Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

I've just returned to Red Deer, after a wonderful weekend in Toronto where I was invited to participate in an event called "New York, New York", sponsored by TINARS (This Is Not A Reading Series) held at the Gladstone Hotel.  "New York, New York" refers to two books published by Porcupine's Quill that tell two very different stories about New York.  One book is a wordless book of wood engravings by George Walker titled "The Book of Hours".  The book describes, in images with no text, the lives of people who worked in the Twin Towers during the hours leading up to the attack on the Towers.  The other book is titled "Beasts of New York: a Children's Book for Grownups" by Jon Evans and illustrated with wood engravings by Jim Westergard.  "Beasts" follows the life of Patch the squirrel as he awakens one early Spring morning, in his tree in Central Park, to discover his caches of food have been stolen.  This discovery is followed by a series of crises, including squirrel clan wars and dangers from various beasts.

George Walker presented a short video of his images that took us dramatically through the day before and up to the attack on the Towers.  I joined Jon Evans on the Gladstone Hotel ballroom stage as we fielded questions from Tom Smart, art historian, author and curator, about "Beasts of New York".  Jon Evans presented a slide show of the locations in the New York area which are the sites of Patch's adventures.  Mr. Smart also supplied questions directed at George Walker and myself about wood engraving and the role of wood engraving today.  Books and prints were on sale.  Don Black Linecasting Service set up a table of letterpress items and offered demonstrations of letterpress printing.  It was a very enriching afternoon.

The flight from Calgary to Toronto took about four hours and was rather a routine flight.  I took the Airport Express Shuttle into downton Toronto then took a streetcar from the Shuttle's final stop, the Sheraton Hotel, down Queen Street to the Gladstone Hotel.  What I didn't know until I got on the streetcar was that there was construction near the Gladstone (1214 Queen St. W.) which forced the streetcar to turn off Queen Street at about the 1100 block.  I figured it would be no big deal to pull my bag three blocks in the rain.  When I had pulled the bag for a couple of blocks west of the Sheraton and started to look for an address I discovered the addresses were still in the 1100 range and gaining in very small increments.  Obviously the system there was not what I was used to (each block increasing by units of 100).  By the time I reached 1214 I was fairly wet, even though the rain was light.

The set-up for the event in the ballroom the next day began at noon and when it was opened to the public the time passed quickly.  I met some wonderful people and enjoyed every minute. Please check out the photos and a video prepared by TINARS as well as a Porcupine's Quill blog.



My room at the Gladstone (above, taken the morning I left) was a white room called the "Map Room" (below) and I spent a cozy warm night there.  The next morning, after breakfast, I returned to discover the temperature was 82 F (the thermostat was not metric).  I tried turning the heat off and had the window propped open while I went for a walk.



When I returned it was still hot, so the desk clerk moved me to a red room (remember "redrum" in the movie, "The Shining"?). Each of the rooms in the hotel is designed by a different designer and art work is hanging in all the hallways.

The elevator is very old and works the old fashioned way, with a counter-weight and an operator.  No buttons to push here.  


Jon Evans, George Walker and I (l to r) posed for a photo.

All in all, I think a good time was had by all!

The Westjet flight back to Calgary was not as routine as the flight out to Toronto.  I had watched the news the night before and saw the report of the hurricane strength Chinook wind that had blasted out windows in the buildings of downtown Calgary the previous day.  It had also torn up trees, ripped roofs apart and blown tractor-trailers off the hiway.  There was a scene of a Lufthansa airplane fighting the wind to attempt a landing at Calgary airport.  That scene was on my mind as I boarded the plane.

I was seated in the second row, not far from the front entry of the plane and just a few steps from the toilet.  When we were a few hundred miles east of Calgary and had been in flight for nearly four hours there was a distinctive sewer-gas aroma, getting stronger by the minute.  I noticed a flight attendant hand something to one of the three ladies in the row ahead of me.  Suddenly the sewer-gas smell was replaced with the aroma of fresh coffee.  They asked her what it was and I heard her say "coffee grounds".  

During the flight I ordered two glasses of red wine and had given my credit card to secure the tab. I settled the tab as we neared Calgary.  When I was about to put the receipt away I noticed the charge was only for one glass.  I asked one of the flight attendants to check with the attendant who had settled the tab.  She came back and said the other attendant had wanted to buy me a drink!  Imagine that!  Yessiree, a good time was had by all!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Surprise Critic

I thought things were progressing fairly well in the studio lately.  When I came out this morning to start working I noticed that some art-critic bird had left a comment and shat upon my doorstep.  Perhaps I'll take a second look at what I've been working on.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Alcuin Society Wayzgoose - Vancouver




I flew to Vancouver over the weekend with Carol to attend the Alcuin Society wayzgoose at the Vancouver Public Library on Saturday.  Heavenly Monkey, the press that printed the text and published my new book, ODDBALLS, gave me space at their table.  I set out some prints and some trade books of mine and some that I had illustrated.  This was the first time ODDBALLS was presented in public.  A very good film called Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century, about Jim Rimmer and produced by Richard Kegler, was shown at Simon Fraser University the evening before the wayzgoose. There were wonderful people participating in and visiting this event.  It was a fascinating weekend.  Carol helped take some photos while I was busy at the table and we enjoyed going around and meeting some of the other participants.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ANOTHER IDEA ABOUT CREATIVITY.

I came across a TED Talk that brought back a thought I had and shared on an earlier post, about ideas and where they come from.  This was a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book, Eat, Pray, Love.  She describes her own experiences with creativity and the mysterious sources of ideas, as well as the experiences of others.  I recommend the talk (it lasts about 19 minutes) and if you're interested and want to watch it, go to http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

Monday, July 25, 2011

Evolution of printmaking

I received an e-mail the other day from an art college student who is working on a degree in relief printmaking.  He was conducting a survey amongst printmakers to find out what printmakers think about the technological direction of printmaking.  I thought I would share it here and maybe even elaborate upon it more.
There were three questions.

Q: What quality do you consider hand pulled printmaking to have, to make it more of a niche and an unique medium?
A: The quality is already there.  The answer is in your question: "hand pulled".

Q: What do you believe printmaking to be, and does this have boundaries or exclusions to technology or process?
A: I believe Printmaking to be a fine art, created by the hand of the artist.  The debate regarding the role of mass production technologies in printmaking has continued since Senefelder introduced lithography for theatre posters and will continue as more of these "easy-to-create" technologies are developed.

Q: Do you feel competitions and awards are the key to awareness and the future durability of contemporary printmaking?  If not, how do you feel print will progress and how will it need to evolve?
A: I don't believe competitions and awards are the key to either awareness or the future of contemporary printmaking; any more than "Britain's Got Talent" is the key to awareness or the future of the performing arts.  I would never presume to declare what that key is, but educating the public about the difference between a mass-produced poster and a fine art print seems to be important.  Some people simply don't care that the framed Van Gogh on their wall is a mass produced giclee poster with "realistic brush strokes".
I believe it's not necessary to mess with or influence the direction of the "evolution" of printmaking.  And I definitely don't believe there is such a thing as "progress" in creativity and art.  Artists who make prints will continue to make them the way they want to make them and the public that supports the artists by buying them will buy the ones they like for the varied reasons they like them.  I don't believe fine art printmaking is an industry which needs to be manipulated to meet the demands of the "consumer", and it would be a big mistake for art colleges to teach students to anticipate fashionable trends in the print "market".

Another print technology that has been questioned in the past was silk screen, which first appeared in China ten or eleven centuries ago and was used in England at the beginning of the twentieth century as a means of creating wallpaper.  When it became a common tool in the advertising industry, printmakers noticed it and began to create fine art prints with it.  To move the process from advertising to fine art they christened it "serigraph".  But as Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
The issue of technological boundaries is not new and will no doubt be around for a long time.

If the artist's hand was in control through the whole process of getting an image from a matrix to another surface, it should be considered an original print.  But I believe the artist and the gallery owe it to the buyer and collector to let them know the difference between a reproduction of a painting or drawing and an original fine art print.  An intelligent buyer could then make the decision whether to own a piece of fine art or save their money and go buy a poster or pretty calendar.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Robert Kroetsch

I just learned of the tragic death of Robert Kroetsch from an automobile accident in Alberta yesterday.   Robert was the acclaimed author of books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction and is revered as one of Canada's top writers.  He was recognized with the Governor General's Award as well as the Order of Canada. The news is especially hard for me to accept, since I had worked on an edition of one of his books.  I had been commissioned by the late Dennis Johnson to illustrate the Red Deer Press edition of "Seed Catalogue".  I traveled to the Heisler area to get a feel for the location of the poem and was able to locate his former house and farm following the descriptions in the poem.  While working on the wood engravings I communicated with Robert regularly and sent him sketches as I prepared for each wood engraving.  I grew to admire and respect him and appreciated his guidance on this project, and especially appreciated his elegant and visual use of the language.

The nation and the world has lost a literary giant.

Friday, June 17, 2011

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ART

It's been a couple of days since the final Stanley Cup game in Vancouver.  It's taken me that long to get my head around what happened out there, when Vancouver lost to Boston.  I've watched, spellbound, as images of that night have been shown on the news and as the commentators have tried to explain what happened.  It's impossible to avoid shaking the head and mumbling, "What the hell is going on?  It's just a damned game for cryin' out loud!"  And that's when I realized it had nothing to do with the game; whether Vancouver lost or won, there was going to be a riot.  When thousands and thousands of people are invited to the streets to watch the game on large screens and to party, the mob mentality takes over.  Of course, as the commentators have pointed out, there were instigators in the crowd with the specific goal of igniting this and they understand how a mob works.  All they have to do is strike the spark and the mob of sheep take over.  That doesn't excuse the mob, made up of hockey fans fired up with enthusiasm and booze and their inhibitions and common sense taking the night off.  The same thing happens in soccer (football to the world outside North America).  Britain has had their share of "lager louts", "skinheads" and "hooligans" who have created havoc throughout Britain and Europe.

I didn't grow up with hockey and I've had difficulty understanding the street fights which are tolerated on the ice during games.  When I've tried to point out the radical difference between sanctioned violence and brutality in hockey and the quick removal of violence and brutality in other sports, die-hard hockey fans dismiss the violence as being "part of the sport".  I was told once, by a relative that I should study hockey so I would understand!  Even that idiot clown Don Cherry, who sees himself as Canada's authority on hockey, defends the violence and brutality.  But the violence tolerated on the ice has nothing to do with the rioting and vandalism that went on Wednesday night in the streets of Vancouver.  The brainless, pampered and spoiled idiots who tore up Vancouver had long since turned their brains off and let themselves be mindlessly led into that disgusting mess.  I watched a reporter ask the mayor of Vancouver if there was going to be a ban on street parties during events like this in the future.  I couldn't believe it when the mayor replied that street parties would continue to be allowed!

Kudos to those few individuals in the crowd who tried to reason with the idiots who were rioting and tried to calm them down.  All some of those heroes got was what some hockey players get on the ice at the hands of sanctioned "enforcers" while the referees look on... a beating.

In the end I can't help comparing the riots I saw on TV, that took place in Egypt a while back, and the riot in Vancouver that I watched Wednesday night.  There was a big difference.  The rioters in Egypt were focused on overthrowing a tyrant and taking back there lives.  The rioters in Vancouver were laughing and having fun, watching cars burn and breaking store windows and looting them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cultural Cool

Turn a Blind Eye  wood engraving 4 x 5 in.

The other day my friend Bill Starke sent me a link to a very good Wall Street Journal article written by Joe Queenan about Frank Gehry and the nature of "cool" trends.   As is often the case when I receive e-mails from Bill, the content gets me thinking and this one was no exception.  Not only did I agree and applaud everything in the article but it got me thinking past architecture, to art and culture in general and my own observations of the "cool" in art.  The phenomenon of fads in culture and the rush to jump on the "bandwagon" is fun to watch.  Those bandwagons move with the power of a runaway train, gathering passengers like a magnet gathers paper clips.  Queenan's article discusses the rush by civic governments to "keep up with the Joneses".  He says your city isn't "cool" unless it has a gallery or a library designed by Frank Gehry.  I've noticed too, that if the city can't afford Gehry, then they find a second-rate Gehry wannabe.

This rush to be "cool" is part and parcel of culture.  "Cool" sells.  Hollywood is another place where the bandwagon is overloaded.  If a movie makes it big at the box office you can expect years of other movies in that genre to follow in style or even story.  And the original blockbuster can't just end there.  Oh, no.  If that first one is a blockbuster and sends the stockholders into fits of ecstasy, why not try another?  How many more comic book super heroes, Terminators or Pirates of the Caribbean can this planet take?  (I don't want to know!)

In university I took a painting class from a professor whose own painting style was abstract expressionism.  There was indirect and implied pressure, from the professor, as well as other students, to work in the "ab-ex" manner.  So I did.  I would have preferred to work from life or nature but, as a 27 year old undergraduate with a wife and child and no idea what I was going to do with an art degree, I needed to keep my grades up.  Plus, I was in school to learn and figured I may as well give it a shot and learn something.

The printmaking professor didn't apply pressure to conform to a style and I felt free to express myself.  This may have been one of the reasons (besides the smell of solvents) I chose to take that route.  Wood engraving wasn't a formal part of the class, but it was the process that fascinated me most and I studied examples in the course text and in the library (those were the days when you went to the library for information or images).  Leonard Baskin was the artist whose work impressed me the most.  There were others but nobody topped Baskin in my estimation.  I needed to go on to graduate school because my goal was now to teach at the post secondary level.  Some of the graduate students would get excited when the latest issues of Art in America or Art Forum arrived in the library, with articles about whatever was "hot" in New York.  As soon as the latest issues were on the shelves, some of those "hot" styles and techniques would show up in class critiques.

 Graduate students grow older and move out into the world, carrying what they've collected in school.  There were moments in the 70s when, recognition by fellow faculty, art critics or gallery directors demanded the incorporation of the latest technology.  If it wasn't made with some new and hi-tech material, it wasn't worth looking at.  Then that gave way to making nothing at all.  Art students were taught to talk about art instead of making it.  Gallery walls were covered with typed descriptions of what the artist had been thinking about.  If there was any thing in the gallery at all (a pile of molding food for instance) it had to be explained with typed pages of information that were impossible to understand because they were typed in "art speak", the pontifications of art critics.  Some universities did away with courses involving the "making" of art.  Some faculty at one of the schools where I was teaching wanted to eliminate drawing from the curriculum.  A few of us fought against this and finally had to agree to a name change because the others thought "drawing" sounded too "traditional"!  By the 80s universities were churning out graduates who couldn't nail two boards together or who didn't know which end of a brush or pencil to use.  It didn't take many years of this foolishness and students began to realize that they were headed nowhere and they began to demand visual content.  The universities and colleges woke up and started putting the visual back into art.

In the "art world" there is a rush to be in front, with the most innovative and creative ideas.  If these ideas receive a following and are accepted in the mainstream they can take off like a rocket and they are "hot property", coveted and snapped up by collectors and investors.  The owner of a gallery that once showed my drawings asked me to work larger.  He said corporations wanted larger work and if I would work larger he could sell more of my work.  I told him I do drawings and prints on paper and am comfortable with the scale I work at.  I eventually pulled my work from that gallery (not because I was asked to work larger).

As I ponder the points raised in that Wall Street Journal article and think about fads and what's cool, what's hot and what's not, I can't help but feel relieved that this is a treadmill I've avoided.  I've been very fortunate that I haven't succumbed to the pressure to conform to the style or trend of the day and have been happy in my ignorance.  I can spend time in the studio creating for me, instead of spending time searching for the next fad du jour.  Besides, it's asking a lot be creating flavor of the day when using the eighteenth and nineteenth century medium of wood engraving.

Monday, March 28, 2011

WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

I've been hanging out in the studio recently, since my last wood engraving was finished, reading over my notes and lists of ideas, drawing in one of my sketchbooks and generally struggling to come up with my next wood engraving.  Authors call this struggle "writer's block".  Every time I had something I wanted to work on and tried it out in the sketchbook there was something about it I didn't like. This recent "dry spell" isn't new.  I've struggled through many of them before.  Sometimes the only way to solve it has been to keep at it until it works.  Occasionally an idea gets handed to me when a remark from a friend sparks an idea. Another solution that works is to just give it up and turn to a totally unrelated activity, like herding dust bunnies out of the studio or reorganizing the bookshelves or the filing cabinet.  I call this the "nest-building" solution. When the mind is on housekeeping and not on finding a solution, the solution sneaks in.  Then there are the spooky times when the idea sneaks up on me out of nowhere and I wonder, "Where the hell did that come from?"  I've had a couple of them arrive while I was in the shower, with nothing on my mind except getting the spray to remove the soap from my arm pit.

The real spooky ones arrive at night or before dawn when I'm about to start dreaming or when the last dream has ended and I'm waking.  If it's the former, I have to jump up and find a pen and paper and jot it down or it'll be gone in the morning.  If it's the latter, I have to jump up and avoid going back to sleep or it'll be gone when I wake again. There seems to be no way to control these arrivals.  They're independent and wonderfully spooky.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Third Day of Spring

video
I don't think this needs an explanation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

First day of Spring

On this first day of Spring, 2011 I tromped through a few inches of falling snow, entered my studio and sat, wondering what sort of joke mother nature was playing this time.  Yesterday was the second day of mild (read: above freezing) temperatures we were just beginning to enjoy.  When the backed-up storm drain at the end of the block had created a lake at the intersection, with tides influenced by the full moon, and just as we were hoping to be able to see over the mountain range of snow between our driveway and the neighbour's, Spring arrived.   The lake is now a glacier, the mountain range has grown in altitude requiring oxygen to reach the summit, and the snow is falling thick and almost as fast as the mercury in the thermometer.


But... at least I have a nice warm studio in which to continue my hibernation.



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Beasts of New York Suite

Beasts of New York is a unique and captivating book, written by Jon Evans.  The Porcupine's Quill is publishing an illustrated edition of the book (2011) with reproductions of wood engravings by Jim Westergard. Rollin Milroy at Heavenly Monkey has put the original wood engravings into ten folios.  Eight are available for sale. This suite of all 11 engravings includes a title page and descriptive colophon set and printed by Rollin.  Each suite contains an original pen-and-ink signed drawing of one of the "beast" from the book. The engravings were printed on Zerkall, the text printed on Arches Wove, and the drawings done on Arches watercolour paper. Each of the engravings (which are reproduced by photolithography in Evans' book) were printed in editions of 25. These ten complete suites are assembled uniformly from numbers 16 - 25 (with the last two being reserved for the artist's personal use). The sheets are wrapped in a  printed chemise of Reg Lissel's handmade paper, and contained in a slipcase with printed spine label. The Beasts of New York suite is priced at $800.00 and is available from Jim Westergard.  
These are images of the Beasts of New York suite and the slip case it is presented in:

 The photos below are supplied, courtesy of Rollin Milroy



The colophon page in the composing area of Heavenly Monkey.


This suite (24/25) includes the pen and ink drawing shown at the top left.



Friday, January 14, 2011

WINTER TRAVEL PLANS

Yesterday, as the snow kept falling and getting deeper and my arthritic joints ached more and the sting of previously-frostbitten toes kept the shoveling sessions short, I started thinking how nice it would be to get out of this cold climate for a little while.  Two years ago, in February, I flew with Carol to San Francisco for about a week, to attend the CODEX book fair at University of California Berkeley and since the CODEX and the San Francisco Antiquarian book fair are scheduled within the same week this year we started looking into the possibility of doing the trip again.  There was an Air Canada seat sale available which was to end last night so we had to act fast.  It's always been one of our favourite places to visit.  Carol is from the Bay Area and we met there and had many memorable dates in "The City".  In fact I proposed to Carol in my 1949 Chev one evening, parked on the Marina, looking out on San Francisco Bay.  We both thought this was a great plan.  We checked on a few hotels and finally picked one we had not stayed in before, then sat back and did the calculations.  We calculated the seat sale (which hid the massive amount of taxes and fees and the baggage charges).  We added that to the cost of the hotel for four nights (we wanted seven, but knew that would be out of our budget).  We added the hotel cost in Calgary the night before (our flight was to leave early in the morning).  We added our hotel in Calgary upon our return (our return flight would arrive too late to drive home to Red Deer).  Then we added the parking fee for our car in Calgary while we were gone and the food and transportation costs in San Francisco and Berkeley and the then we totaled it.

The total was a figure that was over what we could afford without putting it on plastic.  We winced and groaned and told each other how disappointed we were that we couldn't do it and then we tried to convince each other that it was for the best.  But we both knew we still had doubts about the decision to cancel the plans and deep inside we both probably felt the debt would be worth it.  Think about how nice it was two years ago in the Bay Area, with only a little mild rain once or twice and seeing live trees and green grass, while our driveway was filling up with snow back in Red Deer!

It was best to get our minds off this regret so we settled in front of the TV and turned on the news.  One of the first items we saw was a story about an eighty year old British Columbia woman who was filing a complaint with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority about her treatment at the Calgary airport when she was returning to her home in BC.  The security person must have thought she looked like she may be a possible terrorist who was packing some explosives, because the security person started feeling her breasts and embarrassed the poor lady by dislodging her breast prosthesis.  She had had a mastectomy in the past and was extremely emotionally sensitive about it and broke into tears there.  Of course that meant nothing to the security personnel who were only "doing their job".  That job seems to be to fool all of us into thinking, if security "cops a feel" before passengers get on the plane, it will make us safer.  

Right then and there we decided we made the right decision to cancel our travel plans and we decided we would save our travel for better weather when we can drive. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WOOD ENGRAVING PROCESS

My friend Bill Starke, suggested I should display some photos to illustrate the engraving process and I thought that was a good idea.  So, as I was about to start engraving a new block in the series See What I'm Saying, I took photographs of the block as I worked.  This print went through a number of title changes.  I started with the phrase, Change Your Mind, then Change Her Mind, then, Bill suggested Headlock, which I thought was good, but did not reflecting my motive (he wasn't aware of my motive behind the image).  The title I've finally given the print is My Mind is Made Up.  The first photo shows the ink drawing on the block and the block was stained, so I'd be able to see, more easily, where I  engraved.  The blocks I use are end-grain hardwood, similar to butcher blocks, only with a very smooth and flat surface.  In this case it's a maple block.  I stained the block by brushing oil paint lightly over the surface with a dry brush.


I started engraving and moved into more than one area to get a feel for the relationships between areas.  These early areas are usually places in which I am fairly confident of what I want to achieve.  The surface which is removed in the engraving process cannot be replaced so I need to be sure of my decision before removing it.  Ink will be rolled over the surface of the block during the printing process and since the untouched surface of the wood is what will print, I need to be sure of my decisions before removing an area.  Wood engraving is a process of bringing light out of darkness.





By this stage I hadn't printed a proof yet and wasn't sure what I would be doing with the area around the head.  It was time to see what I had.  It was time to print the image.  Quite often I start proofing earlier than this, but this one went differently.


I usually print two or three proofs so I can draw on them with white paint or manipulate the proofs in some way to get some visual feedback as to how my plans for the print will look.  It's safer to mess up a print than mess up the block.  The middle proof in this photo has had the paper around the head cut out with a razor knife and a piece of white paper set behind, so I can see what it would look like with the wood removed from that area.  I decided I wanted some major white areas around the head, but still didn't remove it all.  I kept drawing on proofs between engraving, until I arrived at the final stage.  This is the final print, My Mind is Made Up.





You can see the other prints from this series, as well as other wood engravings and drawings on my website: http://www.telusplanet. net/public/jimwest