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Soft Maple
Walter J, Phillips, Phillips, woodcut, woodblock print, print, colour woodcut, printmaking, line, contour line, key line, negative shape, negative space, symbolism, maple leaves, portrait, candle, edition, Japanese technique, 2D art, two-dimensional art
description

In this work by Walter Phillips, we can see evidence of the artist’s keen understanding of  lineA mark with length and direction(-s). An element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Types of line include: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, straight or ruled, curved, bent, angular, thin, thick or wide, interrupted (dotted, dashed, broken, etc.), blurred or fuzzy, controlled, freehand, parallel, hatching, meandering, and spiraling. Often it defines a space, and may create an outline or contour, define a silhouette; create patterns, or movement, and the illusion of mass or volume. It may be two-dimensional (as with pencil on paper) three-dimensional (as with wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form). (Artlex.com)  and how it can be used to simply connote depth and weight.

This particular work is atypical of Phillips’ practice, as he was best known for his depictions of the outdoors, specifically for the highly technical skill with which he rendered his landscapes.  But when dealing with his human subject, Phillips exhibits remarkable tenderness and restraint.

start quoteThe student's ambition should be to become a painter's painter, rather than a popular painter. The approbation of fellow artists based on sympathy and understanding is manifestly better than the fickle or fast homage of the greater public.end quote
-- Walter J. Phillips

Notice, for instance, that the background, the subject’s shirt, and the  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  behind her are all left white. They are blank, untouched sections of paper that seem simultaneously to create an airy environment for the  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  to inhabit while also locking the shapes of the  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  in place. The whiteness suggests lightness in the image while acting as a strong and bold negative  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  in the  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  of that image.

The subject’s situation is unclear, although it seems consistent with the idea of hospitalization. Upon further examination, we may find indicators of the subject’s mortality. In a white gown, she sits up under a plain blanket; we see the edge of a wooden structure behind her, seemingly a bed frame, and the whiteness at her back suggests the bedsheet. At her side are a maple branch in a glass, and a candle; the maple suggests that she has had visitors, while the candle – extinguished - has been used throughout art history to represent the loss of life.

The subject, in turn, is vertical, her back arched slightly, and the tilt of her head implies that she is in the middle of a motion; it is as if she is caught in a sigh. The expression on her face bears this out, as she gazes at her viewers with a look of resignation. It is as if she is bidding us farewell while wanting us to realize that she accepts what befalls her. With the vase between us, we may feel as though we brought her the branch of maple, hoping to cheer her up or perhaps just as a parting gift.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Who might this person, shown in Soft Maple, be relative to the artist? Is it likely that there is an actual person this image was based on, or is it more likely a fictional character? You may need to further research Walter J. Phillips’ art practice to come to a conclusion (see the Links section for some information on Walter J. Phillips.)
  • What other interpretations could you offer for the setting of Soft Maple? The artist has provided us with only a little detail of the space, and the title only references an object in the  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  rather than its location. Where do you think this is taking place and what aspects of the image led you to this conclusion?
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Key  lineA mark with length and direction(-s). An element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Types of line include: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, straight or ruled, curved, bent, angular, thin, thick or wide, interrupted (dotted, dashed, broken, etc.), blurred or fuzzy, controlled, freehand, parallel, hatching, meandering, and spiraling. Often it defines a space, and may create an outline or contour, define a silhouette; create patterns, or movement, and the illusion of mass or volume. It may be two-dimensional (as with pencil on paper) three-dimensional (as with wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form). (Artlex.com) 

Studio Activity

Walter J. Phillips was internationally known for his  woodblockA print made by cutting a design in side-grain of a block of wood, also called a woodblock print. The ink is transferred from the raised surfaces to paper. (Artlex.com)  prints or woodcuts. Soft Maple is a multi-colour woodblock print. Walter J. Phillips’s method of  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  block printing follows the traditional Japanese method in which a different block is cut for each colour of  inkLiquid or paste media containing pigment(s) and used for writing, pen and brush drawing, and printing. Writing inks, even blacks, are rarely sufficiently permanent to be used for art purposes. Black drawing ink, known as India ink in the United States, is especially made for use in permanent works. When it dries it is water resistant, enabling it to be gone over with a wash or watercolour. Also available is a water-soluble drawing ink; though otherwise permanent, it is capable of being washed away with water, and may be preferred to water-resistant ink for certain work. Chinese ink is similar to India ink, although various minor ingredients are added to enhance its brilliancy, range of tone, and working qualities. Most colored drawing inks are not permanent; those made with permanent pigments are usually labeled with names of pigment ingredients rather than the names of hues. Printing ink is actually more closely related to paints than to the pen and brush inks. (Artlex.com)  used. See the links below for more on  woodcutA print made by cutting a design in side-grain of a block of wood, also called a woodblock print. The ink is transferred from the raised surfaces to paper. (Artlex.com)  methods.

  • Ink the block. Only the positive shape/space and areas you want to print should be inked. Use a water-soluble block-printing ink.
  • Pull the print from the block and hang it to dry
  • See the following link for a detailed description of wood block printing method written by Walter J. Phillips.
  • See the following links for a step-by-step demonstrations of block printing.
  • To see more prints from the portfolio Phillips’ Soft Maple belongs to see the following link.
  • For more information on Walter J. Phillips' life and work see
  • For more information on Japanese wood block printing see the following links:
References

Boulet, Roger H.  Walter J. Phillips web site.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from:  http://www.sharecom.ca/phillips/contents.html.

Phillips, Walter J.  ‘Art Quotations by Walter J. Phillips.’  The Painter's Keys Resource of Art Quotations.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from:  http://quote.robertgenn.com/auth_search.php?name=Walter J. Phillips.

Phillips, Walter J.  The Technique of the Color Woodcut.  New York:  Brown-Robertson Co. Inc., 1926

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning