Papercuts

Papercuts

 

Scratchboards & Etchings

Scratchboards & Etchings

 

Woodcut & Linocut

Woodcut & Linocut

BLACK AND WHITE

 

I’ve often made the choice to work in black and white out of practicality. When I worked as a freelance illustrator, most of my clients—social justice and church organizations—couldn’t afford 4-colour print runs, so I developed a roster of monochrome techniques: scratchboard, papercut, pen and ink, linocut, woodblock. My black and white illustrations were consistently better than those requiring colour. On a number of occasions, I produced images for the Facts and Arguments page of The Globe and Mail. I thought newspapers lost a lot of their visual drama when they introduced colour.


I don’t illustrate anymore but I still teach and I can get a lot across about how to see and how to represent what is seen if my lessons stick to a black or dark grey medium on white paper: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, conte. For the learner, colour confuses, it sidetracks.


If you draw a lot, if you love drawing and printmaking, and not exclusively the images produced in the western hemisphere but also the scroll paintings and calligraphic work of China, Japan, and other countries in Asia, then you know that black and white has a rich and varied history, even a socially conscious one—printmaking began as a way to make art affordable to the masses. Limiting the palette imbues the work with power and graphic strength. I love to look at black and white work, particularly woodblock or papercut or lino, where it’s just the two extremes: black against white, or, in the case of scratchboard, white against black. No mid tones. I also appreciate even if I can’t master Sumi-e, which operates from the notion of working around what’s not there, the encapsulation of space and void and blankness. In a sense the imagination is meant to fill that white space with colour.


We have a gem in Toronto: the Marvin Gelber Print and Drawing Study Centre at the AGO. Quite recently I drew from Goya’s Poor Little Girls! (Caprichos, no. 22: Pobrecitas!), while my friend Anna pored over Rembrandt’s "The 100 Guilder Print." Such subtlety and grandeur in an image measuring about 9 x 12 inches, a whole world on a page.


When I was a kid I drew—that’s how my passion for art first manifested, very simply, pencil on paper. It so happens that I had fallen in love with Michelangelo while reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. Michelangelo had his cadavers and I had my first ever art book, purchased for the great sum of $7—it was probably second-hand or remaindered—containing black and white photos of his sculptures. Through the shortcut of photographs of a master’s work, I was teaching myself to observe the play of light on that most beloved of surfaces, the human body. And I’ve come full circle—I still work with the torso, with pencil and paper. I take my students into the (dimly lit) section of the AGO that houses the Ken Thomson collection of ivories: miniature portrait busts, medieval reliquaries and travelers’ miniature altars. Drawing is a meditative act but drawing there is somehow monastic—the outside world falls away. Darkness and Light. Black and White.