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January 12, 2015


Oh, that finger! J and I have a print of Fra Angelico's fresco annunciation from the Convent of San Marco, where both Gabriel and Mary have their arms crossed. Gabriel is bowing down, and Mary's shoulders are slumped, as if she's cowering, or as if she's an indifferent teenager: "Yeah, whatever."

Gabriel's pointing finger in this one gives it a completely different feel, as if Gabriel is giving young Mary a "talking to." I like how you move the figures together, so it almost looks as if Gabriel is whispering some secret bit of gossip. It's more intimate and less intimidating while maintaining Gabriel's authority: even though his knees are bent, he's still "above" Mary.

Thanks for taking such a close look, Lorianne. I know you think about this stuff too, and how the subliminal (or overt!) messages have gotten passed down to us.

Very nice! I found it quite interesting to read your process. The linoleum block itself is a work of art. Years ago I tried a couple of block prints even though I am a poor drawer. You've inspired me to perhaps try again.

Hi Liz -- You should definitely try again! Block prints don't need to be complicated or "accurate" to be effective. Happy New Year!

Fascinating to see how this developed into the final print. I love the block itself with its additional tones and the angle shown. It has been decades since I did any linoprints but you've certainly brought back the feeling of making one as well as how very special for us it was to see Fra Angelico's work in San Marco when we were in Florence way back in 1993.

It's lovely, Beth.I like the strong shapes and the stained-glass look of the composition. My favourite image of this set is the beautifully simplified second one from the top of the page.
You know you don't have to reverse the image unless you want to. Making a tracing from your original drawing, turning it over and carbon-paper tracing that onto the block means that your print will face the same way as the original drawing.

Oh, I like that! I have prints of the Gabriel and Virgin with her finger in a book (now in the Detroit Institute) in my writing room, hanging with a lot of other pictures... I love the way she crosses her arms in that one, so quickly that she does not even take her finger from the page it marks.

What an interesting form of carving.

Marja-Leena, I still have not been to Italy and there is so much I want to see! I'd love to see what you could do with the relief-print medium, you're such a skilled and exerienced printmaker!

Thank you, Natalie. That's exactly how I did the transfer to the block - I just made a flipped copy to help me visualize the black-and-white as I carved, even though I'd gone over the lines on the lino with ink.

Marly, who did that painting? I wonder if the original Mary was even literate - it's doubtful, don't you think? The Renaissance did a lot to fix these later images in our minds. Like Clive, I'm quite interested in revisiting these subjects but in modern dress and surroundings.

Bill -- you would think that, you a serious carver yourself! This is kid's play compared to what you do.

Hi Beth--

It is a Fra Angelico--guess I was not clear!

I expect that people knew a great deal more by heart than we do today...

Sorry Beth, I didn't mean to be pedantic! I hope you'll do lots more block prints - you have the touch for it. What size is this one? Did you print it by spoon/baren rubbing or do you have a relief press now?

Hi Natalie, not at all, you weren't being pedantic, and besides, you are a teacher and it's natural for you to offer suggestions. This print is 8 inches (23 cm) square, and I printed it by hand, first rubbing overall with a bamboo baren and then rubbing with a wooden spoon to get the details. I want to learn to etch this year, and if I do that I'll either need to buy a press or go to one of the ateliers and rent time. At first, the latter seems prudent, don't you think? Though I think the relief printing suits me and I know I'll continue to do it, so a small press would be nice to have.

I can't imagine being able to bring this to life like you did!! One of my favorite images from Scripture and you captured it so beautifully. Thanks for sharing the process. I agree with previous comment, there is a stained glass feel to it---I'd love to have my Catechesis children be able to colorize!! I can just picture their bright and joyful colors!

Beth,it would indeed be best if you can start off at one of the ateliers before you buy a press. They would have everything set up ready to go and you could just get straight into the work and experimenting with all the techniques involved so you can see what suits you. Etching needs a lot of equipment, besides the major expense of a press, and a lot of space if you do any serious printing. An aquatint box, built-in ventilation for acid baths, acid trays, heater for melting grounds, cleaning-up space with ventilation, inking space, sink for damping paper, room for drying and stacking prints, loads of tools, rollers, inks etc.
I'd say spend at least a year working in an atelier so you can see if you want to take on all of that expense and refurbishing of your present studio. However, a smallish relief press can be fitted in almost anywhere and doesn't need such a lot of extras.

Oh, I was reading about the idea of Mary with a book, and it seems to be emblematic rather than descriptive of her abilities--that is, it's an allegorical representation of her submission to God's law and word.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.