Category Archives: Artistic Growth

Finding the reset button means getting focused and motivated

April has come and gone, and so has my solo show. After the flurry of art making and promotion, I find myself in that strange place of limbo, not knowing exactly what to do next. No wonder authors of a successful books find it hard to write their next book. How do creative people go about finding the reset button?

This situation happens to me occasionally. Complicating matters, my quiet house/studio will be changing soon with the arrival of my young adult children who are home for the summer. So planning and motivating are crucial before my house becomes noisy and my schedule challenged.

The blessings of a road trip

As an environmentalist, I am chagrinned to admit that I love driving. Spring in the Midwest is intoxicating — where you are enveloped with every color of green and the clouds are unimaginably spectacular. On this particular road trip, my destination was Cincinnati, Ohio (about 2 and a half hours southeast) because I wanted to visit the non-profit gallery Manifest.

large storm clouds over fields

Rolls of storm clouds press upon me as I travel east.

Fantastic waves of storm clouds rushed me east. At Manifest, I was delighted to see work by my former relief printmaking professor Ed Bernstein in a group show entitled Drawn. At lunch, I was treated to a fast moving torrential downpour, followed by azure skies and staggering cumulus clouds. I began to ponder doing some small tonal studies of cumulus clouds, perhaps making use of mica powder. A new idea begins…

heavy clouds over Woodburn neighborhood in Cincinnati

Heavy clouds over the Cincinnati hills soon release their moisture.

Church spire seems to touch the rapidly moving clouds.

Churches are everywhere in Cincinnati. This one in the Woodburn neighborhood was so high it felt like I could almost touch the clouds rushing by.

Libraries are candy for the soul

This morning brought a Facebook post entitled 11 Nonfiction Books All Artists Will Want to Read. If I am honest, I often retreat into the world of murder mysteries, which are diverting but not very challenging to me and to my art. A quick visit to our local library yielded these beauties:

two memoirs by artists and writers

Two memoirs by artists and writers.

A quick stop in the science area, and I picked up some more inspiration…

books about weather and clouds

I am fascinated by the highway of clouds that flow above me and wonder about the science behind them.

Now for the real planning by getting focused

One danger with all this inspiration is that I buzz about my home studio, having lots of ideas but not accomplishing anything. I learned the value of planning at least six months ahead from Alyson Stanfield, so I grabbed a sheet of Stonehenge paper and started writing down categories of activities. The details — the to do’s — followed.

my own six month plan on paper

Emptying my brain of all of the goals and to-do’s helps me focus.

I love a good list, but acknowledge that without saying WHEN something will be done, the list is useless. With the exception of actual deadlines, I shy away from putting specific dates down. So I began circling things that needed to be done immediately in red. Other colors followed: end of May, end of July, end of summer. Today I will create goals for May, and every Sunday night I plan out the week. I’m posting this poster nearby to remind me of where I’m headed.

How do you reset and get motivated?

 

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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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Seeking the painterly in printmaking

My latest large cloud-inspired linocut is in the stage I would characterize as “a hot mess.”  After carving away the white highlights, I have spent the last week and a half printing large swaths of fading blend rolls to create the color changes of a setting (or rising) sun.

This is asking a great deal of the relief printmaking technique, where the options are “ink or no ink” on the block. My block is 25 x 40 inches, which means I am trying to get forty inch solid passes of color with no roller marks. The blues I am using are very transparent, which makes uniformity even more difficult. Plus the Rives BFK Heavyweight has a distinct texture which does not allow absolutely flat color when you print on dry paper. This results in the following:

painterly-beginnings

Painterly, or a hot mess? This is still up for debate.

The resulting skies will be the backdrop for dramatic clouds and hopefully I will no longer obsess about the random “underprinting” of sky once these clouds begin to appear.  This is the painterly quality that I cherish in other artists’ work. Printmakers will often stare at parts of a print and praise an area of interesting color or texture — “Oooh, I just love this area here…” I blame my issues on the tradition of editioning and the tyranny of the white border. Clearly some printmaking therapy is in order.

I had the pleasure of meeting two printmakers this week whose work has encouraged me to embrace a more painterly printmaking process. My work was included in Serial and Sequential: A printmakers performance” at the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago. I was drawn to Kim Laurel’s work on Dura-Lar film that captures the flighty movement of dragonfly. (Visit her website to see a good image of this work.) Equally appealing were Candy Nartonis‘ use of stencils and lithography to explore textures and tones within simple shapes.

cathy-nartonis

Candy Nartonis with her explorations of tones and shapes.

While the quest for perfection (or at least replication) nags me, I’m going to try to celebrate the beauty that variability and texture brings. Now to carve the large block and bring on the clouds!

 

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Why would you want to print on silk? Part 2

Water is not a friend of relief printmakers who usually print on dry paper. Water sinks into the fibers of printmaking paper and makes it buckle and ripple. After this, registration is a problem. So when I set about glueing silk fabric onto Rives BFK, finding a glue with a large enough open time and low enough water content was a challenge.

Cutting the silk

(See Why would you want to print on silk? Part 1 to see how I stabilized and dyed the silk.) Before glueing, I had to cut the silk down to the size of the block so it would register. Using the block as a guide, a very sharp Exacto blade was a quick way to trim the dyed silk down to size.

cutting-fabric-away

Even with a sharp Exacto knife, cutting away the silk was tricky.

The secret glue recipe

After trial and error with PVA (an archival white glue), rice paste, and methyl cellulose, I settled on a three-quarters PVA and one-quarter methyl cellulose mix. The PVA provides a strong bond, but dries almost instantly in the very thin layer that is needed for my purposes. Methyl cellulose, which creates a hair gel like substance when mixed with water, put enough water into the mix to allow for a very brief open time.

spreading-the-glue

Work quickly from the center outward, making sure to go over all the edges.

Thanks to several bookbinding videos on mounting silk onto paper, I learned to work fast with a rubber scraper, pulling the glue from the center across the silk and off onto the newsprint. (You need to use new newsprint for each piece of silk.)  Any globs of glue will squeeze out when run through the press, so an thin even layer is critical.

A chine collè of sorts with silk

glue-side-up

Quickly transfer the silk — glue-side up — onto the block that is registered in the jig.

After getting the silk all glue-y, I had to work fast to orient it on my block (glue-side up please!) so that it would register later with my lino block. On the first pass I made the mistake of having the block lino side up, which gave a much more embossed effect, but less consistent glueing. The registered printing paper is gently lowered onto the glued silk, run through the press, and then you get…

Taking the time to dry right

dry-between-blotters

The silk is glued down to the Rives BFK, but needs some time and pressure to convince it to stay flat.

Here the silk is adhered to the paper (above), but remember we still have the freezer paper on one side of the silk. To make sure that the silk dries as flat as possible, I sandwiched the newly glued paper/silk combo with newsprint and blotter paper, and let this stand under old lino blocks over night.

Finally the linocut takes shape

peel-off-paper

Carefully peel the freezer paper off the silk starting at one corner.

After everything is dry, you can carefully lift one corner and pull off the freezer paper. A corner or two may need a bit more glue… Now it is time to add the lino block. Here are several versions as I thought about seasons, and had a bit of fun with colors that you don’t typically see in the forest. The topo lines are taken from an actual place in the Deam Wilderness (near Bloomington, IN) poetically called Cope Hollow.

spring-cope-hollow

summer-cope-hollow

autumn-cope-hollow

psychedelic-cope-hollow

In my painting, I used a reversed image of the block as a crude guide to have the colors follow the topo lines. Lucky for me, the colors seem to move through the silk for a long time, and the merging effect is better that I could have imagined.

An art-group friend asked why I was insisting on glueing down textiles instead of letting them float freely. I don’t have an answer to this yet, but perhaps some hanging silk will be in my future. For now I’m enjoying the free-flowing intense colors that dyed silk brings to my linocuts.

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Digital Handmade opened my eyes

I am in the throws of building enormous frames for my latest large linocuts Breath of Hermes and Summertide Brings the Derecho. I’m also planning for two new linocuts and they are in the messy stages as I try to push my linocuts to incorporate new techniques.

Digital Handmade sparks my creativity

My planning has been enriched by the discovery of Digital Handmade: Craftsmanship and the New Industrial Revolution by Lucy Johnston (2015). This beautifully photographed book highlights artists and designers who are using digital processes to push traditional media in new and challenging ways.

digital handmade

Johnston, Lucy. (2015) Digital Handmade:Craftsmanship in the New Industrial Revolution. New York: Thames & Hudson.

I was drawn to this title on my library’s new book shelf because of the ongoing dialogue in my head regarding use of new technologies versus the traditional printmaking value of the hand. As printmaker, I chafe at the use of the term gicleé prints to describe a photographic copy. But I fear this prejudice holds me back from creating new, more challenging work as I triumphantly tell people that everything I create is “by hand.” I had an aha! moment when I read the following quote from product designer Tord Boontji who fabricates intricate garlands cut from paper-thin sheets of silver, copper and brass: (more…)

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Demonstrations stretch my mind

My trip to the Southern Graphics Council International’s conference in Portland, Oregon was transformative. The conference is a combination of traditional academic activities (keynote speakers, panels, etc.) along with demonstrations, lots of gallery shows and a vendor fair. Since I am neither a student nor an academic, I delighted immersing myself in only the activities that I chose — a rare occurrence in anyone’s life. Several demos provided new ideas to me, and I will share them briefly here. If you wish more information, please use the link provided to visit each artist’s website.

Encaustic Collagraph

Encaustic collagraph

Elise Wagner creates an encaustic collagraph plate during a demo at SGCI 2016.

Elise Wagner, assisted by Master Printer Jane Pagliarulo, demonstrated creating encaustic collagraphs. The melted encaustic medium (a special blend of beeswax, resin and titanium white that Elise has created) is applied to a plexiglass sheet. Using both heated tools and other implements, Elise created a dynamic matrix that she used to print an image onto damp paper. Because petroleum will react with the wax, she used Akua Intaglio inks and a wiping method similar to intaglio. I found this new option appealing. Creating the plate is much faster than with linocuts, but you have much more control and can take your time in creating — different from when you print wax directly onto paper in encaustic monotypes. I came home with a can of Elise’s medium and am looking forward to giving this new technique a try.

Fake Chine Colle: Alternative Adhesive Processes

Gudy O

Masha Ryskin shares her experiences with alternatives to chine colle for adhering papers.

Throughout my artistic practice, I have wanted to use other papers and elements in my work. Traditional chine colle requires a delicate and skillful dance of making wheat paste, applying just the right amount,  and drying flat. My efforts have only been marginally successful. And I find when I try to glue with anything water-based, my support paper buckles. Masha Ryskin demonstrated how she uses Gudy-O and Gudy-V adhesive films to create chine colle and collage elements in her work. These films — which can be obtained from Talas — are expensive, and a bit tricky to use, but when adhered are invisible, archival and permanent. You could even print over the collage elements you have created.

Akua Colors take on Natural Pigments

Akua demo

Susan Rostow gathered natural pigments for a comparison demo with the Akua Intaglio inks she developed.

Akua Ink creator Susan Rostow did an interesting demo where she compared modern synthetically derived inks with the pigments they are designed to imitate. She personally collected the pigments she was working with, including the tiny cochineal beetles that make up a purple-red color. You could clearly see that natural pigments could not create the same intensity of color that the new inks could. At some point, she said, the amount of pigment in the transparent base was so high that the ink would become chalky. I have some very old Akua inks that I believe are past their prime, but the kind folks at Speedball (which now mass produces the Akua Inks with Rostow’s collaboration) gave me a sample of new inks, and I am eager to try them out!

Learning about Pochoir — Making the Stencil Brush Fabulous Again

pochoir

Pati Scobey demonstrates her pochoir techniques using a stencil brush and very light ink application.

Pati Scobey used both the positive and negative parts of a polyester plate to demonstrate the technique of pochoir — or stenciling. She used watered down acrylic gel medium, plus salt and carborumdum, to create textured plates. From these plates she cut out shapes, using the cut outs printed positively, and using both the shape or the negative space to print gently around a shape using a stencil brush. With these techniques, Pati creates repetition of shapes, patterns and textures that she uses to create handmade books. Here you can see a selection of her finished work, ready to be bound.

pochoir 2

Sample prints created by Pati Scobey.

Gamblin Inks — Carefully crafted by Chris

Gamblin very kindly hosted an open house for the conference one evening. Here is a very tiny video of the Gamblin process for creating their printing inks. The pigment and the burnt plate oil are mixed together and are then fed into a three roller mill which slowly pulverizes the pigment to the consistency that printmakers need. Use your imagination to see Chris on the right side of this machine, gently guiding the finished ink down a short metal slope into the familiar Gamblin ink cans. He fills each by hand, and will do between 200 and 400 cans each day. Thanks Chris!

Now my brain is full of new ideas, and I must decide which new technique to try first… Stay tuned for the good and the bad of my latest experiments.

 

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My first museum label…an affirmation

In every person’s professional life there are milestones. For some it is a promotion, for others a large grant or publication in a prestigious journal. For still others it is simply making a profit. For me it was seeing my work installed in a public location, complete with museum tag.

First Intalled Art

Me posing with An Echo of Beginnings at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center.

The Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center purchased my linocut An Echo of Beginnings, after my two-month show at the center in June and July of 2015. During a visit with my daughter to the annual Artisan Guilds of Bloomington (IN) show, I spotted my work, installed and professionally labeled.

First Museum Tag

A museum label accompanies my linocut at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center.

I’ve made plenty of labels for my own work, but seeing my name, plus “American, 1967” — why that was what they put on the labels for real artists! A bit of emotion choked me as I read this. I am so thankful (on this Thanksgiving Day in the United States) that my work can be seen by lots of visitors at the Convention Center. I feel like I have arrived.

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Expanding your mind away from the studio

Some months it is difficult to find studio time, and this November is one of those months for me. After attending Art Biz Breakthrough, an art marketing conference in Golden, Colorado, I am off to care for an important person in my life.

Universal

Elizabeth Busey, Universal. Reduction Linocut. 10 x 20in, ed of 18.

When I am away from my studio, I miss it. I wish I was the kind of person who could take her sketchbook and create wherever she was, but I’m not. The outside world is my inspiration, not interiors or portraits. So to keep my sanity and the creative juices flowing, I do two things: (more…)

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