Alan Witschonke
New Stuff
Printmaking project
The primary print of 3 colors.

I recently took a one-evening workshop in printmaking without a press. I’ve had some experience with traditional printmaking processes like engraving, etching, relief printing, lithography, etc. This was a chance to have some fun with a technique that is not quite so exacting and does not require a lot of expensive equipment. In fact the “plate” that we used was styrofoam -- the kind you get with your ground beef at the supermarket.

We started by doing a drawing and transferring it onto the styrofoam, simply by tracing the lines through the paper with a pointed instrument. You can use whatever tool you want, and the instructor had a variety of styluses available. Since the styrofoam is soft enough to carve away easily, this becomes a subtractive process and we were also encouraged to cut and remove sections of the plate before each color was applied.
The ghost images with a 4th color, (black) added. This was not very successful because the registration was off slightly.

We used high-quality printmaker’s inks which were rolled smoothly and evenly with a brayer. After rolling the ink onto the plate, we brought it to a table that had a sheet of our paper ready to go. (There is no need to wet and blot the paper for this technique). We placed the plate on top of the paper, positioning it where we had drawn lines for registration and centering the image. We then flipped over plate and paper and rubbed the back of the paper with large wooden spoons -- very lo-tech. As this process of drawing, carving, cutting away and inking was repeated with each of the succeeding colors, the image grew richer and more complex, and the results were always unpredictable. We each used 3 or 4 colors. We also printed a second “ghost” image of each color on a separate piece of paper without re-inking, just as a contrast. Some combined their ghost images with primary images.

It was fun to stretch a bit.
SI Members Open
Some people can multi-task by doing several different things at once to accomplish multiple goals. I’m only capable of uni-tasking by doing one thing at a time which can be used for multiple purposes. Such was the case for this illustration. Initially, I wanted to do a piece for the Drawger Security Code Show hosted by Scott Bakal, where you can bring to life those weird 8-letter code words you have to type in. Then I thought I’d get some mileage out of it by donating it to the Members Open at the Society of Illustrators. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork go to the Family Center’s Art Therapy Family Support Program. The show opens tonight from 6-8 p.m.

Here are two prints from a fun project that I’ve been working on this year. My good friend and illustrator/fine artist Julia Talcott converted an outbuilding on her property in Newton, MA into a printmaking studio with an apartment above it. She organized a group of local artists that she knew for the purpose of producing a suite or edition of prints based on a theme that we, as a group, would decide upon. Fellow Drawgerite Leo Espinosa was involved initially, and it was his fervent desire to not be limited by a theme. So he came up with the title for the edition: “(Un)Limited.” The group then decided that we still needed something to tie all the prints together so, inspired by a print on Julia’s studio wall, we agreed to all work at consistent dimensions and to use the same two colors, red and blue. Six artists contributed to the edition, each producing anywhere from 1 to 3 different images. The edition is 15, so everyone had to print 15 copies of each of their images. We are looking into exhibition opportunities.

For (Un)Limited, I relished the opportunity to do work that was not client-directed but would allow me to follow my aesthetic impulses wherever they wanted to go. After sketching out various concepts, I had the idea to do a series of images combining yoga positions and snakes. The intent was to create visual metaphors that would juxtapose the beauty and suppleness of the human body with the equally supple and graceful reptilian form. While most of the participants did woodcuts, I chose to do my prints in the intaglio process so that I could achieve a certain level of detail. Julia does not have etching facilities at her studio, so I worked with drypoint on a plexiglass plate, rather than the traditional acid-etched zinc plate. It was a time-consuming process, much more difficult and less spontaneous than simply drawing on a piece of paper, but the discipline of working this way was interesting to me. I plan to continue doing prints for this series, but not necessarily  editioning them all. Another Drawgerite, the great Rob Dunlavey created three beautiful images for the edition. He also posted some pictures of the artists at work on Flickr. Here’s the link:
The Big Book
This was a big job. I was hired by Barron’s Publishing to illustrate the 2nd edition of The Food Lover’s Companion. The first edition had no illustrations. The book is basically an encyclopedia of cooking terms. They commissioned me to do 429 new drawings and another 258 were to be reused from other cooking assignments I had done. The whole project took about five months.

Although there was certainly an element of repetition to the assignment, I enjoyed it in a Zen-like way. I could just focus on my technique and working as quickly and efficiently as possible. I was also able to establish a consistent working routine and schedule (which I should really adhere to even when I don’t have a big job). It was nice waking up every morning knowing there was work on the drafting table.

Bolden Interrupted
This is a sad story about a promising illustration assignment that went bad. I was called by a new client to do a portrait of Buddy Bolden, the famed New Orleans cornet player, who some claim was one of the originators of Jazz music. Being a big Jazz fan, I couldn’t very well say no to this job, despite the fact that my time was really crunched due to a book job I’d been working on since September. (I’ll post something about that job soon). Getting a good likeness was not an issue since there is only one surviving photo of Buddy and it is so grainy and damaged that it’s practically useless. So I was free to adlib a little on his features while trying to make it look like the same person in the photo.
Detail #1
The dispute centered more around his clothing. Without getting into too much detail about the whole interaction, suffice it to say that I wasn’t given very much information up front. I did the best I could with what I had to work with and the time frame involved. After two rounds of sketches, I got approval to proceed to finish. When I sent them the scan of the final painting, I felt like the time and effort I had expended had paid off, that they would like it. To my dismay, they said they loved it BUT they wanted different pants, shirt, shoes and a bow tie added. I knew that these extensive author’s alterations could not be made without redoing the entire painting.

Detail #2
After I calmed down a bit, I started playing with the scan on the computer. I called the client and said that I could do some of the changes digitally but that I would have to charge an hourly rate since these were post-approval changes. I also said that the revisions were perfectly legitimate, to be historically accurate, but that they should have been articulated at the sketch stage. So I revised the painting on the computer and sent it in, thinking that they would finally be satisfied. Wrong. They wanted more revisions. At that point I emailed them  and said I could not do any more changes because I had no guarantee that there would not be additional changes after that. So now my painting will not be published. 

Revised finish
Here's the sketch that was approved.

Finished at last!
     OK, this piece was conceived as an image for the “NYC, Real & Imagined” book for ICON5. I wasn’t able to finish the color version in time for the conference so I submitted a b/w version to Julia Breckenreid. Now that I’ve finished the watercolor/dye version, I want to do it again, 5.5 ft. x 6.5 ft., in oils. I’ll probably never get around to that. But it would be fun. Anyway, what could be more symbolic of New York, and appropriate for an illustration conference, than Edel R. sketching in Central Park? All the characters are celebrities that Edel has done portraits of. The caribou is from his theatre poster for “As You Like It”.
     In the background is Christo’s dream-like installation “the Gates”, which enthralled me when I walked through it.
     I wanted to do this painting in a style similar to the Taj Mahal book. I don’t know if I succeeded or not.
Detail 1
Detail 2
Detail 3
Detail 4
Detail 5
Detail 6
B/W version
Theatre poster by Edel Rodriguez
Christo's "The Gates" in Central Park
Home Page
Like J.D. King, I performed a face-lift on my website recently. Unlike J.D., it took considerably longer than a weekend. I could not have done it without my webmaster, our very own Rob Dunlavey who assisted with the design and did all the technical stuff. I spent a long time going through the flat files, pulling out artwork and rescanning, re-sizing and optimizing it all. But that time was probably a drop in the bucket compared to the hours that Rob slaved over the project. Rob was always outwardly agreeable while secretly harboring the desire to chop my hands off, I’m guessing. It’s still not quite finished so I hope Rob doesn’t flee to become a Buddhist monk. Any feedback would be appreciated. Here’s the URL in case the hyperlink doesn’t work:
Ledisi Rocks
I did this portrait of Jazz/R&B singer Ledisi Young ( for the Recording Academy and it was published in the program book for the 50th Grammy Awards which took place on 2/10/08. I meant to post it then, but didn’t get to it. I was reminded of it recently when I got the schedule for the Burlington (VT) Discover Jazz Festival from 5/30 – 6/8.   Ledisi will open the festival on May 30th. It looks like a great line-up, including Josh Redman and the legendary Ornette Coleman.

For those who don’t know her, Ledisi is creating quite the buzz. Her 3rd album, Lost & Found (Verve), was nominated for two awards: Best New Artist and Best R&B Album. Her sound has been compared with that of Ella Fitzgerald and Erykah Badu. She seems equally at home scatting for the Count Basie Orchestra or fronting her own 12-piece R&B band. She’s also been described as having a “hip hop-spiced” sound. She took an independent approach to starting her career by self-producing her 1st albums. Without the backing of a major label, all sales were from the internet and word-of-mouth. Now she’s branching into film. Her music is the soundtrack for a speakeasy scene in George Clooney’s new movie “Leatherheads.” She also has a small acting role in the movie.
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