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, 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.

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!


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.

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.

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

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

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

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.





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.

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: Continue reading “Digital Handmade opened my eyes”

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

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.


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.

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.

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: Continue reading “Expanding your mind away from the studio”

Looking for a breakthrough

One of the most challenging things for me about being an artist is that about half of the time I must be a businessperson. I must find collectors for my work, if for nothing else than I need to buy more paper. But in truth, I also need to find homes for my work because that conversation — between me and collector — is crucial.

A butte in Golden, Colorado looms over the quiet college town.
A butte in Golden, Colorado looms over the quiet college town.

Some may be lucky enough to have a gallery that just handles all of the business side of creating art, but I am always seeking new ways to market my work to the world. So last week I took a break from my usual studio routine to attend Art Biz Breakthrough, a conference in Golden, Colorado produced by artist coach, Alyson Stanfield. I have worked personally with Alyson in 2015 and will again in 2016, but the event still gave me lots of great things to think about. Continue reading “Looking for a breakthrough”

Everything made new

I am usually not an obsessive person. I can get completely captivated by linocut carving, and push myself and my body beyond what is prudent. But lately I have had another obsession: a new website.

My new website (complete with blog) at

I have had a website for four years hosted at Foliosnap, which I liked but felt was rather limited. A complete redesign by a professional was not a reasonable financial option for me, and I wanted to be able to change and update my site at any time. I looked into other different platforms for artists, but didn’t see exactly what I wanted.

Needing something to be exactly as I anticipated made this a challenging but strangely rewarding experience.

I chose to work with Kim Bruce at Artbiz — WordPress Websites & Blogs for Artists. Kim provides a range of related templates along with hosting and technical guidance. Her templates are sleek and understated, perfect for making the artwork be in the spotlight.

The main challenge came when I realized that the WordPress method of organizing galleries was not going to give me the space I needed for accompanying text. Writing about the work, and linking to my blogs about both topic and technique, were both important parts of my vision for a new site. Kim kindly found me a workaround solution and waited patiently until I understood the new plan.

I ruminated about the next step while gazing at autumn leaves.

Programming and coding truly have their own language. I found I could read entire paragraphs where a WordPress plug-in’s purpose was being explained, and felt that I understood nothing. It was certainly much more difficult than the content filling one does on free-standing sites. There were many days where I despaired about my choices and searched madly for some consulting help.

In the end, it worked out much like some of my more troublesome linocuts. I researched, and then I pondered. I ruminated in the shower. I thought about it when sleepless. Finally I would sit down and slowly make progress. In the end, each image has its own page, with links to a thumbnail page, a corresponding blog, and previous and next images.

I still do not always know when to quit. While trying to finish the conversion of my blog from Blogger to WordPress, I blithely tried to copy and paste some code into the function.php part of the site and I completely crashed the site. Kim very kindly fixed my damage and the site was up in time to pen this blog.

My brain has been stretched. Creating this blog has plunged me into areas where I felt completely incompetent. As adults, we shy away from this feeling, wanting it to stay in the realm of childhood and adolescence. But it is a good place to put yourself, because that is where growth happens.

Please visit the different parts of the site and see what you think. The contact page is a perfect place to let me know what needs fixing (I’m sure I missed some links) or what you enjoyed.

Now, go get uncomfortable.

On the Benefits of Limits

May is the beginning of crazy season for me, both personally and artistically. I’m immersed in carving a new round 28″ diameter linocut, with a plan to have two more done by the end of the month.

I was asked by a friend to write something to be sent out to the Arts Alliance of Greater Bloomington, and when I wrote this it was on the eve of graduation at Indiana University. So while I’m carving and printing…I give you my thoughts on Art & Limits.  Continue reading “On the Benefits of Limits”

How do you stretch your artistic brain?

After a tough, non-artistic stretch this summer, I’ve not felt very excited to begin the next linoleum print. If I’m honest, I haven’t felt that excitement for a while.

Last winter, I came across encaustic monotypes by Paula Roland in the book Installations and Experimental Printmaking by Alexia Tala.  Roland used long scrolls of sumi paper and printed them with encaustic paint. Encaustic paint is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and dry pigment. This paint is melted on a heated surface and paper is put on top to absorb the wax and pigment. It is a fascinating process that I’ll come back to in future posts.

Melted wax and pigment scraped together after a monoprinting session.

In May, I travelled to Santa Fe, NM to take a four day workshop from Roland. I was the only student who had never worked in encaustics, and Roland was kind enough to let me experiment and make lots of “newbie art,” while providing gentle guidance. I was amazed at how exciting and yet tiring it can be to learn something new. As adults, I think we shy away from trying new things, especially if we sense that we will not automatically be good at them.

Back at home, I finally got all of the accoutrement for encaustic printmaking (more about later too.) Now to begin…

Wow! I find I am still very much in the learning phase.  My original intent was to think about ways that this technique might harmonize with what I am already doing. At this point I have no idea if it will…


Experiments from this week.

One of the problems with my studio practice up to this point is that there is very little room for creative exploration. I find reduction printmaking a pretty linear process.

With this problem in mind, I’ve been rereading three favorite books on artistic practice. I realized I need to have time each day to lose myself in the creative process. Stephen Nachmanovitch in Free Play would call this flow. Encaustic monotypes are perfect for this. Yet I’m still making lots of “newbie” art. So I decided I would spend at least one hour each week day just experimenting. I use small pieces of paper, and gather them up at the end of the day to see what worked best, what was surprising, and yes, what was dreadful.


Three great books for all creative types.

I’m giving myself several months to do this. Maybe at some point I’ll have a breakthrough. Or maybe I will become motivated to do new lino prints. I have no idea.

Have you undertaken a new activity, especially one that is scary and unknown?