Friday, August 12, 2011

Woodcuts and Foolish Fish

Over the course of the summer, the filmmaker has been teaching craft classes at a local library; last week, he featured woodcut production, highlighting the esteemed tradition heralded by the wonderful William Blake. The woodcut, in essence, illustrated the action, or conceptual musings, of the lyrics. While I am not entirely sure the entire crew of participants genuinely appreciated the art and the poetics of dear Master Blake, attendees young and old had a lovely time. The filmmaker was able, however, to successfully explain the concept of negative and positive images, without resorting to the independent learning, trial and error approach.

The filmmaker brought an array of poetry books from his own collection; I had, unfortunately, been ill prepared the morning of the class and had not given a thought to the poem I wanted to illustrate in my woodcut, so was quite thankful for the bountiful assortment from which I could select a piece. Naturally, the filmmaker and I have similar tastes, in literature and in aesthetics, so perusing through some of his books was much like thumbing through one of my own.

After cutting the pattern or design into the linoleum, using a variety of small, scooping knives, ink is spread across a flat and smooth surface with a rubber roller and then applied to the woodcut etching, so that it can be printed; the filmmaker provided red, black, gold, and silver colors for the participants.

After applying the ink to the woodcut, a piece of paper is placed on top of the etching; it is important to press firmly, not aggressively, and ensure that the ink is applied to the paper evenly.

Manipulating the carving tools across the linoleum proved more difficult than I would have hoped, but rewarding; I had not performed this type of activity since middle school. I enjoyed sketching out my design, and was pleased that, for the most part, the etching is true to the original drawing, albeit, a bit more crude and a bit less detailed.

I enjoy creating, working with tangible objects with my hands, sculpting, drawing, forming, shaping. Attending these various craft lessons has reminded me of this fact, of how satisfying it is to touch, to create, to experience tactile events.

For my woodcut etching, I selected a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from A Coney Island of the Mind; I tried to encapsulate in my imagery the agonizing movement of the heart, the abrupt and absurdly tragic death of the fish, gulping vainly for life.


Cast up
the heart flops over
gasping "Love"
a foolish fish which tries to draw
its breath from flesh of air

And no one there to hear its death
among the sad bushes
where the world rushes by
in a blather of asphalt and delay

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