Saturday, February 26, 2011

Captain's Row: 100 BLOCK Prince Street

100 BLOCK Prince Street Alexandria VA; Rough Draft
After photographing each building, measuring widths (with my own feet, in heels, admittedly), I drew "Captain's Row", the 100 Block of Prince Street in Alexandria. I was happy to draw with my Parker 51, recently resurrected after getting clogged with ink; I thoroughly washed and soaked and dried it back to action.

The block was selected after much deliberation and walking around town. The slope is interesting and a challenge. I like the way the rowhomes shift with the slope; Sill and rooflines do not align between neighbors. Because of the slope, however, the drawing does not appear to be at rest. A solution - and final drawing - is forthcoming...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Letterpress: Questions, Answers, Inspiration

It is a New Year's Resolution: LEARN LETTERPRESS.
I have been gathering inspiration: perusing paper shops like Le Village Marche - Paris is just down the street!, as well as the mother of all paper shops, Paper Source. I've been delighted to find artists whose work I adore. Many are featured in this book, a compilation of the work of 30 contemporary Letterpress Artists by Charlotte Rivers, from Chronicle Books.
I've even found some clues about how to learn Letterpress in Alexandria and a host of videos, including this one which takes a tour of Hatch Show Print, Letterpressing since 1879 in downtown Nashville.
"Preservation through Production"
- Hatch Show Print Manager, Jim Sherraden

I loved the comment by RayDAidler:
A Graphics Art student asked the instructor,
"What is the difference between offset and letterpress printing?"
The instructor told him, "When a girl kisses her handkerchief then presses it against your lips, that's kinda like offset printing. But when she presses her lips against yours, now that's LETTERPRESS ! "

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lithography: 2011: Alexandria VA

I took myself on a field trip to a class at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria tonight to try to get a visual understanding of traditional printing techniques. Master Penny was gracious to explain the differences between Lithography, Offset Lithography, Etching, Photogravure. I was trying to understand the technique, for my own curiosity as well as discern if traditional printing could be a way to print my drawings, for a hand-made feel, the impression of ink on paper by sheer force rather than inkjet. I am seeking a way to print in a tradition that shares history with the types of drawings I am making, that preserves an honorable art, that is more tactile.

I watched two students laboriously and methodically make a lithographic print: rolling the oversized brayer back and forth through the almost-dry black ink puddle on the table, then five times over the illustrated stone, then ink, then stone, then ink, then stone. Fresh paper on the inked stone, scratch paper for padding, top cloth. Set the large metal handle of the large metal roller, then rotate the handle and guide the stone down the table and under the essential weight of the roller to push the ink from the stone to the paper in just the right proportion.

The machines and the stones were made and used in the 1800s. The drawing is produced, backwards, on the stone's surface, no engraving, with a variety of fountain pens feeding a special greasy ink. The greasy ink holds the printing ink as it is rolled over the surface and imprints the paper when pressed. The stone I photographed (above) shows the backwards drawing and epitomizes the level of detail that can be achieved with fine point greasy ink pens. When litho printers closed shop in the later 1900s, stones were thrown in the river. These are very heavy and hard to come by these days (so are the presses.) When a stone is put out of commission, it is recycled by grinding the drawn image from its surface through a series of granular concoctions rubbed over the surface increasing from relatively coarse to the finest granularity, like sandpaper without the paper. Then a new drawing can be created on the stone.

A description of the Process of Lithographic Printing can be found on the internet but seeing the prints was essential to really make an impression, for me. Kind of like the difference between inkjet and hand press.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Athenaeum Centerpiece

I've been looking over Old Town Alexandria with my drawing eye for some months now and finally have landed on my pick. As it goes so often, your first impulse is usually right. My first taste of Alexandria in 2008 was bustling King Street in the height of summer. Ducking away from the crowds, just one block south, I found respite and intrigue on Prince Street. The block between Union and Lee Street, closest to the Potomac River is known as Captain's Row. The next block is Gentry Row. Between the two rows is the Athenaeum. It is home to Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association and it's vaulted space swathed with light from huge windows is used as a gallery and educational venue. Originally, it was built as the Bank of the Old Dominion, served as Chief Commissary's Office during the Civil War, reverted to a bank, then an apothecary factory, then a church. That is the beauty of a "dumb" - and beautiful - building: to live multiple lives and thus retain, even increase, in value in the community. It the is Centerpiece of the new Alexandria Streetscape be continued...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I would like to take you to Lincoln's Cottage

In honor of the President's birthday, we visited his Cottage. Walking into the front door felt like walking into a church. About 3 miles northeast of the White House, Lincoln slept here in the summer, retreating to this home in the evening and commuting by horseback each morning, alone. Imagine the American president ambling through countryside into the city, speaking to soldiers and citizens along the way. Eventually, he was all but coerced by the Secretary of War to allow a military escort of 25-30 men.
The Cottage was built for a banker named Riggs and his family in the 1840s and within a decade became the property of the US Government. The Armed Forces Retirement Home grew up around the cottage (note the stuccoed bell tower and water tower just within the frame of the photos, right next to the cottage) and still operates as such today.
Other presidents stayed here but it has been preserved as it was during Lincoln's tenure. The Emancipation Proclamation was written here as well as many other significant events. The house is very sparsely furnished which makes it easy to both appreciate the architecture and imagine the space as Lincoln's family abode. The design of the house is heavily influenced by Gothic Revival country home plans in Andrew Jackson Downing's Victorian Cottage Residences (1842).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Capitol: Underground and Under the Dome

Organized by the DC Preservation League, we were guests of the Architect of the Capitol who, with the senior VP from RTKL gave us a great tour of the new visitors center by RTKL as well as the historic Capitol. The visitors center in under the plaza. The elevators are visible in the photo above, aligned with the light posts. A huge excavation project and challenging addition to an internationally renowned and historic edifice.

Threshold between new visitor's center and historic Capitol.

The plaster cast for the Statue of Freedom which tope the Capitol dome is fittingly displayed facing the new light-filled underground atrium of the visitors center.

Two-story dome under the north light monitor, on the Senate side.

The Capitol Dome. The Apotheosis of Washington painted in the true (plaster) fresco style in the center by Constantine Brumidi who painted it during the last year of the Civil War. The light-flooded passageway along the peristyle. The layers of ornament that build on one another up to the oculus.
The half-dome room under the south light monitor used originally as the main Congressional Meeting Room, now for events such as the Inaugural luncheon.

I was struck by this statue perched over the dooway from the Rotunda to the former Congressional Meeting Room and interested to learn that she is Clio, the Greek goddess or muse of history. I love how she is casting her eyes about the world, taking notes on her tablet while traversing time and space in her winged shiplette.