Thursday, November 13, 2008

art crisis

Yo dudes, we've got a problem. As the holiday season approaches, earlier every year it seems, I am noticing a trend in "creative" kids toys. Lately, when I've been searching the tele for some mind numbing schlop to engage in, I've been seeing lots of commercials for children's art toys. Now, lets examine this. "Art toys". When I was a kid, I had a cardboard box full of crayons. Every once in a while, my mom made me some play-dough. Occasionally I had markers. I used whatever paper I could get my hands on, and drew and colored the shit out of everything. I dabbled with potato stamps every now and again to satisfy the budding printmaker. And sometimes when I was feeling a little more "sculptural" I sifted through the trash and glued things together. Now, this holistic approach to art worked fine for me. It gave me a love for materials, freedom of expression, and creativity. I may not have a steady job now, but I do have an M.F.A. 

O.K. So, now the situation is that I'm seeing all these toys that are like super technological anti-mess making, digitized, fake art makers. I'm pretty sure that this crap is manufactured by the devil. I've cleverly changed the names of brands because I don't want to get in trouble (I'm a rule-following square to the max). Farmer-Price is marketing a "digital art studio". Digital art studio? I'm sorry, no. Are you marketing laptop comptuers loaded with the Adobe Suite to 6 year olds? No? What they are marketing is crayons, markers, and paint, without any of the mess. These digital toys therefore deny the child of the tactile experience of learning the behavior of materials and developing all kinds of stuff in their brain (art ed folks, you can help me out with this developmental stuff maybe because if you can't tell I have no idea what I'm talking about here...). I'm not entirely sure why this sort of thing is wrong, but something deep in my gut knows it is. It is as wrong as the birth control pill that only allows for four menstrual cycles a year. Some of my favorite products that I've seen lately are: Farmer-Price Digital Arts and Crafts Studio, Crapola Color Wonder products (clear paint, markers, brushes - color only appears on "special" paper - which is undoubtedly infused with the tears of dying baby seals), Crapola Glow Station, and the list goes on. It seems that kids these days are unsatisfied with the old trusty standards. I am sad to see an age where a mint box of crayons with sharp fresh tips gets ousted by some light up digital glowing art magic disaster box. 

I think I may need to get a job at one of these major corporations in order to infiltrate the system. Mark my words, in two years time the hot item will be "Baby Gutenberg". It'll be like letter blocks, potato stamps, and everything magical in the world all rolled into one. Kids will be putting out their own periodicals. And all will be well with the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Durer? Lame.

"Tired of people borrowing your things, then forgetting they're yours? Wish you had a way to instantly identify things that belong to you?" Do you ask yourself these questions once or twice a year? If so, then Engrave-it may be for you! I was perusing an end-cap display at the Target everything store and this particular end-cap was dedicated to "as seen on T.V." products. Awesome? It gets better. My eyes settled upon this great hand held engraving tool. In printmaking world, I've heard this tool called a vibrograver (although that may be a janky term used only in that shop). It makes a terrible noise, and works basically like a very small and not so powerful jackhammer with a "hardened carbide oscillating micro-tip", which enables you to "engrave" words, or anything you like, into almost anything: tools, lamps, your wood floor, bikes, cans, your face. The possibilities are endless and amazingly cool. After two months of ownership, I figure that people probably realize that all of their stuff is now covered with names and stupid pictures in an incredibly messy, barely legible, scrawl. It takes some pretty intense control to have proper "penmanship" with this tool, therefore everything looks like it's been touched by a second grader. I'm also pretty sure that it will not take long before some misguided youth jerry-rig this bad boy into a makeshift tattoo gun. (don't do it kids, you'll have that picture of "insert video game hero here" on your buttox forever).

I must say though, it's pretty cool that this tool is encouraging people to "engrave" everything. For a mere $6.99 at Target, or more dollars on T.V., everyone on this planet can be one step closer to being a master engraver. Now, I've got to run so I can go engrave a copy of Melancholia onto the side of my car. I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the mr. potatohead of the printmaking world

It's about time someone said something about the new look of the Speedball Cutter. This tool, commonly used for carving relief matricies, is inexpensive and has always been super reliable. As the picture above illustrates, it is possible for one to own multiple cutters and still have money left over for eating, ink, and paper. It is made of a plastic handle and a little doodad at the bottom, which can be tightened and loosened, to accommodate specially made gouge cutters of various sizes. The dome top of the cutter can pop off to reveal a hollow interior where the blades may be stored when not in use. It's brilliant, like Mr. Potatohead for Printmakers. Many moons ago, this cutter was bright orange. The company switched the color to the maroon color, pictured attached to the two leftmost fingers. When this switch from orange to maroon happened, the integrity of the tool was kept fully intact. Recently however, Speedball has changed from the classic maroon color to a variety of new and "hip" colors like blue, hot pink, neon green, and yellow. I like colors, so I purchased a few to try them out, and here is what I think.

The new tool is total garbage.

The metal part at the bottom, which adjusts to fit a blade, now has a rougher exterior. I suppose the reasoning behind this was to provide more tooth so a person's finger does not slip while carving. If however, you are good at what you do, you won't slip anyway, and with this new added tooth you will wind up with some big old blisters all over your hands. The old maroon cutter was slightly textured, for a non-skid quality, but apparently it was not good enough, so they made it even worse. In addition, this rougher texture rubs against the fingers more and actually causes the fixture holding the blade in place to loosen as you are working, making for a more dangerous situation. I never had a problem keeping the blades tight in the old maroon cutters. The second thing I would like to point out is that the dome lid to the hideaway compartment is now a screw top. I think this is numero uno on the lame list today. What was the point of doing this? Printmakers are generally rustic people, capable of popping a top off of a plastic tool. Now, I suppose, this tool is more friendly for the younger users. I guess this makes sense though, since the only place where relief printing exists is in high school. Don't get me wrong, I think it is important that people of all ages make prints, but perhaps they should market this cutter as the "arthritis friendly version", or "kid tested", and still sell the old faithful for us diehards. Perhaps if the person wielding the tool cannot pop the lid off, they should not be in charge of an implement that can cause so much destruction, for danger of hurting themselves or others. My last complaint is that instead of the nice curvy logo and the word "Speedball" in block letters stamped in relief into the side of the tool, the word "Speedball" is now the only thing stamped, in a wussy script, into the side of the tool. Nothing about their font choice represents the essence of printmaking. 

Now, I don't know if anyone else is up in arms about this disastrous feat of engineering because not many people are all that into relief printing anyway. It's probably a moot point. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the best worst poem EVER.

If you are fortunate enough to own a "Stupidest Things Ever Said" page-a-day calendar, then perhaps you already noticed this. I'm banking on the fact that you don't, and haven't. A dear friend of mine alerted me that today's stupidest thing ever said was a poem, titled The Sprig of Moss, that contained a stanza about lithography and its inventor Alois Senefelder. I was not satisfied with a mere stanza and sought out the poem on the world wide web navigation system (the thing we use until computers fail and printmaking takes over the world). I found not only a few more juicy quips to accompany the first, but an entirely huge poem written about the discovery of lithography. It is simply craptastic. If it were a taste, it would taste like cat toes and caviar, or perhaps better yet, eggs benedict drizzled with a toe jam hollandaise. 

Unfortunately, I can not include the entire text of the poem here. I could, but it is long, and it's best you read it on the official website because you will definitely want to peruse more of William Topaz McGonnagal's ensnaring and delightfully terrible works. Arguably the worst poet to write in the English language, I believe McGonnagal has rightfully earned a spot in the prestigious "Stupidest Things Ever Said" page-a-day calendar. I will leave you with a sampling of this poem, sure to whet your palette.

P.S. - I especially like how he rhymes "day" with "Lithography", which insinuates that we are to pronounce the word "lithographay", which is just plain ridiculous. I'm sure this is some sort of writer's trick, "creative license" type schlop. William Topaz McGonnagal, hats off to you my friend, for you are truly a terrible writer.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Printmaking is Everywhere

I got home today and checked the electronic mail, only to find an email titled "Printmaking is Everywhere". A friend of mine, who is a freelance proofreader, sent me an image from her "Dover samples email", which I can only presume is some sort of proofreading related thing. This friend, although all English on the outside, moonlights as a printmaking revolutionary. If printmaking has infiltrated things like proofreading, then I can begin to restore my faith in humanity.

I think the text in the image may be unreadable, in that case this is what it says:

Woodblock-print craftsmen. Perhaps the best known product of the Edo period in the Western world is the woodblock print, or ukio-e ("floating world picture"). The townsmen of the day liked to see the subjects dearest to their hearts: actors in roles, beautiful women, famous places, wrestlers and entertainers, scenes of everyday life. Much of what we know about the period we have learned from such pictures (and a number of the illustrations in this book are based on them). The artist painted a design in black outline on thin paper. The blockcarver (background) affixed the design to a woodblock and followed the artists lines, cutting through the paper. A different block was carved for each color wanted (unless a given color was designed from a combination of two others). The printer (foreground) pulled the prints from the blocks after pigments had been applied to them. 

Please note: this description includes craftsMEN and townsMEN. I was beginning to believe there were no women in the Edo period. Thankfully though, it seems as though they existed as beautiful objects, as depicted in woodblock prints. Whew. I was beginning to think this culture was sexist. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

a-lak-BAR re-za-gu-LI-yev

Check out these rock and roll prints by a dude I've never heard of before now.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

let's talk about toxicity

If you are a printmaker, or almost any kind of artist for that matter, I'm pretty sure that your liver, kidneys, and other vital organs are on their way to being destroyed due to all of the toxic and terrible things used in your practice. You probably use mineral spirits, lithotene, acetone, all varieties of acid, turpentine, and many others, on an almost daily basis. Sometimes these chemicals are essential for the process in which you are working, but often times, these materials are used for cleaning up greasy piles of inky mess. Is that entirely neccessary? No. Are you destroying your body? Yes. I used to be the person who would pour puddles of paint thinner down on my mess only to sop it up with thin, crappy paper towels. The chemicals easily seeped through the towels to my hands, and for a few minutes they would glisten with the oily residue of chemicals slowly seeping through my skin and into my body. I didn't really worry about it for a while. It's the way everyone rolled. We were all too hip to wear gloves, or even begin to think about alternatives to these deadly cleaning concoctions. It like, made printmaking totally cool, man. We were invincible! Jokes were loosely tossed around about "art cancer" and how "we all have to die somehow". One faithful day, about five years into my relationship with these toxic goodies, when I was in the shop, rubbing a very large litho plate with sickening amounts of some horrible chemical (acetone maybe?), I wasn't wearing gloves. I did not drop dead, however the person by my side explained how ridiculous my apathetic attitude towards these procedures was. Now, due to my relationship with said person (which happened to be romantic), this statement actually had some weight. He suggested I wear gloves, and maybe try to do things with a little less disregard for my health. "Silly guy", thought I, "he's a painter, not even a printmaker, and an overreactor". Nevertheless, we all do plenty of stupid things for the people we care about, so I decided to promise to wear gloves. After a while, I decided it was probably even a good idea after all. More than wearing gloves, I began to speak with some folks about alternative methods to de-messing an area. Oil based products break down with other oils, so, to clean up a font of ink why not use baby oil? It picks the ink up and leaves your hands smelling like you have been around babies for hours, minus the poop and the headache from all the ambient crying. You can even use it on rubber brayers and rollers, and I feel that this may keep them healthier and not crackly, but I'm not sure about this. The surface will still be greasy, so use something like Simple Green, or rubbing alcohol to degrease. Both are ok for your hands, and Simple Green smells quite pleasant. An unseen bonus to these methods is that all of these products are environmentally friendly! I guess it's cool, or trendy, or something, to be into the preservation of this planet...I guess. Finally, instead of cleaning off your hands with a gently flowing stream of turpentine, or other solvent, try some Gojo, or other hand cleaning product. My advice is that if you can buy it in the automotive section at the store, it means business. Mechanics are the only people in the world whose hands get as dirty as printmaker's. You will still inevitably encounter solvents, acids, and other chemicals during your process, but use them minimally. Heck, throw on a pair of solvent resistant gloves. One box of gloves lasts forever, especially if you reuse the gloves a few times (note: obsessive reuse of gloves may cause athlete's hand. no joke). If you're worried about headaches, or not breathing this stuff in, buy yourself a nice respirator! I however, still refuse to wear one, because I feel they are still too dorky. Maybe someday...

Then there's always that story, which I've heard everywhere I go, so I've decided that it's a sort of art urban legend. Once upon a time, there's this woman, an oil painter, who accumulates solvents on her hands while painting. She frequently steps back to look at her work, and when she does so, she always contemplatively places one hand casually behind her neck. One day, the woman drops dead! The autopsy revealed holes in the veins, arteries, blood vessels, and all that circulatory system stuff, on the back of her neck!!! duh duh duh...

Moral of the story: BE SAFE, FOOLS!!