Here are some snapshots of some of the new things I learned during my workshop at Penland School of Craft this summer. The class was filled with ideas of how you could push printmaking beyond the traditional. Rather than creating one finished idea, I spend much of my time trying things that were novel to me, and following ideas down rabbit holes…
I spent a good portion of time learning about screen printing. My last experience with screen printing was during my studies at IU, where we were limited to using drawing fluid and screen filler (think liquid clay here) to create imagery. Now I had access to an exposure unit, so I could create patterns using an opaquing pen, rubylith film or just plain thick paper stencils.
I also printed on everything except my studio mates. I am fascinated with translucent materials, so I worked on frosted mylar, as well as thin mulberry. I’m still working out the kinks of printing litho ink on the mylar, but screen printing works like a champ.
Now the question is how do I use this new-found knowledge? For now, my creations reside in a comfy box in my studio, quietly waiting for the next idea to germinate…
Business gurus and motivational speakers encourage people to adopt a word as a guide for their intentions for the New Year. A bit less specific than a resolution. My word for 2019 is peaceful.
When I first decided to write this blog, I worried I would sound like an annoying middle-class person who has the luxury of working for myself. Certainly there are innumerable products and services that one can obtain in their quest for peace, but are they necessary? I challenged myself to come up with a few things that anyone can do to seek peace that cost nothing. Here are some suggestions:
Consider your posture We spend our lives hunched — over computers or phones or books or worktables. By engaging your core muscles, sitting up straight and relaxing your shoulders, you open up your chest. This gives your lungs more opportunity to open, you become taller and may feel more supported.
Think about your breathing Is your breath shallow — especially when you are sitting down (and might be hunched over?) Take a moment to breathe deeply, imagining your lungs filling completely and then emptying fully. You can do this at any time without anyone knowing. Try it during your evening commute or a stressful meeting.
Hit unsubscribe I’m assuming if you are reading this that you have some internet connectivity and probably an email address. There are a myriad of things to worry about in our world, and many of them have organizations that will email you…incessantly. Be honest with yourself — how many of these email messages do you actually read? You can still care about issues without having daily doses of hysteria-pitched text thrown into your day.
Choose when to engage Consider taking unnecessary notifications off your phone, and making use of special VIP lists for email you can’t afford to miss. Decide when you will read or listen to news. Do it at a time when you can give the world happenings your full attention. If it is in the background, why not put on some music or an audio book instead?
Why is being peaceful important to me…and to you?
When I don’t feel peaceful — when my mind is filled with anxiety — I make terrible art. And then I feel discouraged, and more anxious, creating a vicious cycle. Being peaceful isn’t just for people who make creative work all day. Peaceful drivers make for safer streets. Peaceful teachers have more patience. Perhaps peaceful legislators will find ways to work together. The possibilities are endless.
What is your word for 2019? Might I suggest peaceful?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
What does your fear look like? Does your inner critic have a face? What does that nagging voice say in your ear — making you doubt your current and past choices? Certainly everyone faces these types of experiences, but for artists, it can be a daily struggle.
Taking Big Magic to heart through writing
I’m taking a six-week class looking at Big Magic, the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert examines creativity as an everyday activity that everyone can embrace, not a rarified talent only bestowed on a few. In our first session, our facilitator Kim Evans, asked us to consider what our fear looks like — what does it say to us and what adjectives would describe it. We even drew pictures of our fear. Here’s my funny caricature:
We were also asked to write a letter — either to our fear, or from our fear to ourselves. I chose the later. My fear expressed concern that I lack a BFA in Fine Art, let alone an MFA. The fact that my art creation could not support our family also reared its ugly head. Finally, my fear posited that it was possible I would become a curly white-haired woman who just talked to her cats. With the exception of the last worry, most of these worries are very similar to those that my young adult children are experiencing as they leave my home and make their way in the world. My advice of them is to try their hardest to embrace the thing that interests them, and see what happens. It is harder to take one’s own advice.
When fear shows up in the studio
In my studio, I’ve had a very different kind of fear show up. I’m working on a very large linocut (25 x 40 in,) and I found myself paralyzed as I tried to make my starting color choices. The large paper (30 x 44in) costs over $9.00 per sheet, making printing on my 20 pieces of paper in the edition suddenly a costly decision. I struggled all of Friday with thumbnails of how I could possibly begin. Because I use transparency, this first color sets the entire composition.
I finally had to put the sketchbook away for the weekend. Monday morning, I simplified my approach, took a deep breath, and began. I have to trust that my previous experiences can inform this new work, and it will be OK. The fearful, critical voice must be drowned out and the printing commence.
After five hours of printing with this huge block of linoleum today, I’m exhausted, but I’ve quieted most of my fears. I still may become a curly, white-haired woman who spends most of her day talking only to her cats. I guess I’m OK with that.
A Big Magic workshop in July
If you think you’d like to work with a group on the topics of creative living — and yes, fear — Kim is offering a workshop in Asheville, NC this July. Here are the details.
Finding your next great idea — or maybe you would call it connecting with your muse — can be difficult. I wonder if Georgie O’Keefe had self-doubts about her transition from dark cityscapes to colorful desert landscapes. I’m still mulling over what to do with my recent eclipse study, but have been recently captivated by the topographic map bookmarks we made at my recent Open Studio.
I created the drawing for the second block from a real topo map of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I have hiked this area which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is filled with unexpected formations, from gorges to natural bridges, all noted by these squiggling lines. Back in my studio, most of my work does not depend on line work specifically, but I continue to be drawn to these topo lines.
Topo maps are helpful and beautiful…
We have a collection of hiking maps from our travels in North America and Europe. In our recent trip to the Pyrenees, my husband and I relied heavily on a topo map to get us safely down from an exposed trail during an afternoon thunderstorm. The lines told us that yes, the scree-filled avalanche chute was in fact the way down.
I find these lines aesthetically pleasing as well. After the Open Studios tour, I now have time to get back to work, and kept thinking about these lines. The bookmarks we created were colorful and visually active, but perhaps not complex enough for larger work. This is where Big Magic comes in…
Big Magic is essential reading
If you are a creative person of any type, you should get a copy of Big Magic and read it. I refer to mine so frequently that I don’t loan it out to anyone. In the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of several books including Eat, Pray, Love, discusses how to live sanely as a creative person. One of my favorite parts considers how we mistreat our creativity in our quest for fame or remuneration.
“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” (Gilbert. Big Magic, 154)
I am guilty at being unkind to my creativity when I demand to know before I start whether my next endeavor will be worthy of a frame — or a possible entry for a prominent show — or my next sale. When I yell, so to speak, nothing goes well.
So I’m back in the studio with two blocks, pushing topographical lines into new contexts. Will it work out? I have no idea. But grooving to my Spotify throwback list and rolling our fresh ink made for a memorable day. And there was no yelling…
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.
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…
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:
A quick stop in the science area, and I picked up some more inspiration…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!