Author Archives: Elizabeth Busey

Every piece has a story

When is the story of a piece of artwork helpful, and when is it best to allow the viewer to create the story? This is a constant tension that I experience when I create and write about my work. Many of my images are inspired by actual places I have visited, or places that inspire me. People often see different things, which argues for the universality and diversity of our human experience, and this is delightful.

But sometimes people really want to know where the inspiration comes from. I recently came upon a short essay I wrote about driving across North Dakota. My linocut, March of the Cumulus, shares this inspiration, from a slightly different vantage point. Here are both:

bird's eye perspective of yellow green fields and clouds

Elizabeth Busey. March of the Cumulus, Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 13 x 28in, ed of 28.

Praying at High Speed

There is a thin place where this world and another almost touch on Interstate 94 in North Dakota. I have only experienced it from the windows of a minivan, driving at 80 miles per hour. It is either the very beginning or the very end of a day in our journeys to western Montana. In the middle, where your mind says “Stop and stay a while” but your body says “Just keep going – I cannot abide yet another day in the car.”

It is a holy drive of sorts. Windows up – it is only with my eyes that I am able to take in the grandeur of creation. Vast undulating planes of vibrant greens and shocking chartreuse unfold before me like an origami spring let loose. The fields are new wheat, milo, or rapeseed.  Over a small ridge, and suddenly the Tournesols – the sunflowers – slowly point the way to the source of all energy.

At 80 miles per hour, I feel slow and meditative. Cruise control on, my feet relaxed, the car steers itself ahead with little input from me. At once a jewel comes into view – a small lake with the dead white carcasses of trees sticking out topped deliciously with black crows. What color blue is this? I am going by so fast that I cannot guess – but it is a hue I carry inside me.

The July sky is cloudless. The sheer vastness and weight of our cerulean atmosphere presses down on everything.  We are slicing through a kaleidoscope carpet of colors held fast by this immense sky above as my prayers begin.

A prayer for the farmers and their difficult life. Being a farmer means risking your livelihood against capricious storms and winds and pestilence – against banks and markets and tariffs.

A prayer for the land. Little I see is in fact nature-made. The fields are planted atop soils that used to host prairies.

A prayer for the creatures that used to live in these prairies. Those that roamed along or crawled beneath or soared above. Now it is just the crows that call this place home.

A prayer for those whose footsteps and hoof prints used to make tracks in this land. For the sadness of their loss and the hope that their spirits might connect in new ways with forgiveness.

One hand on the steering wheel – my prayers emanating from this tiny capsule — carried off by the wind.

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Jumpstart your inspiration with a wall

Need some quick inspiration? Consider things that you have at hand. Postcards or photographs, some masking tape, and blank wall. Instant inspiration.

art inspiration wall

Postcards from museums and art openings inspire me whenever I’m in my studio.

Redecorating can recharge your creativity

I’ve just come off of some big completions… I finished a large linocut (see No Atonement for Arcadia here.) This month and the next will be times of transition for my family, with graduations and moves to other places. All of this is exciting, but also exhausting. Getting started on new work can be difficult for me. Enter the inspiration wall.

another inspiration wall

I try to use few words, but I felt these were important.

I have had an inspiration wall ever since I created my basement studio. The walls are an eggshell white.  I thought about painting areas with magnetic paint and using magnets, but the reviews of this type of paint are not good. Blue masking tape works just fine.

Be sure to refresh you inspiration wall

The trick to keeping your walls inspiring is to CHANGE THINGS. You get used to seeing the same images, and they cease to be as meaningful. Even if you rearrange the same images, this can help. I took down the previous wall and sorted into three piles: “definitely put back up”,  “if there is room”, and “time to file away.” Then I could work in newer finds from my trips over the past year to Spain, Vancouver BC and Santa Fe.

You don’t need to travel far to create something for yourself. You can use images from magazines, on-line resources or photographs you have taken. Getting things off your screen and onto a wall can make a big difference.

Have a new inspiration wall? Share an image of it here! Happy creating…

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Can art be an effective harbinger?

How do you talk about something that cannot be reclaimed? Many parts of nature can regenerate over time. Mountains cannot. On a recent plane trip, I came upon the exact topic with which I have been wrestling for the past few months — mountaintop removal (MTR). My latest linocut, No Atonement for Arcadia, imagines a place that is deeply loved and valued by humans, and is in danger of annihilation.

Large topography

©Elizabeth Busey. No Atonement for Arcadia. Reduction linocut. 25 x 40 in, ed of 17.

The true cost of MTR

In the Appalachian mountains, most of the coal that is accessible using underground mines has been extracted. Coal companies, in the hunt for low sulfur coal, have turned to MTR. The seams of this coal are thin, necessitating removing 99 meters of other rock to obtain 1 meter of coal. Removal means blasting and hauling rock, and then dumping this material in existing streams. (more…)

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Another delta linocut joins the family

My latest linocut commission has been safely delivered, so I can now reveal Flowing Freely — Goose River.

linocut of Canadian river delta

©Elizabeth Busey, Flowing Freely — Goose River. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK, 14 x 22in (image size) ed. of 7, $375.

Sometimes realism is what is needed

My topographical work is often a blend of locations and shapes, but occasionally I highlight actual places in a more realistic way. Flowing Freely shows a snapshot of an ever-changing river delta in the Goose River, Labrador, Canada. The soft peach and blue parts of the form are the shifting sandy soils of the delta that are sweeping from side to side. The green parts are what geologists consider the older parts of the delta, now deceased. (more…)

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Getting the color right online Part I

Getting the color of your art right online is complicated. When I first created a website, I naively believed that I could just take a digital camera image, upload it into my image library, and post it directly to my web page. The results were shocking. My work looked dull and my colors were off.

Many years later, with the generous guidance of my photography and tech savvy husband, I have a strategy that yields online images that are fairly close in color and tone to the originals. Since this is how many people first experience my work, accuracy is crucial. I am certainly not an expert on this subject, but I’m sharing what I do in this blog series in hopes that people will find useful tips for themselves.

My latest linocut in my framing/photography/guest room combination.

(more…)

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What does your fear look like?

What does your fear look like? Does your inner critic have a face? What does that nagging voice say in your ear — making you doubt your current and past choices?  Certainly everyone faces these types of experiences, but for artists, it can be a daily struggle.

Taking Big Magic to heart through writing

I’m taking a six-week class looking at Big Magic, the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert examines creativity as an everyday activity that everyone can embrace, not a rarified talent only bestowed on a few. In our first session, our facilitator Kim Evans, asked us to consider what our fear looks like — what does it say to us and what adjectives would describe it. We even drew pictures of our fear. Here’s my funny caricature:

adjectives and a drawing of my fear

I’m pretty sure my fear would be critical of my portrait skills as well.

We were also asked to write a letter — either to our fear, or from our fear to ourselves. I chose the later. My fear expressed concern that I lack a BFA in Fine Art, let alone an MFA. The fact that my art creation could not support our family also reared its ugly head. Finally, my fear posited that it was possible I would become a curly white-haired woman who just talked to her cats. With the exception of the last worry, most of these worries are very similar to those that my young adult children are experiencing as they leave my home and make their way in the world. My advice of them is to try their hardest to embrace the thing that interests them, and see what happens. It is harder to take one’s own advice.

When fear shows up in the studio

In my studio, I’ve had a very different kind of fear show up. I’m working on a very large linocut (25 x 40 in,) and I found myself paralyzed as I tried to make my starting color choices. The large paper (30 x 44in) costs over $9.00 per sheet, making printing on my 20 pieces of paper in the edition suddenly a costly decision. I struggled all of Friday with thumbnails of how I could possibly begin. Because I use transparency, this first color sets the entire composition.

Beginning a plan for a large linocut

I use thumbnail sketches to imagine how my color choices will work on a larger scale. Here I use my smaller work to remind myself of possible starting places.

I finally had to put the sketchbook away for the weekend. Monday morning, I simplified my approach, took a deep breath, and began. I have to trust that my previous experiences can inform this new work, and it will be OK. The fearful, critical voice must be drowned out and the printing commence.

After five hours of printing with this huge block of linoleum today, I’m exhausted, but I’ve quieted most of my fears. I still may become a curly, white-haired woman who spends most of her day talking only to her cats. I guess I’m OK with that.

A Big Magic workshop in July

If you think you’d like to work with a group on the topics of creative living — and yes, fear — Kim is offering a workshop in Asheville, NC this July. Here are the details.

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Exploring Underprinting

Underprinting. Yep, that’s a thing. I have always envied oil painters who begin their paintings with loose gestures of colors — sometimes in a complementary color. The white of the printing paper can be daunting, and I am always looking for ways to create more depth and texture in my work. Enter the underprint.

When I created my new linocut Treasure of Great Price (see below), along with the companion Pandora’s Paradise, I wanted to experiment with something printed underneath that would provide movement and depth to my topography. I have also been thinking about the topographies that humans create — like mountaintop mining — and how harmful these can be to the earth. So I decided my underprinting block would be a fingerprint.

linoleum carved with fingerprint, gold ink

My twelve-inch block with one fingerprint, rolled up in gold.

Underprinting in the world of stamps and fossils…

Underprinting is used in the paper security industry — you might see these marks on stamps or paper currency. It also refers to the impression left by the footprint of a prehistoric creature, fossilized in lower sedimentary rock levels below the level of the initial footprint.

… and now printmaking…

I cut two twelve-inch blocks for this linocut, one that had the fingerprint, and one that would be reduced in my usual fashion. Because I used gold ink, the initial gold marks created a sort of resist as I printed subsequent layers, yielding an interesting texture. The marks are more visible in some layers than others, depending on tone and also hue.

linocut with colorful layers entitled Treasure of Great Price

©Elizabeth Busey. Treasure of Great Price. Reduction linocut. 12 x 12in (image size), ed. of 12, $300.

My small underprinting block’s success has led me to create a 25 x 40 inch block filled with seven fingerprints. I can’t wait to see how this will appear on a larger scale. Finger(prints) crossed.

 

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Deciding which color layer comes next

Deciding which color layer comes next is a very serious decision for printmakers. Especially those of us who create using the reduction method. In the past, I have used test sheets on less expensive paper, or the reverse sides of spoiled prints, to make my color decisions.Each of these strategies has a problem.

Less expensive paper can cause ink to behave very differently — often sitting on top of the surface rather than being incorporated into the paper. Further layers don’t print the same way as on my good Rives BFK. The reverse side of the spoiled prints have a particular texture which actually interferes with the next inking of the block and creates problems for the actual edition.

Creating color test strips for layers

My latest linocut has nine color layers, so accuracy has been important. I now print color strips as I go along to help me. I save the long narrow pieces of paper that remain when you tear down paper for an edition. I use a similarly sized piece of linoleum for my test block.

test color strips

My color test strips for recent linocuts have nine layers of ink, and evidence of lots of testing.

After I print the first layer of ink on an edition, I ink the lino scrap the same way as my block and print it onto my scrap paper. I leave a bit of white paper at the top so I can hang the scrap paper with the edition to dry. When I am deciding on the next color, I use my palette knife to “draw down” some of the color over my first printing layer. I keep in mind that the layer using the knife will be a bit darker than when it is actually printed. When I’ve decided on a color, I can wipe off these draw downs.

linocut topography warm colors

Pandora’s Paradise. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 12 x 12 in (image size) Edition of 12, $300.

Nine color layers mean lots of testing

In Pandora’s Paradise, you can see the color decisions I made for each layer. After I print each layer, I make sure to ink and print on the paper scrap in the same way. For this linocut, I used a modified blend roll, using the heel of my hand to blend some complimentary colors. (Read more about this in a previous blog.)

Occasionally I have a color that isn’t exactly what I expected, but as we know from color theory, how it appears will change with the next color. I just remember to print each new color on my color strip, and eventually I find my way.

 

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Getting your hands dirty is sometimes necessary

The gleaming white borders of my linocuts mean that I am fastidious about keeping clean hands and fingers. But on rare occasions, getting my hands inky becomes necessary. In one of my latest linocuts, I am using many transparent layers, and needed to join contrasting pinky orange and a cerulean blue layers.

I use rubber brayers to apply the ink, but need to solve the problem of the hard and unblended edges.

 

I know that a blend roll combination will yield a sort of greyish-brown, which I really don’t want. So instead I’m using a technique that I learned from printmaker Karen Kunc. Kunc is able to get many different colors and fading techniques from one block by using the heel of her palm.

Dab with the outside heel of the palm

 

When I use the heel of my palm, I am blending the inks slightly, but I am also removing some of the ink as well. This makes the unwanted blend of contrasts less intense when it is printed.

Reducing unwanted blending

Here is what the block looks like before I printed it. This isn’t an exact technique, but I find that if it is used in the middle of a linocut, or at the end, any variation is not noticeable.

My palm blended layer after printing.

I still have to be careful to keep the white edges clean!

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Meditating on Land and “From the Ashes”

Life is not linear…and neither are the ways of inspiration.

It all started with a landscape-themed invitational show at the Krempp Gallery in Jasper, Indiana. The curator of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Ferdinand, Indiana saw my work there, and contacted me to see if I would like to have a show in their library next January.

Since I have some time, and because of the particular spiritual nature of St. Meinrad’s, I thought I would take the next nine months or so to develop a special body of work for this exhibit. I had started working with topographical themes again at the end of 2017, and I didn’t feel finished with the topic. Then John Mellencamp came to campus…

Can you tell whether this topography was created by nature, or by people?

What does John Mellencamp have to do with land?

I should explain that John Mellencamp lives outside of Bloomington, Indiana and owns land adjacent to my subdivsion, which he bought in the 1970s to prevent the subdivision from getting any bigger. He was in his mid-twenties at that time, and was protecting what was then land recovering from farming from becoming more split levels and ranches. There are now hiking trails through this land, and I appreciate his forethought.

Recently Mellencamp was on the IU campus to introduce a screening of the documentary From the Ashes, which looks at the US coal industry, and how it affects disparate areas of the nation as well as the environment as a whole. I wasn’t able to attend the screening, but discovered I could easily purchase the documentary on Amazon. (You can rent it as well on many streaming services.) It is worth your time to watch this documentary.

Land isn’t only on the surface

Coal is land. Burning coal is the biggest contributor to climate change. Leaving coal in the ground — admitting that clean coal is economically not feasible — stopping mountaintop removal — protecting water sources from pollution … all of these topics center on land.

How we think about it.
How we use it.
How we share it and profit from it.
How we protect it.

Two new topographical studies began with the pattern of a human fingerprint. Who knows if this will work…

I’ve started two small studies of topography, thinking about land not only as a surface, but also imagining what is underneath. How can I talk about this three dimensional question in a two-dimensional medium?

This new direction may be meandering and uncertain. But it feels important to take the journey.

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