Friday, January 23, 2009

Can You See The Real Me?

This is a Spoiler Alert, in case you happen to be in the WetCanvas "Can You See the Real Me?" Printmaker's Exchange! Be forewarned! :o)

This month's WC exchange focused on making a Self Portrait in any relief printmaking method (woodcut, linocut, wood engraving). I've never liked drawing people- I find humans an incredibly selfish and -I dunno... inhumane- species overall, and prefer to focus on the more natural and beautiful side of life *coughgreyhoundscough*. However, I readily signed up for the challenge when I read about it because I have always wanted to do a self-portrait of myself. More specifically, I've always wanted to do a "Jen and the Greyhounds" version of William Hogarth's famous self-portrait, "The Painter and his Pug":

Isn't this the most exquisite peice? Trump, the pug, was Hogarth's favorite dog (it's interesting to see what a pug looked like in the 1740's compared to the stumpy wrinkled pork chops they look like today, eh?). Art historians muse that Trump represents the artist's link with Nature in this piece (which I find fascinating). Hogarth may also have been poking fun at himself because he often said he looked like a pug and commented on his resemblance to Trump.

So my exquisite exchange idea was to do an homage to Hogarth and Trump, instead using myself, Lucy and Cliff. Unfortunately, largest size block I could work on (to fit the 8 x 10 max paper size for this challenge) was a 5 x 7 or 6 x 8 block, and that's pretty small to do two greyhounds sitting next to a mirror reflecting moi back at the viewer LOL! So unfortunately my grand idea went by the wayside.

I went through a few weeks of "OMG what the heck am I going to do" panicked headache jaw-wrenching brainstorming after this, with no ideas percolating at all. I mean... the LAST thing I wanted to do was a head-and-shoulders standard self-portrait of myself. Ugh. And the title of the exchange- "Can you see the Real me?"- kind of hinted at something more than head-and-shoulders portrait anyway. It opened up an option to think "out of the box", so to speak. I banged my head on the wall. I doodled silly ideas. I took pictures of myself in different poses trying to come up with something other than a chubby fat white girl with red hair and 4 eyes staring cross-eyed at the camera. What kind of photo reference was THAT? ROFL!

While noodling ideas in my head, I suddenly remembered a talk I had had with one of my former pastors many years ago. I had been lamenting about my spiritual walk, how I always seemed to go through really wonderful spells where I felt God so strongly in my life, and other times where I went for months feeling totally... alone. No desire to pray, no desire to go to Church, feeling like God had totally abandoned me. It was frustrating... why couldn't I be one of those "Allelulia-God - is-Wonderful" people ALL the time?? One of those people that were SO deeply spiritual that they cried whenever they talked about Jesus?? This pastor encouraged me to read the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. One of his professors at seminary had told him that most people can see themselves, and their walk with God, reflected in this 2-page book.


Needless to say, my former pastor was totally right. I see myself reflected in this book in so many ways. Like Jonah, I want to go through life on my own conditions. When God lays out direction for my life and provides opportunities, I freak out and find myself running away or avoiding anything that would bring change. I am constantly swallowed by fears, self-doubt, depression, anxiety, panick attacks, overwhelmed by life and fearful of any change (the leviathan/whale/large fish). I feel like Jonah's cry to God is the prayer I cry to God all the time:

"In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD. "

So that was going to be my Self-Portrait. Me, my struggles with faith and life. I think the animal in the Jonah story actually translates into a "large fish", but is traditionally represented by a whale, and I like whales better than fish, most especially baleen whales because of the beautiful shape of their heads and mouths. They are big and boxy, just like my Scion station wagon LOL!!!!! I chose to do the Right Whale, one of most endangered whales (because they are so easy to kill by whalers): there are only between 500-1000 Northern Right Whales left in the world sadly. They are beautiful and placid creatures, like the beautiful and placid (and blessed) life God has given me, so why I become swallowed with such a fear of experiencing life, such anxiety and constant depression and self-doubt is beyond me.
I started with some sketches (above), and easily moved them onto a 7 x 3 1/2" block of MDF. I then inked the block in a light LIGHT blue (GC oil-based titanium white and permanent peacock blue), and put it through the printer. Here is the result, the first reduction (the photo isn't the best- taken at night with a flash so it is kind of pinky):

I then carved away more of the block and inked it with a slightly darker blue (second reduction- again, sorry for the bad photo!):

Carved away even more, and printed with a darker blue (Third reduction- this photo is a bit more accurate in terms of color-):

And finally, carved away all of the block except the edges and lines I wanted a dark blue-black. And the final image, scanned to get true color:

I am very satisfied with the way it came out. The shocking brightness of the blues (more turquoise!) dismayed me at first, but they have grown on me. I like the abstractness of the water.The last reduction to go on (the darkest blue- black) printed a bit smeary/wet looking, but not too bad. And I used the new "Canson Edition" paper that is replacing my beloved, beloved (*sob*) Stonehenge which is retiring... it wasn't bad at all. There is a smooth side of the Canson and a rougher side, and I actually liked the look of printing on the rougher side. I also printed some on thin Japanese Masa paper- harder to get ink coverage- the Masa seemed to suck in more of the ink so I should have used more. All in all, a satisfying printing!



alex said...

I enjoyed hearing the story behind the print every bit as much as seeing the actual print. An exquisite job, Thank you so much for sharing!

Katka said...

What a great print! So much better (IMO) than the homage to Hogarth idea. I always love a good allegory!
And what a great story behind the idea. It only goes to show that the messages are there, if we only listen.

Kelly said...

I love the whale print and the story behind it. I am a big fan of baleen whales too.

Melissa and Emmitt said...

hi jen!
wow! what an amazing piece you created. i love your post and your story of how it came to be.
you are so inspiring!