working in the woods

I began last summer to work in clay, reasoning that it would be easier to manipulate and change than the wood I was working with, and while I took away useful lessons in how the clay could be used, the studio situation I found was not going to work for me. I went back to working directly with the wood I was cutting in the forest. A good deal of time went into figuring out what needed to be done to control wood, to prevent checking, splitting and warping, through drying and then sealing the wood in preparation for taking paint, stains and other finishes. I also began to experiment with other approaches to finishing the surfaces, by bleaching and also burning.

It seemed one way to color the wood was to char the surface with flame. My experience in making charcoal no doubt sparked the idea, and research revealed techniques that have been used in Japan, Shou Sugi Ban, a way of charring wood used in buildings, and in the United States, by wood carvers, to add decorative elements to bowls and other forms. The wood bleaches I used result in a coloring very close to white. The bleach would not affect areas that had been charred, resulting in black and white design that is intrinsic to the material.

Drying the wood quickly was accomplished using a wood kiln. This consisted of a cabinet I built from an old chest of drawers, with insulation added and doors that would seal fairly tightly. A heat source, a light bulb, and a small dehumidifier keep the moisture content of the air within the kiln low accelerated a drying process that otherwise might have taken months into a week or so, depending on the volume of the wood. I monitored the progress with a humidity meter, and when the level had stabilized over a period of a couple of days, the wood was dry and ready to work.

Finding the right materials to seal, stain, and prime the wood for additional finishes is a work in progress. A series of layers of shellac, Golden fluid matte medium, Keda water-based stains and Transtint alcohol-based stains, and Crystalac clear wood grain filler are the materials I have settled on after much experimentation. Wood is naturally hygroscopic, and the shellac reduces the absorption of moisture in the air and so prevents movement of the wood, and the matte medium both the leaching of tannins from the wood to the surface, and bleeding of medium from finishes into the wood. Different combinations of these materials for different finishes have to be considered, but those mentioned here result in a surface that retains the natural look of the wood, which is what I was looking for.

My thinking about these works has been changed by the situation I am working in. I have been looking at and to natural forms around me, and considering how these can be pulled into or used to develop ideas I have for the work. Photography and digital manipulation of imagery selected for that use is an important part of the process I am involved in, and a way drawing out ideas. Today I collected stones from the woods, and arranged and photographed them in different patterns, and will work with those in Photoshop. I have been photographing sticks, as a source of line, and cutting larger branches to serve as “rulers” for the same purpose. As always, the process of making the work is the source of the work, and so I think about ways I can invent process that will present new ideas.

wood, paper, clay

Out yesterday cutting wood slabs. A lot of work goes into getting one of these ready, so having more of a plan when beginning to cut makes sense. Thought I could make drawings on paper, but doing the work in one shot does not seem to be how it is happening. I make the cuts, then look, photo, and bring into Photoshop to make edits. These edits then can be taken back to the work… recut, assemble.

So drawings… preliminary, in order to get a better sense of where I want to go. Ink drawings on paper can also be cut and rearranged. Or clay, which can be cut into, patched and recut, and is more in accord with the process in working with the wood.

wood support for painting

Continuing to work cutting into slabs of wood from tree trunks and branches. Rather than just as blocks for printing, I am beginning to use them as supports for paintings. First drawing into the wood with a chainsaw, and reworking as needed with other tools for surface and detail. Photographing the work at various stages and experimenting with various reconfigurations of the image in Photoshop is an important part of my process.

cutting wood blocks for printing

I have been collecting leaves, bark, and other materials in the woods here and thinking about how I may use them in making drawings, prints, and paintings. The process at this point is to work up a sketch from scanned material, use that to determine the relative size of a wood block, settle on the dimensions for the work, find the raw material that will fit the requirements, here, a section of an old tree trunk, and print out a guide for the image and cut the block. Every source material winds up having to be handled differently in the cutting, the tools that work well with one piece of wood may not be what will work with another.

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081316_graham-white-artist_sketch-for-wood-block-printing

wood blocks

I have been cutting wood blocks out of an old tree stump to use for printing on rice paper. I eyeballed all of the blocks as I made the initial cuts with the chain saw, happy to live with the drawing and marks that resulted from the process. In the first prints I made it was clear that the proportions of printing surface to open space was wrong, and the images surprisingly smaller than the appearance of the blocks suggested. So I have been fixing the blocks by cutting them apart, removing what would be white space, and reassembling.

wood blocks for printing

drawing tool for ink and wash

The drawing tool, used here with sumi ink and wash.

I have been drawing recently with sumi ink and wash using brushes and pens of various kinds. Some are reed pens that I cut from the stems from an old hydrangea bush. I wanted a tool to use with the ink that had more of the feel of charcoal in contact with the support, as opposed to the brush which has a softer feel in point of contact. It occurred to me that something like the tool pictured here might be made using these stems and a section of fabric that could absorb ink. I was surprised at how well this works, the fabric will absorb a large amount of ink, and so it is possible to draw for a longer time before recharging with ink. I’ve made these in a variety of sizes, but even using one size it is possible to get a variety of marks. One drawback in that after prolonged use, the fabric begins to fray, but is easily replaced. Click on the image here to view a sequence of steps for the construction of the tool.

oral history interview with Richard Diebenkorn

diebenkorn_reclining_nude_pink_stripe

Susan Larsen, for the Archives of American Art, interviews Richard Diebenkorn, 1985 May 1-1987 Dec. 15

“Diebenkorn speaks of his family background and early life; his education and his service in the Marine Corps; his introduction to modernism; his early abstract work; the formation of the Bay Area figurative school and the relationship between art in New York and in the Bay Area; teaching; critical and public reaction to his work; important exhibitions of his work; vacillating between the figurative and the abstract in his painting; his working methods. He recalls Daniel Mendelowitz, Erle Loran, Raymond Jonson, David Park, and Elmer Bischoff.”

Image: Richard Diebenkorn, “Reclining Nude – Pink Stripe”, 1962.

site launch

art·work results from a desire to rethink how my activity as an artist may be represented in a way that is more satisfying.  It is opening all the doors to the rooms in the house. The old hierarchy is out.

The plan is to present both the work of the studio and the research and discoveries related to my work, as well as the art that evolves from these activities.

I have pulled in existing content from drawingprocess.com, editing some of the posts and deleting others, before closing that site.

 

1986

Some of my earliest attempts at abstraction were built on studies of work by Kandinsky and other German expressionist works in the collection of the old Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard, the essays and paintings of Hans Hofmann, and many other influences. The general structure I was getting came out of landscape (via Kandinsky, Hofmann, De Kooning… ) and the gestural mark-making from expressionism, and my experience in life drawing at the Museum School with teachers Tim Nichols and Bill Flynn. I made smaller studies in pencil and perhaps might reuse some elements from these, but for the most part the larger drawings would be improvisations, started with a general structure in mind and allowed to take shape as the drawing progressed.

These charcoal drawings were made in the winter of 85-86 while I was living on Nantucket Island. Both images here are scans of old slides I found recently, and were included in the first solo exhibition I had on the island, at The Little Gallery, in 1986.

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narrative

–the surface is a container for the things that you may do to it.

–each action (may react to existing surface but) is a new separate action.

–taken together they form a narrative, in the sense that each action follows another, like frames in a film follow one another, each new action projected upon the next, and unlike film in that the traces of each frame is not transitory as light.

–any treatment of the surface is OK – it may be altered by masking, extensions–the extent of the the container is part of the narrative–its identification is the location for work, for painting

–you do something and then you do something else. The image is what is left to see at the conclusion of every action, and the “painting”, when you don’t want to or cannot see an additional step to take forward (when the narrative is over)

–every step should be taken free from the demands of a preconceived image, at any point a turn in direction must be possible, and all options open

Notations: Contemporary Drawing as Idea and Process

Notations: Contemporary Drawing as Idea and Process, a website for the exhibition Notations, curated by Meredith Malone for the Kemper Art Museum September 14, 2012, to January 7, 2013.

The focus is on the variety of drawing practices used by artists making Minimal and Conceptual art in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Robert De Niro at D. C. Moore

Robert De Niro Sr., still life

A beautiful exhibition of paintings and drawings by Robert De Niro Sr. at D. C. Moore. The color in these paintings is striking, and they look much better first hand than in any reproductions I have seen. “Inspiring” is a good word to describe these works. De Niro has not had the attention he deserves from the official art world institutions and press, although painters have always been aware of and have valued his work. I hope this exhibition will help to remedy the situation, because I would like to have more opportunities to see both his paintings and drawings.

collage with ink and acrylic

Rice paper with sumi ink, watercolor, and dry pigments mixed into acrylic gel. The acrylic paint used here is zinc white pigment mixed with a matte acrylic gel, poured onto the paper and then manipulated with various tools.

Typically I am working on a series of drawings based on a set of related ideas, and then cutting and tearing those into sections and repositioning the parts from one or more drawings to make each collage. I use an acid free glue stick for the adhesive, and may run a collage through a printing press to make sure the pieces are firmly pressed together before adding paint.

Untitled. Collage drawing with ink and acrylic on rice paper, © 2014 Graham White, artist

drawing with graphite into paint

When I made this painting I was using rabbit skin glue to size the canvas and an oil ground. I had stretched this on a board, and after applying a layer of white oil paint began to draw into it with a soft graphite pencil. The oil was slow drying (and the room cold) so I had days to add drawing, and to erase with additional paint. The graphite embedded in the paint burnished to a surface with a soft shine in the process of working. No additional fixing or resurfacing was needed as the graphite was embedded permanently in the oil when it had dried. I later mounted the canvas on regular wood stretcher bars and added a frame.

Untitled, oil and graphite on canvas by Graham White

powdered wax and charcoal

Looking into the possibility of mixing powdered charcoal with powdered wax and using as a drawing medium, and then fixing the drawing by heating the wax until it fuses with the support. Initial experiments with wax in particles about the size of corn meal not entirely successful. The carbon binds to the wax well, but the particles are too coarse to manipulate in the way that I imagine.

perception – memory – invention

I was reading recently about the painter Euan Uglow and his early training at the Slade school with William Coldstream. Unfamiliar with Coldstream’s work, I was surprised to discover how completely and faithfully Uglow adopted and stayed with his teacher’s process and basic approach to painting, which consists of a process of constant measurement of the subject and continual adjustment of the image to bring the two it into as close an alignment as possible.

Working from life is a process of perceptual observation, commitment to memory, and then, after some amount of loss of the memory and possibly invention, a transfer of the image to form in some media, paint, clay, whatever.

It is striking that both Uglow’s working process, and so career, is built on a desire to obsessively focus on a fixed set of elements. Perhaps simply as a way of moving forward, it was useful to him to, rather than base his process on experimentation and imagination, do the reverse, and drastically exclude options.

James Lancel McElhinney

I have been working with James McElhinney on a new website for his work, just launched, McElhinneyart.com. James teaches at the Art Students League, has a new publication of his sketchbooks in print and a series of interviews with artists and art historians for the Archives of American Art and Newington Cropsey Cultural Studies Center.

mcelhinneyart

Interviews with artists

The Artists Documentation Program interviews artists in order to gain a better understanding of their materials, working techniques, and intent for the conservation of their works. The interviews, conducted by conservators, with Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Brice Marden, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly, John Currin, and many others, are informal and often revealing of the artist’s intention, process, and personality.

Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center interviews include Jack Beal, Wolf Kahn, Will Barnet, Audrey Flack, Donald Kuspit and other artists and writers identified with traditional forms and craft. The interviews focus on how the careers and work of the artists are situated within the larger social and art historical contexts of their time.