I have been spending this winter developing a number of new prints and I want to share about one of them. "Midsummer Feast" is a hand colored linoleum block print, based on a meal of chanterelle mushrooms and summer squash over egg noodles. I have been following along with the #printersolstice challenge on instagram, and one of the early prompts was "in good taste". It made me think of this meal which was possibly the best meal I had all last year. Jamie and Rayna and Daisy and I went to Lincoln to hike along the river, and while we were there Jamie found a patch of chanterelles. Rayna had never found them before, but she and her daughter Daisy have always loved to look for mushrooms together, so needless to say everyone was very excited and suddenly we were on a chanterelle hunt. Rayna and Jamie both found a bunch and we stashed them in an empty chip bag (that is a tip for you if you want to keep your foraging spots secret, or if you find yourself without a basket, as was the case with us). Back home we collected some summer squash from the garden to cook up with the mushrooms. I can't even tell you how delicious it all was! A true midsummer feast.
I started by sketching the meal itself. To the left you can see how I started to envision a series of three panels to tell the story of the meal. Color felt important to this piece from the beginning, but I didn't yet know if I would achieve it through reduction, multiple blocks, or hand coloring. Chanterelles are known for their matte orange that can call to you from across the forest, and the squash we grew last year was colored like the inside of an avacado.
In my next sketch I started to work out the composition for the three different panels. I use drawing as a way to think and problem solve, using extremely simplified forms so I can quickly try out different compositions without getting lost in the details. In high school our art teacher always urged us to make lots of little sketches before starting on a final piece, and I never did! I just couldn't see the point. I think it's because I hadn't yet learned how to simplify my forms. Now I couldn't imagine making a print without working through my ideas in this way.
With the basic composition laid out, I proceeded to work out the details. On the right is my final sketch, and on the left is a tracing of all the major outlines that I used to transfer the design onto linoleum. You can also see a tiny drawing of Rayna and Daisy that I considered adding into the top panel. I couldn't make them fit, but it's possible they will come back if I ever make another chanterelle print. (I believe this is my 4th chanterelle attempt, one of those things I keep coming back to in my prints, like birches and wood-heated cabins.)
Once I transferred the outlines of my final sketch onto the linoleum, I went over them with a brush and ink. A sharpie is honestly mush easier to use for this purpose, but all of mine were dried up. The bush and ink does have it's perks. It is hard to control the lines so you end of with different thicknesses and a distinct wobbliness, which keeps the piece loose and vibrational even though I've drawn the same picture several times by this point.
After all of that planning I finally started carving. This is an opportunity to further refine the line quality. I really liked the wobbliness of the brush and ink lines, and I emphasized that, especially in the squash leaves and stalks which are quite bristly in real life, by wobbling my tool as I carved.
And here is finished block next to a pulled print!
This one I painted as a gift for my mom's birthday. I'm really happy with how it looks once colored in! I used gouache, which I find works great for painting prints. It is water based, and my printing ink is oil based, so there is a slight resist effect, which means I don't have to worry about accidentally painting over my outlines. It also has a powdery matte texture, so similar to that of chanterelles. I learned a lot from making this piece, and I'm excited especially to work more in this comic style, and to make more hand painted prints.
This past week I had the pleasure of creating a mural side by side with my friend and fellow artist Aleyna Feinberg. Roots Restaurant in Rutland, VT, in partnership with 77Art, has been inviting artists into their newly expanded dining space for live painting sessions, their intention being to create a lively and exciting atmosphere for diners despite all the limitations required by corona virus safety precautions. The project also provides paid work for visual artists and the opportunity to create whatever we want, requiring only that the art be family friendly. The resulting murals are designed to be temporary, and will be painted over eventually to make space for new artists.
As you can probably guess from their mural, Aleyna is really into scenes that combine buildings and trees. They have a great eye for the way the angular shapes of human architecture interact with arching tree trunks and sunlight filtering through foliage. Their art tends to have a nostalgic quality, which a number of diners picked up on, noticing how Aleyna's mural brought them right back to the street they grew up on, even though the image was based on a different street entirely. This was only enhanced by their process. Aleyna works without outlines and instead builds the image up from a transparent layering of sweeping and swirling brushstrokes. This gave the effect of a scene slowly emerging from the fog over the course of the four nights of painting.
I based my mural on a series of pastel drawings I did this summer of the Full Moon and the view from my house in Huntington. When the Moon rises in just the right spot over the pond the moonlight will reflect in the water. This will not happen with every moonrise as the Moon, like the Sun, rises in different places depending on where it is in relation to our equator. There was also a moment this summer, soon after the solstice, when Saturn and Jupiter rose with the full Moon. This was actually what helped me identify Saturn and Jupiter for the first time, as I pay attention to astrology and I knew they were all in Capricorn together. Since then I have been watching the two planets rise earlier and earlier as the Earth makes it's orbit around the Sun. I am fascinated by these temporary relationships: the Moon and the pond or the Moon and the planets, the way the Moon must be positioned in relation to the Earth and the Sun to create the phenomenon of a fully illuminated Moon, the clouds parting for just a moment to reveal all three heavenly bodies at once.
This is the night by night progression of my painting. I had the composition mostly worked out on the first night. On the second night I went into detail on the clouds, building up layers of light and dark to create the moonlit glow. The sky was pretty much finished by the third night, which was a big relief because it meant I didn't need to use a ladder anymore. I darkened the trees, added the reflections of moonlight onto the water, and created the tree shadows and grass texture in the foreground with tons of little lines. On the final night I built up the texture of the trees and changed the shape of the tree line. This required repainting the mountains and a little bit of the sky, a risky move with so little time left to paint. I also added the craters to the moon and darkened the sky around it just a bit more to really make it feel illuminated. The final touch was an extremely light wash of blue over the trees and grass
This is my first mural and the biggest I've ever painted. I really loved working at this scale. I also really loved working side by side with Aleyna. We have been friends for four years now but this is the first time we've painted together. Art is often a very individual pursuit and it can get lonely working by yourself all the time. I haven't been able to work in a shared space since the community print studio closed down in April. It was really interesting to see the way our work style is similar. For example, we both like to create drawings of the same image over and over with minor variations, and then work from a combination of those drawings. We are also both interested in the way light shines at particular moments in time and strive to capture these moments in our paintings.