Monday, June 23, 2008

Black Bear Song

Black Bear Singing in the Dead of Night
6" X 12" woodcut

Stuffed full of suet and sunflower seeds from the Blacks', the Snows', and the Moores' bird feeders, this bear has got plenty to sing about. He must still be digesting all those high-calorie treats because he hasn't made any repeat visits to our feeders.

[I spoke too soon! Last night at 7:00, Keith Snow called to say he'd just scared the bear out from under his bird feeders. Had he come down to our place? Lo and behold he had! There he was, right under our feeders. Tom, Kinsey, and I all got a good gander before he galloped away, past our vegetable garden (He didn't stop to check the gate this time) and through the woods to the Blacks' feeders. I called Anne to warn her. She almost got a photo of him, but the flash reflected off the window screens. All our bird feeders came inside for the night!]

This is my biggest woodcut to date. I carved it out of a piece of birch plywood and printed six copies this morning using a wooden spoon and a lot of elbow grease to hand-rub each print. This is the sixth and best print of the batch. I'm going to have to work on my printing techniques. Maybe get better ink (I'm using Speedball water proof) and better paper (I'm using Sumi "Kozo" plain rice paper). I got both ink and paper cheap at the local craft store. I'll have to go online and order some higher quality stuff. Any recommendations?

I get A Word A Day online, thanks to my tennis buddy Allen. Not only does it teach me a new and useful word each day, but also provides a thoughtful quotation. Today's seems particularly appropriate to my night bear woodcut.


"How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountaintop it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make -- leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone -- we all dwell in a house of one room -- the world with the firmament for its roof -- and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track."

-John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer (1838-1914)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jackie Wilson Woodcuts

12" X 9" woodcut
Jacqueline Wilson

Tom and I went to a Jackie Wilson exhibit of woodcut prints at the Deer Isle Artists Association. It was an astonishing flock of woodcut birds -- owls, crows, cormorants, kingfishers -- carveddcut prints this afternoon on big pine boards -- fully fledged, wide-eyed, sharp-beaked, and ready to fly away from the paper, just like Hokusai's birds. Each print was hand-rubbed with a wooden spoon and printed in warm shades of burnt umber. It was inspirational to see Jackie's work and exciting to meet her. I've learned a lot already this afternoon and I hope to visit Jackie's studio soon. Imagine having such a wonderful woodblock artist living just down the road from me! You can see more of Jackie's feathery woodcuts at the Isalos Gallery.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Maine Black Bear

For those of you who think living on the coast of Maine is bucolic, I got up at 6:00 yesterday morning to find a black bear breakfasting at our bird feeders just outside our bedroom window. He sat up on his haunches, looked me straight in the eye, then galloped off through the woods towards the Snow's house, where he has decimated their bird feeders twice this spring. He left our black sunflower seed feeder in pieces but salvagable. I still haven't found the suet feeder.

About 45 minutes later he loped across the road about 20 feet in front of me on my morning walk. Didn't look right or left, just made a lot of noise crashing through the underbrush. He looks like a young 'un. Maybe two years old. About the size of a big Newfoundland. I suspect Mom has booted him from the den and he hasn't quite figured out how to forage for himself in the woods. And birdfeeders are such easy pickings!

After lunch he sauntered down our driveway, as if he owned the place, tried the gate to our vegetable garden to see if it was open. It wasn't. Decided not to flatten it or tear it off it's hinges -- nothing ripe in the garden anyways -- then ambled through the woods towards the Blacks' house, where he ravaged their bird feeders, too, for the third time this spring!

Needless to say, Kinsey's on a very short leash these days and I'll think twice before I go barging out the back door to the compost pile. We brought our bird feeders inside last night and I haven't hit the road for my morning walk this morning.

Our bear didn't stick around long enough for a photo op so I can't take credit for the photos above. The first one came, sadly, from, the second from

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Heee Haw & Oink!

4" X 4" woodcut

4" X 4" woodcut

Everyone seems to warm to donkeys and pigs, so here are two more for my barn yard collection. The donkey is Abijah, and he was mine, all mine, for one wonderful year before we moved to Maine. Alas! We have no pasture land on this our rocky bit of shelf, so I had to leave Abijah behind. Broke my heart!

This poor porker lost more than he bargained for on my chopping block. Wood carving is an unforgiving medium. Once a smile line or a chinny-chin-chin or a background detail is removed, it's gone for good! I touched up Porky with one of my pens. Probably highly unethical in the world of woodblock printers. I'll have to find out about that.

I keep working small because I have a whole bag full of little Shina plywood blocks that I got from McClain's and it cuts so nicely. Pretty soon I'm going to order some GREAT BIG BLOCKS and expand my vision!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Father's Day, Mark!

5" X 7" pen-and-ink

Sabin (pronounced SAAAH-ben) is an Egyptian Mau with pointy ears, a long tail like a cougar's, spots on his sides, an "M" on his forehead, and fur that feels like a mink coat. I've tried to capture his regal, Pharoah's look as well as his piercing stare. This breed is a one-man cat and quite protective of his man. Sabin will sit in his chair all night long and guard Mark while he works at the computer. In this pose, Sabin is relaxing his guard a bit, but he still has his eyes on you!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy Father's Day, Ken!

5" X 7" pen and ink

Geni is short for Genius, and, while her IQ may be in question, Geni’s super-sized heart is not. She’s an Irish Wolfhound and HUGE, and Ken and Polly love absolutely every square inch of her. They’ve had plenty of dogs in their lives, many of them super-sized – four Great Danes, one Bloodhound, two Basset Hounds, one Shar-Pei, one Weimaraner, and one Labrador – but none of those dogs has topped Geni in their affections. It’s tough to top an Irish Wolfhound, the tallest dog in the world and my dream dog as a child. I loved both horses and dogs to distraction (Still do!), and I thought that an Irish Wolfhound combined the best of both breeds. Plus a dog, even a giant of a dog, would fit in my suburban back yard, as a horse, sadly, would not. I never got an Irish Wolfhound nor a horse, but look at the pipsqueak of a pup that I have now! Talk about down-sizing my dreams!

Geni, Ken, Kinsey, and Leslie

In Kinsey's defense, there's nothing puny about her personality. What she lacks in size, she more than makes up for in character. You’d be amazed at how much weight this tiny 12 pounder throws around! I'm sure Geni, all 135 pounds of her, is much more demure!

Back to Woodblocks

My package from McClain's Printmaking Supplies arrived last Thursday! -- a Namisei Six Tool Set, a grab bag of small Shina plywood blocks, the "Moku Hanga Primer: Making Woodblock Prints" by Robert McClain (founder of McClain's), and a leather honing block to keep my tools sharp. Here are my new tools. Aren't they pretty! Below the tools is the "bench hook" Tom made for me to hold my blocks in place while I carve with both hands on the tool. Much safer that way! On the bench hook are the first two shina plywood blocks that I carved -- two lizards and a turtle. (The lizards didn't turn out well enough to post!)

Robert McClain writes: "Keep in mind that Moku Hanga [Moku = wood; Hanga = print] medium lends itself to bold, flat, and sharply delineated designs. The results will look quite different from, say, delicate pen-and-ink sketches." With that in mind, I carved this turtle--bold, flat, and sharply delineated, and, yes, he IS quite different from my pen-and-ink drawings, but such a sweet little guy! Yesterday I made a print run of ten copies, using kitchen spoons--first a wooden one, then a silver one--to rub the back of the printing paper and force the ink up off the woodblock and onto the paper. Whew! It was hard work! Think of the artists who hand-rub a hundred prints at a time! Who needs to lift weights! By the way, anybody want a turtle?


3" X 4" woodcut

Of course, I couldn't stick to the simple design concept that Robert McClain recommends. So I tackled this ram next, a design I probably couldn't master with one of my finest pens much less my new carving tools! When will I learn?


6" X 8" woodcut

I carved this "horny" fellow on Birch plywood. It doesn't cut quite as easily as the Shina ply does, and it was harder to ink for printing. I'm only half-satisfied with the results. I like the nose and mouth, but the horns look stiff, not nearly as fluid and majestic as they are in Holly Merrow's great photograph.

Big Horn

Holly Merrow

I'm also thinking that I should have left out all his curls in favor of pure black wool. His eye gets lost in all those squiggles. That would have made for a much simpler design. Maybe I'll have to carve him again.

I've just read a book about Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the great Japanese Ukiyo-e printmaker and painter, famous for his "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" and "The Great Wave of Kanagawa." When he was an old man Hokusai said to his daughter: "I don't want to die yet! When I was seventy-three I understood the very substance of nature, animals, flowers, birds, and insects. When I was painting them it seemed to me that they would fly away from my paper. They were so vividly and realistically painted. But it was the engraver's fault that they couldn't fly away . . . If only the gods would give me ten or at least five years more, I could become a perfect artist." Hokusai died at age 89 having created at least 35,000 pictures and illustrated 169 books. By Hokusai's reckoning I have at least another couple of decades before I can expect my horns to curl off my paper the way his cranes fly away from his!

Cranes Nearby Mount Fuji

Katsushika Hokusai

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Monsieur Mountie du Bois


8" X 10" pen-and-ink


Mountie is a Black Labrador/Rottweiler mix and weighs in at a hefty 125 lbs! He lives in Washington, D.C., where he is a devoted "big brother" to Lilah (3) and Julian (1). I'll bet nobody messes with these kids when their "big brother" is on guard! Despite his close proximity to the White House, Mountie keeps his nose out of presidential politics. He'd rather swim at Rock Creek Park. Here he is in his favorite spot, just waiting for the OK to hit the water!

Happy birthday, Jonathan!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rex, His Royal Highness

5" X 7" pen-and-ink

I donated a PenPets portrait to UMaine's Alumni Association Black Bear Auction this spring, and Rex was the highest bidder. (OK, Rex's human actually placed the bid for him.) Part Border Collie, part Black Labrador, and full-blooded King of His Domain, Rex lives in Argyle, Maine, where he herds his humans (That's the Border Collie in him), reigns supreme over the living room couch (That's the King in him), and shares his favors as Royal Bed Hog with the children in his family (That's the egalitarian Lab in him). His humans are quite pleased with his likeness: "It is WONDERFUL! We are totally thrilled and really commend you for capturing his handsome face and personality."

Here's a Rex look-alike in fiber art:


detail from a 30" X 36" quilt
by Jan Queijo, Crazy Dog Lady

Jan lives in Central Massachusetts and creates incredible pet portraits in fabric and thread -- quilts, wall hangings, pillows, and appliques for clothing. Each portrait is amazingly detailed and expressive. Jan describes Bubba as "a 102 pound lovebug of a pit bull." Check out Jan's website, Crazy Dog Lady, for more example of her work.

Once Rex sees Jan's quilts I'm sure he'll want one for each of his beds, maybe a throw for his couch as well!

Another Linocut

4" X 6" linocut

Rosie was the sweetest little Norwich Terrier I ever knew. She lived a charmed life with Nick and Jenny in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Brooksville, Maine. It just wasn't nearly long enough. We all miss Rosie desperately, including Kinsey, who inherited Rosie's car throne and doesn't quite know what to make of it.

Notice Kinsey's Red Sox leash. Uncle Pete and Aunt Pam sent it to her from spring training camp in Florida. Kinsey watches the Sox play every night from Tom's lap. She's partial to Manny Ramirez who just topped 500 homeruns this week! Go Manny! Go Sox!

My authentic Japanese carving tools -- sharp as Samurai swords -- arrive today! I'm going to tackle another woodblock immediately. Just hope I don't cut off any fingers in my carving zeal!