GREENFIELD (Janaury 10, 2014) DETAIL of the print by Lyell Castonguay for the exhibition "Big Ink" at the Geissler Gallery located in the Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Photo by Beth Reynolds
Detail from the woodcut Carlye Woodard of Greenfield made from photograph of her sleeping son.
Image courtesy of Caryle Woodard
GREENFIELD (Janaury 10, 2014) Lyell Castonguay, the organizing artist on the exhibition "Big Ink" at the Geissler Gallery located in the Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Photo by Beth Reynolds
GREENFIELD (Janaury 10, 2014) Carlye Woodard, one of the artists in the exhibition "Big Ink" at the Geissler Gallery located in the Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Photo by Beth Reynolds
GREENFIELD (Janaury 10, 2014) The print and woodcut on plywood by Lyell Castonguay for the exhibition "Big Ink" at the Geissler Gallery located in the Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Photo by Beth Reynolds
“Red House Farm” by husband-and-wife team Jamie Sweeney and Elena Betke-Brunswick.
To create massive prints, you need big stamps.
Enter Lyell Castonguay, a 26-year-old artist from Easthampton. He teaches the art of woodcut print making, which challenges participants to carve a piece of wood into a shape, apply ink and then stamp it onto large pieces of paper.
The final product from his and 13 other artists’ printing forays will be on display for the next four weeks at Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s Geissler Gallery. “BIG INK,” which features art as large as 4 feet by 8 feet, will kick off with a gallery talk at 2:35 p.m. on Friday and an opening reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. later that evening. Both events are free and open to the public. The school is located at 574 Bernardston Road, Greenfield.
For some artists in the show, including Greenfield resident Carlye Woodard, this was their first attempt at large-scale woodcut printing. Throughout the year, Castonguay has slowly brought more and more local artists into the fold — photographers, sculptors, designers and painters — during classes and by asking artists to submit drawings they’d like to make into a print.
“It’s the oldest form of printing (but) you can do it very easily at your house ... You don’t need to have specialized equipment,” Castonguay said.
Castonguay didn’t discover the medium until four years ago, late in his college career, but he’s been hooked ever since. It’s a slow creative process — sometimes it takes him about two months to progress from an idea to a final print — but that’s what he likes about it.
“I was never into painting because it was too immediate. I’d be working on it very quickly and get lost,” he said. “With this, there’s these steps you go through ... to achieve the finished product.”
The first step: come up with a basic drawing of what the art will look like.
Artists will need to draw this onto a plywood block — pine is a softer wood that’s easier to carve, while cherry and birch are harder woods that are better for carving small details. Castonguay prefers to paint the block with India ink, which gives the surface of the wood a gray tone. It can be found at art stores or made at home by mixing acrylic paint with water.
Then, artists use two chisels — one produces fine lines, the other creates wide, open areas. When the carving is done, the block’s surfaces are covered in ink using a big rubber roller that leaves the carved areas untouched.
Then, the image is transferred from the block onto a large piece of paper. It’s “basically a big stamp ... a complex, time-consuming stamp,” Castonguay said.
Those printing by hand will need to “rub the back of the paper with a wooden spoon,” he said. “It is a much more time consuming process because you have to rub the spoon across the entire surface of the plywood to get a nice transfer to the paper.”
In addition to thinking about negative space — the portions of the block that aren’t going to be part of the image — artists also need to consider that the final product will be a mirror image of their original drawing. For example, letters have to be carved in reverse for them to print correctly.
When Castonguay is working with beginners, he generally discourages images that include text because people will get bogged down with how to master that one detail rather than mastering the process as a whole.
Carlye Woodard, a 37-year-old Greenfield resident and photographer, had never attempted prints from woodcuts before signing up for a class last summer. The “boldness of the size and the grittiness of the medium” drew her in and she was eager to get involved again in art — something she hasn’t had much time to do since becoming a parent 10 years ago.
“I’ve missed the hands-on experience of darkroom work and the magic of watching an image appear on paper,” she said. “There is a similar magic in pulling a print off a block of wood that you have spent weeks preparing, drawing and carving.”
For her print, Woodard used a photograph she’d taken four years ago: an image of her son, Ellis Tarry, who was then 6 and sleeping in a graceful pose that made it look like he was dancing.
Using the photo as reference, she drew on her wood block, discovering as she went along new things she could do with the chisels.
“The fabric of the sheets in the image were especially fun to carve, once I got the hang of making lines look fluid,” said Woodard. Sometimes, she let the grain of the wood guide the carving.
“I was thrilled just to get a decent likeness of my son onto the block,” she said. “Of course, I look at it and see all the flaws, but for a first attempt, it was exciting and encouraging.”
Woodard plans to make more wood prints and her son will likely join her.
After watching her work on the carving, he carved an image of his own onto a 2-foot-by-4-foot block, said Woodard. His work features a giant eye in the center of the block with a line of silly faces and geometric designs along the top and the bottom. They hope to make a print from it soon.
The art in the “BIG INK” gallery ranges in both size and content. The largest piece, which is 4 feet by 8 feet, is a larger-than-life image of an old-fashioned door. There’s another humorous image of a bear holding a honey bottle in one hand and an Aunt Jemima maple syrup bottle in the other.
Castonguay’s recent work focuses on birds. One print, called “Hydra,” features an Arabian babbler with about 10 different heads coming out of its single body.
Another bird print, this one by Easthampton resident Carand Burnet, is a portrait of a chicken whose lower body morphs into abstract patterns.
Castonguay’s classes meet once a week for five weeks, with three hours during each session — enough time to go from concept to final print. Other times, he’ll work with an artist in their home studio to transform a drawing into a woodcut printing.
Some of the carved wood blocks will be included in the “BIG INK” art show and he’ll show videos and photographs of the artists at work during the 2:35 p.m. gallery talk on Friday.
Linda Mahoney, an art instructor at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, said some of her students learned about Castonguay and his work during a class earlier this fall. All of the school’s students will be in attendance for the Friday afternoon talk, she said.
Castonguay will soon be putting out another call for work proposals, where artists submit drawings they’d like to turn into prints. For more information on the application process, and for details about upcoming classes, go to his website: www.lyellcastonguay.com.
“BIG INK” will be on display until Feb. 18. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 413-774-2711.
Staff reporter Chris Shores started at The Recorder in 2012. He covers education, health and human services. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. His website is www.chrisshores.com.
Beth Reynolds is a photographer and educator. She runs Base Camp Photo Community Center in Greenfield. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.