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…)

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

(more…)

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Being at the end of your rope

Being overextended — at the end of your rope — is a familiar human condition. Managing internal and external demands can be challenging. I met overextension while working on one of my large cloud linocuts, and the results have been challenging.

blue ink

Transparent ink looks deceivingly cohesive when not rolled out.

When ink isn’t quite so juicy

In many of my cloud linocuts, I begin with very transparent layers because I want to make a smooth transition from the white of the paper. I am working on another 25 x 40 inch cloud linocut, and ran into trouble as I printed the first light blue-grey layer. When I printed the first layer onto some very expensive Somerset paper, a strange chalky dry residue remained on the block. When I rolled ink over the block and printed on the next pristine piece of paper, the residue pattern then printed.

Exasperated, I tried cleaning the block, but the problem reoccurred. I tried adding more tack reducer to some of the ink, burnt plate oil to some more, but neither was successful.

uneven ink on paper

Chalky ink clumped on the block, and then printed strangely on the paper.

Help from the internet

I use relief inks by Gamblin, so I sent a query through their website. Cecilia Hamlin reached out with some suggestions. The first was to clean the block with vegetable oil, and then with mineral spirits. Cleaning a block this size and weight is non-trivial, as it requires hauling the cumbersome block out to the garage. I also tried re-sanding the entire block with 400 grit sandpaper twice. Still no improvement.

I sent Cecilia photos of the ink on the glass and on the paper. Then the problem was made clear. She suggested that I had overextended my ink — using too little pigment in too much tint base. The addition of too much tack reducer also meant that the pigment did not disperse evenly, but rather clumped together and stuck to my linoleum.

Ink has a memory

On my latest layer, I followed Cecilia’s advice:

  1. Start with the tint base needed and then add in color.  Mix thoroughly. (I have a bad habit of not mixing as long as I should.)
  2. Only then should I add the tack reducer, with a maximum of 10% of the total ink volume. I tried to use less.

Layer 4 blue prints unevenly over previous layers providing me with a challenge.

The result seemed to be better. Unfortunately, the ink on the paper now affect how much new ink transfers from the block onto the paper. So you get these strange textures. The next linocut will be the true test of the new ink strategy.

In the meantime, I must use all of my creativity to salvage the current work. I’m already thinking of some radical measures to make all of the variation work for the image.

Patience and perseverance are the words for February in my life. What are your words?

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Linocuts, rice paddies and Woody Guthrie

linocut of rice paddies reflecting a colorful sun.

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Freedom Highway. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK, edition of 10, 10 x 33in (image size), $375 unframed.

How do you work through ideas? Some people run. Others have long conversations in coffee houses. Many artists make art. I used to think that my explorations in art were more about the materials. But if I look at my work more retrospectively, I see my own thought processes come into focus.

Trying an idea one more time

My most recent linocut for 2017, Walking the Freedom Highway, was a second attempt to use a sketch originally inspired by rice paddies. I am especially drawn to the sinuous rhythms of the fields in Asia, where less available land means more creative agricultural layouts. Rice fields in the U.S. are sometimes sinuous, but mostly bordered by a familiar quadrilateral. As I printed, the forms began to remind me of many places I have visited throughout the United States.

How does the paper change the linocut?

Rice paddies reflecting setting sun on textured Asian paper

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Cloud Highway. Reduction linocut on Thai Unryu, edition of 3, 10 x 33 in (image size), $375 unframed

This linocut is long (10″ high by 33″ wide) and requires oversized, expensive paper. I discovered that I had a limited quantity of western cotton paper, but I was so eager to begin, that I decided to experiment once again. This time I used some Thai Unryu paper (which translates as “Cloud Dragon”)  that I had in a roll. This paper has thick fibers running through it which show up subtly in the printing.

Close-up of linocut printed on Thai Unryu paper. Thicker fibers show through the darker ink.

As you can see, the Thai Unryu makes the linocut softer and more velvety. Some of the pinks on the cotton paper are quite bright, so this softness may be appealing for some people. In the interest of clarity, I have named the three on Thai Unryu paper Walking the Cloud Highway.

What does patriotism have to do with rice paddies?

It is my practice to carve and print in the morning and early afternoon, before my hands, shoulders and mind get tired. I listen to an NPR program called 1A (in reference to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) As you might guess, many of the topics led me to think about what it means to be “an American…”

I never name my linocuts until after they are completed. As I was searching for an idea this morning, I came back to my feeling that it needed to be something patriotic. I say patriotic not in the nationalistic sense, but in the sense of deep affection for where I live and the people around me, even for people with whom I completely disagree. I decided to consult “This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie ©1956) — my favorite patriotic song. It has poetic, pointed lyrics, and even I can reach all of the notes.

New stanzas change the meaning

As I read the lyrics online, I was stunned to see that there are three stanzas that I never knew existed. Read this Wikipedia article for an interesting account of where these stanzas went.  I give you the entire song here to read, ponder, and perhaps even sing…

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was changing, As the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever made me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

 

 

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What does your art say?

What does your art say?

This is a question that comes to me regularly. Often it is helpful in deciding which imagery to pursue because it forces me to ask if it is visually or emotionally compelling. Recently the question has been asking something else…

When the question is critical and challenging

What difference do your brightly colored nature-pattern images make to the world? Why didn’t you work harder on your silk screen skills, or learn letter press? Then you could make art that really SAID something. This line of thinking is disquieting, and has been with me as I have carved and printed a long, narrow linocut inspired by waves and fields. Here’s the progression of the work…

layer 1layer 2layer 3layer 4

(more…)

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Breaking the rules

Sometimes it feels good to break the rules. Printmaking has many of them — perfect alignment, clean edges, no brayer marks. I had tried breaking some rules by working with the dyed silk, and even though this experiment did not work, I couldn’t let my key block image go. So I’ve decided to break some more rules in the search for blended, variegated colors.

My key block from my last experiment. Sadly, I will need to carve a new one.

 

(more…)

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Make more art in 2017, but how?

I’m one of those people who loves New Year’s. I appreciate an annual moment to take stock and make a new plan. I have a solo show in a large gallery space in April, so for the next three months, the entire goal is MAKE MORE ART.

Aspirations for the New Year are great, but will be unattainable without a plan.

Goals need a plan

It is one thing to set a goal, but to achieve it, you need a plan. You need actual steps and deadlines so you can see if you are making progress or not. I am not an artist who avoids the studio, but one of the things I noticed from my 2016 evaluation was that my actual productivity wasn’t nearly what I thought. Printmaking takes copious amounts of time, some of which is in your control, and some of which isn’t. Inks dry when they want, paper deliveries can be delayed, or the huge table saw you need to cut your next block can be unavailable.

I realize that in order to make more art, I need to use whatever time I have more efficiently by minimizing distractions.

Taming the devices

I love my smart phone. I delight in having something in my pocket to communicate instantly with my family and friends, take photos and listen to music or podcasts. Not having my phone with me during the studio day is not an option. This device is chief distraction for me, however, so I’ve planning to do several things to help me focus.

• Put it in airline mode
If I really need to concentrate, airline mode means no notifications or texts. My family can call me on my landline if they need to speak with me. But I can still listen to downloaded podcasts or my music.

• Turn off notifications
I still have my email accessible on my phone, but without that enticing number in the corner of the mail icon, maybe I won’t be tempted to check email so often.

• Decide when to interact
One of my main challenges is to decide when to look at email and social media. Perhaps my best strategy is to check the email once in the morning for things that need an immediate response, and then plan a time to sit down and respond at my desktop in the afternoons. The same goes for social media. I will only look at Facebook and Instagram when I’m prepared to post and respond.

Making a plan for action

Because of the current political climate in the United States, I often feel anxious after I read newspaper and online articles. Social and environmental issues I care about are in flux and I often feel powerless. Political scientists state that one important thing people can do is to directly contact their elected representatives, especially by mail.

Postcards to the rescue! I plan to use my leftover postcards to contact my elected officials. Make sure to have addresses and stamps handy.

I’ve decided to press my leftover postcards into service. I’m printing out address labels for my senators and representatives, both national and for Indiana, plus lay in a supply of stamps. When I read or hear about a potential issue about which I am concerned, I can very easily fire off a brief postcard to the appropriate people. If the issue is urgent, I can immediately place a phone call to my representative’s office, because I have their phone numbers in my phone. I make sure to leave my full name and address each time.

YOU can make your own resource list and labels.  Go to www.usa.gov/elected-officials to create your own list. Do it right now before you forget.

I may not be in the majority, but I can ensure that my opinions are counted. Actual mail — especially handwritten — counts most, by the way, followed by phone calls. Those fun internet petitions, while easy, may not make that much difference.

Making a way for me to quickly send a response is my best attempt at dealing with my anxieties, and getting back to my studio work. After all, those gallery walls won’t fill themselves.

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Artists need to be in shape

Artists need to be in shape. This is not one of those annual missives that occur around the New Year, exhorting people to improve their physical health. Artists certainly don’t need to be athletes, but art making is a physical activity, and thus taking care of your body is extremely important.

The studio is an inherently physical place.

All it takes is one twinge

I have been working out at an exercise studio almost daily since August. I started this regime for stress relief and distraction, but I do find that I feel more fit and strong. Yet all of this bodywork could not save me from injuring myself while lifting the heavy block for Emancipation of the Sun. It is 25 x 40 inches and weighs about ten pounds. As I tried to lift it up and over the rollers and gears on my press, I felt something give in my shoulder. This led to two weeks of complete incapacity, ibuprofen and heating pads. Finally, my GP sent me to physical therapy.

Posture is everything

In my two weeks of agony, I discovered that if I stood with rigid military posture, the muscle spasms and tingling in my left shoulder blade would subside. My physical therapist confirmed that my tendency to slump my shoulders and lean forward, plus my weak shoulder muscles, were the problem. Exercises with colorful bands were prescribed, plus a way to stretch out the front of my shoulders which get tight when leaning forward.

I purchased a three foot firm foam roller, and now use it frequently to open up my chest. It is hard to keep perfect posture when I am carving, or rolling out ink, and taking a break each hour to stretch is very helpful. Most things we do — whether at a desk, looking at our electronics or working in the studio — encourage us to lean forward and slump our shoulders, so I highly recommend the foam roller.

Getting support for standing

On printing days, I can stand for hours. I find that two things help keep my legs and feet in good condition. Compression calf sleeves — sold to runners who suffer from shin splints — keep the blood flowing up from my feet and ankles and make me feel less tired. Plus they come in super neon colors.

I haven’t been brave enough to wear my calf sleeves with shorts yet.

The floor in my studio is a cement slab which can be hard on the feet, even when I am wearing good shoes or clogs. I purchased two anti-fatigue mats for my studio that I can move around depending on my activity.

Do not forget your hands

The length of  time I can spend in the studio is often governed by how my hands are feeling. I can only carve for a few hours, and need to take lots of breaks, especially when I am using my Foredom drill. I found these gloves meant for knitters help support my hands and keep them warm in the winter.

Pushing too hard for productivity

The biggest danger to my artistic practice is my impatience. I wish I could carve or print for hours upon hours, but I know that my productivity in the coming days will only suffer if I push too hard. Stopping before things hurt, stretching, going for a power walk and switching activities are just some of my artistic training strategies.

What secrets do you have for keeping your creative self in the best physical shape?

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