Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A New Moku Hanga Print; Return from SWLA Annual Exhibition

Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. 10.5x8.5 inches. Printed in 2019 on Echizen Kozo paper.

It's taken quite a while but I've finished my eighth moku hanga print: Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. The entire print as 10.5x8.5 inches and it's printed on Echizen Kozo paper. I haven't sorted out what prints will be in the edition but I expect it to be around 25.

I originally planned the print to be on Nishinouchi paper and spent forever proofing various versions on it. But after I'd started printing I realized that I had no Nishinouchi paper left other than the first 12 or so prints that I'd already printed. Since I was soon leaving on vacation I didn't want to leave it on hold until I got back and new paper arrived. So instead I did a small version on Echizen Kozo. Echizen Kozo is a much more expensive paper but still I was shocked at how much more I preferred the resulting image. So when I returned from vacation I continued printing on the Echizen Kozo. Though I like the Nishinouchi version I don't think I have it in me to go back and print a larger edition on it. One thought I have had about the two papers is that I might prefer the appearance of the Echizen Kozo when I leave a fair amount of bare paper on the print. For prints where there is little or no bare paper Nishinouchi may be fine. I do know that I've been happy with it on some earlier prints.

Below is both the version on Nishinouchi and a photo of about half of the edition on Echizen Kozo.

Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. 10.5x8.5 inches. Printed in 2019 on Nishinouchi.

Twelve of the entire printing of 30 prints on Echizen Kozo paper. Some will be culled for a final edition of around 25.

I decided to use these shorebirds as the subject of a new moku hanga print soon after drawing some Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers from life at Morris Arboretum. They are not the best field sketches I've ever done but along with some similar field sketches from May of this year they were the inspiration for this print. I think I like them because I know that they are an honest response to a bird that is right in front of me.That type of inspiration I almost never find in my photos. For me it remains true that my art inspired by photos looks exactly like that: art inspired by photos, not by real life. Below are some of those field sketches.



Sumi brush pen field sketch of Solitary Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Spotted Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen field sketch of Spotted Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.


Sumi brush pen field sketch of Solitary Sandpiper, feeding Wood Ducks and dragonfly at Morris Arboretum. By Ken Januski.


Late this summer I also did some sketches from photos of both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. I didn't do them with any intention of preparatory sketches for a print but just because I wanted to study the structure and movement of the birds. They are below.

Sumi brush pen sketches of Solitary Sandpipers by Ken Januski.

Ball point pen sketches of Spotted Sandpipers by Ken Januski.

Sumi brush pen sketches of Spotted Sandpipers by Ken Januski.


Most of the motivation for this print came from seeing and sketching Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers from life. As I began the sketch for the print I decided to put in another shorebird that I've often sketched from life, the Least Sandpiper. I'm not including any of those sketches since they are from a few years ago. When I did start sketching the preliminary drawing for the print I also used some of my photos, but only after all of those field sketches.

Once I started the actual print though more formal considerations took over: how does the print look? Do those colors and shapes work together, etc., etc. It's these types of decisions and the many, many proofs that accompany them that make my prints take so long to complete. I used to take forever to complete large abstract painting. Now I seem to be doing the same with prints. Even when I try to be quick, as with the Great-crested Flycatcher shown in an earlier post it seems nearly impossible!!

A few days after we returned from Cape May 'The Natural Eye', the annual exhibit of the Society of Wildlife Artists opened in London, UK. I'm happy to say that all three of my prints were accepted for the show, though sadly enough none of them sold. A review of that show on the Making A Mark blog is here. Though we couldn't see that show in person this year the many photographs available online show what an exhilarating show it was once again. Mall Galleries has an online gallery of the show and this is a link to my Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker print. I have links to some photos, including 80+ by Making A Mark, on my Ken Januski Artist Facebook page. One of  the many things I like about the show is that in it many artists also look like they spend a lot of  time working on their artwork. By that I don't mean the man-hours that I often see artists boasting about as though that has something to do with the quality of their art work. It doesn't, unless in inverse proportion.What I mean is that they don't go for cliches, formulas, etc., etc. So much of the work looks like a real artist created it, someone interested in creating something fresh and individually expressive!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Moku Hanga in Progress, and in London for SWLA

Spotted, Solitary and Least Sandpipers. Working  proof  of  moku  hanga print by Ken Januski.

I'm not sure if I've ever shown a work in progress from my Moku Hanga prints. But I easily could. That's because they take forever. I'm now on week three of this print. And I still don't have the final design, or colors. But  I'm getting close.

I had been planning to write my next post on my field sketches, both those done at Cape May in May and also those done around  here. But having three of my works in The Society of  Wildlife Artist's  annual show 'The Natural Eye': Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker at Andorra' has been a bit of a distraction, though certainly a pleasant one.

The three framed works waiting to be shipped off to 'The Natural Eye', accompanied  by  the  hope  that at least one of them would get in!


I'll go on a bit more about  the SWLA show later but for now I'll try to finish a thought and stick with this print. Though not a field  sketch it is based on and inspired by them.I think it was in May that I did some field sketches of both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers at Morris Arboretum. They ended up being somewhat clumsy works but they still captured the life of the birds. And as I've said probably a million times over the course of this blog it's next to impossible for me to get that feeling of life when I'm working from photos. So it's much easier for me to be inspired by my sketches though I often will use my photos to at least see the details, and  then decide how important it is  to try to get them into the work. In this instance I also added two Least Sandpipers which I'd also seen and sketched  at Morris Arboretum in  previous years.

Once I get started on a work, particularly a print, though it used to be just as true in my large abstract paintings, my main concern becomes the orchestration of shapes, colors, textures,  and movement. Often I get seduced by the colors, shapes, etc. and find I've gotten too far away from the original impetus. So  I find it's always a dialogue/dance/or whatever you want  to call it between the original impetus and the logic and poetry of  the medium itself. I think that is why they always take so long for me to complete.

When it comes to most wildlife art, and again to repeat something I've said a million times, I  often find that it seems to get all of its emotional resonance from the reaction to  a PHOTO of something not to the real thing. That is why I love 'The Natural Eye'. Once again viewing the online gallery this year I find it positively thrilling. The art about nature  should  be as exciting as nature, or  even moreso in that it combines  the excitement of  both art AND  nature. It was particularly thrilling to be able to walk through  it in person last year both to admire and enjoy all the art work that was in it but also to honestly assess whether my own work really belonged there  or  perhaps  had gotten there by some fluke, twist of fate or whatever. Almost all artists and some time doubt themselves. I'm happy to say that I  left feeling that my work did  hold its own!

But that is not what is most important. What's most important  is  that this show demonstrates that it's quite possible to make the most ambitious, exciting, moving art possible all using wildlife as its subject. The Society of Wildlife Artists should be proud of themselves for coming up  with such a rewarding exhibit year after year.


Monday, July 29, 2019

Continuing with Moku Hanga

Avocet and Moorhen at Minsmere.  Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. 6"x4", 2019.

I don't think that there are any excuses for the huge gaps between my blog postings. Suffice it to say that the lack of  comments, overabundance of  spam, and other online outlets all took their toll. Nonetheless I  hate to let  this  blog  just die, especially as it's sort  of  become a  blog about  my progress  with moku hanga. So with that said  here are  my two newest prints.

Above  is a  6x4 inch print of  an Avocet and Eurasian Moorhen  that we saw at Minsmere RSPB  last year on our trip  to England for  'The Natural Eye' show  of  the Society of Wildlife Artists. Below is  the newest print,  a  4x6 inch print  of a Great Crested Flycatcher, motivated as you might expect by seeing  some of  the first  returning birds  of  spring.

Great Crested Flycatcher against Blue Sky.  Moku  Hanga by Ken Januski. 6"x8", 2019.

Technically speaking I'm not sure why anyone would take up moku  hanga. There are so  many things  to consider  and so many things that can go  wrong: paper  that is  too wet or  too dry, bad paper, paper with too little or too much,  paint  that is  too  wet  or  too dry, too splotchy or  too saturated, smudging  everywhere, colors that don't print the way I think that they will,  wood  that  is drier than I'd like  and  breaks  as I'm  carving a  crucial  line, etc.,  etc.,  etc.

Some love  moku hanga I'd guess because  of  the  great moku hanga art  that was done in Japan during  its heyday. I admire  it, both artistically with hardly a  thought of the technical difficulties, but  also for  the incredible technical craftsmanship.  I understand why artists want to continue that noble  tradition.

Others  today love  it  for a variety of other reasons  but I suspect  one  of the top ones  is  that it  is largely non-toxic, i.e. safe,  and because  it  is  so  connected  to  nature.  The paper is made  from plants, the baren  often  is  made  largely from bamboo. Only perhaps  the watercolors  and/or  gouache  used by many might have some  man-made ingredients.

For me  the safety is  important. When I switched,  to a  large  extent, from painting to  printmaking  around 10 years ago I was thrilled by printmaking, all done without a press. But  I was bothered by the toxic fumes of  the paint/ink solvents. Did I  really want to use  them?

I also  found that I much admired  some  contemporary moku hanga, used as a means of modern expression.  I'd guess that the last two, safety and exciting  examples, are what got me started.

But what kept me going, especially after the trials  and tribulations  of  the first  couple of  prints,  was  my understanding  that I  was beginning to get  control  of  the medium. It was  starting  to be a  useful  tool. At some point  your  artistic medium has  to start seeming like  a useful  tool, one that helps  you  do  what you  want, rather than  a constant  opponent, one that you wonder  if  you  can ever best. Oddly enough that happened  with me.

There are  still  numerous  technical mistakes  and difficulties  with my moku  hanga prints. But I'm comfortable  enough with it, and also  know what rich possibilities it has that I've come to feel  somewhat comfortable with it.

Too much of my experience  with printmaking has been reminiscent of  battles. I'm often happy with the results  but never relish the process  and regret how  many prints have blemishes which necessitate  discarding them. That seems to be, finally, less the case with moku hanga.

I'm not going to say too much about these two prints themselves. In both of them I'm trying  to  find a  contemporary artistic  vocabulary to express what I  want, and also to use  the subject  of birds, insects, nature and the environment. Even with perfect mastery of a medium that is still a  large  task. How  do you  take  traditional,  some might  say ancient, subjects and make them fresh? I find that moku hanga  has helped  me to do that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Starting My Third Year of Moku Hanga Prints

Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. Edition not complete as of 02.10.19 but it will be between 20 and 25. Printed on Echizen Kozo paper.

The title is true and accurate but it's possibly misleading. I did make my first moku hanga print at the beginning of 2017. I did that largely because I'd seen the prints of one wildlife artist in particular who used and still uses moku hanga to make brilliantly colored, quite creative prints. His colors in particular seemed to offer something richer than what I was getting in my previous linocuts and woodcuts. I'm not naming names here, more for privacy reasons than anything else, of that artist or of another family that was also instrumental in my deciding to try moku hanga. The family bought a large number of my works in late 2016 and it was the proceeds of those sales which helped to fund most of my early moku hanga supplies. So I first should say thanks to both the artist and the family. If you read this I imagine you will know who you are.

Back to why the title might be misleading though. The fact is that the print at top of this post is only my sixth moku hanga print!! What can I say? As soon as I tried my first moku hanga print I loved the possibilities that I was now seeing first  hand. On the other hand when I made that first print technical difficulties required me to yell out to my wife that I'd have to skip lunch and then as the day went on I had to yell out again and ask if we could delay supper.

Everything went wrong!! The paper was too wet or too dry. I had all sorts of splotches in my print rather than the smooth, rich, even color I was expecting. My fingers got  paint on them and they went onto the paper. I can't even remember everything that went wrong. I do know that the prints  did not look as similar to one another as I would have liked(that is an understatement!!).

But still the possibilities were obvious. In other words I was hooked. I haven't done any other types of printmaking since then. But given all the problems I encountered I knew that I would have to modify what I did in moku hanga to some extent. For  one thing I wasn't going to be able to carve small outlines around every shape. If I'd taken a course I might have learned this right off. But I learned everything from books and trial and error.

Anyone who does moku hanga printmaking I think will tell you how complicated  it can be. There are so many variables, so many things to learn, and such a rich tradition to contend with. To make a long story short I had to learn how to approach moku hanga in a way that made sense for me.

It's also true that after an initial start in printmaking of just using anything as a subject I've gotten more and more ambitious.  I want my prints to some extent to be the same as paintings, just done as multiples. So I wanted ambitous prints, but using a medium in which I was a rank beginner.

The end result is that it takes me a long time before I decided to actually make a new print. I may spend months toying around with various possibilities. So.................. that is why I say that this is my third year of making moku hanga prints. It's 100 percent true. I just haven't done many during that time.

I think that the first print in which I haven't felt the need to tear my hair out as I printed the edition is  this one of  a female Purple Finch and male Hairy Woodpecker. I had few if any problems in the first edition of 20 on Nishinouchi paper.  Well major problems I should say. There were some minor problems, like ink coverage. But the new, as yet unfinished edition on Echizen Kozo, printed at top seemed to have fewer problems with ink coverage. Until the paper seemed to pull off the page as I printed additonal prints!! I  think that problem is resolving itself and so all in all this will be a second edition of about 20, with, I hope, better ink coverage.

Printing the Purple Finch has been the first time that I've largely liked the process. I'm not screaming and tearing out my hair as I print part of the edition each day. And I'm quite happy with the results.

So as I start my third year of moku hanga I have to say it seems the perfect medium for  me as a printmaker. I don't need to use toxic chemicals. I don't need a printing press. I don't need a lot of room. I do all my printing in my very small studio(once a bedroom). I think all artists hope for the day when their tools  become an extension of  their  hands. That is now the case with me and moku hanga. There are still a million ways I'm sure in which the technique can become better and more predictable. But it is predictable enough right now. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into moku hanga.

I should add that this print was based on an actual scene at The Wissahickon Environmental Center in late 2018. It is based on sketches and photos I made on a very misty, foggy day. I've tried to keep some of that sense in the print.