Monday, February 2, 2009

painting the boats

Colour variation has always fascinated me. There is a peculiar pleasure in seeing the same design appear in different colours—the design seems to have a soul in each colour-scheme, said Arthur Wesley Dow.

The Ipswich sailors painted their boats in bright hues, using different colours for the inside, outside and streak. They had a limited palette—dark blue, canary yellow, orange, orange-red, several greens, black, and white. They were not content to keep a colour scheme very long, in fact they varied it from year to year, perhaps borrowing one another's paint pots when they freshened up the boats in the spring.

These boats were like colour prints as they lay on the shore in the dark shadow of the willows, or slanted in companies down the heaps of white clam shells—and the tide and the sailors always kept new combinations going.

Under the spell of these, and the old picture books, I tried to make wood engravings to colour by hand, but it was not until I became acquainted with Japanese prints that I found a simple way of creating colour variations. The Boston Museum's vast collection showed me every possibility of this art.

I experimented with the Japanese process, choosing as subjects the shore of Ipswich River with the boats, old houses, bridge and willows, printing many colour variations of each motif.

The special advantages of this art-craft are, first of all, colour quality, then colour variation. In painting, the water-colour settles into the paper, but in a wood-block print it lies upon the tops of the fibres allowing the luminous tone of the paper to shine through.

In this it is like the colour of the best pottery, say Chinese of the Sung dynasty, where the tones lie lightly over a luminous under colour. The old fresco paintings have a similar elusive glowing effect.

Colour variation I have already touched upon. Mr. Fenollosa remarked that this process "utilizes the lost chances." A painting shows forth a single colour-idea that the artist brings out of his mind. There may be many others floating there, but they cannot all be made visible without infinite labour.

With the wood blocks once cut he may seize them all—there is no limit. This is why some wood-block printers will not destroy them. No two prints need ever be exactly alike. The slight variations give a special personal character to each print.

From that day to this I have made wood-block colour prints.

dow's importance, during his lifetime, anyway, included his teaching. we'll look more at that soon, but first: the names of some of his students.

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Rachel Robinson Elmer

May and Frances Gearhart

Edna Boies Hopkins

Gertrude Kasebier

Dorothy Lathrop

Pedro Lemos (later working as Pedro DeLemos)

Georgia O'Keeffe

Mary Frances Overbeck

Margaret Jordan Patterson

Clarence H. White

...and Kate Cameron Simmons and Pamela Colman Smith and M. Louise Stowell and Max Weber (At the Pratt Institute, he studied with Arthur Wesley Dow from whom he learned to see forms as visual relationships rather than objects) and so many many more.

on his methods and influence? that's next....

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