Today was a beautiful Fall day at The Pajama Factory.
The day held clear, blue skies with warm sun, but the unmistakable hint of Autumn. I took the opportunity to spend some time in the courtyard, exploring the garden with Koshka, the little black cat. Koshka spends most of her time inside, roaming the halls and visiting the studios and tenants, but likes to come out once in a while to explore and hunt for spiders.
I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring myself. While I didn’t find as many spiders, I found lots of cool things to take pictures of.
Not long ago, one section of the garden was filled with yellow flowers, Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) They have since lost their petals, adopting a more somber beauty.
You may have seen these old-looking iron devices here and there throughout the grounds of the factory. While they somewhat resemble a fire hydrant, they’re actually an active part of the factory’s extensive sprinkler system.
This one caught me off guard—it’s a Chinese Lantern Plant, (Physalis alkekengi,) or, as I knew them when I first encountered them in Japan, a houzuki. In Japan, they are strongly associated with Summer and Fall—they last for months, gradually going from green to orange, before the papery flower’s shell disintegrates, leaving a skeleton of lace, surrounding a cherry-like fruit. The plant traditionally is associated with fertility in Japan, popularly kept by couples hoping to conceive a child, though ironically, the fruit itself has contraceptive properties, along with other medicinal uses.
Several times I went to the Houzuki-Ichi festival at Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo, a festival where vendors sell thousands of the plants, as they have every June 9-10th, since the Edo Period (1603 to 1868).
I didn’t expect to see on growing here in the garden, but Barb pointed it out to me, just as the sun was lighting it up.
This sure looks like a footprint from the kind of boots the astronauts wore on the moon. So how did it get on a rock here on Earth, in our very own courtyard? The obvious answer is that aliens visited the Pajama Factory millions of years ago.
Kidding aside, what the heck is this? A fossil? A sandstone concretion? It’s not carved or cut from the stone.
There’s lots of quartz crystals around, in clusters attached to rocks, as well as loose pieces to be found.
The old plow.
I’m not sure what these vines are. I thought they might be zucchini or something, but I haven’t seen any fruit developing. Whatever they are, I do like the way the tiny tendrils spiral as they reach out and climb whatever’s near.
Artist Todd Lim didn’t have to go far to find all the resources he needed to put together a series of prints for an upcoming show at Greenwich Connecticut’s Samuel Owen Gallery.
His new series, a set of prints combining imagery from personal memory and popular culture, are done using a mix of specialized and innovative printing techniques, brought together with the aid of a skilled printer and a ca. 1958 Charles Brand etching press.
No, Lim didn’t have to travel far to find what he needed; it was all just down the hall from his own studio at Studio Paper+ in Williamsport’s Pajama Factory.
Studio Paper+ is the brainchild of artist Chad Andrews. Andrews received his MFA in printmaking at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, so he not only acts as a masterful technician for each project, he’s uniquely qualified to lend a hand creatively, suggesting techniques and processes that the artist can employ to realize their vision.
Creating a consistent and reproducible result requires that a lot of factors be considered—the ink, for example, gets checked for color and consistency. Andrews pours a bit of the oil-based pigment out onto the long glass-topped table he built for the studio and works it over with spatulas and brayers, checking it not only for color, but for its viscosity, the thickness and opaqueness of the ink. When he’s satisfied that it’s just right, it’s spread out a final time and then the plate, in this case a thin film of polyester known as a pronto plate, is inked up, the color checked a final time by the artist and placed on the print. This method lets Lim build up the image in layers, the thin plate not damaging the paper as it might with a different process, allowing Lim to make each print unique.
The press itself is a massive thing of black-painted iron and shining steel that despite its outward appearance of indestructibility, must be carefully calibrated for each pass of the plate, ink and paper that makes the prints become a thing that collectors will treasure and display. Owning a press like this is certainly not a reasonable likelihood for most people, certainly beyond the prospects of all but the most dedicated of artists. A well-equipped college art department may have one, but access would be likely limited to students and faculty.
At The Pajama Factory, Studio Paper+ has not only this press, but an equally impressive press for making lithographs, as well as a letter press, on which hand-set lead type is laid out and printed.
Andrews doesn’t want to be a service bureau, merely taking direction and producing prints, he wants each artist to be as involved as possible in the process. Not only that, as a natural teacher, he’ll encourage you to expand your repertoire of skills and techniques, but never pushes. As you tell him your ideas, he’ll often cock his head a certain way and say “You might want to think about…” and proceed to tell you about a technique that may be a year old, or perhaps a few hundred years old.
In the course of writing this article, Andrews asked me if I still had any interest in trying etching.
Etchings have been traditionally made by taking a copper plate about the thickness of a penny and covering it with a thin layer of asphaltum, a thin, tar-like substance. The asphaltum dries to a nearly varnish-like finish and the artist scratches through that with a variety of tools to make the design. When the design is complete, the plate is set in a bath of acid and, where the asphaltum has been removed, the acid bites the design into the copper. The artist will clean the plate and rub ink into these etched lines. The inked plate is then run through the press with a sheet of dampened paper and the ink is beautifully transferred from the plate to the paper.
For over twenty years, I’ve been a fan of etchings. I’ve bought and sold many over the years, from “Old Master” etchings of 17th Century Holland, to the revival the media experienced in the early twentieth century. Often times, the artist or subject of the print would interest me little, it was the process itself, the subtle bite of ink lines on the paper, the faint traces of a mistake that had been (nearly) burnished out, the embossed edge of the platemark on the paper and even the occasional trace of an inky fingerprint of the printer, left as he lifted the corner of the wet sheet off the press bed. It was all these things that drew me in and kept me hooked.
A bit later, I left the studio with a print in hand. No old master etching by any stretch of the imagination, it was merely a test of lines upon the paper, sections of cross-hatching that overlapped in ever-increasing densities until it reached the point where the acid ate away everything, leaving areas of “open bite” that lost their detail to the ink. Still, that was what I was after, a test to see what would happen when I subjected my drawing to the acid and the ink. I was hooked. Some of the lines, combined with subtle shadings left on the plate by previous work done on it, were sublime. I could see that, with a lot more intention, talent and control, there was nothing Rembrandt did 380 years ago that I couldn’t do today. Not by me, perhaps, but by someone… Someone, that is, with access to a press and a good teacher.
If you think you might like to try your hand at printing, be it copper etching, pronto plates, linoleum block, stone lithography, or any number of other processes, stop by Studio Paper+ inside studio Nr. 30 in the Pajama Factory most Friday evenings for the Printmaker’s Forum.
A couple of hours ago, I was asked to write up a short piece on the music I’m listening to. Like many of you, my listening tastes range too far and wide for the scope of this article, so I’m going to tell you a little bit about one thin branch of a musical genre that I enjoy a great deal: Jazz.
LOHAS, or Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, is a movement wherein people take a careful look at how they live and the impact their existence has upon the planet. Here in the urban sprawl of Tokyo, it’s alive and growing, with shops catering to consumers with a heightened sense of responsibility for their actions.
When a possible client for my photography asked for LOHAS-related images, I realized it was one area somewhat under-represented in my portfolio, so I set off today by bicycle, (appropriately enough, I suppose,) to explore Shimokitazawa, a Western suburb of Tokyo, looking for LOHAS.
As the day wound down, I found myself at the Nong-min Café and spoke to its owner, Mr. Waki, who graciously allowed me to take some photos.
In the garden behind the café, there was a small herb garden, just a couple of square meters, that supplies the shop with fresh herbs.
Written on the stick is “Italian Parsely”.
I spoke with Mr. Waki, the proprietor. He told me about the shop’s two rice paddies outside the city and gave me a tour of the shop.
The first floor café is cool and casual.
Inside a cabinet, the glass teapots and handmade bowls await customers’ orders.
An organic cotton t-shirt proclaims “No Chemicals”.
The shop’s brand includes t-shirts, as well as workwear.
The second floor has two café rooms and an adjoining workroom, complete with sewing machine.
A wooden Buddha sits overlooking the tables in a peaceful customer area.
A cotton boll, a reminder of the connection between the goods in the shop and their natural origins.
An un-dyed organic cotton t-shirt on display.
Herbs grow in pots alongside chalkboards announcing the day’s specials.
The delights from these food emporiums aren’t the sort of meals you serve up on a first date, nor are they the sort of places you eat at every day (unless you have a very good cardiologist). They’re guilty pleasures to be savored, food shared amongst trusted friends and select initiates in a ritual of indiscretion and indulgence; saying “let’s go grab a bag of sliders” is much the same as saying “let’s be bad” with a devilish glint in your eye.