Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Sojourn at Sitka

For four days last week I whiled and whittled away richly textured and rewarding time in the rustic serenity of Sitka Center just north of Lincoln City.

I say “whittled” because I was in a Japanese Wood Block Printing class. It was taught by a young, nurturing Chinese/English teacher/artist Wuon-Gean Ho. (Her name is pronounced “Win-Gin.”)

Eight students were in Wuon-Gean’s class. Our home was one of Sitka’s woody, airy studios on Cascade Head where Oregon’s Salmon River glides into the Pacific. We varied widely in age, experience, inspiration and ability. I was one of the rookies and it showed.

My ambition got the better of me as I tried to produce a four-color print of the skylight in our Quaker meeting house.

No miraculous masterpiece emerged from my efforts. No matter. My purpose was to learn as much as I could about this demanding, surprising and vivid art form.

As it turned out the challenge of the skylight project took over my experience and prevented me from experimenting as much as I would have liked.

Another time.

Despite, or because of the challenge, I had a grand time. Some of it came in moments of utter complexity-perplexity, not the least of which was remembering that the carver has to shave away the wood block to create nothingness/negative space. Nothing results from doing. Something results from not doing.

How very Zen.

Wuon-Gean, who has studied in wood block printing Japan with a master printmaker, got us started on an abstract single-block piece. Once we had carved away our images we dabbed and washed and scrubbed water, paste and water colors into block surfaces. My carved block, shown at the top, turned out to be more interesting than any of the varied prints it produced. It looks like a comma (or lamb chop) in repose on a cubistic wedge of cheese. To add confusion to the odd associations, I anointed the comma/chop in vivid red.

The other photo of my handiwork shows, starting in lower left and moving counter clockwise, my black-and-white photo of the meeting house skylight, my sketch of it, the tracing of the sketch, which I then transferred via red carbon paper onto four blocks, one for each color (black, mustard, green and blue). The best of several prints is in the upper left hand corner.

The other photos show the interior of the studio and the exterior of Sitka’s office/library building. In the studio shot, that’s Wuon-Gean at work.

I’ll have more to say about my experience at the Cascade Head retreat in another post. For now, I’m still basking in the blessing of my sojourn at Sitka.

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