefer not to print with fluorescents due to fading, so I do the best I can to mimic. I love the look of the pink with the brown gray.

Last night, seeing that the print had dried well, I took a risk and printed the first orange. This will be the darker orange of the shadowed areas of the newt. I was very happy with this color. However, because the lighter orange is a tone of this orange, I neetd to be mindful of what happened with the mushroom. But on one of the earlier versions of this print, I played it too safe and there was way too much contrast. Here's hoping that I've figured it out!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Let's Have Fun, Guy!

The first print of 2017 is well underway and following close on the heels of this accomplishment is the first problem of 2017! But it was easily resolved and I'm back at it.

First, the print is a redo of a print I first began back in 2014, then tackled a couple more times. This was the last one:
It wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite what I'd wanted. It had some whimsy, and I liked the cartoony nature of it. But I felt I could have done better -- I was using lousy birch plywood, and I don't think I'd yet learned to properly sharpen my knives. Additionally, as evidenced here, I was still a long way from finding the cure for the ink problems I was having. The entire background should have been deep black, but the ink pulled back into tiny pools on the print after pulling it from the block.

All of those problems are gone now, and here is the print with two colors:
You can see the contrast really well between the light and dark colors of the mushroom. I was very, very happy with this. I hung the prints up to dry. The next morning, I went to do my next color and found this:
I photographed this so that you could still see the image, but in straight light, it looked like a brown square. The ink had dried to almost the exact color of the first color. Anyone who has painted a room or furniture knows this effect. As an ink tech for a printing company, I was extremely surprised, as I have never witnessed this with ink. I don't do a lot of tones, so it's not a huge problem, but it sure was disappointing. Luckily, I was able to print over this with a lighter version, and it looked awesome. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017