Author Archives: Elizabeth Busey

It is not always about the color

Several collages are in process in my studio. One was recently banished to the framing room, because I felt it wasn’t going in a positive direction. For a long time I couldn’t articulate why. Finally I experienced an epiphany: it is not always about color.

A detail of a monoprint collage in process.

I have been using more brightly colored base monoprints for recent collages. After working with some brightly colored maps and other monoprint patterns, I sat back to assess the progress. All I could think of was “Meh.” Clearly “meh” is not a feeling I want for a potential viewer, so I was doing something wrong.

Were the colors not harmonizing? Were the maps and textures confusing? I finally put the collage away in frustration and began something new. But I can see the offending work every time I walk down the stairs to my family room. It looked pitiful, sitting there unfinished, unloved.

IPhone 6 to the rescue

Black and white view of the same collage.

When I photographed part of the work, and put it into black and white, I could see a potential problem. Many of the tones are very similar, even though some are patterned and others plain. When you take the color away, things look very different.

I’m forced to take up painting

Areas of white Masa are still quite translucent.

Now I had to think of solutions to my problem. I considered the monoprint patterns I have been using, printed on thin Masa paper. The paper itself is somewhat translucent, especially in areas that are left white or have very light ink printed. The oil-based ink also seems to add to its translucency. When glued over a darker monoprint base, these pieces lose their lightness.

To combat this problem, I flipped over these patterned pages and painted a white acrylic wash over the areas that were printed on the other side. I used titanium white thinned with water that had wetting medium added. With a large foam brush I painted quickly and hung them to dry. Because I am using matte medium as my adhesive, I reasoned that these surfaces would bond together nicely. So far they have.

The result is that many of the oranges, yellows and whites are brighter. I will still need to be cognizant of my tonal values. Perhaps my eyes have a black and white setting…

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Fight climate change by talking about it

Spring is late this year. Even the non-native forsythia isn’t fooled. But does this mean I don’t think the climate is changing? Not at all. This week I was lucky to attend a talk given by atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Her take-home message: the single most important thing one person can do to fight climate change is to talk about it.

So I’m devoting this week’s blog to talking about climate change. But instead of me doing the talking, I’ll let my images speak for me. Interspersed are links to some terrific resources Katherine Hayhoe has created. Maybe one of these could help start a conversation with someone you care about but might disagree with regarding climate change.

A warmer atmosphere retains more moisture, resulting in stronger, more devastating storms.
@Elizabeth Busey. Summertide Brings the Derecho. Reduction linocut, 25 x 40in, edition of 6.

The best way to get an overview of Katherine Hayhoe’s message is to watch her TedTalk.

Coastal areas are some of the most vulnerable places.
@Elizabeth Busey. To Whom Much is Given. Reduction linocut, 24 x 13in, edition of 13.

Global-Weirding is a PBS Digital Series created with Katharine Hayhoe. You can find short, engaging videos that cover all sorts of subjects that are supposedly taboo to talk about. Like religion and politics. But in a nice way. She’s quite nice, and this is PBS.

The agriculture of the Midwest is responsible for one-fifth of the US GDP according to Hayhoe. Extreme variation in water availability – from droughts to floods – is making farming much more difficult.
©Elizabeth Busey. Benediction for an Unlikely Journey. Monoprint collage, 18 x 24in. Unique.

If you are person who likes their data instead of sweet graphics, Hayhoe has you covered there too. I was fascinated to learn that opinions regarding global warming in the United States in fact directly correspond with political affiliation.

Read a more comprehensive article about the factors shaping our climate debate here.

Scrolls of Spring
The native plants and animals that we love may soon disappear.
@Elizabeth Busey. Scrolls of Spring. Reduction linocut, 24 x 13in, edition of 26.

One of the most challenging things for me is that I do live in a blue bubble. It is rare that I have the opportunity to talk with someone who is different from me — whether in political affiliation or church membership.

Clearly I have to try harder. How about you? Time to get talking…

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In praise of being messy

I am a neat person, as well as a clean one. While I appreciate patina on certain antiques, I don’t seek it out. This predisposition doesn’t always serve me well in the studio, though. Sometimes it is best to praise being messy.

A close-up view of one of my monoprint sheets I create for my collages.

Who knew that repelling materials could create such beauty?

The above image is the result of not cleaning off my polycarbonate plate after I printed. You can see the fainter circles and roller marks, which are remnants of the previous inking. In some places, solvent has dried the pigments on the plate, resulting in places that print white. Below is what the plate looked like after the first printing. (You can see my non-slip mat beneath the almost transparent plate.)

A polycarbonate plate after printing. It looks as though there isn’t much left on it.

Old ink, brayer marks and solvent-dried areas repel the new ink in interesting ways. I would never be able to create these marks intentionally. I think of it in the same way that human beings are probably incapable of doing things that are completely random. You can read an engaging, philosophical article about this here.

Monoprint sheet achieved after a second inking. Lots of seredipitous marks, just waiting to be collaged.

Above is a view of the entire 24 x 18in plate, inked and printed for a second time. I just love how the colors mix and layer on the plate, creating something completely surprising on the paper. You can read more about how I work with collage papers in this blog.

So I will sometimes leave the plate unclean, because you never know… The studio itself is clean, however. Can’t have the studio cats tracking ink everywhere!

Gingersnap’s favorite color ink to step in is yellow… Very colorful and staining.

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Titles can be troublesome

All of my monoprint collages have a theme or purpose. Sometimes I begin with the purpose in mind, and other times it evolves with the piece. Then I have to create a title that fully encapsulates the purpose of the work. Easy right? In fact, titles can be troublesome.

©Elizabeth Busey. Longing for Believers. Monoprint collage, 24 x 36in.

Concise and pithy can be a challenge

My largest monoprint collages seem to demand the most thoughtful titles. In Longing for Believers, I’m (again) using a matrix which is used to transform our 3D understanding of the earth into a 2D space. Minus the actual continents. The whole piece shots World! World! World!

Global climate change — specifically human-caused global warming — continues to be one of the issues I want to explore in my work. The collage pieces here are arranged to suggest energy fields. The actual components are a range of maps, some monoprinted and others not, along with monoprint patterns that mimic close-up geologic and biological forms.

Detail of ©Elizabeth Busey. Longing for Believers. Monoprint collage, 24 x 36in.

I have been worrying lately about our inability as human beings to make any substantive decisions regarding global warming. In his book Don’t Even Think About In: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change George Marshall posits that our problem is that we approach climate change as a series of rational actions and choices. While we know at some level that our world is in danger, we fail to be emotionally connected.

Longing for Believers

What the world really needs is for each person to take up its protection with the fervor and zeal that people of faith approach their spiritual life. If people can make changes in their daily actions as guided by their faith, why can’t we, people who profess to care about the Earth, do the same?

Thus, the world is longing for believers.

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Stop watching and start doing

We have so many ways to learn new things. We can watch Youtube videos to learn how to fix our cars. We can watch cooking shows to improve our culinary techniques. Watching other people being creative can be stimulating or calming. But is it actually enriching? At what point should we stop watching and start doing?

Rolling out a new blend and seeing how it behaves on my Voronoi diagram inspired monoprint matrix.

I was challenged by a recent Hidden Brain episode (Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others) to consider the time I spend watching other people do things. I love to have The Great British Baking Show streaming while I cook in my kitchen. I must confess that I haven’t expanded my use of flavors in baking much, despite having watched every episode at least twice.

I’m also a devotee of several home renovation programs. There is something seductive about watching an ugly building be transformed into a spectacular dwelling in about an hour. Without the actual drama of having to work with contractors and subs. Without the actual dust and debris of renovations. I’ve done all that before.

Gingersnap wants to know when you are going to do something yourself.

When does watching get in the way of doing?

The classic example of watching is the PBS painter Bob Ross. While nursing babies and soothing fretful toddlers, it was comforting to watch Ross effortlessly create shadowed mountains and happy trees. When I took my first painting class, I was shocked to discover how difficult painting actually can be.

This is the problem with watching — it lets us off the hook from actually trying something. Being a rank amateur as an adult is a humbling experience. But it is absolutely necessary if we are to develop new creative skills.

I’ve decided to consider before turning on the latest Netflix how-to program whether I am wanting to learn something new. Or I really need some distraction from the stresses of life. Or whether my viewing is getting in the way of my doing.

What do you think?

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Cyanotypes make their collage debut

I have been creating a vocabulary for my monoprint collages. I use patterned monoprints and vintage maps (some of which I have printed on.) Lately though, I have wanted to use some of my own photographic imagery, and this posed a challenge.

To achieve an integrated look, I choose very thin papers for my collages. Rives BFK, for example, is too thick and has a visible white edge when glued onto a collage. Likewise, photo paper has a similar problem. A solution serendipitously came to me last fall in the form of a cyanotype workshop. Now I would have a way to print imagery on my thin Masa paper. Serendipitousmy latest collage, allows cyanotypes to make their debut.

©Elizabeth Busey. Serendipitous. Monoprint collage, 12 x 12in.

What is a cyanotype?

Cyanotypes are an old alternative method of printing photographs. The process was discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842. Briefly, paper is sensitized by a combination of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. The paper is allowed to dry and kept in darkness. Prints can be made with negatives or actual objects by placing either on top of the paper and exposing it to the sun.

In future blog posts, my learning process with cyanotypes will be explored. For now, you can see two cyanotypes used in Serendipitous — look for the bright Prussian blue papers. What do you see?

Serendipitous will make its own debut at the Indiana Artists juried exhibition at Newfields (formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art) in April.

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Making sense of why

After two days of ridiculously warm weather, February has returned to its normal pace of dark and dankness. As someone who needs sunlight to boost my mood, this is a rough month. While I sit at my drawing table, or print in my basement, I struggle to make sense of why I am creating art.

One of the delights of working with collages is that each one begins with a great deal of unknown. As I choose patterns and rhythms, maps and papers, the work begins to make more sense. This sense of now knowing can be a challenge as well. I hope at some point, the work begins to feel whole.

©Elizabeth Busey. Opalescence. Monoprint collage, 12 x 12in.

Opalescence is one of those collages that came together only at the very end. The addition of the mint green topomaps and my use of interference pigments on some of the patterned monoprints made me think of the random color effects of an opal, my birthstone.

What if no one knew what they were doing?

Imagine if most of the world sat down each day to work thinking, “I have no idea where this is going, and I have no idea why I am doing it.” Certainly chaos would ensue. Yet this is exactly the state I signed up for when I decided to create art.

I came across a passage from Anne Lamott’s writings in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (2012) which perfectly captured why I make art despite this state of constant discomfort:

“In paintings, music, poetry, architecture, we feel the elusive energy that moves through us and the air and the ground all the time, that usually disperses and turns chaotic in our busy-ness and distractedness and moodiness. Artists channel it, corral it, make it visible to the rest of us. The best works of art are like semaphores of our experience, signaling what we didn’t know was true but do now.”

Back to making my semaphores… Thanks Anne.

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My work loves a library

©Elizabeth Busey. Multiplicative, Monoprint collage, 12 x 12 in.

Some of my favorite reduction linocuts and new monoprint collages have been peacefully coexisting in a library this month. It is nice to see that while the techniques can be very different, both the colors and the structures of the work seem to harmonize nicely.

©Elizabeth Busey. Treasure of Great Price. Reduction linocut, ed of 12, 12 x 12in.

The library is part of the Saint Meinrad Archabbey located in southern Indiana. While most of the abbey architecture is made of local sandstone blocks, the library is a white brutalist structure that nestles unobtrusively into the hillside.

You can see a short video of the exhibit here.

I was delighted to give an artist talk about the work to a group of Indianapolis IB math, music and art students recently. As I challenged myself to explain the why of my work, I could see the many mathematical and scientific phenomena that inspire me. The students gave me quite a gift — a kind, attentive and inquisitive audience for the debut of my combined works. In a place of peace and contemplation, I was grateful indeed.

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Freedom Highway. Reduction linocut. Edition of 10, 10 x 33in.

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Details make up everything

My first completed work of 2019 is filled with details. Details make up everything. When I was a child, I would lay in my darkened bedroom and imagine myself going farther and farther into space. Born in 1967, I have never know a time when we did not know what the Earth looked like from space. But past the Earth and the Milky Way, well, I had no conception.

©Elizabeth Busey. Before Pangaea. Monoprint collage, 24 x 36in.

Zoom the other direction in your mind, and you begin to encounter the structures of all life — all of the molecules that make up everything that is animate and inanimate. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains that these elements were formed by ancient exploding stars and recombined to create our entire Earth and universe. “We are literally, not figuratively, stardust,” states Tyson.

Detail of Before Pangaea.

If I venture out of my quiet home studio bubble to look at the news, I am saddened by the amount of conflict and discord throughout our country and our world. I know the reasons for discord. I do wonder what it would take for us to see ourselves in others? To acknowledge that we are made from the same stardust.

I wonder…

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My word for the year is peaceful

Business gurus and motivational speakers encourage people to adopt a word as a guide for their intentions for the New Year. A bit less specific than a resolution. My word for 2019 is peaceful.

Detail of my latest monoprint collage…which makes me feel peaceful.

When I first decided to write this blog, I worried I would sound like an annoying middle-class person who has the luxury of working for myself. Certainly there are innumerable products and services that one can obtain in their quest for peace, but are they necessary? I challenged myself to come up with a few things that anyone can do to seek peace that cost nothing. Here are some suggestions:

Consider your posture 
We spend our lives hunched — over computers or phones or books or worktables. By engaging your core muscles, sitting up straight and relaxing your shoulders, you open up your chest. This gives your lungs more opportunity to open, you become taller and may feel more supported.

Think about your breathing
Is your breath shallow — especially when you are sitting down (and might be hunched over?) Take a moment to breathe deeply, imagining your lungs filling completely and then emptying fully. You can do this at any time without anyone knowing. Try it during your evening commute or a stressful meeting.

Hit unsubscribe
I’m assuming if you are reading this that you have some internet connectivity and probably an email address. There are a myriad of things to worry about in our world, and many of them have organizations that will email you…incessantly. Be honest with yourself — how many of these email messages do you actually read? You can still care about issues without having daily doses of hysteria-pitched text thrown into your day.

Choose when to engage
Consider taking unnecessary notifications off your phone, and making use of special VIP lists for email you can’t afford to miss. Decide when you will read or listen to news. Do it at a time when you can give the world happenings your full attention. If it is in the background, why not put on some music or an audio book instead?

Why is being peaceful important to me…and to you?

When I don’t feel peaceful — when my mind is filled with anxiety — I make terrible art. And then I feel discouraged, and more anxious, creating a vicious cycle. Being peaceful isn’t just for people who make creative work all day. Peaceful drivers make for safer streets. Peaceful teachers have more patience. Perhaps peaceful legislators will find ways to work together. The possibilities are endless.

What is your word for 2019? Might I suggest peaceful?

Wishing you peace…

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