Hockey fan and New Jersey native Celia Connaire goes by the moniker of Black-Haired Demon. Her art is scary good.
Using the old-school medium of woodcuts, Connaire, an illustration major from the Rhode Island School of Design, creates her work by applying ink to a block she chisels out and applies it to paper. The result is a stunning piece of art where every print is unique and a wee bit different. Connaire recently made an illustration of Alex Ovechkin sleeping with the Stanley Cup.
“Last year, I set out to make myself a kind of yearbook – a collection of woodblock prints covering the highlights of the 2017-18 hockey season,” Connaire said in an interview. “This print manifests the satisfaction of Ovechkin finally winning a Cup, of the Capitals finally making it all the way through, and reminds you of all the celebrating the team and their fans did last summer. Even if you don’t know a lot about hockey, there’s the humor and incongruity of the large trophy being cuddled like a teddy bear.”
Connaire walked me through her process for creating the illustration.
“Once I found the moment, I then looked for additional reference,” Connaire said. “I don’t trace things, and snapshots and other pictures don’t always have the right composition for my prints anyway. I drew a few rough sketches to decide how much I did or didn’t want to zoom in. The final is pretty close to one of Nastya Ovechkina’s photos, but I simplified it down to the minimum necessary to convey that he was in bed, and extended portions of his head and the comforter to fit the 6 x 8 birch plywood woodblock.”
Once Connaire is satisfied with her work, she creates a final sketch which gets scanned and transferred to the block.
“There are a couple of ways to do this, but currently I generally run a piece of wax paper through my inkjet printer and then press it onto the block while the ink is still wet,” she said. “Sometimes I draw right on the block, and sometimes the process ends up between the two, which was the case with this print – I roughly transferred the outline onto the block, to get the placement right and then drew in the face and details of the Cup.”
SKETCH ON BLOCK
Every printmaker has their favorite materials and tools.
“I carve using mainly Japanese tools because I think the quality to price ratio is good, they tend to fit my small paws well, and they’re built to be sharpened and maintained for years rather than replaced,” Connaire said.
“After I get the initial carving done, I will make test prints to see what else needs to be carved away or cleaned up,” Connaire said. “I decided to leave some of the carving texture in the blanket to help give the top of the bed more depth. I carved but ultimately decided not to use a second color block for his skin as I decided it works better in black and white.”
Printmaking has tons of variables, well beyond color or black & white. The actual printing offers several options.
“I used a fairly traditional Western way of printing, using a brayer, or small roller, to get printing ink onto the block,” Connaire said. “The block is then run through a press, which produces more consistent results, but applies pressure to the ink everywhere equally. Even then, you don’t want too much ink, or too little ink – you want it just right.”
TOO MUCH INK, TOO LITTLE, JUST RIGHT
The print then has to dry.
“The process can take a week if I am using high quality, oil-based inks for a final edition, or a few hours when I am printing with cheaper water-based inks just to see how the block is coming out,” Connaire said. “I’ll usually crop the paper down to size for framing at that point.
“I love the surprise of printmaking – as much as I plan and follow a process, I still can’t totally control how the final image comes out, hey, it’s kind of like hockey – they have to play the games to see what happens no matter what we predict going into a game or series.”
Connaire is currently selling the Ovechkin print in her art shop.
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