I wanted to share a series of images showing the process of the making of an underpainting which I have been working on for the past few months. The image itself is an illustration of a vision of the biblical prophet Zechariah laid out in chapters 3 and 4 of the book of Zechariah in the Old Testament. It is a beautiful story of God’s grace and restoration, rich in symbolism and images. It is not very long and is certainly worth reading.
This grisaille is done in egg tempera on an oak panel, built from an oak that came down on my father’s farm in Greenwood county, was subsequently milled (quarter sawn) and air dried for 10 years. The panel has been cradled with walnut and ash to help keep it flat over time. The surface is a traditional gesso as describe out by the 14th century Florentine Cennino Cennini in his Il libro dell’arte. Once the grisaille is complete, I will start to paint layers of translucent colored oil glazes, hopefully to beautiful effect.
Concerning the invitation to occupy the sacred rhythm of labor and rest and to engage the “resistant materials” not for provision first, but for relationship, for worship, for knowing God. I’ll share more on this when the print is done. The block is about 75% carved. I hope to be able to start making some proofs of the image in two or three weeks.
The discovery of the life within the wood and the relationships they form is exciting to uncover. The early decisions are heavy. Every other act in the process is a response to these chalk marks as they try to hear and echo this walnut tree’s voice.
Underpinning Art with Discipline
The romance of the craft is backed up by countless hours of “mundane” work- the discipline that builds skill, and makes up the real life of labor. Days are spent creeping up on this scribed relationship and the foundational joinery. It’s a blessing to work, and to rest in the presence, at the same while striving towards the goal. Don’t mistake me, I’ve only had enough meager success at it to know it’s possible.
Technology – Joinery
One side of the natural edge was curving away on bottom edge so I had to cut a shallow rebate in order to have a solid joint as well as cleanly scribed edge. This edge was reinforced with dominoes. The opposing edge curved towards the bottom edge and could be cut square. For it I made a floating contoured spline from Baltic birch. Assembled dry all is tight and solid.
Visualize and Establish Form
Finding a way to visualize the elements in a design is an engaging challenge. Krenov spoke of “composing”, and I’ve adopted his method and language -clamping up and mocking up relationships as the process moves forward. I don’t recall if he used tape, but I recently switched from using blue tape to white tape to mask off shapes- the difference is remarkable.
Labor – Engaging Harvest
The last bit of joinery for the individual trestles is the horizontal rail completing the “H” form, which will eventually carry the longer rail that will join the two trestles together.
I’m grateful for this job, this material, this process. I heard a song that had a line which proclaimed “I am the record of His grace”.
The first glazing layers on Thomas Touching the Side of Christ
After years of working on the underpainting, this autumn has seen the first color appear on my painting of Christ and Thomas with all of the disciples gathered in a room together. I am taking a lot of cues for the colors in this painting from Rogier Van Der Weyden’s famous Descent from the Cross in Madrid’s Prado museum.
It is a clunky and halting phase of the process, trying to use the appropriate colors, and the right medium, and the right balance of medium to paint ratio. I’ve had to rub out hours of work at a time, when I’ve come back the next morning to realize the color isn’t working.
It is tempting to render the layer to a finished state, even though I know there will be subsequent layers. It is foolish to carry detail too far just yet, and it is difficult to leave certain problems alone until a more appropriate time. I caught myself over-rendering the blue of Nicodemus’ robe and had to stop myself midway through.
Glazing takes advantage of the semi-transparent nature of many pigments when mixed with linseed oil as a binder. By building up multiple thin layers of paint, it is possible to achieve unique and special color and luminosity in a picture, especially in the correct light.
This painting is a huge learning experience. They didn’t teach this sort of thing in art school while I was there, so I am having to work through a lot of discovery and failure, even while taking advantage of the many written treatises on painting throughout the centuries.
Is labor a sacrament? The invitation of the Eighth Day? A sacred collaboration with the living God? I can’t help but to note that the call to labor in the garden came before the curse of toil. I am certain that labor is about more than just earning my bread. There is something deeper there, not just for the artist, but for the ditch digger and the roofer, the farmer and the nurse. “Whatever you think, it’s more than that…” ISB.
I recently completed work on the handmade certificate of authenticity for Mule Resophonic Guitars, shipping him the first Batch this past week. I hope you enjoy the finished piece and a few photos of the printing process.
Mule Resophonic Witness, 2018 linocut, printed with sepia ink on French’s paper
The block after numerous printings becomes a beautiful object.
The first batch of prints sent off to Matt Eich, now to be included with every guitar he and his team build, including the name of the customer and the number of the guitar written in the banners at the bottom of the print.
inking the block
Tthe trusty and bespattered 4″ speedball brayer.
A detail of the inked block.
Registering the paper on the block and press bed using a simple jig.
The delicate task of lifting the print from the block post printing.
Usually the prints I make are deeply personal illustrations of my heart, vision and journey. From the early days printmaking has been, to me, a form of prayer, offering up to the Father layers of concern and expression of things I do not often fully comprehend. Within that context is a platform to explore the visualization of spiritual concepts, revelations and principles- basically a blundering effort to make the unseen seen on some level. I wonder that I am taken up with making a “graven image” and how that settles with the second commandment (Exodus 20 verse 4 if you are interested). Hopefully, what I am making are objects that are doors or windows that might lead one into worship, certainly they are far from worshipful in themselves. I take comfort that the Merciful One will ultimately be the judge of my heart on this one.
These images here, are a divergence in a way, in that, they are the mixture of my expression and visual language with the story and purpose of two other entities. The first of those is Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic Guitars. He has been building these beautifully crafted and, by all accounts, almost magically sounding guitars for five years now. The resulting print will be the certificate of authenticity that will be presented with every instrument that he sells. Matt is passionate about story and building rich relationships with his customers, and he invests personal expression into every instrument. His sense of story has been woven together with mine here, I hope.
On a technical level, I am always in an attempt to push myself past where I was before in my work. It may only be in a way that is visible to my own eye. With printmaking I compose a design and I wonder if I will be able to pull it off- if the level of detail will translate as a small mammal, or a vine, or a bird- or just a confused tangle of ink. Many times it has resulted in the confused tangle. This print for Matt has tons of this risk built into the design, and I think his spirit has elevated me, because I somehow feel a door has been unlocked. Of course, I really won’t know until the ink hits the paper- but there is hope that these tiny branches will be able to speak.
The second entity is the musical trio Sister Sinjin. My good friend Elizabeth Duffy is part of this group of women who sing devotedly to the glory and love of God. This image from this block will become the cover art for their upcoming record. The contemplative spirit of their music really seems to offer a counterpoint to the industrious detail of the print I’m making for Matt. I’ve noticed and appreciated the contrast as I have been working back and forth between these two blocks. The quite offering of the woman and the persistent labor of the plowman. Both have offered a lot of opportunity to grow and develop and express, and I am grateful. There are many photographs of the carving process below, which is still underway in both cases, though I am nearly done with the Sister Sinjin block.
My family and our work were humbled to be featured in the most recent edition of Plough Quarterly. There is a profile by Susannah Black, and a feature on Go On: Inner Man Version, an altarpiece I made back in 2003, and also an excerpt of my responses to some questions about our lifestyle, called Farming the Universe. If you choose to take the time to read some or all of them, I sincerely hope that you enjoy them.
Go On, Inner Man Version, 2003, oil on wood panel, closed position
Go On, Inner Man Version, 2003, oil on wood panel, open position