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Block Print Backstory: Urban Spark September 7, 2006

Posted by cbuchanan in Uncategorized.
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I like giving people a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of my artwork, so I may do a few backstories on this blog. Since it’s Artwalk time, I figured “Urban Spark,” the piece on all the posters and T-shirts–and even a flashing Web ad on al.com at one point–should be the first one. (And yes, it’s weird to see someone walk past me wearing one of my prints. :) )

Anyway, “Urban Spark” began when Joy, Artwalk’s director, commissioned a new print from me late last year. She suggested something to do with Morris Avenue, and I had been thinking the same thing, so I took a photo safari down there. I found a few possibilities (some of which may become future prints), but in my mind I kept going back to a photo I had taken several years ago when I began printmaking–the view from the 21st St. viaduct down Morris to Sloss. I knew it would be a very detailed and horrendously difficult print to do, so I kept looking for other, simpler options. Finally I gave in and decided to do it the hard way. And then I made it even tougher by dividing it into two blocks–something I had never really successfully achieved before.

Once I figured out how to use the edges of the two blocks as a guide to get the two carved images to match up, I was on my way. But then I had to do the actual carving. I had intended to really stylize the buildings–make them more blocky with fewer details, but I did a test print of that, and it looked bland and bad. So I kept adding details. One thing I love about block printmaking is that it forces me, the detailed perfectionist, to be imperfect; lines won’t carve straight, or I’ll have to improvise or change a real-life detail that won’t show up well. I usually end up liking the result because it gives the image–in this case the buildings–an energy and a more handmade, organic feel. After I finished the buildings, the street and sky were pure fantasy, though it was tough to keep the lines from wobbling as I carved them. (I’ve been asked why I didn’t carve the street as an actual paved street. It’s because I wanted to portray Artwalk’s streets as the spark and inspiration and power behind downtown’s revitalization.) When I put ink on those blocks and got them to match up for the first time, I most likely did a little dance in my kitchen.

Finally, the name. “Urban Spark” to me captures the spirit and energy of Artwalk–and all the things that are happening to rejuvenate downtown Birmingham. It just fits perfectly. And this print has become one of my all-time favorites–not because it has gotten the most publicity, but because it was the most complicated one I have ever attempted (though I have finished an even tougher one for my January show). I’m very proud of it, and I hope you’ll get a chance to stop by and see it in person in my space during Artwalk.

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