You’re probably familiar with “The Roundest Eyes”, a block print inspired by Kelly. She also inspired another block print—the “Kelly’s Morning Bath” prints were the first feline pictorial block print I designed all the way back in 1998, even before The Tortie Girls duo of block prints in 2001.
I often feature “Kelly’s Morning Bath” as the morning sun fills the big north window and leaves began to speckle the few branches of the lilac. I always associate Kelly with spring and summer at this window. Watching Kelly bathe enthusiastically every morning in front of this window where the morning sun shines through the leaves at a wonderful angle, silhouetting her and the window itself, I visualized a finished work as a block print to capture the stark dark and light and later using various colored and patterned papers to capture the leafy essence outside the window. The photo below will give you an idea of the leafy quality, the light and shadow, and Kelly’s little shape that inspired me.
Kelly bathed frequently and always had the habit of giving herself a complete bath every morning after breakfast in the sun on the table in front of the big casement window, which was then my studio, her every move full of purpose and industry. At some point in the bath sequence, she would pause and look at me, having been so engrossed in her bath she’d forgotten I was there, one of the habits she maintained from her early life as a frightened stray kitty.
I couldn’t decide which of Kelly’s positions was the one I wanted to capture so I decided a print with multiple frames would work best and liked it even better than the original single frame, capturing the process of the bath. I caught a number photos of Kelly in the act, none of them very good, so I pieced the idea together with photos of the window and Kelly in various bath positions, sketched a good outline and then filled in the dark areas that would be dark. I also sketched out the window and refined it in Photoshop.
Once I decided on the three images I wanted to use I sketched her on tracing paper, drawing in the window behind her. You can see in the sketches below I had the window closed at first, but decided I wanted that summery feeling of having the window open, plus the visual interest. I also initially had an extra option for position after I’d worked out the three above and played around with that one.
This part of it was so exciting, getting down to the details. I had the idea in my head as I always do, but it’s working out the details that is really the part that makes a piece of artwork speak, like touching up a poem so that every single word contributes to the final piece and makes it whole.
I placed them in various orders, but there was only one sequence that I liked best, the one where Kelly stops to look up at me in the middle. From here I worked out the layouts on my computer, in my graphic design program where I could step and repeat and resize things so easily. I wanted to determine the exact size of each panel, and where Kelly would be placed within it. Should I focus on her, or capture the feel of it by showing more background? Should I change the light and dark areas to make sure you could see Kelly’s silhouette against the background? I had envisioned it with a border and had several versions of square borders with multiple lines to try them out, then I decided I wanted a simple border that was less complicated and let the focus be on the images themselves, and didn’t touch the design because I felt that muddied it, made it too dark, and this both framed and isolated it. After all, cutting a linoleum block is permanent, no hitting “undo” and making changes, or going into Photoshop to touch it up. Best to work out all those details before you spend the time.
In the end I went with the smallest design, focused on Kelly, and no border at all. I also added scoring lines in the mid background to temper that heavy shadow so that you could see more of Kelly’s shape. Here is my first design for Kelly’s Morning Bath.
Above was my initial idea, capturing only the essential parts of the scene. It was just what I’d been visualizing but it looked a little stark. So I designed and cut one with a more decorative wavy line border, added more of the window and eliminated the shading across the middle keeping it stark black and white, and I liked that design too!
I couldn’t decide which one I liked better so I decided to use them both. They officially became Kelly’s Morning Bath 1 and 2.
Printing these two designs on unique papers wasn’t part of the design plan because I love block prints on snowy white rice paper, but when I began finding handmade rice papers with leaves and flowers embedded I knew I’d found the best choices.
Since I’ve been printing them on gift bags and tote bags and other things, I’ve come to use version 1 as a framed and matted print because it has just the essential image and the mat gives it an edge so it doesn’t look so stark, and version 2 as an imprint because it has the decorative border, but both look equally good in a mat and frame.
These prints now capture the memory of sunny mornings as this window in my house faces the side where the cherry tree fell, where my lilac and a number of trees filtered the sun, speckling the table with splashes of sun and shadow. They are printed on rice papers with leaves and flower petals imprinted, handmade, fair trade, eco-sensitive paper (could it be any better?) in a dozen varieties of prints with a white or a cream background, and shades of green, rose and rust for spring, summer and fall.
Some samples of the prints on my most recent find in rice papers. Kelly’s Morning Bath I:
Kelly’s Morning Bath II:
About Block Printing
Block printing is a technique wherein the artist carves the surface of a piece of linoleum, leaving raised areas which will become the image. Ink is rolled onto these raised areas, then a piece of paper is pressed against the block and when it’s lifted away the ink remains, leaving the image on the paper. Because of this process, each print is slightly different and therefore unique. Kelly was indeed on my work table to supervise the printing of this block print inspired by her daily morning bath in front of our favorite window. You can see a little demonstration of block printing in this post about my hand-printed Valentines.
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