Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Essential Artemesia

The Artdog Images of Interest

I'm celebrating "Women's ART History Month" this March, with a new "Image of Interest" post each week that features a small collection of images and a few biographical snippets about some of my favorite women artists.

These women made their mark in what has been for centuries a world that belonged mostly to men. Some are better known than others, but I hope you'll enjoy the work of all.

Where else could I start, but with Artemesia Gentileschi?

Artemesia Gentilesci's Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638-39.

Artemesia is widely acknowledged as "the most important woman painter" of her time, the only woman admitted to the Academia dell'Arte del Disgeno in Florence. Typically of the male chauvinists who dominated the art history field for centuries, Artemesia's paintings were not even recognized as her own until late into the 20th Century.

It's crazy to realize, but as far as we know, Artemesia's first-ever solo show didn't happen till 1991 (this is really pushing the idea of "better late than never" to previously-unimagined lengths). It was held at Casa Buonarroti in Florence, the same place where Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger commissioned her to paint Allegory of Inclination in 1615.

Artemesia Gentileschi's Allegory of Inclination, 1615, painted for Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger.

Taught to paint by her father Orazio Gentileschi (and unfortunately also by a lowlife slime named Agostino Tassi), Artemesia was influenced by both Orazio's work, and that of his friend Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, as attested by her marvelous use of the chiaroscuro technique, and of tenebrism in her paintings.

Infamously, the story of how she was a rape victim always seems to get a lot of play in her biographies. Partly this may be because it is one of the best-documented aspects of her life. The horrifying transcripts of the months-long trial have survived. But mainly it's the sensational nature of the story. Many other facts about her life have faded into obscurity in most bios.

Judith and her maidservant really put their backs into their work, in Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614-20. 
One thing that hasn't faded, however is the vivid and poetically ageless revenge she took on men (especially in the person of Holofernes--could her model have been Tassi?) in her paintings. 

According to one biography, Judith Slaying Holofernes was painted for Cosimo II de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who hid the painting from view as he believed it was "too horrifying to behold." I've got to say that the expression on Judith's face probably does have a tendency to make the cojones shrivel.

Artemesia included a glimpse of old Holofernes's head and a rather badass-looking sword, when she accessorized Judith and her Maidservant, 1613-14

Even before the sordid rape episode, her Susanna and the Elders (a masterwork produced when she was 17) makes it clear she already knew all too well what it felt like to be objectified.

Anyone who doesn't cringe in empathy with poor Susanna in Artemesia's Susanna and the Elders, 1610, has only ever been on the oglers' side of the interaction.
A true survey of her artwork reveals, of course, that she panted a far greater range of subjects than the battle of the sexes. Most of her subjects, indeed, were dictated by her patrons, but they still mostly feature rather-more-bold-than-usual women. The art critic Roberto Longhi wrote, "There are about fifty-seven works by Artemisia Gentileschi and 94% (forty-nine works) feature women as protagonists or equal to men." Here are a few more wonderful pieces, to give you a glimpse of her range.


Artemesia's The Penitent Magdalene, 1617-20, looks to me as if she might be having second thoughts. The color of her dress, by the way, is sometimes called "Gentileschi Gold." Artemesia signed the painting on the back of Mary's chair; as she often did during this period, she chose to use her uncle's surname, rather than that of her father or her husband.

Did Artemesia play the lute? Maybe. She appears to have a clue about fingering in this Self-Portrait as a Lute Player, 1615-17.

Let's wrap with another later work, Clio, the Muse of History, 1632. As well she should, Clio appears undaunted by the weight of history ("muse of," after all). So too, Artemesia's work has stood up quite well to the test of time. 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia and the Royal Collection (of the British Royal Family) for the self-portrait image of Artemisia at work, to Art History Archive, for the Allegory of Inclination image, to Wikipedia and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for the image of Judith in her moment of gory triumph, and to Wikipedia and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence for the image of the wickedly-accessorized Judith-plus-one; also for the painting of Mary Magdalene in the golden gown. Many thanks to Wikipedia and the Web Gallery of Art for the image of Susanna and the dirty old men, as well as the same duo for the photo of the self-confident Clio (the painting is in the Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa, a savings bank in Pisa, Italy). Finally, many thanks to Wikipedia and The History Blog for Artemesia's self portrait with the lute; the painting itself is currently in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Does it affect you?

The Artdog Quote of the Week 


Have you been affected by recent events? What would Ben do?

IMAGE: Many thanks, again this week, to Time4Change, this time via the Pinterest "Social Justice Quotes" pinboard, for this illustrated quote from Benjamin Franklin.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Water on wheels

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest 

Nippon Basic founder Yuichi Katsuura demonstrates
the Cycloclean bike-mounted water purifier.
During "Social Justice February" I've been looking at innovative ways to deliver safe, clean, affordable water to populations that need it. 

The United Nations recognizes access to good water as a basic human right--and it isn't only in developing nations where it's a problem.

Remember Flint, MI, where problems with lead contamination in the water will unfortunately continue to be an issue for several more years.

Providing good water in times of disaster is a particular challenge, and that was the spur for innovation that created the Cycloclean, a product of the Nippon Basic Co., Ltd. It's a kinetic water-purifier mounted on a bicycle.


How does it work? Well, first of all, it can go anywhere you can ride (or push) a bicycle, so it's pretty portable. It uses no gasoline or other fuel (except pedal-power), so it's entirely eco-friendly (though possibly not so leg-friendly).


Park it next to a water source, insert the hose, then prop up the bike on its stand (one website called them the bike's "crutches,") and hop on for some vigorous pedaling.


This pumps the water up the hose, into the purification filters, and out to whatever catch-vessel you have--cans, jars, or maybe one of last week's Hippo Water Rollers.

The biggest drawback to the Cycloclean right now is its price. Though it varies from country to country, it costs several thousand dollars for one unit. So far, the main customers have been local Japanese governments, especially in mountain villages. But the company also has been expanding into Bangladesh and elsewhere, and prices are coming down.

IMAGES: Many thanks to InfoHeaps, for the photo of Katsuura on the Cycloclean and the "Simple Overview" diagram. The close-up of the filters on the bike is courtesy of The Rakyat Post, via BaikBike, and the side-view of the bike with the unit mounted on it is from the Leonard J Kovar’s Self Sufficiency Off-the-Grid Survival post “Cool Water Purification Gadgets,” which also features the LifeStraw. Thanks very much to all!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The 'medicinal art' of Ricardo Levins Morales

I've been wanting to round out my mid-week "Social Justice February" posts with art--and I've found the perfect "poster man" for the topic. He is Ricardo Levins Morales. You may find that you recognize his work, but even if you don't I hope you enjoy it.
Trayvon Martin-Ella Baker
I had seen this image before, but never knew who the artist was. 

Posters have a long history in art. They haven't always been appreciated for the art form they are, of course--Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, for example was scorned by other artists for his commercialism when he created what are now considered iconic images. And Alphonse Mucha tried to distance himself, later in life, from the Art Nouveau style he helped create with his marvelous posters.

Budget Priorities speaks to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Ricardo Levins Morales, by contrast, has embraced the art of the poster-style image in his own unique way. The artist/activist has turned it into what he calls "medicinal art." What does that mean?

History's Perspective offers hope in an unjust world.

"when I work with any community I start with a diagnosis," he explains in his online biography. "I ask what it is that keeps this group of people from knowing their power and acting on it. Not what has been done to them but wounds, fears or ways of thought keep folks immobilized."

We Are the Mainstream

His work embraces social justice, the environment, empowerment for a variety of minority groups, and labor issues. I've collected a "mini-gallery" of some of my favorites here, but you can see many, many more wonderful pieces at his Ricardo Levins Morales Art Studio website.

Environmental Justice

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Ricardo Levins Morales Art Studio for all of the images shown in this post. I've linked each back to a page where you can purchase the image if you wish. Many are available in at least two formats.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A different kind of "water wheel"

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

This month the Images of Interest have been exploring better ways for people around the world to gain better access to clean, safe water--defined by the UN as a basic human right, but out of reach for millions, if not billions (different sources cite different numbers) of people all over the world.

Previous posts have discussed ways to make the water safe to drink, via LifeStraws and ceramic water purifiers --but before you can clean it you have to get it. 


And bring it home.

Some people in "undeveloped" parts of the world may spend up to a quarter of their lives hauling water.

Enter the Hippo Water RollerThis reimagined child of a water barrel and a wheelbarrow holds about five times as much as the average bucket, and was designed by two South Africans who grew up in rural areas, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker.

They've been making them since 1991. As of mid-2016, some 50,000 of them had been distributed to more than 20 countries, and countless lives have been improved.

I guess that's just the way they roll.*



*Augh! Sorry! Couldn't resist.

VIDEO: Many thanks to Hippo Roller's Flickr Photostream for the still shot of Hippo Water Roller users in action, and to Insider on YouTube for the Hippo Water Roller video. And a tip of the hat to Warren Whitlock (@WarrenWhitlock) for alerting me to this ingenious solution to an age-old problem!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Yet more evidence that dogs are wonderful

The other day I came upon what I think is a wonderful story from the Denver, Colorado area. I've shared stories about a variety of service dogs on this blog, but this is the first "facility dog" I've encountered. 

This is one way that Pella helps comfort child witnesses, out of sight of the jury.
This program in Colorado was born of the persistent vision and efforts of criminal investigator Amber Urban, who got the idea from the Courthouse Dogs program in Seattle, WA. Over time, the Arapahoe County Courthouse has become one of several courthouses and child-services facilties where Pella and others like her are now accepted.



Pella helps children feel more empowered during what can be an extremely stressful interview or turn on the witness stand. The interviewers make a point of letting the child decide if Pella should be there or not (giving him or her a bit of control, in what is almost guaranteed to be a frightening, out-of-control experience).

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Denver Post's excellent 8/18/2016 article about Pella and the "facility dogs" program in Colorado, by John Wenzel, from which some of the background material for this post was drawn, for the photo of Pella in "stealth mode" on the witness stand, and to YouTube, OakwoodNS, and KUSA for the 2012 video clip about Pella.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feeling powerless?

The Artdog Quote of the Week: 



It is always appropriate to speak up, when we see a wrong. It may be hard or inconvenient, but the alternative is far, far worse.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Rescue Her (a group dedicated to fighting human trafficking) for this quote from Elie Weisel.

Friday, February 10, 2017

These aren't just any old flowerpots

The Artdog Image of Interest


These Cambodians are making life-saving devices. Those things that look like flowerpots are actually ceramic water purifiers. They save lives by making it possible for people to have clean, safe drinking water, even when their only water source is a muddy, polluted river. They've dramatically cut down on diarrheal illnesses since they were first introduced in 2002. That they can be made locally and employ local people is an added bonus.

The filters work surprisingly well, for such a low-tech solution. They eliminate approximately 99.88% of water-borne disease agents.

As far as I could discover, the principle was first developed by Henry Doulton, a Victorian pottery manufacturer (his father co-founded the Royal Doulton company), who was inspired by the discoveries of Louis Pasteur.


In honor of Social Justice February, this month I'm exploring innovative, sustainable technologies for delivering clean water to populations in needThe United Nations declared in 2010 that access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right, and called upon all nations to help ensure that "safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation" should be accessible to everyone on the earth. Yet such access is unavailable to literally billions of people, and the pressures of climate change and population growth make the problem worse each year.

IMAGE: Many thanks to cfile Daily for this image and an informative story to go with it.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why can't we be friends?

Sometimes folks just don't hit it off right away.

Especially if they're different in a lot of ways. Maybe they don't look too much alike. Maybe they come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different belief systems. Or speak different languages.

Does that mean they're doomed to hate each other?


We humans get crosswise with each other, too. But heck, we aren't even different species.

Maybe the dog and the ferret are onto something.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Giant Gag, via Pinterest.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The beginning of the end?

The Artdog Quote of the Week 
As true today as the day he said it:


For the second year in a row, I plan to observe February with a special focus on social justice. In my opinion, these are more important principles than ever.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the "Social Justice Quotes" Pinterest pinboard for this quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, February 3, 2017

If water is life . . .

The Artdog Image of Interest


Are these guys crazy? No. They're demonstrating a new technology that's begun saving lives all over the world. It's called a LifeStraw, and it's an on-the-spot water purifier. Originally designed to help vulnerable populations gain access to clean water, it also is marketed for about $20 per unit to hikers and backpackers in the developed world.

Does it work? Very well, if you believe more than 5,000 customer reviews on Amazon. It also lasts for a while, capable of purifying up to 264 gallons of water

Lifestraws are made by the Vestergaard company.

In honor of Social Justice February, this month I'll be exploring innovative, sustainable technologies for delivering clean water to populations in need. The United Nations declared in 2010 that access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right, and called upon all nations to help ensure that "safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation" should be accessible to everyone on the earth. Yet such access is unavailable to literally billions of people, and the pressures of climate change and population growth make the problem worse each year.

IMAGE: Many thanks to MintPress News, for this photo and an accompanying article that tells more.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How I make my paper sculptures

I first started making paper sculpture in 2007, but during the first few years I tried a variety of techniques and media before I settled into a pattern that works for me. I have drawn upon my background in printmaking, graphic design, and pen-and-ink illustration to develop my own way of doing things.

1. It starts with a drawing.
During the early years I experimented with cutting freehand shapes out of acid-free paper of various colors, but this didn't give me the flexibility or the control I wanted. I'd always been a pen-and-ink artist, so eventually I gravitated back to that. 

First come the pencils, then the ink. I erase the pencil lines after the ink dries if I want a more clear, crisp line, but leave some or all of the pencil lines in, if I want a softer look in the scan.

I draw on tracing paper to create wings or other overlapping levels: pencils, then inks.

I sometimes draw my original ink drawings on acid-free, finer-tooth white drawing paper, while other times I'll use tracing paper overlays to make separate parts of an image.

2. Next step: a scan.
I love using hand-applied colors, especially with Prismacolor pencilsgouache, or acrylic paint. However, I soon discovered that a scan can turn the pigment colors muddy, when reproduced. Now I nearly always scan my ink drawings before I add any color.

3. After the scan, I add color.
I use Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator to add color to my ink drawings. This gives me several advantages. I can make variations on the base drawing's colors--or make versions in entirely different colors--depending on the effect I'm going for.
Using digital media makes it possible to make the same "base drawing" in several different color variations.

4. Create "pieces to print" pages.
Here's where using the digital component really comes in handy. I normally export the color work as a JPEG, once I'm ready for the next step. This gives me a lot of flexibility. I can adjust the size of the printed images according to my needs, and I also can make a master "to print" page that contains several repeats of the image I want.

This is one of the "pieces to print" pages for Coming Through!, a multiple original edition I started in 2012.

5. Print copies of my "pieces to print" pages.
I always use archival-quality, acid-free paper and fade-resistant inks for my printouts. No ink is totally lightfast in direct sunlight or high humidity, but I try to ensure that with proper care I've used inks that will keep their bright colors as long as possible. I also like to print on several different weights of paper.

Whenever possible, I print what are to become the upper layers on 20-lb. paper, for maximum flexibility with strength. The Southworth Archival Business Papers I normally use take embossing quite well without tearing, and hold the impressions without losing their sculpted form.

I prefer to print the base layer for any image on heavier stock, ideally 62-lb. paper (sometimes I'll print intermediate layers on 32-lb. paper, depending on need and availability).
2-up dragon wings, one of the "pieces to print" pages for my Common Cliff Dragon--Male multiple original edition.


6. Cut out the images.
Now comes what I call the "lap art." Cutting out the images is exacting work, but it also can be tedious. I normally station myself in front of the television, with a lap desk or corkboard to catch the clippings, for this part. It's also a great thing to do with my hands while talking on the phone--kind of like some people crochet or do cross-stitch.

A lot of people ask if I use an X-ACTO knife for this. In general, no. X-ACTO blades get dull way fast for this kind of work, and then they tear the paper. I vastly prefer a small pair of very sharp scissors for most of this work. Until they grow dull (which takes a lot longer), they give me considerably more control on curves or intricate shapes. If there's an inner shape to cut, sometimes in that case I'll use an X-ACTO.

Here are pieces of a Coming Through! in various stages of being cut out, on a corkboard with two of my more indispensable tools: small, sharp scissors and my favorite tweezers.

7. Sculpt the cut-out pieces.
Now comes the actual sculpture-part. I have a variety of tools, some originally designed for leather working or bookbinding, a few stolen from my old set of etching tools, and others taken from my pottery-making tools. They help me burnish, crease, emboss, and otherwise manipulate the paper (especially the 20-lb. stock) to stretch and mold it into 3-D bas-relief forms.

Here are some more of my favorite tools.

8. Assemble and glue together. 
Once the pieces are sculpted, it's time to put them together. Normally I ensure the raised forms will stay raised to the desired level by gluing little rolls of paper to the backs. These become the anchor-points for attaching upper layers to the heavier, lower layers.
Two layers of the Protector dragon: the 20-lb. layer is easier to emboss and crease. The 62-lb. layer (at right) anchors the sculpted top layer so it holds its form. The rolls of paper (on the back of the piece at left) provide dimension and anchor points.

If there are little creatures, leaves, etc. that are distinct parts (such as a dragon, a unicorn, a clump of grass, or a tree, I'll sculpt and assemble them first, then layer them into the larger image I'm creating. Once it's all assembled and glued together, it needs to dry at least overnight.

Once I've sculpted them and stabilized them on a solid base layer, I can create quite a bit of dimension, even at a very small size. These guys (made for the editions Protector [L] and Brave) would just fit into a 2-inch square.
As you can see, it's a rather complex process from concept to finished piece. Sometimes a work is so complicated, I can't face going through all that rigamarole more than once. Or perhaps I had to use some kind of hand-coloring or embellishment to finish it to my satisfaction. In such cases, there can only be one. 

But for most of the pieces I've been making in recent years, my little printmaker soul can't stand to do all that work and only end up with one piece as the final product. Instead, I'm turning them into limited editions--but as you see, each is made individually by hand, and if you look carefully it's easy to see small variations. Thus, each is unique: a true multiple original.

A Common Cliff Dragon--Male waits to be matted. Pieces need to dry at least overnight, after they've been sculpted and assembled.

So far, all my editions are limited to 25 copies. I figure that's about all of any one design I'll be able to stand making, and by then I'll have made others I'm more interested in doing. Unlike traditional plate-based multiple-original print editions, however, I'm discovering that as I make these pieces I find better and more effective ways to give them a truly sculpted and well-defined execution. I make each piece to the best of my ability, but the latter ones in the edition may actually be "better" than the earlier ones, thanks to the learning curve.

9. Sign, number, etc.
The piece is not complete until it has been appropriately marked. A one-off original will usually have my signature hidden in it somewhere, but other times that's not possible. In those cases I'll sign and date it at the bottom.

The multiple-originals follow a more traditional numbering-and-signing format: the marking "AP" and/or a fraction-like number, frequently along with the date or dates (those also may be on the right), goes in the lower left-hand corner. In the middle, I'll write the title in quotation marks. On the right is my signature. Here are a couple of examples, along with a guide to how to interpret those otherwise-possibly-cryptic markings:

This edition originated in 2017 and this particular piece was made in 2017. It is #2 of an edition of 25 originals. The title is Protector, and it was created by yours truly.
This one's a little more complicated. It's an Artist's Proof (AP), the second of three experimental works I created from several printed pieces. I've been trying to find a good way to complete these pieces since 2013, but I think I've figured it out.
To alleviate the mystery a little more, each piece comes with an information sheet that tells about it and explains the markings.

IMAGES: All photos were taken by me of my artwork. You may use them unaltered, IF you include an attribution and a link back to this page. Thanks!