Trying Something New is Necessary

For creative people, trying something new can be absolutely necessary. And tremendously difficult. Perhaps you are one who can keep creating similar works with similar themes, but I am not. Following my “what if” questions down rabbit holes is what keeps me creating artwork instead of more regular and lucrative endeavors.

When to ignore that voice

I have had several conversations with artists lately who mention a new direction, but then quickly follow this with “but it is not what I DO.” This is one of the comments that I try to reject when it comes up in my subconscious, and this summer it has been a frequent visitor…

If you had met me up until July of this year, I would have told you that I was a printmaker who made large-scale linocut reductions. Period. I have occasionally printed on stained silk, all the while wondering if this was “allowed.” Part of this thinking comes from the rules and regulations of shows and festivals. I understand the need for boundaries, but mostly I think these constraints lead to limited art.

Following the idea no matter what…

I remember my first day at a monoprinting workshop at Penland School of Crafts where I told a fellow classmate that I just didn’t understand collage. It wasn’t what I do… A few days later, I felt compelled to collage elements onto a monoprint I had created that didn’t feel finished. Silencing my “rules” voice, I began and haven’t looked back. Now I can’t wait to get back to my latest monoprint collage. My drawing table in the main room of our home is continually surrounded by bits of cut paper. Thankfully my family is tolerant, and the cats love sitting on the papers.

Paper cut out shapes

Cut-outs of the cut-outs waiting to be included in some new creation.

What is something that you are dying to try? Do you have a voice that says, for example — “no I’m a painter, I don’t work three dimensionally?”

Thanks Henri!

I visited the National Gallery of Art’s East Wing (Washington, DC) recently and was delighted to find that the tower with Henri Matisse’s paper cut-outs was open. (The tower has limited hours in the middle of the day to protect the paper, but is well worth planning to see.) I have visited Matisse’s works since the museum opened in 1973. I even had a reproduction of Large Decoration with Masks (Henri Matisse, 1953) on my childhood bedroom wall.

Henri Matisse Large Decoration with Masks

Henri Matisse. Large Decoration with Masks. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted on white paper, mounted on canvas, 1953. National Gallery of Art, East Wing, Washington DC.

Matisse was a painter and sculptor throughout the majority of his life. He did use paper cut-outs as templates for larger scenery commissions, but it was after a cancer surgery in 1941 that he fully embraced paper cut-outs as a complete art form. Imagine how he must have felt to be confined to bed or a chair, unable to physically do the work that had defined his life. Under his direction, assistants created brightly-hued gouache-covered papers that he then cut into the shapes that are now so obviously his. Little did I know that forty-five years after seeing his cut-outs, I would give myself permission to create with paper myself.

Thankfully, Matisse ignored whatever critical voices he might have had (from himself or others.)

Is there something that has been calling you?
Why not just do it? Share it with us as a comment!
It may make all the difference.

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Monoprints as an Homage to Chagall

I first experienced Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows at the Church of St. Stephan in Mainz, Germany. (Read more about these windows here.) I love the energetic quality of Chagall’s work that seems to draw you — almost physically — into his world.

I created a spiraling monoprint matrix with 1/8 inch painter’s tape, and set out to see where my monoprinting would take me. The following suite of monoprint collages were created with Chagall’s energy and love of color in mind.

Monoprint collage Jubilant Expanse

©Elizabeth Busey. Jubilant Expanse. Monoprint collage (unique). 24 x 18 in.

Jubilant Expanse

(more…)

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Variations on a Monoprint Theme

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A true monoprint is unique. But coming up with a new idea for each monoprint can be exhausting! So I have used my painter’s tape technique to create variations on a monoprint theme. I hope the traditionalists in the printmaking world will forgive me.

One of my latest variations uses a landscape/perspective matrix, with similar colors but different techniques. Images may help me explain…

Solvent drops and a view from an airplane

©Elizabeth Busey. Boulder to Birmingham. Monoprint collage (unique). 18 x 24in.

©Elizabeth Busey. Boulder to Birmingham. Monoprint collage (unique). 18 x 24in.

Boulder to Birmingham (title inspired by the classic Emmy Lou Harris song) considers an imaginary view from an airplane. I used translucent Thai Unryu paper to create the illusion of a curved airplane window. The cloud-like papers were a ghost print from an earlier monoprint. Ghost prints are made when you print the plate again without re-inking. I use thin Masa (mulberry) paper because it has a smooth texture and captures lots of ink while being thin enough to collage. The spots on the surface — are they raindrops? — were created by solvent. (more…)

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Adventures in tape Part 2

My final adventure with painter’s tape was to use it as it was intended. Also known as masking tape, its purpose is to protect a surface from paint or ink.

When I perused a collection of images I had gathered for inspiration during my workshop at Penland School of Crafts, I was surprised to see how many were of city window reflections.  Inspired by this, I first used a blank polycarbonate plate to print a vertical light blue-grey flat.

Newsprint sketch makes masking easy

Now it was time to create my matrix. Hint #1 — If you want to recreate this matrix quickly (you are going to pull the tape up) draw your design on a similarly sized piece of newsprint. Placed underneath your plate, it is easy to recreate your matrix. I wanted to create another version of my icebergs, but now the iceberg would be reflected in the windows of a building. This might be a reminder of the perils of global warming when we are ensconced in our people-made bubbles.

Monoprint plate

A monoprint plate, sans the masking tape, ready for printing.

The painterly approach proves problematic

I created the above image by rolling a very light blue on the top and darker pthalo blue below the waterline. Sharpie marks on the back of the plate helped me to keep the horizon parallel. I used rollers, palette knives and pieces of mat board to add color to the ice above and below.

I found there were several challenges to this approach. First, the ink tended to gather along the tape, which didn’t allow for a crisp a line when I removed the tape. In addition, the plate above has a great deal of ink on it. When I ran it through the press, some of it actually squished and ruined the reflection effect. Hint #2 — One solution might be to remove some of the ink with a sheet of newsprint…maybe with the press, or perhaps without.

Another problem was the removal of the tape. Once your fingers marred the ink surface, especially where it was flat, there was no fixing it. Hint #3 –Leaving “tails” along the edges made the removal much easier. Sticking the inky tape segments immediately to an old phone book kept them under control.

Two layer monoprint

This version used much less ink, with better results and no squish.

The next iceberg was simpler — less ink and no squish. But you can still see places where the ink has bled into the areas kept blank by the painters tape. I guess this is a problem that is universal.

Layers of tape are perfect for blind embossment

My final experiment combined my love of the mathematical patterns I painted on my bathroom walls. Some tape was one-layer, used to delineate polygons. I used small rollers to combine two colors on some of the shapes. I used four layers of 1/8 inch tape to create embossment lines that continue the pattern out to an embossed border. I discovered that 1/4 inch tape doesn’t yield nearly as crisp a line as the thinner tape. Hint #4 — Avoid getting any ink on the areas where you are doing blind embossing. Even a little ink will stain the tape and will print faintly.

Monoprint with blind embossment.

Tape provides the geometric structure and some linear blind embossment.

Will I use painters tape in the more traditional sense in my monoprints? It worked best in areas where a thin layer was rolled evenly over the entire surface. Looser, thicker ink was less successful. And yet I haven’t entirely let go of the idea of environmental problems reflected in skyscrapers.

Maybe the solution is out there waiting to be discovered…

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Adventures in painters tape Part 1

My adventures with painter’s tape continued during my time in a monoprinting workshop at Penland School of Crafts.  I should probably mention that monoprinting usually uses a plate with no matrix. No etched plate, no carved linoleum or wood block, no collagraph. Nothing repeatable.

I just had to have a matrix

Yet I felt compelled to try out my new tool by creating a matrix. My intention was to create the matrix, roll out the ink and then remove the tape. I eventually did this, thus destroying the matrix before I could take a picture of it. Here’s what a new matrix looks like, with both 1/4 inch tape and 1/8 in tape. You can see some ink residue on the tape even after it has been cleaned. (more…)

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My love affair with painter’s tape begins here

I love painter’s tape.

This is a quick story to tell you why some of my latest work uses masking tape. And to illustrate the maxim that you never know where your next inspiration might come from…

I am not one of those artists (or writers) who is able to go to the studio every day and create. There are seasons of my life where creative pursuits are excruciatingly difficult, like earlier this summer. So instead, I painted the interior of my house. House painting is my form of meditation — even prayer. Two bedrooms later, and I realized that the main bathroom could use a make-over.

Bathroom freshly painted white.

My main bathroom, newly painted a fresh white. The vintage 1970s gold tiles sadly must stay.

What to do with all those sample paints?

I realized that I had ten small sample cans of paint from my various projects, and set a challenge for myself to create a mural in this otherwise nondescript bathroom. The design must also harmonize with the 1970s vintage gold tiles which are sadly staying.

I am fascinated by nature patterns and their mathematical foundations, so while doing some internet research, I came across Delaunay triangulation and Voronoi diagrams. (Click on these links for more mathematical explanations.) These constructions explain many patterns in nature including air bubble packing and leaf cellular structures.

Cat in mirror

My cat Gingersnap thought this project was fabulous, but needed more treats.

More people would love doing math if it involved tape and paint

I started the process by drawing random dots lightly on my white wall. A mathematician friend pointed out that humans can’t actually be completely random, and he’s right. I just tried not to make them regular. Then I used 1/4 inch painter’s tape to connect the dots into triangles that had the smallest sides possible. I overlapped on the mirror a bit so that my design would seem to grow out of the mirror.

Masking tape triangles and polygons

It took a lot of measuring to find the midpoints of all of the triangle sides and then perpendicular bisectors of each midpoint.

Next I used a clear ruler to find the midpoints of each line of each triangle, and marked this on the masking tape. Then I lightly drew pencil lines perpendicular to each of these midpoints. The intersection of these perpendicular lines was a new point — usually inside the triangle but not always.

I connected these new points, and they created polygons. My intention was to paint these polygons with the various colors of sample paint, which were surprisingly harmonious. I traced the polygons with Sharpie marker so I didn’t get lost.

Painting the polygons

Painting the polygons took one day for each coat of paint.

My sample paints are surprisingly harmonious

I chose seven colors of sample paint, including a new gold paint that would harmonize with my tiles. The darkest color reads as almost black in the images, but is really a dark purple. It took two coats of paint to make sure the polygons were saturated with color. Now the fun part begins!

About an hour after I finished the second coat, I began carefully peeling off the painter’s tape. From all I have read, this is the best timing to avoid pulling up the paint. I needed to touch up some places where the paint bled through the tape.

Completed

My wall completed.

Here is the completed wall. It is amazingly difficult to take an accurate image of this narrow space. See the video below to get a glimpse of the entire wall, including where the design wraps around a corner.

Is my bathroom great art? Probably not. Was it therapeutic during a time when I couldn’t do my studio work. Absolutely.

Now I have a new tool in my toolkit that was instrumental in my explorations at Penland School of Crafts. Stay tuned for more about me and the painter’s tape in my next blog.

 

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Ceding control to solvents

Solvents can make you lose control… in a good way. I learned about using them with monoprints during my time at Penland School of Crafts.

One of my biggest complaints about relief printmaking is that it is hard to have an image look painterly. You either have flat ink, some kind of blend roll, or layers of texture made by a rotary tool. Flow is something you rarely get with a relief print.

Solvent creates icy effects

This iceberg was created by dropping mineral spirits onto a rich phthalo blue inked plate.

Solvents are the Wild West

This iceberg image was one of the first ones where I used solvent freely. I liberally dropped mineral spirits on a transparent layer of phthalo blue lithography ink. Using a Q-tip and a paint brush, I drew around the areas with the solvent, and then let the pigment disperse. If you have ever sprinkled salt crystals on wet watercolor, the effect is similar, but much more pronounced.

Solvents are the Wild West on the monoprinting plate. Your inks can bleed into areas you didn’t intend, such as where the iceberg is now peaking out above the surface of the water. While oil-based ink can stay “open” — meaning you can work with it or wait to print for some time, when you put down the solvent, you are on the clock. I found that within 10-15 minutes, areas of my block had little pigment, and the surface appeared dry. When printed, you will see the white of the printing paper. Whether this is what you intended, or not. Delays also mean you lose some of the sharp details that solvents and brushes can create.

Bringing solvent back to the home studio

Despite the challenges of solvents, I was determined to figure out a way to use them in my home studio. I don’t have adequate ventilation to use solvents in my basement, so I purchased a small metal office table at the IU Surplus Store and placed it outside, close to a door that leads to the basement. I can bring the inked plate outside, use Q-tips, brushes and toothbrush bristles to apply the solvent to the plate, and then rush the plate back inside to the press.

Be careful to keep the plate perfectly level on the way to the press. Juicy solvent areas will run. I learned that the hard way.

Gamsol moves relief ink.

Gamsol moved the Gamblin relief ink well, but the ink itself transferred poorly from the plate to dry paper.

The battle between solvents, inks and papers

Even outside, odorless mineral spirits are toxic, so I was hopeful that I could use Gamblin’s Gamsol as a solvent and use my Gamblin relief inks for monotypes. I discovered two things: 1) the Gamsol moved the relief ink quickly on the plate, but 2) the Gamblin relief ink transferred poorly from the polycarbonate plate to dry paper. Gamblin’s website does recommend monoprinting on damp paper, but my studio doesn’t have the capability to soak paper. It would have to be done in our only bathtub up an entire flight of stairs. Plus once you get paper wet, it is difficult to register subsequent layers. So no relief ink…

Luckily I had some Hanco lithography inks, like those I used at Penland.  Unfortunately, the Gamsol didn’t move this ink well at all. So I will need to continue using odorless mineral spirits on my monoprint plates, and reacquaint myself with litho inks.

Gamsol didn't move lithography ink

Gamsol wasn’t strong enough to move the lithography inks in the ways I wanted.

One of the challenges I made for myself is to use new techniques intentionally. I want to ask myself — is there a reason why I am using solvent in this piece — other than the fact that it creates cool organic oozings of color…

This block has a great deal of ink and solvent. Not sure it is going to print well…

Here is a sneak peek at a multi-layered monoprint that I created using solvent and tape. Parts were successful, and parts went, well, squish.

More about the squish and the tape to come…

 

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Experiencing Penland School of Crafts Withdrawal

I have Penland withdrawal. Penland School of Crafts is an artist retreat in the mountains of western North Carolina. It was originally established in 1929 to train local women to weave and market their products. Over the years it has evolved into one of the premiere craft schools, increasing its offerings to include media outside the traditional craft realm, including printmaking.

Penland is an artistic bucket list destination

Participating in a Penland summer workshop has been on my bucket list for some time, so when a monoprinting workshop showed up on the schedule, I signed up as soon as the application site went live. (Some of their courses are so popular that this is a very good idea.) For almost two weeks you are taken out of your normal routine to a stunning mountain campus. You are fed three meals each day, at which time you can chat with over 200 people who are there to make art, just like you. You can see a Youtube video about Penland here.

Sunset over The Pines at Penland School of Crafts

The view of the mountains and The Pines, where delicious food and good company are served up in equal measure.

The monoprinting class was taught by Andy Rubin, who has extensive printmaking knowledge from his many years of teaching at various universities as well as serving as the master printer for Tandem Press at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Along with studio assistant Jessica Merchant (MFA in Printmaking from UW, Madison), the class began with the basics of monoprinting and using Penland’s etching presses. Monoprinting was not covered in my classwork at Indiana University, so while I know my way around a press, the rest was completely new territory.

Printmaking demo by Andy Rubin at Penland School of Crafts

Andy Rubin demonstrates using a blend roll and stencils on the polycarbonate monoprinting plate, as studio mate Lisa Steffens looks on.

Learning something completely new with monoprinting

This summer has been yet another in my life with many transitions. Adult children moved away and I completely changed how I have been showing my work. I felt strongly that I needed to push my work in new directions, and monoprinting seemed like a splendid way to do this. I was not disappointed. I learned new techniques such as stencils, ghost printing, and the use of solvent on ink. Others included painting directly on the plate, transferring drawing media, and creating a collagraph. Monoprinting can be fast or slow, depending on the techniques you choose. We had a wide variety of painters, printmakers and collage artists in the class, so someone was always doing new exciting work. Working in the studio was the perfect combination of demonstrations with lots of time to work in our own unique styles.

Printmakers take time to explain artwork and technique at Penland School of Crafts

Artists and other visitors would wander through the studios, and my classmates Kendall and Taylor were tremendous ambassadors for the printmaking tradition.

Our studio of twelve had artists from seniors in undergrad programs to people who were embracing art in their retirement. I spent almost all of my time in the studio, so I was able to experience the differing energies of the morning printers, and those who found their groove towards midnight. Everyone brought such generous energy and good will to the studio each day.

Monoprint in warm yellow and Phthalo blue. My first monoprint at Penland School of Crafts

One of my first monoprints (18 x 24in) created with a large brayer, stencil, solvent, Q-tips and brushes.

Did I mention this was my first experience with monoprinting? In the next set of blogs, I will show you some of my early works. I sarcastically call them “newbie art” but there is no doubt that learning something new as an adult can be humbling.

New techniques produce new imagery

The above work was made during my first evening studio session after a day of introductory demos. I chose Phthalo Blue and a warm yellow lithography ink and created a huge blend roll. I cut stencils out of mylar (the small swooping shape) and tried out using mineral spirits to move the ink around on the block with both q-tips and brushes. While the movement was quite interesting, I wanted to use the techniques more intentionally.

Iceberg, both above and below the water, is created with opaque and transparent inks. Created at Penland School of Crafts

Opaque and transparent inks, plus brayers, paper daubers, solvent and masking tape created my first iceberg. More to come?

My next series dealt with icebergs. Above the waterline, I used opaque inks (pigment mixed with white) and a brayer to create the ice. Masking tape defined the edges of the iceberg top, and was removed before printing. The underwater portions were created by dragging a dauber of folded printing paper through the transparent phthalo blue, displacing some of the ink. I quickly used some solvent in a more judicious manner before running everything through the press.

Clearly re-entry into normal life is going to be rough. Suddenly I am in charge of meals once more, plus the myriad of other chores that life entails. I can now receive phone calls and texts again, and it is much harder to achieve that groove that Penland can give you.

Further blogs will talk more about solvents and my new love — masking tape. Stay tuned.

By the way — what’s for dinner?

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Every piece has a story

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

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

bird's eye perspective of yellow green fields and clouds

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

Praying at High Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jumpstart your inspiration with a wall

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

art inspiration wall

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

Redecorating can recharge your creativity

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

another inspiration wall

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

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

Be sure to refresh you inspiration wall

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

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

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

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