How it all goes together

One of the delights of this year’s Open Studios for me was being able to show people just how my monoprint collages go together. I would love to have a stop action video that shows the entire creation process, but the reality is that I am usually in the zone, and forget to start cameras, take images, etc.

I began a monoprint collage just before people arrived at my studio… Here is the work when finished. Follow along below to see some process photos and see if all makes sense to you.

©Elizabeth Busey. Cosmic Schema, Monoprint collage, 12 x 12in

The final work is an exploration of blues, punctuated by several warmer colors. I was delighted with the glow of the orange and chartreuse polygons.

A quick demo is needed

A few random pieces for a demonstration…

I was running late and quickly chose a map and two monoprints to use in my process explanation. I could show people the tracing paper I use to cut out the pieces, and how a few look when glued to the monoprint matrix paper.

Thankfully all these pieces are glued down. Gingersnap has just jumped up to say that it is dinner time.

After the Open Studios, I challenged myself to complete this monoprint collage. I expanded my palette to include a great street map of Boston, European driving maps and several atmospheric blue monoprints. I stepped back and felt like the work did not feel finished. There seemed to be an imbalance…

Cyanotypes to the rescue (again)

I had some practice cyanotypes, made from images that I took. When used on this work, the cyanotypes (which are usually thought of as greenish blue, look almost purply. I collaged them into the polygons that I had kept blank, and the work came together.

Scroll back up and see if you can find the cyanotypes.

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Open Studios — in case you missed it

Opening my studio is one of the best parts of making art. As a member of the Bloomington Open Studios Tour collaborative, I open my studio to guests once a year. In case you missed it, here are some highlights. A very special THANK YOU to painter Dawn Adams, who took these images.

Mary Uthuppuru and guests having way too much fun.

My studio is in my home, a vintage 1976 four-level home. We transform our living room to a gallery space. This year I was joined by printmaker and book artist Mary Uthuppuru. The inclusion of 3D work and her infectious enthusiasm was a valuable addition to the weekend.

New artist in the studio

Mary Uthuppuru’s artist books and commonplace journals were fascinating to visitors.

Mary Uthuppuru brought her artist books and commonplace journals for the weekend. Mary began as a conservator at the IU Lilly Library, and became a full-time book artist and instructor in 2010.

In the studio downstairs, Mary and I displayed blocks in process. Here I have a block carved into linoleum (mounted on MDF.) Mary is creating a two-block image using MDF as the block itself.

Seeing how the monoprint collage is made

I was able to show visitors the components that go into my monoprint collages. I had both blank polycarbonate plates and one with a 1/16in chart tape matrix. People could see the tracing paper guides that I use for the irregular pieces, and touch the maps and monoprints that make up the material of the collages. Seeing things in process helped many people understand how I do what I do.

Collaborative collage takes over the studio

On the glass ink table, visitors had the opportunity to participate in a group collage. Monoprints, maps and handmade papers were available, along with tracing paper, scissors and glue sticks. A matrix was created with a square of Rives BFK and a Sharpie. People were encourages to collage some pieces onto the Rives. Mary is turning this collage into a creation that will be “auctioned” off on social media.

Whew! Another studio tours is complete. I talk more in this weekend than I do in a month at home in my studio. Sharing my work and talking with new visitors and familiar friends is such a gift to someone who creates mostly in isolation.

Time to put things away and get on to the new project!

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Interference is real

Please note: This blog post has nothing to do with the U.S. 2016 presidential election nor the 2018 Saints – Rams NFL division championship. It has to do with interference of light waves, and how this is seen in art and nature. Have I lost you yet? Do read on…

@Elizabeth Busey. Aqua Pura. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Reflectivity is a 2D artist’s attempt at dimension

In many of my monoprints, I include some tiny bits of gold leaf. In Aqua Pura, I didn’t feel like it needed gold’s warm tones, but it did need something reflective. Why did I think this? I was not an overly feminine child and own very little bling as an adult. My only thought is that some reflectivity of light on a 2D work makes it feel less flat. Perhaps there is a 3D artist hiding inside. I’m hoping to let her out later this summer at another Penland workshop… (more about that later.)

Painting Guerra Paint & Pigment Co.’s Interference Blue is the last step.

Interference pigment is magical

I’ve had some interference pigment for a few years. I had intended to make my own encaustic printmaking sticks, and that hasn’t happened — yet. Usually this pigment is added to a binder or to another paint. I used mine straight out of the container, binding it to the paper with gold leaf sizing. I just let the sizing dry for an hour as usual, and then gently painted on the pigment over the sizing areas.

Artists Network explains: “These pigments are not particles but flakes of mica, usually coated with a microscopically thin layer of titanium dioxide pigment.” It is incredibly fine, so I am careful to put it on gently, and brush it off the work out of doors. I painted mine over white paper (with white sizing) so the result is that at one angle it looks like a soft white, and at another angle it is a brilliant cobalt blue.

You can see the interference pigment at work in the dark blue section of the collage.

Interference in nature

Interference is one of the ways color is created in nature. (See this fascinating article to read about all three ways and get a more in depth explanation of interference.) You see this phenomenon in oil slicks on water and colored light on bubbles. The changing of color is what makes it interference — either the light waves are reinforced (the color is very strong) or destroyed (you see white in my work.)

A related phenomenon is iridescence, which means that many colors are shown. I may need to work this into my repertoire as well.

You can see gold leaf and interference pigments at my studio as part of Bloomington Open Studios Tour. Saturday, June 8th (10-6) and Sunday, June 9th (10-4).

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Praises for tracing paper

You can always tell an artist. We are the people who have our noses inches from a work of art with the security guard rushing in to restrain us. We just like to know the “how” of creating. Often we cannot discern the artist’s secrets… In this blog, I’ve revealed one of the ways I keep track of my patterns — tracing paper.

Collage here, not here. Go this way…

I have been a huge fan of tracing paper for my entire artistic life. Since you can’t scrape away the paint from works on paper, tracing paper lets you estimate what things would look like if you took the next step. In my linocuts, tracing paper helped me determine my next layer of cutting, or forecast what a certain color would look like when printed mid-linocut.

Tracing paper is the ultimate guide

For my monoprint collages, tracing paper has an even more important job. After my monoprint matrix is dry, I get to plan what areas I will collage to create my patterns. I create a sort of template, where I trace around each shape that I want to collage with a monoprint or a map. I then use this template and a very sharp Exacto knife to cut the individual pieces.

©Elizabeth Busey. Celestial Orb. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Several of my latest monoprints make for confusing cutting. In Celestial Orb (above) I have linear segments that spiral out from the center in one direction. The segments in this collage are unbroken dark blue.

All of the collaged segments spiral in the opposite direction. I do this intentionally, because I want the piece to have a feeling of movement and energy. The trouble is that if I’m not careful, I will cut the sections going parallel to the dark blue segments. Not the same intense feelings.

Enter the humble tracing paper. Arrows now point in the direction of the collage run. Small “x’s” remind me that nothing goes here. The result is better fitting collage pieces, and few artist tears.

What do you use tracing paper for in your artistic practice? Or in your daily life? You never know how useful it may be.

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Celebrating all the greens

Green is a funny color. It can range from almost beige to nearly black, with many verdant hues in between. Learning to mix and celebrate all the greens has been a long term project for me. I’m never disappointed.

©Elizabeth Busey. Magna Mater. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

A glimpse out of my window illustrates the myriad of green possibilities. While it is not true of everywhere in the world, in the midwestern part of the United States, spring is a riot of greens.

Spring is high green season

Outside of my front door, many greens harmonize and compete for my attention.

My front garden is filled with examples of green. A chartreuse miniature hydrangea sits in front of the tender leaves of maidenhead ferns. The seafoam fuzzy lambs ears leaves contrast with the dark blue-green of hellebore foliage. These very distinct colors create a rich, verdant tableau, perfect for collage inspiration.

Your green depends on temperature

When printing my square spiral matrix recently, I created a green that was much more olive-y than my previous mixes. No matter what I did, the green always turned out warmer than I had intended. I blame the Milori blue ink in my palette that day which has a red tint. A phthalo blue would have been much more supportive of a cool green.

©Elizabeth Busey. Magna Mater detail, monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Can all the greens live together?

I recently pulled this printed matrix out of the “to be collaged” drawer. I considered letting the monoprint be a weed barrier in the yard. Instead I challenged myself. Was there a way to create a collage where all the different greens coexist in one happy whole? Midway through it was not looking successful, but I decided to persevere and finish the collage.

The result in Magna Mater — or Great Mother – representing the enveloping greenness of a midwestern spring.

For further reading on how to mix greens, I highly recommend Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green by Michael Wilcox. This book gives you both the how and the why of color mixing, which is just what you need as you seek to celebrate all the greens.

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Why DO we love maps so much?

“Oh, I just love the maps,” say many people upon seeing my latest collages. I confess that I too am a map lover — or more properly a cartophile. I saved a box of old road maps for nearly 15 years before I found their perfect use.

New (to me) maps came my way recently thanks to a friend and the IU Surplus Store. The maps were decommissioned from the Indiana University branch of the U.S. Geological Survey, and feature geological features from around the United States. As I sorted amongst these dusty gems for several hours, I began to wonder, why DO we love maps so much?

Maps bring back memories

The coast of Maine has one of the longest coastlines in the US. Its undulating pattern is captivating. I love this map because my cousin was married in Boothbay Harbor. She and her new husband took a tugboat ride to the reception and we all gathered on a bridge that rotated to let them pass. Truly memorable.

Maps show our struggle to structure our world

If you have ever tried to drive across the Appalachian Mountains, you can perhaps sympathize with previous generations of travelers. The geology of compressed ridges requires that roads go up one valley, and then down another. There are no straight routes, no one perfect pass.

Maps catalog what is lost or is in danger

This is a section of a map of Glacier National Park published in 1938. The Burlington Northern Railway built Sperry Chalet as a way for its rail travelers to enjoy the backcountry. Chalet visitors would have marveled at the Sperry Glacier, which has been shrinking because of global warming. The chalet itself was gutted by the Sprague Fire in 2017. Thankfully, it is being rebuilt, as it is a picturesque place to stay in the backcountry, safe from the grizzly bears that frequent the park.

Maps give us a bird’s eye view

North Dakota is one of my favorite places for a road trip. Bright yellow-green fields are punctuated by “numerous small lakes” as the map indicates. These lakes are a very particular blue as they contrast with the vibrant greens and yellows surrounding them. You can read more about my love of the terrain here.

Now back to cutting these beauties for the next collage.

Why do you love maps? Share an image of them in the comments!

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How much contrast is too much?

I like orange…in small doses. While I own no orange clothing, I do have one throw pillow. I enjoy including a bit of orange in many of my pieces. Orange often provides a needed contrast to the blues that fill my work. But, how much contrast is too much?

©Elizabeth Busey. Searching for Other Suns. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

You can see just a bit of orange in Searching for Other Suns. I like how it amplifies the pull you feel toward the inside of the circle. But look what happens when I use mostly orange, with a great deal of blue…

Way too much orange and too much contrast!

I blame civic loyalty for this creation. Pygmalion’s, my local art supply store, creates a signature color each year in conjunction with Gamblin. Artists purchase a tube of the oil color, and create art that uses the color. This year’s color was Sunset Orange, and after the bleak, gray winter we have had, I thought I would create a monoprint collage that felt as juicy as the color out of the tube.

Sadly, I felt the same way about this collage as I felt when wearing my peach Izod Laoste polo in high school. The color just did not feel right. Luckily Pygs doesn’t care how much of the color you use. With the very orange collage safely tucked in my flat files, balance has been restored in the studio.

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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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