Lead the Way, Mimosa (Unless You End Up as Rorshach Bats)

In a little less than an hour, I’ll make the (insanely short) drive over to Firecracker Press, or rather Central Print, their nonprofit educational arm. I signed up for a letterpress class, and yes, it’s going to be really rudimentary. I have my hair pulled back in a ponytail, so that it doesn’t get caught in the press, and I’m wearing my grubbiest jeans. Tonight, we bring a picture of our favorite leaf – I don’t really have a favorite leaf, but one of my favorite trees is Mimosa pudica. If I had to pick a part of the plant I was most fond of, I’d pick the flowers, which are fuzzy and weird and bright pink, and smell like perfume and ginger ale. But the leaves are interesting, too – mimosa’s also known as sleepy plant or sensitive plant because the leaves shutter together when you touch them (they do the same thing when it gets dark). They are also ferny and prehistoric-looking, really beautiful, as you can see:

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EPSON scanner image

Mimosa pudica

I’ve probably set myself up for failure by picking something complicated with lots of tiny fronds instead of, say, a catalpa leaf, which is just shaped like an upside-down heart. We’ll see if what I end up with looks less like a leaf and more like one big ink smudge, like a Rorschach card.

Postscript! 

So here is my very first attempt at a woodblock (well, it’s a linoleum print; easier to carve than wood, so I got off easy). Yeah, I tackled something too complicated for a beginner. I was really panicking as we were all carving, because I couldn’t make the tools do quite what I wanted them to do. I didn’t get the background clean enough, ask there is a lot of what printmakers refer to as “noise.” Matty, our wonderful teacher, called this “rustic,” which maybe is a nice way to say “primitive,” but I feel happy that this actually turned out looking like something because I wasn’t so sure it would. I was trying to work from a drawing I’d brought, and got really frustrated because it didn’t look exactly like my source image. Then I realized I just had to trust my hand, and things went a bit more smoothly. I didn’t really like my final drawing, and so ended up almost re-drawing the image with the tools. Not ideal. I kind of lost my way, and I also wasn’t sure how my marks would translate to the final print. I have to say, though, as a left-handed person who mostly writes and hasn’t done any printmaking at all, I am very happy that my final prints did not look like schmutzy Rorschach bats. This looks more like a thistle or an Armistice poppy than a mimosa branch, but it looks like something, and a botanical something, too! So, I’m happy. My homework now is to track down linoleum blocks, carving tools, and to think up a big project and a little project. Getting the stuff will be easy. Trying to figure out what I want to do with those tools will not be easy…

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Sudden Fright Appears as a Faded Peacock Tail

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I could post for days about Public Domain Review. Yes, I’m a photo and art database nerd, and actually enjoy the treasure-hunting process of looking at thousands of tiny thumbnails, but that drives most people crazy. Like Open Culture, PDR’s editors do the digging for you, and post the best, most striking stuff from a number of really terrific collections in the public domain, including images, sounds, and film. PDR’s essays about the meaning of specific paintings, photos, films or pieces of music are beyond excellent, too. They are poetic in that they “tell it slant,” like Emily encouraged us to do, but they’re very practical in that they also explain cultural contexts that have disappeared over time (these recent posts on laughing gas and 17th century English coffee houses are great examples of that).

This Windsor McKay sketch for an animated movie about centaurs is magical:

And this post about the challenges of painting fireworks is another good one.

One of my favorite posts, though, is about Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater’s 1901 book, Thought-Forms. PDR’s essay, “Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synaesthesia,”  invokes Yeats, who was a member of the Theosophical Society with Besant and Leadbeter, and mentions Yeats’ movement to champion the soul over the intellect. It also traces this kind of work to Modernism, which is fascinating, and rings true. I also agree with the author’s opinion that “color is the biggest takeaway from Thought-Forms. While the prose is baroque, clumsy and hard to follow, the visuals that accompany it are simply enchanting, suffused with mellow blues, misty purples, and brilliant ochres and oranges.”

Here are few of my favorites (“The music of Mendelssohn,” above, is in that category as well):

fig16“Self-renunciation”

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“Helpful thoughts”

fig38“Aspiration to enfold all”

fig27“Sudden fright”