Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blogging A to Z, W is for Woodcut Artist Loren Kantor

Blogging A to Z  - W is for Woodcuts

(Woodcut - Karloff)

by Christine Verstraete

Today I wanted to share the unique work of woodcut artist Loren Kantor.

I happened upon this Hollywood-based artisan's blog, WoodcuttingFool, a while back and  was fascinated, so I asked him to share about his carvings and how he does them. Be sure to read the interesting stories and bios he writes at his blog about the person or image he's carved. 

Kantor carves realistic portraits of rock artists (Cat Stevens), to famous faces (Mr. President), and intriguing faces (Salvador Dali), to old (Fatty Arbuckle) and new Hollywood stars (Lauren Bacall and Pacino among others), monsters (Karloff), and even animals like this Great White Shark. Then there is this slightly creepy story from The Carpenter...

(Woodcut - Edgar Allen Poe)

From Loren Kantor: 
"My interest in woodcuts began in the 80's when I attended a German Expressionist art show at LA County Museum. I encountered the woodcut prints and paintings of George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. I was mesmerized. I loved the stark lines and bold imagery.  Even though I'd never seen the images before they felt instantly recognizable.  Characters expressed emotional angst and the images seemed alive, almost three-dimensional even though they were just black lines on white paper.  I was writing screenplays in those days and I never envisioned attempting woodcut carving myself.  But the images stayed in my subconscious and whenever I saw a woodcut print I felt a sense of excitement.

"In 2007, my wife surprised me with a woodcutting set for my birthday. I checked out a few online tutorial videos and I dove in, head first. The carving process was difficult at first.  My fingers were ravaged as I cut myself often on the sharp blades.  The blocks were ragtag and I felt like a kindergartner with his first set of fingerpaints.

(Woodcut - Peter Lorre)

"After about six months of carving, I began to feel more comfortable with the carving.
I've always been attracted to old movies.  We needed art for our walls at home so I began a series of prints based on my favorite classic films.  Friends complimented me on the prints and asked if they could have some for their walls.  Within a year, I had enough images for a show and I was able to display the prints at a vintage film theater.

"The images I choose are based on people I admire.  These includes artists, filmmakers, writers, political figures, friends, family, animals.  I don't have to like every personality I carve (Richard Nixon, for example.)  I only need to find the person or subject compelling.  I enjoy writing about the woodcuts as well, how they influence or moments from their life.

"When carving the woodcuts, the process begins when I find an old photo or image that I like. From this image I make an initial pencil sketch which I then transfer to a wood or linoleum block. I use standard woodcutting blades and gouges and other odd tools (awls, dental implements, sewing needles.)

"Once the image is carved I clean the block, apply a thin layer of ink and hand press the image on archival paper using a Japanese Baren (a bamboo tool that look kind of like an air-hockey paddle). The entire process takes 40-50 hours depending on the size and complexity of the image. If I make a major mistake I have to start over. Minor mistakes I live with; they add to the organic nature of the print.

"Each carved block yields between 40-50 prints before the block starts to degrade.  I sell the prints between $40-$50 each, depending on the size of the print.  Each print is individually hand-pressed and each is wholly unique depending on the amount of ink used, pressure of the baren, absorption of the paper, etc.  I sell the prints via my blog and at various gallery shows around the country.

"Woodcutting has become a refuge for me.  The process is slow and meditative.  I'll put on music, immerse myself in the carving and hours will go by in a flash.  In these days when everything is moving so fast it's nice to have an activity that forces me to relax.  I guess woodcutting has become my personal yoga."

Loren, thanks for sharing your story and your beautiful work.

(Read the story about this beautiful black ink print with watercolor, The Scarlet Tanager.)

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