Archive for March, 2010

I’m a Printmaker, Not an Artist

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Artists get show horned together, as if we are all the same.

It doesn’t matter what subject or what medium, society thinks we are pretty much all the same thing.

Painter, sculpture, illustrator, printer, photographer, all the same.

Luckily I don’t remember specifically who I am going to pick on next, it was someone in Blogistan, or on the Twitter Show. This person was pimping out their “art training”, and from what I could see, all artists got the same training.

We’re not the same though. The skillz required to create a great painting are quite different from the skills required to make a great sculpture. Illustration, yet other skillz. Printmaking? Forgeddaboudit.

There are some basic skills that each of these different types of artists must have, but after those skills are worked out, the skills become wildly different.

I got to thinking that an artists medium is sorta like being a specific type of engineer. Nobody would offer the same training to both a Mechanical Engineer and a Structural Engineer.

A little digress, In the Spice Mines (my term of affection for my DayJob), I am an Engineer. A Mechanical Engineer in fact. I work with Electrical Engineers, Structural Engineers, Civil Engineers, and Architects (sigh) on a regular basis.

We all had the same foundation training in math and science, but the details of what we know are very different. I know enough about each of these to get by (480 volt 3 phase! #5 @ 12″ on center!), but the specialization between fields of engineering is rather different.

Electrical Engineers are concerned with voltages, power, and signal; Mechanical engineers concern themselves with pressure loss and heat gain; Structural Engineers think about shear stress and moments; architects concern themselves with getting their latte right.

Nobody would offer the same training to each of these types of engineers.

Why, as artists, are we offered the same training, wrapped as “artist training”?

I think it is because we think of ourselves as artists first, and our medium second. Contrast this with engineers, who think of them self as an Electrical or Mechanical Engineer first, and an engineer in general second.

I’d like to see artists identify with their medium first, and as an artist second.

“Artist” has too much stigma. Too much baggage.

“Artist” doesn’t capture the very different skills required to produce very different art.

I am a printmaker. I am a painter. Sometimes, an illustrator. I am not a sculpture, or a photographer.

Does this make me an artist? I guess, but after the above, that is just a trifle.

Skater Series Printing is Done

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Lotsa printing yesterday.

The skater prints are all done, I just have to let the ink dry. I printed about 65 impressions yesterday. Here is my progress about 2/3 through the day:

woodblock prints hanging to dry

The Skater Series prints are all printed, and will be signed and numbered after they dry.

The black ink takes longer to dry than colored ink, these usually need a good week or so.

(Note to self: a little cobalt dryer might be appropriate next time I’m printing black and white)

These will be signed and numbered next weekend, and I should have them up for sale shortly thereafter. These are gonna be pretty low in price, so you will be able to get one without breaking the bank. I’ll probably have some sort of deal for people that want the set of all 4, but I’ll figure that out next weekend.

Note: If you are itching to buy some art, you can buy prints from the 101 Woodblock Series HERE.

Deliberate Practice. Mandatory.

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

[Hey! Before you read this post, ask yourself, “do I want to learn something today, or do I just want to look at some cool art?” If you want to learn before you look at the art, read on. If you just want to jump to some kick ass drawings, click here.]


4 skater woodblock prints

All 4 of the Skater Series of Woodblock Prints

I haven’t been completely honest about these Skater prints I’ve been working on. These haven’t just been a quick, punk rock inspired project.

Don’t get me wrong, they are that, but they are actually about a whole lot more too.

Let me back up. The first of these was about about the punk rock and skate boards. I had been working waaaay too much in the Spice Mines (ie. in the office for my DayJob). I got home after a long weekend at the office, and whipped the first one out, because I just wanted to do something, and something quick was good enough.

I put on some punk rock, and whipped out the first skater woodblock print.

The next night, when I wanted to make another one, I realized I had an opportunity to learn and increase my skills as a woodblock printmaker.

Before I go any further, I need to dig into the concept of deliberate practice.

What is Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice is different from regular practice in that it is specifically designed to improve performance of a skill.

This all started when Dave sent me and Walter a link to an article about deliberate practice. I read the article, and started thinking about how to apply this to art.

I already practiced from time to time, most commonly in my sketch book, when I draw tomatos, art tools, whisky bottles, or whatever else in front of me. I focus on seeing the thing in front of me, and making my pencil follow what my eye sees. It is practice, specifically designed to improve my drawing skill.

I decided this skater series of woodblock prints would be my chance to apply deliberate practice to woodblock printmaking. I focused on two things in particular: how the wood effects the image, and the design issues of working in black and white. I’ll expand on these in a bit.

Who wrote the book on Deliberate Practice?

It turns out that someone did write a book about this, and fairly recently too (it’s not even out in softcover yet).

Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated discusses specifically how deliberate practice improves performance.

Read this book.

Click the link I provided to Amazon, get the audio book from audible, or just go to your local bookstore and sit down with this book for an hour.

The characteristics of deliberate practice are:

  1. It is designed specifically to improve performance
  2. It can be repeated, a lot
  3. Feedback is continuously available
  4. It is mentally demanding
  5. Typically, it is not fun (or everyone would do it)

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty, because the book does a good job. If you have any interest in being better at what you do, you owe it to yourself to check this book out. If nothing else, sit down at Borders or Barnes & Noble with this book for an hour, and read chapters 5, 6, and 7. Those chapters describe what deliberate practice is, how it works, and how to apply deliberate practice to your life.

Deliberate Practice applied to Woodblock Printmaking

I set out on this skater series specifically to apply these concepts of deliberate practice to my craft of woodblock printmaking. The subject matter didn’t matter much, and the whole punk rock thing actually didn’t matter much. In fact, these elements were included as an attempt to make this practice a little more fun (but you already knew that, if you only read the italics).

The actual focus of these prints was my ability to put an image onto a woodblock. I kept these images simple to accomodate this, and repeated essentially the same image over and over. I wasn’t trying to improve my craft of image creation, I was trying to improve my craft of carving wood, and working with only black and white design elements.

In particular, I focused on:

  • How fine of detail I can get out of a woodblock. There is a natural limit to how fine of a line I can carve into the wood, and have the wood hold up structurally (at least with the Shina wood and the carving tools I am using)
  • The most precise ways to carve a block. This builds upon the previous point, but I spent a lot of time carving the more detail heavy areas, like the hands and the face, to work on my ability to carve finer details. I also paid attention to the shape of blade I used, how different blades carve differently, and how the amount of pressure and the angle I hold the blade at effect the line I carve.
  • How to balance black and white on the image. A black and white woodblock print has a high contrast, and I wanted to work on creating a good balance in the image to get just the right amount of ink to make the image look best. I didn’t want it to look too sparse, or too dark.

From the points of view above, I can find half a dozen things that I did well, and half a dozen things I didn’t do well on each print (I may go through this exercise in the future).

Results of this practice

A lot of the prints in the 101 Woodblock Series were carved in linoleum, which responds differently than wood. The blocks that were carved in wood didn’t have too much detail in them. I needed this exercise to prepare for my next round of prints, which will have far more detail than what I have done previously.

As a result of this practice, I feel more confident about my ability to carve woodblocks. I know a lot more about how the wood behaves, and some more information about balance in an image.

As I prepare for my next upcoming woodblock print, I know what to realistically expect from myself, because I hae a better understanding of my skill. I will include some challenges in my next print, but not so much that I will try to do something that the medium cannot do.

I’m Not the Only One

While I’m not too sure that Jen purposefully approached her “100 heads” project as deliberate practice, it certainly seems to fit into a lot of the requirements.

What am I talking about?

After seeing a post about a bunch of students drawing 100 heads, she decided to do her own. It’s mostly her story to tell, so just click through to Jen Hiebert’s drawings and check them out. These things are seriously cool.

I met Jen through Twitter. What? Not on twitter? You are missing out on the internet’s cocktail party. Go follow Jen on Twitter here. (You can follow me too).

She mentioned this project of hers to me on Twitter, and mentioned that she learned a lot from doing this project. I had been thinking about this deliberate practice thing, so this jumped out at me. I imagine that she learned far mar by doing 100 drawings of heads than she would have if she had done 5 or 10.

Go check out this project of hers, because, well, it is cool. I like when people do cool stuff, then share it with the world.

Click here and go to her site already!

Might Be More

This Deliberate Practice vein is rich. I’m gonna be working with these concepts a bit more to figure out how to best apply them to art. I’ll probably write about it.

Be warned.

Fighting Entropy, Our Environment’s Effect on Productivity

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

I didn’t do any work yesterday, at least, not on Art.

However, I did spend a lot of time cleaning my apartment. What a relief…

My goals require a lot of work to achieve. I have no misconceptions about them. I’m in the business of putting art in people’s hands, and I’m on the long road to making that happen.

I don’t need a messy environment to get in the way.

I’m a slave to my Environment

I’ve become more observant in the last few years of how my environment effects me.

  • I am more likely to open up my computer and write when my desk is clean and orderly.
  • I’m more likely to head out for a morning jog when my workout gear is clean and easily accessible.
  • I am more likely to spend all day printing when I’m not tripping all over stuff laying around my apartment.
  • I am more likely to spend an evening drawing when my drawing pads are accessible, my pencils/pens are organized, and my dry work area is clean
  • I am more likely to make a healthy meal for myself when I have a clean kitchen and a fridge full of food

I work best in clean, minimalist environments. I dream of a desk with a computer, pen, pencil, pad of paper, and nothing else. There is a strange contradiction within me, however, because I have tons of stuff. I collect and accumulate stuff like crazy. Pens, unopened mail, electronics equipment, scraps of paper, plastic silverware, books, CDs, comics, you name it. It’s just hard wired into me, and happens unconsciously.

On top of my penchant for accumulating stuff, entropy seems to be a little stronger in my life than usual. Entropy is, of course, the Thermodynamic phenomenon that makes everything becomes less organized and more chaotic, unless a certain amount of work is done to keep it together.

Entropy. Lucky me.

I’ve got enough on my plate. Two full time jobs (one of which has a paycheck). In addition, a few other big initiatives in my life that aren’t quite relevant to this site.

The real lesson here is that spending all day cleaning is working, just not in a direct way. It is work at being able to work better in the future.

It is an investment in a healthy environment. An environment that will encourage my work, rather than inhibit it. An environment that makes it easier, and more enjoyable to work. An environment that speaks success to me.

Our environments, after all, are always talking to us. Our environment tells us who we are, how successful we are, what we do with our time, and what we should think of ourselves.

I for one want an environment that pushes me in the direction of success, that is specifically designed to do so. I need an environment designed to subtly turn and direct me to do and feel the right things.

Like all things of value in life, this takes work to keep in place. The work will pay you back though.

Are you creating Assets or Liabilities?

Like everyone, I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and learned the difference between an asset and a liability. The idea of assets and liabilities applies to environment, but in an emotional way. Your environment can be an emotional asset, providing support, and good feelings when you work, or it can be a liability, hindering your ability to work, and providing bad feelings when working.

I’m not talking about anything “woo” here, I’m talking about really practical, basic stuff. Is the desk you work on clean, and easy to work at, or is your mouse covered with crap, and you always have to move stuff out of the way to get work done?

Is your apartment/house clean? Or are you distracted by the fact that the dishes aren’t done and you need to do laundry if you want to wear clean clothes tomorrow?

My old printmaking station didn’t work well for me. It was small, and even more detracting, it was too low. I am tall, so standing up and working on a surface 30 inches off the ground doesn’t work for me. When I got a new printmaking work station, my workplace became an asset that encourages work.

For nearly everything that requires work, we can create an environment that promotes productivity and getting that work done. My experience is that if I don’t actively work to make my environment an asset, entropy will take over, and it will work against me.

Have you worked your environment to make it aid you and your goals? Make you more productive? Need some help with this? Leave a comment and let me know!

Ye Olde “What I’ve Been Doing” Update

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I got new supplies!

new roller

Armed and dangerous with a new roller. Time to do some damage.

A big fat order from McClain’s arrived yesterday.

(I order from them ’cause they’re the best. Seriously. I placed my order late afternoon Thursday, they ship it Friday, it arrives Tuesday)

I got a new roller, which I am very excited about. It is far nicer than the dinky pinky Speedball roller I’ve been using.

Got some clean up supplies, soap and nitril gloves, and most af all, paper. I got a dozen sheets of Shin Torinako washi paper. I used it for the first round of printing of these skater prints I’ve been making, and I needed more to print up the rest of the editions.

Each sheet of the paper can make about 16 or so prints, so I have enough to print up a nice edition of each. I’ll probably make about 15 prints of each block, except block 2, there will be 23.

(I’ve already printed some, and gave some away on Twitter. Follow @BadDeacon on Twitter. You might get free stuff)

Speaking of rollers and paper, I finally got the 4th skater block printed:

skater print 4

Woodblock Print, 4x4 inches, title to be determined

This means you can expect a few things to happen now that these are done:

  • I’ve got an upcoming post discussing what this series of prints was really about. It actually has little to do with punk rock and skateboards, anbd a whole lot to do with deliberate practice (I’ll talk about exactly what that is).
  • I’ll have a video coming out about this 4th print. I filmed the carving and printing of this block, so as soon as teach myself how to edit video, I’ll have that out. Turns out video ads quite a bit of complexity to pretty much everything.
  • These skater prints will be going on sale. They’ll be pretty cheap, about the same price as a sandwich (I like to think of value in terms of food). I’ll probably do a bunch of stuff like make a “buy 3 get the 4th free” promotion, as well as discounts and early sales to people on my newsletter. Sales should begin some time next week.

That’s it for now. Leave a comment and say “hi”.

Mind, Body, Heart – In Revolt!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I managed to get sick late last week. It’s been a slow-burn kind of sick, not completely debilitating, but making my body feel bad. I’m behind on health.

I’m also behind on work for DayJob, which has been the state of affairs for pretty much the last 2 months.

I’m also behind on making these little skater prints. The 4th is ready to print, but I haven’t found time to get to it, especially since I am teaching myself to make videos while I work. Video complicates things.

naked aggression

Like a naked aggression inside of me, pulling in different directions.

These 3 are pulling me in different directions – my body wants me to stop and do nothing (or just play video games and eat soup), my mind wants me to go to work and finish my projects, and my heart wants to be printing and emitting more stuff into the world.

This “balance” is a pain to figure out.

I put “balance” in quotes because what I mean by balance is more of a scheduling issue than an emotional issue. When people speak of “balance”, I hear them mostly talking about emotional balance. In other words, not being obsessed.

Obsession is just the way I roll.

Anyway, it turns out the mind is right, I need to get my work done (something about getting a paycheck).

Eventually I’ll be completely caught up, and be able to work to my heart’s content.

Hands – Caress them and Care for them

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

I am fascinated with hands.

As far as drama goes, the face is usually the big winner. We know to look to the face to see how someone feels.

Hands are far more subtle, far more sensual, and far more truthful.

Eyes may be the window into a person’s soul, but I believe their hands are the window into their heart.

My painting professor at Santa Cruz once made a side comment to me as I was working on a painting, “hands are made to caress”. He was trying to teach me to see the shape of hands, the roundness and the curvature of them. That comment has stuck with me for about 12 years now, and, as I have seen over time, means far more than it first appeared to.

Functional Hands

inky hands

...and sometimes, my hands just get covered with ink

Our hands are also incredibly functional, amazing tools. They can grip, twist, lift, move, bend, hold, tear, etc, etc. It is amazing what they can do. Would humans have advanced as far as we have without them? I don’t know.

I work with my hands to make art. In many ways, I think of art as a process of absorbing information through my eyes, running it through the processors (brain, heart), and outputting the processed image with my hands.

Without hands, much less is possible.

Always keep the hands

One of my early art lessons from Mrs. Post (my high school art teacher) was to accentuate the important, and leave the obvious vague.

To me, hands are essential, because they tell a lot of the story.

woodblock for a skater print

The last skater print is ready to carve

Whenever I draw a figure, I include the hands. When the image is progressing in such a way that the hands are off of the page, I redraw the image. You may notice that in each of the recent skater prints I’ve completed, I keep at least one hand in the image, preferably two.

The hands get a lot of my time and effort, because I believe that they are a critical part of the image.

Speaking of Skater prints, the last one is in progress, for those following along with this project. I have drawn the image onto the block, and I’m ready to start carving.

I opted for a decent night of sleep last night, rather than stay up till 2 am carving this block.

I should have it done tonight, and then I will be able to reveal the real reason that I have done this series of woodblock prints…

(Those of you that read Dave regularly got a hint today though)