Category Archives: Color Theory

How it all goes together

One of the delights of this year’s Open Studios for me was being able to show people just how my monoprint collages go together. I would love to have a stop action video that shows the entire creation process, but the reality is that I am usually in the zone, and forget to start cameras, take images, etc.

I began a monoprint collage just before people arrived at my studio… Here is the work when finished. Follow along below to see some process photos and see if all makes sense to you.

©Elizabeth Busey. Cosmic Schema, Monoprint collage, 12 x 12in

The final work is an exploration of blues, punctuated by several warmer colors. I was delighted with the glow of the orange and chartreuse polygons.

A quick demo is needed

A few random pieces for a demonstration…

I was running late and quickly chose a map and two monoprints to use in my process explanation. I could show people the tracing paper I use to cut out the pieces, and how a few look when glued to the monoprint matrix paper.

Thankfully all these pieces are glued down. Gingersnap has just jumped up to say that it is dinner time.

After the Open Studios, I challenged myself to complete this monoprint collage. I expanded my palette to include a great street map of Boston, European driving maps and several atmospheric blue monoprints. I stepped back and felt like the work did not feel finished. There seemed to be an imbalance…

Cyanotypes to the rescue (again)

I had some practice cyanotypes, made from images that I took. When used on this work, the cyanotypes (which are usually thought of as greenish blue, look almost purply. I collaged them into the polygons that I had kept blank, and the work came together.

Scroll back up and see if you can find the cyanotypes.

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Interference is real

Please note: This blog post has nothing to do with the U.S. 2016 presidential election nor the 2018 Saints – Rams NFL division championship. It has to do with interference of light waves, and how this is seen in art and nature. Have I lost you yet? Do read on…

@Elizabeth Busey. Aqua Pura. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Reflectivity is a 2D artist’s attempt at dimension

In many of my monoprints, I include some tiny bits of gold leaf. In Aqua Pura, I didn’t feel like it needed gold’s warm tones, but it did need something reflective. Why did I think this? I was not an overly feminine child and own very little bling as an adult. My only thought is that some reflectivity of light on a 2D work makes it feel less flat. Perhaps there is a 3D artist hiding inside. I’m hoping to let her out later this summer at another Penland workshop… (more about that later.)

Painting Guerra Paint & Pigment Co.’s Interference Blue is the last step.

Interference pigment is magical

I’ve had some interference pigment for a few years. I had intended to make my own encaustic printmaking sticks, and that hasn’t happened — yet. Usually this pigment is added to a binder or to another paint. I used mine straight out of the container, binding it to the paper with gold leaf sizing. I just let the sizing dry for an hour as usual, and then gently painted on the pigment over the sizing areas.

Artists Network explains: “These pigments are not particles but flakes of mica, usually coated with a microscopically thin layer of titanium dioxide pigment.” It is incredibly fine, so I am careful to put it on gently, and brush it off the work out of doors. I painted mine over white paper (with white sizing) so the result is that at one angle it looks like a soft white, and at another angle it is a brilliant cobalt blue.

You can see the interference pigment at work in the dark blue section of the collage.

Interference in nature

Interference is one of the ways color is created in nature. (See this fascinating article to read about all three ways and get a more in depth explanation of interference.) You see this phenomenon in oil slicks on water and colored light on bubbles. The changing of color is what makes it interference — either the light waves are reinforced (the color is very strong) or destroyed (you see white in my work.)

A related phenomenon is iridescence, which means that many colors are shown. I may need to work this into my repertoire as well.

You can see gold leaf and interference pigments at my studio as part of Bloomington Open Studios Tour. Saturday, June 8th (10-6) and Sunday, June 9th (10-4).

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Celebrating all the greens

Green is a funny color. It can range from almost beige to nearly black, with many verdant hues in between. Learning to mix and celebrate all the greens has been a long term project for me. I’m never disappointed.

©Elizabeth Busey. Magna Mater. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

A glimpse out of my window illustrates the myriad of green possibilities. While it is not true of everywhere in the world, in the midwestern part of the United States, spring is a riot of greens.

Spring is high green season

Outside of my front door, many greens harmonize and compete for my attention.

My front garden is filled with examples of green. A chartreuse miniature hydrangea sits in front of the tender leaves of maidenhead ferns. The seafoam fuzzy lambs ears leaves contrast with the dark blue-green of hellebore foliage. These very distinct colors create a rich, verdant tableau, perfect for collage inspiration.

Your green depends on temperature

When printing my square spiral matrix recently, I created a green that was much more olive-y than my previous mixes. No matter what I did, the green always turned out warmer than I had intended. I blame the Milori blue ink in my palette that day which has a red tint. A phthalo blue would have been much more supportive of a cool green.

©Elizabeth Busey. Magna Mater detail, monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Can all the greens live together?

I recently pulled this printed matrix out of the “to be collaged” drawer. I considered letting the monoprint be a weed barrier in the yard. Instead I challenged myself. Was there a way to create a collage where all the different greens coexist in one happy whole? Midway through it was not looking successful, but I decided to persevere and finish the collage.

The result in Magna Mater — or Great Mother – representing the enveloping greenness of a midwestern spring.

For further reading on how to mix greens, I highly recommend Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green by Michael Wilcox. This book gives you both the how and the why of color mixing, which is just what you need as you seek to celebrate all the greens.

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How much contrast is too much?

I like orange…in small doses. While I own no orange clothing, I do have one throw pillow. I enjoy including a bit of orange in many of my pieces. Orange often provides a needed contrast to the blues that fill my work. But, how much contrast is too much?

©Elizabeth Busey. Searching for Other Suns. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

You can see just a bit of orange in Searching for Other Suns. I like how it amplifies the pull you feel toward the inside of the circle. But look what happens when I use mostly orange, with a great deal of blue…

Way too much orange and too much contrast!

I blame civic loyalty for this creation. Pygmalion’s, my local art supply store, creates a signature color each year in conjunction with Gamblin. Artists purchase a tube of the oil color, and create art that uses the color. This year’s color was Sunset Orange, and after the bleak, gray winter we have had, I thought I would create a monoprint collage that felt as juicy as the color out of the tube.

Sadly, I felt the same way about this collage as I felt when wearing my peach Izod Laoste polo in high school. The color just did not feel right. Luckily Pygs doesn’t care how much of the color you use. With the very orange collage safely tucked in my flat files, balance has been restored in the studio.

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It is not always about the color

Several collages are in process in my studio. One was recently banished to the framing room, because I felt it wasn’t going in a positive direction. For a long time I couldn’t articulate why. Finally I experienced an epiphany: it is not always about color.

A detail of a monoprint collage in process.

I have been using more brightly colored base monoprints for recent collages. After working with some brightly colored maps and other monoprint patterns, I sat back to assess the progress. All I could think of was “Meh.” Clearly “meh” is not a feeling I want for a potential viewer, so I was doing something wrong.

Were the colors not harmonizing? Were the maps and textures confusing? I finally put the collage away in frustration and began something new. But I can see the offending work every time I walk down the stairs to my family room. It looked pitiful, sitting there unfinished, unloved.

IPhone 6 to the rescue

Black and white view of the same collage.

When I photographed part of the work, and put it into black and white, I could see a potential problem. Many of the tones are very similar, even though some are patterned and others plain. When you take the color away, things look very different.

I’m forced to take up painting

Areas of white Masa are still quite translucent.

Now I had to think of solutions to my problem. I considered the monoprint patterns I have been using, printed on thin Masa paper. The paper itself is somewhat translucent, especially in areas that are left white or have very light ink printed. The oil-based ink also seems to add to its translucency. When glued over a darker monoprint base, these pieces lose their lightness.

To combat this problem, I flipped over these patterned pages and painted a white acrylic wash over the areas that were printed on the other side. I used titanium white thinned with water that had wetting medium added. With a large foam brush I painted quickly and hung them to dry. Because I am using matte medium as my adhesive, I reasoned that these surfaces would bond together nicely. So far they have.

The result is that many of the oranges, yellows and whites are brighter. I will still need to be cognizant of my tonal values. Perhaps my eyes have a black and white setting…

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Deciding which color layer comes next

Deciding which color layer comes next is a very serious decision for printmakers. Especially those of us who create using the reduction method. In the past, I have used test sheets on less expensive paper, or the reverse sides of spoiled prints, to make my color decisions.Each of these strategies has a problem.

Less expensive paper can cause ink to behave very differently — often sitting on top of the surface rather than being incorporated into the paper. Further layers don’t print the same way as on my good Rives BFK. The reverse side of the spoiled prints have a particular texture which actually interferes with the next inking of the block and creates problems for the actual edition.

Creating color test strips for layers

My latest linocut has nine color layers, so accuracy has been important. I now print color strips as I go along to help me. I save the long narrow pieces of paper that remain when you tear down paper for an edition. I use a similarly sized piece of linoleum for my test block.

test color strips

My color test strips for recent linocuts have nine layers of ink, and evidence of lots of testing.

After I print the first layer of ink on an edition, I ink the lino scrap the same way as my block and print it onto my scrap paper. I leave a bit of white paper at the top so I can hang the scrap paper with the edition to dry. When I am deciding on the next color, I use my palette knife to “draw down” some of the color over my first printing layer. I keep in mind that the layer using the knife will be a bit darker than when it is actually printed. When I’ve decided on a color, I can wipe off these draw downs.

linocut topography warm colors

Pandora’s Paradise. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 12 x 12 in (image size) Edition of 12, $300.

Nine color layers mean lots of testing

In Pandora’s Paradise, you can see the color decisions I made for each layer. After I print each layer, I make sure to ink and print on the paper scrap in the same way. For this linocut, I used a modified blend roll, using the heel of my hand to blend some complimentary colors. (Read more about this in a previous blog.)

Occasionally I have a color that isn’t exactly what I expected, but as we know from color theory, how it appears will change with the next color. I just remember to print each new color on my color strip, and eventually I find my way.

 

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Getting your hands dirty is sometimes necessary

The gleaming white borders of my linocuts mean that I am fastidious about keeping clean hands and fingers. But on rare occasions, getting my hands inky becomes necessary. In one of my latest linocuts, I am using many transparent layers, and needed to join contrasting pinky orange and a cerulean blue layers.

I use rubber brayers to apply the ink, but need to solve the problem of the hard and unblended edges.

 

I know that a blend roll combination will yield a sort of greyish-brown, which I really don’t want. So instead I’m using a technique that I learned from printmaker Karen Kunc. Kunc is able to get many different colors and fading techniques from one block by using the heel of her palm.

Dab with the outside heel of the palm

 

When I use the heel of my palm, I am blending the inks slightly, but I am also removing some of the ink as well. This makes the unwanted blend of contrasts less intense when it is printed.

Reducing unwanted blending

Here is what the block looks like before I printed it. This isn’t an exact technique, but I find that if it is used in the middle of a linocut, or at the end, any variation is not noticeable.

My palm blended layer after printing.

I still have to be careful to keep the white edges clean!

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Why are some inks more opaque than others?

Why are some printmaking inks more opaque than others? I’m currently working on a commission that won’t be unveiled until after it is delivered to its new collector. Without giving away the details, I found myself needing to shift from a middle blue tone into much darker greens. Enter the yellow opaque ink…

Gamblin’s Relief Ink Hansa Yellow Light is quite opaque.

Opacity vs transparency : not all inks are the same

After using Gamblin’s relief inks for a while, I intuitively know that yellow, napthol scarlet and titanium white will be the most opaque. Other inks like quinacridone red and phthalo blue will be very transparent. For me opacity means that it will cover up the color underneath more completely, and combine with it less. Even with opaque ink straight from the can, you will never get the color on the paper that you see on the glass. They aren’t completely opaque.

I wanted to answer the question of why some inks were more opaque than others. It was remarkably difficult to get such an explanation without jumping off into a discussion of physics for which I was not qualified.

Getting to the why of opacity and transparency

Mixing in some transparent blue didn’t make my yellow much less opaque.

Two on-line sources got me closer to an explanation of why inks vary in opacity. Why Some Paints are Transparent and Others Opaque, a page from Natural Pigments on-line store, has the most complete explanation. The Anatomy of Paint: Pigment and Binder from Essential Vermeer 2.0 has a discussion with a bit less physics.

The answer has three variables

Relative Refractive Indicies

Remember that all pigments whether naturally gathered or industrially created all start out as a powder. The powder is combined with a binder to allow the pigment to be applied to a surface. With printmaking, burnt plate oil (a heated version of linseed oil) is the binder.

Both pigments and binders have a rating for their ability to refract — or scatter — light. The more similar the number, the more likely the created ink will be transparent — or not scattering the light. Linseed oil has an index of 1.479 so pigments that have a very similar index will allow the most light to pass through, appearing transparent. Other pigments like zinc oxide, have an index of 2.00, and therefore appear opaque — not allowing any of the light through.

Particle Size

In my previous post on gold ink, I noted that my favorite one — Charbonnel’s Etching Ink Gold — had almost noticeable particles. It is very opaque, and this makes sense because the light is being refracted off the (larger) gold pigment particles, and can’t make its way down through the ink layers to the white paper.

Imagine all of those light particles struggling to make it through to the white paper!

Distribution of Pigment

This variable is obvious to me, as I liberally mix transparent base into my relief inks to increase the transparency of any color. Even still, I can never achieve the transparency of a phthalo blue with the yellow or white inks. This is probably because of the above two variables.

You can see that this mixed ink is fairly opaque because I can’t see any of the support buttons that are beneath the glass on the table,

I’m not sure I completely understand refractive indicies, but I do get a kick out of imagining the light rays trying mightily to penetrate my layer of ink and make it to the white paper.

Now back to my commission and to some new work. Science class is concluded.

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Printmaking sometimes takes an eternity

Printmaking can sometimes take an eternity. Or this is how it seems. My first art professor impressed upon me that unlike reading a book which can be skimmed, or writing a paper during an all-nighter, making art takes the time it takes. This fall, I have found this to be true. I decided to create a linocut concept that had twelve layers of ink, the most I have ever done.

On the Far Side of Forever, an aerial inspired linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. On the Far Side of Forever. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 16 x 21in (image size), 28 x 37in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

I wanted to create imagery that asked the question — what if aerial views were like topographical maps? To answer this question, I created both horizontal (above) and vertical (below) compositions. I imagined the views a hawk or turkey vulture might have, if they were flying around in a topo-filled world.

The Grand Eternal Show, a topographically inspired aerial view linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. The Grand Eternal Show. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 21 x 14in (image size), 31 x 23in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

Creating similar but not the same

To make these works harmonize, but not be the same, I used different views of the topography so that the largest shapes are repeated. I also wanted to find a way to make the layers not be completely homogeneous. To do this, I started both series with some loose diagonal color fields as the first layer of ink. I even reversed the location of each color for the different linocuts.

First layer of linocut has rough inexact color fields.

The first layer had rough, inexact color fields.

Carve this, not that

One of the more difficult tasks was remembering where to carve for each subsequent layer. Once a layer was carved away, I could not go back and touch up the linear marks that divided it from the others. Each time I printed, I also printed the line marks to keep them a consistent tone throughout, even if the color was somewhat different.

The last layer — the lines alone — required some strategy. I could leave them with the darkest tone only, but this meant that the darkest areas were not well differentiated from a distance. So I went to my old friend, gold ink.

Getting serious with pigment

I had been using a very old gold ink from Handschy, and wondered if another ink would give me more brilliance. I ordered some Charbonnel gold etching ink on a whim, and now was able to give it a try. As you can see from the video, this ink does not have the viscosity of most relief inks. I wanted to keep the pigment as intense as possible, since it was going to go over fairly dark blues and greens. The addition of some burnt plate oil allowed me to gradually roll out the stiff ink.

Gold ink on the last layer of the topography linocut.

The last layer need to print clearly. The thick gold etching ink did the job well.

While the ink looked too thick on the glass, and didn’t make that velvety sound I usually strive for, it did adhere to the linoleum well and printed evenly on the ink-saturated paper. With one layer of ink, the gold sheen can be delicately seen, especially in the problem dark areas. I wondered if more gold would be better, and printed another layer of gold immediately. This gave me more gold reflection, but meant that now your eye was confused about what was important. I wanted the work to be more about the layers, with the lines playing a supporting role. So I stuck to one layer of gold ink.

The feeling of satisfaction I had upon completing these two linocuts was one I haven’t felt in a long time. For this, I am eternally grateful.

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Metallic inks put the shine on

Art-making is compromise.  Those who say that you can make whatever you want are simply mistaken. Art making is a compromise between what you have in your imagination, and what you can accomplish with your materials. In reduction printmaking, this compromise has to do with the number of shades, colors or details you would like versus the amount of ink your paper is willing to accept. Apply too much ink, and you are finished.

What is an overzealous printmaker to do? In many of my linocuts, I turn to metallic inks to finish the piece, even if I wasn’t quite finished myself.

silver and gold metallic inks on a carved linoleum block

A blend roll of gold and silver metallic inks are the last layer on my latest cloud linocut.

Why metallic inks are different

Metallic inks are different from other printmaking inks. The pigments are not ground as finely as other colors so they can reflect light. Gold inks are simulated with combinations of copper and zinc (yielding a sort of bronze) and silver inks are made from aluminum. As these inks dry, the metals rise to the surface.

How shiny these pigments appear depends on the surface on which they are printed. On my very absorbent Rives BFK, the inks aren’t too shiny unless they are the last in a series of ink layers. With the above inked block, these inks are going over six other layers of ink, so the paper is nearly sealed. If you printed on a very slick surface, the results would be shinier. If a very reflective result is required, you would need to resort to foil printing — a fascinating technique with which I would love to experiment.

cans of metallic gold and silver printmaking ink

Cans of metallic inks can bring a shine to any situation.

Mixing brands of ink — apologize later

Gamblin –the maker of my other relief printmaking inks — does not make metallic inks. I have had my Handschy gold and Kohl & Madden silver inks for years. Straight out of the can they are very dark and strong, so I mix in some Gamblin Relief Transparent Base and some tack reducer to get the strength I need. So far my mixing of different ink brands has not resulted in a visit from the ink police.  I also use a bit of metallic ink to make an ink less transparent, without adding white — which can lead to too-pastel colors.

I just applied a layer of metallic gold and silver blend roll to my latest cloud linocut, and I think it is finished. It is a diptych, so I am working on just the right way to display it on-line.

In the meantime, consider if a little metallic ink might help you put your shine on.

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