Watercolors & Woodcuts

Ye olde fish faces

It is no secret that I find inspiration for both style and content in historical sources. Not that I don’t appreciate modern creations, I absolutely do, but my appreciation for today is deeply rooted in my understanding of the past. (Read up on the history of plumbing and sanitation sometime — you’ll be thankful next time you flush.) I work with woodcut because I enjoy both the challenge and its deep roots as a medium to illustrate books. My mom loves to talk about how the librarians used to let me check out more books than the limit allowed because they knew I’d bring them back early and often in better shape than they left the library. Books are brain food and my overactive imagination lead me to consume a lot of fantastic and weird history as I grew. Through those books (and magazines) I was also exposed to a great deal of art, both photographic and illustrative.

An image from the book of Wonders and Portents

I’m still finding art and inspiration on the printed page. Recently I’ve been focused on the visual vocabulary of medieval woodcuts, and spending time searching for images has renewed my love for the quirks of imagery and production techniques. Facial expressions in particular often tend towards the grotesque or inappropriate given the situation depicted. (Check out the faces on those fish!) Typically printed in black, illustrated books were sometimes also hand-colored with varying degrees of skill. The image to the left is taken from a copy of Lycosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon and exhibits a rough coloration that may have been applied with the aid of a stencil for added production speed. In this day and age of book creation not requiring the touch of a human hand (or for that matter an actual physical book), I respect the time and effort that went into producing the 600+ page volume this image came from . The application of color to this particular print may be crude, but it has its charm.

Colored with a mixture of stone pigments

I couldn’t resist trying it out for myself. Printing editions always produces a few extras, and while outright errors are destroyed, I do have a backlog of proofs on hand for experimentation. A few attempts were just outright awful (I’m more experienced with carving tools than brushes), but I rather like the successes. My materials aren’t necessarily accurate to the period, but this Cthulhu was colored exclusively with mineral pigment colors such as apatite, zoisite, and rhodonite. I’m still very much in love with the purity of black line on paper and don’t see myself switching to constant color in my work, but I do think this has been a worthwhile exploration and intend to continue experimenting on excess prints.