“Ogres are like reduction prints…they have layers!”

In a memorable scene from the movie Shrek, Shrek is trying to describe ogres to his traveling companion, Donkey. “Ogres are like onions…they have layers!” he exclaims.  They are complicated, nuanced…  Layers are also the secret behind printmaking. As I detailed in my last post, most of my prints have eight to ten layers of transparent ink to create an image that “pops” out from the paper.

Elizabeth Busey,  Breath Intertwined.
Linoleum Reduction Print, 25 x 17in, 2012.

My latest print, Breath Intertwined, has many layers, and different parts of the print have different layers. By making use of some cardboard masks, I was able to use thalo blues in the lower green part of the print. The purple-red leaf section received several layers of outrageously electric purple to achieve the dusky red-purple of the finished leaf.

Last night I explained to my art group friends that even though different parts of the prints had different layers, it was necessary for them to share some layers as well. In the case of the two leaves, they share several layers, yielding the bold chartreuse color of their veins. This shared color palette helps the image feel connected and harmonious.

This explanation made me question why plants like my featured Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis L.) can have green leaves, or purplish red ones. According to Sven Svenson, an Oregon State horticulturist, all leaves have three types of pigments. Leaves that appear green have higher levels of chlorophyll, which absorbs red and blue light, so we see them as green. By contrast, some leaves have a higher level of anthocyanin, which absorbs blue, blue-green and green light, so we see them as having red to purple pigment. (A third pigment, carotinoid, is responsible for yellow to yellow-orange leaves.)

Can you see the chlorophyll? It is all about the layers.

Even leaves that block the green light from our eyes have the chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis. I imagine that they have the layers of green in them, but we just can’t see them.  We just have to have faith (or confidence) that it is there.

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Is it tedious…or meditative?

“That looks tedious!” exclaimed a tall fifty-something man recently as he watched me carve a linoleum block. I was working at Gallery North, the cooperative gallery to which I belong. I find that between visitors I can sometimes get some carving done.  After a deep breath, I smiled and replied, “On a good day, it is meditative.” He harrumphed and finished his browsing.

My newest print at an early stage of carving.

I get asked the question”how long does it take?” all the time. I envy the people who can participate in the “a sketch a day” or “daily painting” rituals. There is simply nothing quick about my work.  Here’s a list of the steps involved in making one of my prints:

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Getting out of your comfort zone keeps you young

Women should all learn how to use power tools.

Getting out of my comfort zone keeps me young. This week I gained a new appreciation for people who fabricate things out of metal. My husband and I have been working on the parts for my expanded etching press.  We purchased new steel rods, about 1-1/2in in diameter, and I learned how to use a lathe to reduce the diameter to about 1-1/4in. Using the lathe is pretty meditative, as you slowly turn a small wheel to guide the point of the lathe along the rod. You know you are doing the best job when the small metal curlicues it removes are very long. But boy they are hot when they hit your arm.

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It begins at the salvage yard

Our family motto is “How hard can it be?” With this perspective we have embarked on many adventures: from renting an auger and cleaning out our own sewer (you shouldn’t) to learning to survive a dangerous hike in the Italian Alps (sing show tunes loudly to combat fear.)

Four and a half years ago, “How hard can it be?” got me my first press. As I’ve detailed in a past post, my husband built it for me out of recycled steel. Friday I received an e-mail that I am a recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the state of Indiana. In the grant I described how I wanted to expand my press to accommodate larger work. I have one year to use the funds, so we began immediately.

When does art begin at the salvage yard?

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The miracle of the mask

 I am often asked “what is a reduction print?” A reduction print is where one block is used for the print (instead of carving a block for each color.) After each layer of ink is printed, some more of the block is carved away. I like this method because it is easier for me to register the work and it creates complex and surprising colors. Plus my work is large enough that carving a block for each color would definitely give me carpal tunnel.
Elizabeth Busey, Coming of the Zephyr. Linoleum Reduction Print, 15 x 24in, 2012.

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