What is a diptych anyway?

If one is good, two must be better. My latest linocut, Iridescent Argosy, is comprised of two 24 x 13in blocks that are intended to be framed separately, but be hung close together to create one display. This is my version of a contemporary diptych.

Two panel linocut of brilliantly colored cumulus cloud.

©Elizabeth Busey. Iridescent Argosy. Reduction linocut diptych. 24 x 13in (each block), ed of 12, $600 set.

The origins of the diptych begin in antiquity, when lesson books were two wax-coated plates linked with a hinge. Later, low relief artwork that was related in topic was used. In the Middle Ages, clergy began using this format, allowing for the safe transport of icons. Several famous altar pieces are actually three joined panels, or a triptych. In these examples, one side was related to the other, but each side could also stand alone.

A modern version of the diptych

My interest in the diptych was inspired by printmaker and painter Yvonne Jacquette. (Follow this link to see a 2016 interview with the artist.) In her woodcut Hudson River Diptych, Jacquette uses two blocks slightly separated to show the expanse of a harbor scene. For me, this artistic choice emphasizes the vastness of the subject, and also gives the feeling of gazing through a window into a different world.

Using two blocks is also logistically helpful in some ways. Smaller blocks are easier on my hands and elbows, and smaller paper and framing materials are less expensive. But I’m mostly drawn to the notion that this image was just too expansive to be contained within one frame.

And now I can spell diptych…

 

Metallic inks put the shine on

Art-making is compromise.  Those who say that you can make whatever you want are simply mistaken. Art making is a compromise between what you have in your imagination, and what you can accomplish with your materials. In reduction printmaking, this compromise has to do with the number of shades, colors or details you would like versus the amount of ink your paper is willing to accept. Apply too much ink, and you are finished.

What is an overzealous printmaker to do? In many of my linocuts, I turn to metallic inks to finish the piece, even if I wasn’t quite finished myself.

silver and gold metallic inks on a carved linoleum block

A blend roll of gold and silver metallic inks are the last layer on my latest cloud linocut.

Why metallic inks are different

Metallic inks are different from other printmaking inks. The pigments are not ground as finely as other colors so they can reflect light. Gold inks are simulated with combinations of copper and zinc (yielding a sort of bronze) and silver inks are made from aluminum. As these inks dry, the metals rise to the surface.

How shiny these pigments appear depends on the surface on which they are printed. On my very absorbent Rives BFK, the inks aren’t too shiny unless they are the last in a series of ink layers. With the above inked block, these inks are going over six other layers of ink, so the paper is nearly sealed. If you printed on a very slick surface, the results would be shinier. If a very reflective result is required, you would need to resort to foil printing — a fascinating technique with which I would love to experiment.

cans of metallic gold and silver printmaking ink

Cans of metallic inks can bring a shine to any situation.

Mixing brands of ink — apologize later

Gamblin –the maker of my other relief printmaking inks — does not make metallic inks. I have had my Handschy gold and Kohl & Madden silver inks for years. Straight out of the can they are very dark and strong, so I mix in some Gamblin Relief Transparent Base and some tack reducer to get the strength I need. So far my mixing of different ink brands has not resulted in a visit from the ink police.  I also use a bit of metallic ink to make an ink less transparent, without adding white — which can lead to too-pastel colors.

I just applied a layer of metallic gold and silver blend roll to my latest cloud linocut, and I think it is finished. It is a diptych, so I am working on just the right way to display it on-line.

In the meantime, consider if a little metallic ink might help you put your shine on.

If only every mistake could be fixed with Bondo

The English language needs a word for that chilly feeling of regret that washes over you, followed by the hot flush that confirms that you just made a terrible mistake. In relief printmaking, this comes when you have carved away a portion of your block that you had not intended. This happened to me recently, and after I discarded the possibility of having a toddler-style tantrum on the floor, I turned to Google.

Thankfully, me eyes soon rested on a blog post by Erich Neitzke on how to use Bondo to repair a linoleum block. My only experience with Bondo comes from my childhood, when I would help my father use Bondo and fiberglass mesh to patch our 1967 Volvo. After reading Erich’s blog, I headed to the hardware store to give Bondo a try on my block.

Can of Bondo

Yep, they still make Bondo. You shouldn’t need the fiberglass kit.

My trouble came from my carelessness when using a mask or frisket to block out part of the linoleum. A mask is simply a packing tape covered piece of tracing paper that physically covers part of the block so the roller can’t deposit the ink. The result is an ink/no ink line. The actual mask that I created was slightly different from the lines on my tracing paper drawing, but I had forgotten this, and merrily began carving away the incorrect lines. This would mean that there would be a strange white space between my yellow sky and purple mountains. There was no way to glue back the pieces of linoleum with Superglue, which only works on minute areas where the linoleum is somewhat attached.

Masking tape around the mistakenly carved linoleum.

Masking around the area means that you will have less area to sand later.

Armed with my Bondo, I first masked around the area I wanted to fill with blue tape. I mixed a small amount of the white compound from the can, with a tiny amount of the brick red paste from the accompanying tube. I used a Dixie cup as a container and a popsicle stick for mixing and spreading. Make sure to use gloves and have proper ventilation. (Don’t do this inside.)

Bondo is spread over the area.

Press the Bondo firmly over the area, and don’t scrape down too deep. You want it to be a little bit higher than the block at this point.

I quickly spread the Bondo firmly into the channel I wanted to fill and scraped down some of the excess. You will want to leave a raised mound that you can sand. Bondo cures, rather than dries, so I was able to start sanding after an hour.

The linoleum has been patched by Bondo, but must be sanded.

Remove the masking tape. Now it is time to gently sand by hand.

After removing the masking tape, I began sanding with 220 paper. I was careful not to sand too far down, as then I might get small lines around the filled area that might print. This patch will work if you have relatively small areas to fill, or if you fill in several steps. It might be hard to fill an area that is not surrounded on most sides by linoleum.

Pencil marks now show the correct place to carve.

The correctly carving marks are transferred to the block, with a written reminder.

After the sanding, I carefully transferred the correct marks to the block, and reminded myself where to carve. It is always better for colors to overlap slightly than to have those unsightly white lines. You can always carve away more later.

After two colors, the Bondo area is still holding well. My diptych of cumulonimbus clouds was saved. If only other problems were so easy to solve with a simple patch and some sanding.

Artist writes about herself

April is a month of exhibits for me. My solo show “Ephemeral and Enduring” at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center features my cloudscapes and landscapes. One of my cloudscapes — Cantata for Eventide — was accepted as part of the Indiana Artists Annual Exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The dreaded artist statement

All of this exhibiting requires not only artwork, but also words. For the solo show, I needed to write an artist statement to explain why in the world I made these massive linocuts. As a rule, I find artist statements an exercise in hyperbole where the reader feels inadequate to even be viewing the artwork.

Five cloudscapes and landscapes from Ivy Tech John Waldron show.

Five of fifteen cloudscapes and landscapes create a peaceful, contemplative exhibit at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center.

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Change the color and change the meaning

A few blogs ago I shared some images of the altocumulus undulatus clouds I snapped early one morning. While I loved the shape of these clouds, I don’t find their white to light blue coloring terribly compelling in an artistic sense. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was steered toward the blue greens when printing over orange and yellow. The final result is Harbinger in Teal.

Elizabeth Busey, Harbinger in Teal, Reduction Linocut, 18 x 28 in, edition of 24, $450.

Altocumulus undulatus clouds result from wind shear — an abrupt speed or directional shift that signals a change in the weather. Where I live, a weather change is often brought about by violent storms, and some people link strong storms with blue green clouds. So I embraced my uniquely colored clouds as an illustration of how the world feels to me at times.

Things are unsettled, changes may be coming, and it is not clear if they will be disastrous, or merely different. All we can do is watch the clouds, and hang on.

Hanging on while looking for hope

I took a break from the studio recently to visit Asheville, North Carolina and the surrounding countryside. With the radio turned off and a ban on reading the New York Times on my phone, I was able to capture some images that I found hopeful…

 

 

Hope really is an action, not just an emotion. Continuing to be hopeful in the face of the alternatives takes perseverance.

Keep looking for hope, and if you find some, please share it. The world needs lots of hope.

Embracing Artistic License…or Why Clouds are Green

In creating art, sometimes the materials dictate the direction of the work. In my latest linocut of rhythmic altocumulus undulatus clouds, my vision was for a glowing orange sky. I did not see the entire work as orange, but rather transitioning to some sort of blue. Herein lay the challenge and the realization that I was not in control.

Teal skies are the result of printing blue over orange.

One color determines the next

Even when I mixed my purply blue with some white, when I printed over my orange, I got a teal. But as I stared and pondered my perceived problem, I was reminded of the colors of my mother’s opal ring… colors that I enjoy.

Fiery opals contain some of my favorite colors.

So I decided to keep the teal green skies — as I had no choice in the matter. If Toulouse Lautrec can give people green faces, or Marc Chagall can make blue horses fly, why couldn’t I have green clouds?

Green clouds actually do exist

When I am printing blend rolls in my clouds, I am fastidious in preventing the yellows and the blues from mixing. This would usually result in a strange spring green. But my blueish green clouds are actually a real weather phenomenon. Meteorologists disagree about the causes of these green clouds. Some hypothesize that it is the result of sunlight refracting through hail in the clouds. Others suggest that it is the leading yellow sunlight shining on storm clouds. Sometimes green clouds are seen with severe weather, and sometimes not.

For now, I will embrace the opalescent teals of these clouds and print a few more layers to complete the work. It is spring in the midwestern United States, so I will also be listening for the sirens and looking for green clouds.

 

 

Beauty of Beginnings

Ideas for new linocuts are all around me — in the sky, in my phone, in my sketchbook. I go through quite a process to determine if something is worthy of a new linoleum block. Many ideas don’t make it very far. Luckily I was treated to an incredible sight a few weeks ago that was perfect for my next linocut. Here is a quick recap of how I began:

Inspiration after perspiration

One Thursday morning I was walking out of my rowing class and was treated to this site. They are called altocumulus undulatus. I filled my phone with imagery from all angles. At home, I printed out some of these images on 11 x 17 inch photo paper so I could get a better sense of how the pattern would look if it was larger. Some patterns expand well, and others lose their appeal.

Prismacolor helps my planning.

From here I laid out all of the photographs and did some sketches, including some with colored pencils. Although I am not using the pencils in the exact layering technique that I will with my inks, the pencils do help me think about what colors are possible. I love Prismacolor pencils for this task because they have rich pigments and blend together on the page.

Almost ready for the first marks

After I created a final drawing, I used a large sheet of tracing paper and an 8B pencil to create my own carbon copy. Here I’ve transferred the darkest part of the clouds, but I still have to judge which part will be the white area. If I carved away all of the areas that are without graphite, the linocut would have too much white and would appear only two-dimensional.

New color and an old friend

Pygmalion’s Art Supply in downtown Bloomington, IN has a new custom color created each year by their staff, and the proceeds from the pigment sales go to a local organization. I have just a bit left of last year’s Saffron, and use it with a touch of Red Rhino Red to create the glowing orange for the first layer.

I admit that printing light orange over the entire block is a bit daring in a linocut that will also feature blue. But that is all part of the adventure of printing…

I leave you with my very first video filmed with my new Iphone tripod. As February turns to March, my thoughts turn to the Good Humor truck and an icy Dreamsicle. (Don’t drool on your keyboard or phone…)

Embracing Acceptance as an Artistic Practice

With each passing year, I have been working to accept things as they are. My abilities in my rowing class will never match those of rowers who are twenty year my junior. I cannot make decisions for others who are now fully in charge of their lives. And when ink misbehaves, all I can do is try to finish the linocut, letting go of that elusive goal of perfection.

large cloud exploding over mountains.

©Elizabeth Busey. The World Turned Upside Down. Reduction Linocut on Somerset, 25 x 40in image size, edition of 12, $800.

The World Turned Upside Down has been a two-month odyssey in perseverance and acceptance. If you read my earlier blogs, I wrote about ink overextension. With reduction linocuts (and perhaps with any multi-layered printmaking) the behavior of one ink layer completely affects the following layers. If the first layer does not print evenly, the following layers will not either, no matter what pressure you use, what ink concoction you create or whatever sacrifices you make to the printmaking gods.

This large linocut was printed on new, expensive Somerset paper. I purchased the paper in hopes of solving a texture problem I thought was perhaps related to the paper surface. Once my problems began, the paper was already committed, so I made the decision to go ahead with the print anyway.

This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. A block this size takes lots of time to carve and maneuver in the printing process. As I worked through the various ink layers, the textures that were appearing began to work with the image, with some areas having an interesting patina I could not have planned.

Acceptance is different from resignation. Acceptance is the mature recognition that you are not omnipotent, and do not have unlimited energies. It also opens up the possibility of something that you had not dreamed of, something serendipitous.

 

New installation is stretching my brain

A collaborative installation. This is what I determined my solo show in April needed. I will be collaborating with Bloomington writers who will be writing in response to some of my latest cloudscape linocuts. (See UPDATE at the end of this post.)

How hard can it be? If our family had a coat of arms, this would be inscribed in some obscure language. My idea was to take some of the words generated by area writers, carve them backwards on linoleum, and combine the words with cloud motifs on Japanese banners that will hang from the gallery’s twelve-foot ceilings. This week I embarked on my part of the installation…

Remembering what I’ve learned

I have done banners once before at First United Church. You can read about this installation at this blog post. As with any of my projects, I learned many things to do, and not to do, as the project progressed. I decided I needed to create some test banners before I began carving and printing my cloud-motif blocks.

Materials matter

Because I will be using a more diaphanous paper than my usual Rives BFK, I knew I needed to test inks. Luckily I had a selection of leftover inks, so I could test how different transparencies and chromatic intensities would look when printed on the paper and hung up. When light goes through the paper, the color can look washed out if it doesn’t have enough chroma.

sample inks and brayers

Sample inks and brayers, ready for the test.

I laid out all of the leftover inks with my many small brayers. To act as a record for later, I drew a small amount of ink across some scrap paper with my putty knives.

ink draw downs

I think I learned that this technique was called a draw down. You squish a tiny roll of ink on paper with the putty knife.

Papers were another variable I tested. I tested both rolls of Kozo and Thai Unryu papers. Each paper has both a smooth and rough side, and I found I preferred the smooth side for my purposes.

Printing on a banner

My previous banners were actually halved sheets of paper that were then joined in the middle. They wasn’t nearly long enough for this project, and I remember the taping process as extremely problematic. I initially thought I would have to print by hand with a spoon, but after doing this with two small blocks, I nixed the idea completely. I am addicted to my press.

So I took a deep breath and had the exciting task of troubleshooting how to print on the long rolls of paper using my press. I used the two blocks from last summer’s Solar Flags project (read about that project here) in my experiment.

Immediately I learned that I had to keep the paper rolled up at both ends, or it liked to creep below the press on either side of the bed and get crushed. Two Carrie Newcomer CDs from my studio playlist came in handy, and no, they do not go under the rollers.

printing on roll of paper

Keeping the other parts of the roll from sneaking under the press bed was challenging.

I worried that the ink would smudge as it was gently rolled up, but it did not offset at all if I rolled up the paper loosely. Certainly this process will not allow for any reduction printing, and all of the alignments will be approximate and fluid. Somehow this sounds appealing to me.

rolls of paper drying over press

Time to relax as my press bed becomes a drying rack.

Testing my creation

After printing five or six blocks on each banner, I unrolled the papers and let them dry completely over my press. The next day I put a dowel on the top with fishing line for hanging, and set off to climb a ridiculously tall ladder to hang up my tests.

Check back in a few weeks for the next stage of this installation…

UPDATE: Sadly we did not get enough sign-ups for the class, so the installation was cancelled. I hope to find an installation opportunity in the future so I can use what I’ve learned.

Developing your Creative Toolkit for Battling the Blahs

This blog post was delayed by the winter creative blahs. My usual blog writing afternoon found me stretched out on a sunny built-in couch, staring up at bare branches waving in the wind.

Later, another linocut artist trapped in a cold, snowy studio asked on-line: “How do you get through the doldrums?” So whether you are trapped in the snowy northern hemisphere, or the overheated southern, here are my best suggestions for getting through times when you just don’t feel creative.

Doing nothing might be best

Like an athlete, sometimes creative people don’t need to push, but to rest. Perhaps your mind needs rest, in the form of a nap or time spent not thinking about your current creation.

Clouds watching

Clouds are perfect for contemplation and meditation.

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