Author Archives: Elizabeth Busey

Looking for a new gold ink

I love gold ink. There, I’ve said it. I’m not a flashy person in personality or dress. But in my studio practice, gold ink is a necessity.

Is one gold ink better than another?

To answer this question, I put three inks to the test.

Hanschy RichGold (now Hanco) litho ink (Hanco CS-951 $26.55 Blick.com)
This was my first gold ink. I was taught to do relief printmaking with lithography inks, and I’ve had this one for about eight years. Until October, it was my go-to gold. Straight from the 1lb. can, it is strikingly green-gold and moderately thick. Little evidence of grainy pigments.

Handschy RichGold has been my go-to gold for quite a while.

Cranfield Traditional Relief Ink Gold (75 ml $15.21 Blick.com)
I just received this one, and I was looking for great color in a true relief ink. The color on the tube matches the ink itself — it looks like copper. When squeezed out of the tube, you do see evidence of some grainy pigments.

Cranfield gold looks like copper…

Charbonnel Etching Ink Gold (60ml $18.36 Blick.com)
I have been using this ink for a few months. Out of the tube, it looks the most like gold and is thick and stiff, with lots of grainy pigment.

Charbonnel etching ink is quite stiff.

Putting the ink to the test

I don’t usually use gold ink as a first layer. It would sink into my thick cotton paper and lose all of its reflective qualities. I wanted to see how each ink behaved when printed over previously printed colors. Luckily I had some unfinished bookmarks left over from this year’s Open Studios Tour that I could use. I modified each ink with a similar amount of Gamblin’s tack reducer, until each ink was viscous enough to be rolled out.

When similarly modified, each ink was rolled out and used for printing a bookmark. Left: Handschy, Middle: Cranfield, Right: Charbonnel.

When rolled out, the difference in inks is quite apparent. The Handschy ink on the left is not very reflective, and looks more greenish-brown than gold. The Cranfield in the middle is more reflective, but is still quite coppery and dark. The Charbonnel on the right was the most difficult to roll out. It never gets buttery when mixed on the glass and rolls out into a stiff rectangle.

The proof is in the print

When printed onto the unfinished bookmarks, the difference is even more clear. Both the Handschy and Cranfield and very dark and not at all reflective. By contrast, the Charbonnel is lighter, and its reflective surface contributes to a feeling of depth in the bookmark.

Which ink do you prefer? My heart is with the Charbonnel.

The Charbonnel is so superior to the others that I can’t see when I would ever use the other two. When you want a reflective surface, the ink with the most pigment is the one to use. Hands down.

Share

The truth about exhibiting art

The New Year has dawned…and I’ve been on the road. I am fortunate to be in several group shows this winter, two of which are in the southern part of greater Chicagoland. Because my work is large and heavy, shipping is not an option.

snow covered county road

With no highways running east to west, I have to trust Google Maps when it sends me out on a snow covered county road.

Woody Guthrie and I

My first car load of work was headed to a show at the Victorian House Art Gallery of Olivet Nazarene University, which is located in Bourbonnais, Illinois — a village of Kankakee. All along my drive, I just couldn’t get the “City of New Orleans” lyrics out of my head.

“All on the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out of Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields…”

With temperatures in the single digits, plus wind and blowing snow, Google Maps took me on a journey across very rural parts of Indiana and Illinois, and got me safely to my destination. The patterns of the corn stubble against the snow gave me ideas for new work, although relying on the white of the paper to represent snow can be tricky….

And more framing!

The dining room table becomes a cat-free zone as we struggle to frame large work under statically charged plexiglass.

Back at home and I need to get more work framed. Because of the expense of the large frames, I will often switch out the work depending on what is required for a show. I use acrylic (or plexiglass) to frame the largest work, requiring the use of our dining room table to open things up, switch the work, and seal things up again. It has been tremendously cold in the midwest this month, making the house so dry that I would swear lint from the neighbors’ house wanted to leap into the frame. Quite an exercise in patience for me, and my mensch of a husband.

Another trip north…

sun breaking through clouds

After seven and a half hours of driving in fog, clouds and snow, the sun finally breaks through as a visual reward.

With the RAV4 loaded with three large works and six medium-sized, I set off another morning for the Tall Grass Arts Association Gallery in Park Forest, Illinois. Warming temperatures and snow covered fields meant most of the eight-hour journey was completely white with fog and clouds. Thankfully the sun finally broke through during my last hour of the drive.

With everything settled in their galleries, I now have time to devote to a new commissioned work instead of heading out on the highway again. I’ll be watching the weather carefully, hopefully driving again on January 20th for openings for both exhibits. If you are in the greater Chicagoland area, here are all the details:

Water. Fire. Ice. Earth. Air.
Tall Grass Arts Association Gallery
376 Artists Walk, Park Forest IL
Opening Saturday, January 20 from 1 – 3pm
January 19 – February 24, 2018

(impressit) A Group of 8 Printmakers
The Victorian House Art Gallery
577 S Main St, Bourbonnais IL
Opening Saturday, January 20 from 12 – 2pm
January 9 – February 7, 2018

Share

What good does your art do for the world?

What good does your art do for the world? I realize this is a challenging question for artists — at least it is for me. But as 2017 has come to an end, it is just the sort of thing I want to ponder as I make plans for 2018.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

Printmaking meets installation

During our recent arctic blast, I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center to see the work of Caledonia Curry, who also goes by the name Swoon. Curry combines large scale relief and silkscreen printmaking to create large vibrant installations. Spanning two floors, the exhibit also makes use of wallpapers that she designed and had printed near her Brooklyn studio.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

The exhibit, entitled Swoon The Canyon • 1999-2017, is Curry’s first retrospective show. We see her take inspiration from New York City street scenes and subway windows, and then transition to much larger social and environmental themes. Often, Curry combines the creation of the work with some sort of direct social involvement. Her early New York City work was adhered with wheat paste to the very neighborhoods she was celebrating.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

Printing the personal…

Curry looks to more personal themes in the section entitled Medea. The lifecycles of women are superimposed on intricate wall papers as she works through personal themes of love, loss, trauma and forgiveness. An explanatory pamphlet and many audio visual links accompany this exhibit, so I felt both included in the artist’s process and thinking, while still being able to engage with the work on a personal level. As my own children leave me for their own lives, the Medea section was particularly poignant.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

… as well as the political

The final section of the exhibit encompasses Curry’s interest and involvement with social justice, where she seeks to have her artistic practice affect change for individuals and communities. She has done this in Kenya, Haiti, and Mexico, as well as communities in the United States. In the image above, Curry highlights her work in Braddock, PA where she helped establish a non-profit that provides employment for young adults creating architectural and fine art tiles.

I came away both encouraged and a bit daunted. My path to art creating has been different from Curry’s to be sure. I probably won’t be able to affect change on the same scale. For 2018, I’ve decided to keep my eyes open for opportunities to make the world just a bit better. Perhaps one person at a time.

How will you do good in 2018?

 

Share

Finding beauty in your own backyard

Oil on pavement on a misty day.

Oil on pavement on a misty day.

How do you find beauty in your own backyard? This was a question posed to me by my dear childhood friend Renee’s husband, Henry Styron, as part of an interview for his blog. The blog — Advice for Everyone (and other stuff) is a delightful combination of interviews with regular folk like me, and other things Henry has compiled from the more famous — from William Shakespeare to Ann Landers.

Follow this link to my interview and my advice! 

Pistachios

Pistachios ready for chopping!

Fingerprint cloudscape

Fingerprint cloudscape from Bloomingfood’s parking lot!

Share

Printmaking sometimes takes an eternity

Printmaking can sometimes take an eternity. Or this is how it seems. My first art professor impressed upon me that unlike reading a book which can be skimmed, or writing a paper during an all-nighter, making art takes the time it takes. This fall, I have found this to be true. I decided to create a linocut concept that had twelve layers of ink, the most I have ever done.

On the Far Side of Forever, an aerial inspired linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. On the Far Side of Forever. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 16 x 21in (image size), 28 x 37in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

I wanted to create imagery that asked the question — what if aerial views were like topographical maps? To answer this question, I created both horizontal (above) and vertical (below) compositions. I imagined the views a hawk or turkey vulture might have, if they were flying around in a topo-filled world.

The Grand Eternal Show, a topographically inspired aerial view linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. The Grand Eternal Show. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 21 x 14in (image size), 31 x 23in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

Creating similar but not the same

To make these works harmonize, but not be the same, I used different views of the topography so that the largest shapes are repeated. I also wanted to find a way to make the layers not be completely homogeneous. To do this, I started both series with some loose diagonal color fields as the first layer of ink. I even reversed the location of each color for the different linocuts.

First layer of linocut has rough inexact color fields.

The first layer had rough, inexact color fields.

Carve this, not that

One of the more difficult tasks was remembering where to carve for each subsequent layer. Once a layer was carved away, I could not go back and touch up the linear marks that divided it from the others. Each time I printed, I also printed the line marks to keep them a consistent tone throughout, even if the color was somewhat different.

The last layer — the lines alone — required some strategy. I could leave them with the darkest tone only, but this meant that the darkest areas were not well differentiated from a distance. So I went to my old friend, gold ink.

Getting serious with pigment

I had been using a very old gold ink from Handschy, and wondered if another ink would give me more brilliance. I ordered some Charbonnel gold etching ink on a whim, and now was able to give it a try. As you can see from the video, this ink does not have the viscosity of most relief inks. I wanted to keep the pigment as intense as possible, since it was going to go over fairly dark blues and greens. The addition of some burnt plate oil allowed me to gradually roll out the stiff ink.

Gold ink on the last layer of the topography linocut.

The last layer need to print clearly. The thick gold etching ink did the job well.

While the ink looked too thick on the glass, and didn’t make that velvety sound I usually strive for, it did adhere to the linoleum well and printed evenly on the ink-saturated paper. With one layer of ink, the gold sheen can be delicately seen, especially in the problem dark areas. I wondered if more gold would be better, and printed another layer of gold immediately. This gave me more gold reflection, but meant that now your eye was confused about what was important. I wanted the work to be more about the layers, with the lines playing a supporting role. So I stuck to one layer of gold ink.

The feeling of satisfaction I had upon completing these two linocuts was one I haven’t felt in a long time. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Share

A Visit with Emily

Emily Carr must have been quite a woman.  She smoked a pipe and sometimes swore at her art pupils, ran a boarding house and bred dogs to earn money, and spent her life learning and growing as an artist. A Canadian artist who lived between 1871 and 1945, she is well-known for her work documenting the people and totems of the First Nations of the Canadian Northwest.

Much has been written about Emily Carr, from various biographies to the somewhat fiction of Susan Vreeland’s The Forest Lover. Carr wrote prolifically herself, from autobiographical works to a hilarious book of cartoons chronicling a trip to Alaska with her sister. The facts of her life are a bit of a mystery — she sometimes contradicted herself in describing her incredible life. These are fascinating reads to be sure, but what I love about Emily Carr are her trees. I had an opportunity recently to go to Vancouver, B.C. and see some of Emily’s trees in person.

Emily Carr, Abstract Tree Forms.

Emily Carr. Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32. Oil on paper. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.

Capturing the feeling of the forest

The Vancouver Art Gallery has a substantial collection of Emily Carr’s works. Her immersion in the forests themselves came during the last part of her painting career, after she spent many years painting the totems and villages of the coastal Northwest.

Small cedar tree growing on a larger stump

Rare November sunlight backlights a young cedar tree, determined to grow on the stump of an ancient ancestor. Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.

If you have ever visited a forest in the Pacific Northwest, you will know that they feel intrinsically different from the forests of eastern North America, and distinct still from the dry mountain west. These forests have plentiful water and lush vegetation. During Emily’s time, their isolation from logging meant that she was able to experience the overwhelming green presence of the forest as its own living, breathing entity. This is what she captures in her earlier forest paintings.

Part of her success in capturing these feelings comes from her unorthodox use of materials. She was constantly economizing so that she could continue to paint prolifically. So that she could go paint on site in the forest, she invested in manila paper as a substrate and made a cardboard hinged portfolio that was easy to carry. She used “good quality white house paint thinned with gasoline” so that her oil paints flowed like watercolors and dried quickly, but were also opaque and felt substantial.

Emily Carr. Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky.

Emily Carr. Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky. 1935. Oil on Canvas. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.

Emily Carr as environmentalist

The appetite for raw lumber in British Columbia was voracious, with much of Vancouver Island being decimated by clear cutting during her final painting years. Thus, Emily’s later work becomes an environmental commentary. She anthropomorphized trees, calling the tree stumps she captured in her work “screamers.” Last week, the State of Indiana unnecessarily sold nearby older growth forest land for clear-cutting, so her characterization resonates with me.

Emily Carr. Above the Trees.

Emily Carr. Above the Trees. 1939. Oil on Paper. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.

One of my new favorite works of Emily is Above the Trees. As a result of her painting logged forests,  she became more aware of skies. My non-flash image does not do this work justice — the intensity and activeness of the blue sky makes me think of a heavenly fingerprint above tree spirits.

Emily Carr is now a celebrated artist both in Canada and beyond. She has a school of art named after her, and her life is now the subject of much scholarly discourse. But throughout her life she was mostly alone and unappreciated, living at the edges of a society that did not support women as artists. For her tenacity in every day life and for her dogged pursuit of her vision, I am eternally grateful. Nice to see you in person, Emily.

 

 

Share

Accepting the muse that shows up thanks to Big Magic

Finding your next great idea — or maybe you would call it connecting with your muse — can be difficult. I wonder if Georgie O’Keefe had self-doubts about her transition from dark cityscapes to colorful desert landscapes. I’m still mulling over what to do with my recent eclipse study, but have been recently captivated by the topographic map bookmarks we made at my recent Open Studio.

topography inspired bookmarks

These bookmarks continue to inspire me with their undulating line work.

I created the drawing for the second block from a real topo map of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I have hiked this area which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is filled with unexpected formations, from gorges to natural bridges, all noted by these squiggling lines. Back in my studio, most of my work does not depend on line work specifically, but I continue to be drawn to these topo lines.

topographical hiking maps

Topographical maps are not only essential when hiking, but aesthetically inspiring as well.

Topo maps are helpful and beautiful…

We have a collection of hiking maps from our travels in North America and Europe. In our recent trip to the Pyrenees, my husband and I relied heavily on a topo map to get us safely down from an exposed trail during an afternoon thunderstorm. The lines told us that yes, the scree-filled avalanche chute was in fact the way down.

I find these lines aesthetically pleasing as well. After the Open Studios tour, I now have time to get back to work, and kept thinking about these lines. The bookmarks we created were colorful and visually active, but perhaps not complex enough for larger work. This is where Big Magic comes in…

Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is essential reading if you are a creative person who sometimes puts too much pressure on your creativity.

Big Magic is essential reading

If you are a creative person of any type, you should get a copy of Big Magic and read it. I refer to mine so frequently that I don’t loan it out to anyone. In the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of several books including Eat, Pray, Love, discusses how to live sanely as a creative person. One of my favorite parts considers how we mistreat our creativity in our quest for fame or remuneration.

“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” (Gilbert. Big Magic, 154)

I am guilty at being unkind to my creativity when I demand to know before I start whether my next endeavor will be worthy of a frame — or a possible entry for a prominent show — or my next sale. When I yell, so to speak, nothing goes well.

So I’m back in the studio with two blocks, pushing topographical lines into new contexts. Will it work out? I have no idea. But grooving to my Spotify throwback list and rolling our fresh ink made for a memorable day. And there was no yelling…

 

 

Share

Sometimes it is smart to start small

Sometimes it is important to start small. I have a tendency to be impatient. I want to create an image on a LARGE scale. Unfortunately, I have some works that are large and problematic. If I had just taken the time to do a smaller study, I could have foreseen things that would go wrong later, but with much less heartache and with fewer sore muscles.

This year’s eclipse has been on my creative mind for a while. I spent the event deep in the woods, watching crescent moons dance across a dry shale creek bed. I have been wanting to capture the feeling of this experience, and tried out a few ideas recently.

 

Study of eclipse

A 9 x 12 inch study of eclipse moons on Thai Unryu paper.

When looking my eclipse photographs, I noticed two things. First, the crescent moon shapes weren’t sharp, but rather were soft, and didn’t meet at points. Some were larger than others, some more complete. The variation came from the different pinholes made in the forest canopy as the light came down. I wondered if I might distinguish between the shapes with different transparent colors, even though my experience and my photographs were mostly black and white.

Second, because it was not completely dark, you could see some of the tiny leaves and detritus that was on the creek bed. This provided some important 3D cues for the image. To address this issue, I decided to print on Thai Unryu paper. Sometimes called cloud paper, this is mulberry paper with thicker, longer fibers included. I wondered if the long fibers would show through in a way that might suggest the texture of the creek bed.

sample of thai unryu paper

Thai Unryu paper has longer fibers embedded in each sheet.

I’m glad I did this 9 x 12″ test print, because I think neither of these experiments was completely successful. Even while using very small changes in tone, the crescents separate in confusing ways. And when I printed the final darkest tones of the eclipse, the thin paper was completely saturated with pigment, and the long fibers are difficult to see.

I think I will do something I haven’t done for a long time — create an image with only one color — perhaps with only two or three passes of the same color. I will stick with my trusty Rives BFK as well, as the Thai Unryu paper became saturated and began to stretch out of shape as I repeatedly printed on it.

Learning on a smaller scale. It would be great if we could approach other things in life this way!

Share

When your passion becomes work (and what to do about it)

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is a professional musician. She mentioned that she doesn’t listen to music at home. “It feels too much like work,” she admitted. She usually opts for television or non-music radio.

This observation resonated with me. There are times in my life where I need some sort of creative distraction to relax and alleviate stress. Because my visual art practice is what I do for a good part of my day – and is sometimes the source of my stress — I have been looking for other ways to be creative.

glimpses of the elipse

I am thoroughly enjoying reading poets who write about the natural world, and trying my hand at some writing as well.

Trying something different

I recently signed up for a writing circle with a local nonprofit writing group called Women Writing for a Change. The topic of the six-week Thursday night writing circle is “Listening to Mystery: Writing, Presence and Poetry.” Each week, we begin with a poetry reading from various spiritual traditions and have a time of meditation. We do “fast writes” where we write furiously about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes we share our writing in small groups, and sometimes we read to the entire circle.

I am thoroughly enjoying the experience, in part because it is a creative practice that I am doing just for me. For two and a half hours my cell phone is silenced, and I am present to myself and my circle-mates. I have no ambitions to become a published writer. Creation for creation’s sake is a gift.

This class has also encouraged me to have a morning ritual to get myself into creative time. For years I have fought against the Morning Pages of Julia Cameron. Thanks to my writing circle, I have been beginning my creative time by emptying my monkeymind on the page and writing any thoughts about what I want to accomplish in the studio that day. Then I read a poem (my favorites are Mary Oliver and W.S. Merwin) and spend some time writing about something I hear in the poem, or something the muse brings me. After that, I am in a place to begin my studio time.

cat on fabric color chart.

My cat Gingersnap relaxes on a color chart from custom fabric printer Spoonflower. Apparently she has a fondness for purple.

Dabble in something practical

I have also begun dabbling in designing fabrics using some of my patterns that I have simplified. I have no idea where this practice will take me, but I will at least reupholster my sagging dining room chairs and get some new pillows.

I find that with these new additions to my creative life, I am finding my studio time to be more energized and fruitful.

What do YOU do to enhance your creative practices?

Share

Hanging System for your home … an indulgence?

We’ve been redecorating at my house this summer. Redecorating is not for the faint of heart. You change one thing, then another. Suddenly you are down the rabbit hole of what we call “home change” — and there is no end in sight. But there is one thing people can do relatively quickly, without new paint or subway tile… and that is rearrange your artwork.

At this point people (gasp!) People seem to assume that art placement in their house is something sacred, that can never be changed unless they move. I think this is a recipe for personal stagnation. But I am sympathetic to these feelings, in that I have a dear spouse who is convinced that everything I hang on our drywall walls requires a screw and an expansion bolt. I stand before you today and say – that is simply not true. You either need some different nails (more about that later) or better yet, your own hanging system.

living room artwork hanging system

My living room with its new hanging system. Everything is hung appropriately, with no unsightly holes.

My birthday present from 2016 was a hanging system for several walls on our main level. It took until the summer for repainting to be completed, and then I ordered my system from Systematic Art. Some details:

•  Four white metal channels are now installed on three different walls, just below the ceiling.
•  I chose stainless steel cables, because I have had experience with the clear nylon cables getting nicked and worn.
•  Self gripping hooks with safety guards were my choice for hangers.
•  I made sure to order enough cables and hooks so that the work could be hung from the D-rings on the back of my frames. This helps to hold the work close to the wall, and resist shifting when someone slams the mudroom door.

A hanging system requires no hammer and no math. Just your keen eye, an assistant and maybe a level.

artwork hanging system

I love being able to change the artwork above my drawing table.

Now it is easy to change the decor of the majority of our living space without nail holes and pesky measuring. A delight!

Admittedly this system wasn’t inexpensive, costing about $250. But since I was hanging heavy work framed in glass, I was willing to invest a bit more in something that will probably be installed long after we no longer live here.

What can you do if you can’t make this investment? Get some OOK nails from the hardware store. These nail and hook sets are easy to use, and twist out when you want to remove them. They leave a small hole that will need to be filled, but don’t require removal with the claw of a hammer which then further damages your walls. I used them to hang my gallery show in April, and they were flawless. Be sure to use two for very long horizontals so your frame doesn’t shift constantly.

So please, do your home a favor and mix up the artwork. It is much cheaper than moving.

Share