Tuesday, April 28, 2009

California Dreamin'

Fence Sitter and Friend
7" X 5" pen and ink

It pays to go on vacation! Not only did I spend ten days in California getting the royal treatment from my family, soaking up the sun, smelling the flowers, and seeing the sights, but I sold three boxes of cards in my Etsy shop (I'm up to FIVE SALES now, folks!) and I had one of my drawings ("Fence Sitter and Friend") featured in a collection of goats on the Totally Timmy blog. Check it out! There are a lot of cool goats there.

So now I'm home in Maine again. The snow is gone, the grass is green, and the Daphne--always first--is blooming deliciously. It's a far cry from the tropical gardens I admired in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it's hopeful. I have three PenPets commissions waiting to take shape on my drawing board and a vigorous crop of dandelions ready to be yanked from my garden. My work awaits me!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Kangal & Two Companions

5" X 7" pen and ink

Honey is a nine-year-old Anatolian Shepherd Dog, an ancient breed from Turkey, also known as the Anatolian Karabash. Turks call them Kangals. These big, powerful dogs are fierce protectors of their flocks. When Tom and I hiked in Turkey, we learned to give the Kangals we came across a wide berth. We didn't want to mess with them or their sheep! I thought it highly appropriate that I was drawing a Turkish Kangal while President Obama and his wife, Michelle, were visiting Turkey!

Honey lives far from Turkey in Dripping Springs, Texas. She weighs in at 100 lbs., but she is so long-limbed and lithe that you wouldn’t know it. Every weekend, she visits a horseback riding stable. “She loves that,” says Gail, “eating hoof cookies, rolling in manure, interacting with the other dogs, lying in the dusty sand. Whenever we walk on the property, of course, she leads the way in great leaps. Occasionally, she chases a bunny or guinea hen. But, her breed is a guard type and her preference is to lie some place she can see everything. On a funny note, she is NOT a morning person. This morning, for example, Meg and I had already gotten up, made coffee, showered, had breakfast, but Honey had not even come out of the bedroom yet. When she did, she squinted her eyes at me, yawned, and then stretched a big downward dog. She's the easiest, quietest dog we've ever had.”

On another note:

I always advise people with pale dogs—Golden Retrievers, yellow Labradors, apricot Poodles, snowy Samoyeds, honey-colored Turkish Kangals—to choose a dark background for their PenPets portraits. It costs a little more (all those cross-hatchings take time, a steady hand, and a mindless sort of concentration), but I think it’s worth it to set off the dogs on the page. I decided to test my theory on this next drawing. Here are Sidney and Charlie with no background.

Kind of flat, I'd say.

Here is the finished portrait with a dark background.

Sidney & Charlie

5" X 7" pen and ink


Now the dogs pop right off the page! The dark background gives Sidney, the Golden, more depth, and it even adds drama to Charlie, the black-and-tan hound mix. These two dogs live in Salem, South Carolina, and are the constant companions of Oksana. Sidney is a happy dog, always smiling. Charlie is a hunter with no patience for photo ops. Is he scowling just a little bit in this portrait?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My How-To of Woodblock Printing

This blog is dedicated to my mother, who can't imagine what in the world a woodblock print is or how in the heck I make one!

YinYang Piglets
10" X 10" woodblock print

This project began with a photograph I took at the Blue Hill Fair last September—two tiny piglets snoozing in a bed of wood shavings. (I wonder which one of them is named Wilbur!)

The way they cuddled together reminded me of the yin-yang symbol and spawned the idea for this woodblock print.

Yin = the passive, female cosmic element, force, or principle that is opposite but always complementary to yang.

Yang = the active, masculine cosmic principle in Chinese dualistic philosophy.

Typically, I began with a mistake, but I learned a lot from this impetuous first carving.

I liked the black piglet better than the white one—his clean lines, his simplicity, his sharp ears, curly tail, and tensile nose—and I decided that both piglets should be the same—mirror images of each other—one white, the other black. I also decided that the circle should be complete. Thus, the woodblock had to be square. Enter Tom, husband and helpmeet, who cuts all my blocks to size for me on his table saw.

I redrew the images and taped them to my new woodblock. It’s a piece of cabinet-grade, half-inch, birch plywood. Notice that the white piglet is on the right and the black piglet is on the left. When I print them the images will be reversed.

I used carbon paper to transfer the image from the paper to the block and a compass to draw the concentric circles. I outlined the lines on the black piglet, to show me what I had to carve out, and darkened in the lines on the white piglet to show me what I had to carve around.

Here is the set of woodblock carving tools that I use. (I forgot to have Tom photograph the carving process. Next time!)

I began by carving out the background around the piglets.

Then I carved the highlights out of the black piglet. It was much easier to carve out the slivers of white space on the black piglet than it was to carve out around the slivers of black space on the white piglet. In fact, I carved out a few too many black slivers on my little girl. I thought I was quite clever in replacing them with superglue. WRONG! When I printed the woodblock, the superglue cut holes in the paper. I probably should have used a different kind of glue, or been a bit more careful in my carving.

I print my woodblocks on the kitchen table covered with the New York Times. What would we do without either! The first step is to load my brayer (the roller) with ink. The ink comes in a can, smells like shoe polish, and washes off with water. I spread it out on a sheet of glass.

Next I ink the woodblock.

I’m using Japanese mulberry paper and trying ever so carefully to place it just right. I need to work on this skill. My prints usually come out a bit whopper jawed!

I use a baren (a bamboo covered disk from Japan) mainly to stick the paper onto the block.

Then I use my favorite tool—a wooden kitchen spoon!—to press the ink into the paper. The paper is so thin that I can see the ink coming right through it, yet it’s so strong that I can really give it a good rubbing.

Finally, when my arm is ready to fall off, I pull the print off the block.


I pulled ten prints of my Yin-Yang Piglets yesterday. I’ll be offering them for sale in my PenPets Etsy Shop.