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An Artist's Garden

Brender a Brandis, G.

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ISBN 10: 088984223X / ISBN 13: 9780889842236
Published by The Porcupine's Quill, Erin, ON, 2001
Condition: Fine copy Soft cover
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About this Item

8vo, 163 pp., Signed by the author on the half-title page., Afterword by Alan Horne. Bookseller Inventory # 060180

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Bibliographic Details

Title: An Artist's Garden

Publisher: The Porcupine's Quill, Erin, ON

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: softcover

Illustrator: Illus. by the author

Book Condition:Fine copy

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st edition.

About this title

Synopsis:

`The process through which I go as I create an image remains largely mysterious to me, but I do know that it is far from merely registering, as accurately as possible, the material presented to my eye. I change many lines to satisfy my sense of design, I invent textures which will, I hope, suggest the surfaces of the objects before me, and I create systems of light and shadow that will best reveal the fragment of the world I have chosen to depict. What pleases me is that the image I offer the viewers challenges them, like musicians faced with a score, to engage in a creative process of their own, filling out the image with remembered experience. Turning my white dots and dashes into the shimmering, iridescent wings of a dragon fly -- and believing in their own conjuring -- is the necessary corollary to my process of abstraction. That people are so ready to enter into this give-and-give game fills me with wonder and gratitude.'

(G Brender a Brandis)

From the Author:

Wood, ink, and paper: three materials as essential to the wood engraver as soil, water, and air are to the gardener. My understanding of these materials -- both the wood engraver's and the gardener's -- has deepened with time and practice.

Wood is composed of cellulose. And paper is also cellulose, although the best papers are made not from wood but from the cellulose found in other plant stems, such as cotton, flax, and hemp. Ink is made of carbon -- traditionally, lamp-black -- which is derived from petroleum, the forest deposits of prehistoric time buried under layers of rock. Those three materials are therefore linked in an integral way. The printmaker combines them to produce patterns engraved on wood, inked, and pressed onto paper. There is a rightness, a kind of harmony, in their interaction that satisfies both the maker and the viewer of wood block prints.

It takes about two hundred years for a boxwood tree to reach a diameter of six inches -- the minimum size practical for a block maker to use to make the end-grain blocks for wood engraving. This slow rate of growth produces a grain so tight and so even in hardness that the artist can engrave lines a fraction of a millimetre apart without crumbling the wood standing between the lines.

I still engrave on wood -- boxwood, when it is available, rather than another wood or a synthetic substitute. Some of my blocks are becoming a bit thin. Each time I am finished with a design, I get Joe Spratt, Canada's premier block maker, to mill off the top of the block until my engraved lines are all removed and to prepare the surface for a new engraving. And I build up the bottom of the block with firm cardboard to keep the block's height equal to the height of the printing type. Eventually some of my blocks will be more cardboard than wood, but as long as the top surface is boxwood, I don't mind what material the bottom layers are.

In spite of the computerization of printing, there are still sources of letterpress ink, slow-drying and viscous and black. This availability attests to the existence of a fair number of people who still print from wood or other relief blocks and, at least in some cases, hot-metal type. In fact, I believe that there are more of us now than when we published Wood, Ink and Paper twenty years ago, in 1980. Thanks to a network of wood engravers, I now feel less isolated than I did then, even though there are still many miles between myself and my nearest colleague.

There are also more hand-papermakers, and it is now almost unnecessary for me to import paper from Europe. I only make a tiny proportion of my own -- usually decorative end-papers for my books when I want some particular botanical inclusion or bizarre ingredient. And there is real hope that hemp paper will soon become available, hemp being the fibre that lasts longer than any other -- unless it meets fire or flood, those two great enemies of paper.

I now have a studio that is open to the public six months a year, unlike the relatively hidden country place on which I lived twenty years ago, and I have the benefit of meeting for the first time a lot of the people who know and collect my work. Two of the words I hear them apply to my prints astonish me: `realistic' and `photographic'. I am surprised at this because I think of my work as being very abstract. I perceive a three-dimensional and coloured world and reduce it to black-and-white patterns on two-dimensional paper. This is something like music heard and then reduced to a score set down on paper. And viewers of my prints, like musicians who can reconstitute the score into music in their heads, can read my images and imagine something close to the subject I experienced at the start of my creative exercise. The process I go through as I create an image remains largely mysterious to me, but I do know that it is far from merely registering, as accurately as possible, the material presented to my eye. I change many lines to satisfy my sense of design, I invent textures that will, I hope, suggest the surfaces of the objects before me, and I create systems of light and shadow that will best reveal the fragment of the world I have chosen to depict. What pleases me is that the image I offer the viewers challenges them, like musicians faced with a score, to engage in a creative process of their own, filling out the image with remembered experience. Turning my white dots and dashes into the shimmering, iridescent wings of a dragonfly -- and believing in their own conjuring -- is the necessary corollary to my process of abstraction. That people are so ready to enter into this give-and-give game fills me with wonder and gratitude. It is very reminiscent of the colouring books of childhood, those invitations to fill the spare outlines with our own sense of the plausible or the fantastic. It is sad that colouring books were so often misused to train young minds into a banal obedience to convention. It is a source of joy to see adults looking at my work and beginning to play.

At fifty-eight I cannot help wondering how long I will have the good eyesight and steadiness of hand required to be a wood engraver. I expect that the many projects I have in the back of my mind will be too many for the time available. Lawrence Hyde was still engraving in his early eighties, but that was unusual. But my twenty or so burins, in spite of many passes over the whetstone, continue to fit my hand as comfortably as they did when I ordered them from T.N. Lawrence & Son at 2 Bleeding Heart Yard in London in the early nineteen-sixties. And the 1882 Albion press, also shipped from England, continues to enable me to press inked blocks onto dampened hand-made paper. And, so far, there is still wood enough. I think of all those thousands of small prints that have filtered out into the world -- now and then I encounter a few, years after they left me, on someone's wall. It still seems like a very fortunate way to make a living.

-- Gerard Brender à Brandis

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