Adventures in stencils

My prints are all reductions, meaning that I use only one block and layer colors, one on top of the other.  I create colors this way that I would never have mixed by eye.  But one of the problems with reduction printmaking is that it is very difficult to get contrasting colors on the same print, especially colors in the same tonal range.  Enter the stencil…
I originally learned about stencils from Karen Kunc, a printmaker who also teaches at the University of Nebraska.  She uses stencils cut from brown kraft paper, and strengthened with masking tape.  Holding the stencil over one area of a print, she adds color to specific areas.  Her reduction prints are filled with vibrant colors.


A large leaf on lino.
My subject was a close-up of a leaf of Ragged Jack Kale.  The scalloped blue-green leaves are punctuated by pink and purple veining.  I knew that with one block it would be very difficult to do each of these colors justice.

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Relief printmakers like to collaborate

One of my favorite things about printmaking is that printmakers like to share. Printmaking allows people to collaborate in ways that other media do not.  My first experience with collaborative printmaking involved friends celebrating my 40th birthday and a new press.  I printed all of the blocks in one print, and each family received one.

Elizabeth Busey, Turning Forty: A Collaboration, Linoleum Relief Print
I found that people who might not consider themselves artistic were willing to participate when their work was presented as part of a whole print.  So I decided to try it again with members of my church.  The intent of the project was to create banners to hang in our sanctuary during the Lenten  season.
People were asked to meditate on the ideas of hunger and abundance, and  to choose either a square or rectangular block for their image.  At two workshops, we talked about using tools and creating textures as people carved their images.  We printed the blocks by hand on Japanese Hosho paper so people could take their image home.
I took all of the blocks to my studio to create the banners.  We had 27 blocks to use, so I create two templates for the two halves of the paper.  Since the squares and rectangles were a standard size, the blocks could be interchanged, and I created three different banner layouts.
Cardboard templates kept all the block in place when the print was run through the etching press.

Mixing the inks was a challenging process.  I use very transparent inks in my own work, but this process required much more saturated colors.  Inks had to look right on the Hosho paper, but be dark enough to be seen in the bright windows.  The amount of light coming through the windows was astounding, even on a cloudy day.  I used a great deal of ink getting the color right.

It was hard to find the perfect hue and intensity for each color.


The banner halves hung from my ceiling drying racks.


Pieces of Hosho were torn in half, and the reassembled lengthwise to create 5’+ banners.

I pieced together the banners and added dowel rods using photo-safe double-sided tape.  I learned from previous experience that glues ripple the paper.  Raffia and 3M removable hooks were used to hang them in our sanctuary windows.

The architecture of First United Church of Bloomington has Japanese and mid-century modern influences.  The banners were placed so they enhanced the sanctuary’s view of the church’s courtyard garden.


During the workshop, I asked people to write down the inspiration for their image.  I created a display where each block was printed singly and identified with the artist’s name and their inspiration.  Artists were very happy to see their work and words, whether they were 11 or 71.

People spend as much time reading the artists’ comments as they do looking at the whole banners.


The banners are something new for our church.  During the last year we have had several exhibits exploring what it means to make visual art as form of worship.  People learned that actually creating the art themselves was a way to engage in worship, and printmaking was the perfect way to introduce people to making art.  Lots to see, and lots to talk about!
If you are anywhere near Bloomington, Indiana, stop by First United Church on the eastside and enjoy the collaborative art!



Impressions from my first jurying process

I spent the afternoon in the dark auditorium at the Indianapolis Art Center observing the jurying for the Broad Ripple Art Fair in May. This is my first year applying to shows using the ZAPP system. I had several thoughts as I watched. I should caution readers that I donot know if my musings are in agreement with the jurors, as the results were not announced that day.

Application process 

Artists were requested to submit three images of their work, plus a shot of their booth and a 200 word explanation of their process. The jurors were asked to judge over 800 entries, where only a bit over 200 would be accepted. A schedule of the media categories was e-mailed to applicants, and the categories were considered in alphabetical order. I arrived in time to see the jewelry, leather, painting, photography and printmaking categories.


Such a short time
The jurors would see a quick run through of each category, and then each entrant was given about 30 seconds for the consideration of the jurors. During this time, the artist statement was read.

I was struck by how short a time this is. I learned from a former juror that artists are ranked between 1 and 7, with four not being used. There was no discussion between jurors throughout. I wasn’t able to glean any particular criteria they were using, other than their personal assessment of the quality of the artwork, and the appearance of the booth.

Image quality

I am a printmaker, and was surprised to see that when my images were projected on the screen, the top two images looked washed out, while the bottom image and booth shot looked fine. I chatted with Larry Berman, an expert on the ZAPP system, about why this might be. He suggested that part of the problem might have been the angle from which I was viewing the images. The jurors were much closer to the screen, and lower in the auditorium, so my seat in the middle of the auditorium might have been compromised by the angle of the projectors and the light reflected off the screens.


Another possibility was that the two top images had too much contrast. He noted that sometimes you have to adjust the contrast of your digital representations to make your artwork appear more accurate to the judges. I realized that I would have to think carefully about my images, and choose ones that are both strong artistically, but also are the best when reproduced digitally. Thus my “Fibonacci”, the most popular of my fine art prints, may not be part of future entries.


My booth shot.


Booth shots
The range of booth shots was striking. Many jewelry entries looked very professional because of the display cabinets and cases used. I was struck by how distracting a busy print could be on the skirting fabric when viewed from a distance. The best jewelers had large photos at the back of their booth to further display their work.

For 2-D artists, the best booth shots in my opinion were those where simple fabric or carpet panels let the work be the center of attention. Racks of prints made things look cluttered. The best ones were photographed in a way that did not show the outside setting, but focused only on the work. Open wire mesh and wood lattices really detracted from the beauty of the work.

What I was most surprised about, however, was the number of booths that had either their identifying banner, or the artist themselves, or both in the booth shot. The jury facilitator told us that artists who had identifying signs in their booth shot were contacted, and given the opportunity to submit a corrected booth shot. I was shocked at the number of people who ignored this request. These artists will lose two points from their overall score.

Short statements
For this show, artists were asked to submit 200 words explaining their process. This was read during the 30 seconds their work was considered. For some, their process was unusual, and the statement served to illuminate their work. Others chose to state the obvious, like; “I paint with oils”, or make somewhat political statements like; “I will never make copies of my work” or say something puzzling like; “I have a recognizable unique style.” I am already writing memorable future explanations to accurately describe how I make my prints, but also give the jurors a peak into why I make my art.

Who will get accepted?
The facilitator told the audience that they attempt to represent all media categories, but that if none of the entries in a category are of high quality, that category will not be represented. In my case, the eleven other entries in the printmaking category were impressive, arresting, and tremendously varied. I would highly recommend that artists attend any jurying that is open to the public. It was definitely a learning experience.

As it turned out, I was accepted to the Broad Ripple Art Fair (May 21 – 22)!  Good luck on all of your entries.  Make them the best they can be.


The true gift of words

How long do people look at your art?  Do they ever give you some feedback that goes beyond their liking it?  Real, thoughtful reactions to an artist’s work can be rare.  I had the profound experience last weekend to have young women actually write with my work as an inspiration during A Day of Writing and Art.

The event was sponsored by Bloomington’s Women Writing for (a) Change, and funded by Indiana University’s Arts Week.  Young women (4th through 12th grade) were invited to come to a downtown venue to view a show of local artists.  Participants were introduced to a technique called Ekphrasis, literally “writing to art.”  They spent time viewing a piece, and then began to put their ideas into words.  They would periodically gather in small groups, and then in a large circle to share what they had written.
Young women write during Women Writing for (a) Change’s  A Day of Writing and Art.

I spent the morning taking photographs and helping the facilitators, and at lunch had an opportunity to join a panel of artists discussing with the young women about our creative processes, our experiences with successes and challenges, and why we made our art.

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What a difference a new base makes…

Although I am a relief printmaker, I work with transparent ink that is traditionally made for lithographers.  Inks when fresh from the can are very concentrated, and like other media, some are more transparent than others.  If you print too concentrated a color, it can be very difficult to cover that color over with a subsequent color, even if the color on top is very opaque.

When I talk about inks to non-printmakers, I explain that the transparent base in what holds all the pigment in.  Here is what two types of transparent base look like, with and without some pigment added:
Handschy transparent base (left) vs. Graphic Chemical transparent base (right)
My inks are by Handschy, purchased from Graphic Chemical.  I the past I have used Handschy transparent base as well (on the left), purchasing it in 5 lb tubs.  It has the consistency of honey (very sticky), and while it is very transparent, it has a tendency to impart its yellowish tone to my ink mixes.  So it was hard to get any delicate purplish-blue layers.  And it became difficult to purchase.

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My printmaking journey starts in the basement

The first sentences are always so daunting.  Where to begin?  I could begin with my Christmas cards, printed with a spoon on the kitchen counter when I was 15.

But let’s fast-forward almost twenty-five years and you see me making prints again.  After taking a relief printmaking course at Indiana University, I just knew that this was what I wanted to spend my time and energies doing.  And as I told my professor, I was going to my basement to print.  And so I did.
When I wasn’t exploring, perfecting, and making mistakes, I spent plenty of time reading other printmakers’ blogs.  What a wealth of information there is on these blogs!
Without a fine arts degree, I am not a lettered expert, but by spending my time printing every day, I have learned things, things that I’d like to share.  I also enjoy making art with other people – printmaking can be a wonderfully collaborative medium.  I’ll be sharing these adventures as well.
Elizabeth Busey, Long Pond Stillness. Linoleum Reduction Print,  13 x 18 inches, 2010.
This is one of my more recent efforts inspired by a summer canoe trip in Maine.  I use the reduction method, where only one piece of linoleum is carved, each layer is printed, and then carved away some more.  This work is the result of at least ten layers of transparent ink.   The layers of color are often lovely, but unpredictable.
More about my ever-changing relationship with transparency next…