Category Archives: Composition

Making the Invisible Visible

Clouds move. They may appear static, but they are really being driven by wind — a force which we cannot see.  In my latest linocut, I play with repetition in the form of a diptych to think about cloud movement as an illustration of that that illusive wind.

©Elizabeth Busey. Revealed by the Clouds … a Gust of Awakening. Reduction Linocut Diptych. 12 x 12in each image size, 22 x 21 in framed size each, edition of 16.

Repetition and two images are the key

As I noted in a previous blog, a diptych is a pair of images that are created to be displayed together. Here I chose to stagger the same long cloud formation, where part of it is somewhat repeated in each image. I was not concerned with making this repetition apparent, so you can only see the actual repetition in a few places. What I wanted you to see is your eye perceiving separate frames, like Eadweard Muybridge’s famous running horse demonstration.

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What is a diptych anyway?

If one is good, two must be better. My latest linocut, Iridescent Argosy, is comprised of two 24 x 13in blocks that are intended to be framed separately, but be hung close together to create one display. This is my version of a contemporary diptych.

Two panel linocut of brilliantly colored cumulus cloud.

©Elizabeth Busey. Iridescent Argosy. Reduction linocut diptych. 24 x 13in (each block), ed of 12, $600 set.

The origins of the diptych begin in antiquity, when lesson books were two wax-coated plates linked with a hinge. Later, low relief artwork that was related in topic was used. In the Middle Ages, clergy began using this format, allowing for the safe transport of icons. Several famous altar pieces are actually three joined panels, or a triptych. In these examples, one side was related to the other, but each side could also stand alone.

A modern version of the diptych

My interest in the diptych was inspired by printmaker and painter Yvonne Jacquette. (Follow this link to see a 2016 interview with the artist.) In her woodcut Hudson River Diptych, Jacquette uses two blocks slightly separated to show the expanse of a harbor scene. For me, this artistic choice emphasizes the vastness of the subject, and also gives the feeling of gazing through a window into a different world.

Using two blocks is also logistically helpful in some ways. Smaller blocks are easier on my hands and elbows, and smaller paper and framing materials are less expensive. But I’m mostly drawn to the notion that this image was just too expansive to be contained within one frame.

And now I can spell diptych…

 

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Beauty of Beginnings

Ideas for new linocuts are all around me — in the sky, in my phone, in my sketchbook. I go through quite a process to determine if something is worthy of a new linoleum block. Many ideas don’t make it very far. Luckily I was treated to an incredible sight a few weeks ago that was perfect for my next linocut. Here is a quick recap of how I began:

Inspiration after perspiration

One Thursday morning I was walking out of my rowing class and was treated to this site. They are called altocumulus undulatus. I filled my phone with imagery from all angles. At home, I printed out some of these images on 11 x 17 inch photo paper so I could get a better sense of how the pattern would look if it was larger. Some patterns expand well, and others lose their appeal.

Prismacolor helps my planning.

From here I laid out all of the photographs and did some sketches, including some with colored pencils. Although I am not using the pencils in the exact layering technique that I will with my inks, the pencils do help me think about what colors are possible. I love Prismacolor pencils for this task because they have rich pigments and blend together on the page.

Almost ready for the first marks

After I created a final drawing, I used a large sheet of tracing paper and an 8B pencil to create my own carbon copy. Here I’ve transferred the darkest part of the clouds, but I still have to judge which part will be the white area. If I carved away all of the areas that are without graphite, the linocut would have too much white and would appear only two-dimensional.

New color and an old friend

Pygmalion’s Art Supply in downtown Bloomington, IN has a new custom color created each year by their staff, and the proceeds from the pigment sales go to a local organization. I have just a bit left of last year’s Saffron, and use it with a touch of Red Rhino Red to create the glowing orange for the first layer.

I admit that printing light orange over the entire block is a bit daring in a linocut that will also feature blue. But that is all part of the adventure of printing…

I leave you with my very first video filmed with my new Iphone tripod. As February turns to March, my thoughts turn to the Good Humor truck and an icy Dreamsicle. (Don’t drool on your keyboard or phone…)

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Breaking the rules

Sometimes it feels good to break the rules. Printmaking has many of them — perfect alignment, clean edges, no brayer marks. I had tried breaking some rules by working with the dyed silk, and even though this experiment did not work, I couldn’t let my key block image go. So I’ve decided to break some more rules in the search for blended, variegated colors.

My key block from my last experiment. Sadly, I will need to carve a new one.

 

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Key blocks bring everything together

I enjoy getting lost in cities — at least on foot. I delight in the unexpected finds that are off the typical tourist trail. But sometimes life demands a predetermined order, and my life has felt like that of late. I have been wanting to do another linocut featuring the undulating forms of rice paddies, and my current project demands structure in the form of a key block.

key-block

A test print of my latest linocut on newsprint. I’m wondering whether the large dark areas, when printed with an opaque green, will read convincingly as planted paddies.

For printmaker who use multiple blocks, a key block is a familiar element. In Japanese printmaking — especially Ukiyo-e — the key block carries all of the final graphic information and is usually printed last in a dark color. Printmakers will also use this block to transfer information to other blocks so they will know where to carve away for each color block. April Vollmer has written a terrific book on Japanese printmaking called Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop if you want to read more about this technique.

No key blocks for reduction printmaking

I never use key blocks with reduction printmaking. First, remember that I am only using one block. Sometimes the final stage of a block will look as though it is a key block, as I usually print the darkest color last. But I didn’t start with this last stage in mind; rather, the block evolved throughout the process.

Bahamas-last-layer

The last layers of my reduction work often look like this — where only the orangey part is actually printed. Not like a key block at all.

My latest linocut has a key block though. I will be using hand dyed silk to create the floating world imagery that my imagination has been clinging to. With these dyes and the silk, colors can flow easily into one another in way that is impossible to create using my typical techniques. The large blocks of dark ink are where I am considering having some rice that remains to be harvested, while the other areas are reflected water.

Carving as therapy

Carving a key block during this particular week has been a tonic. It is my equivalent of cleaning my house — a repetitive activity that has a tangible result at its end, but requires reduced thinking during the process. Like a working meditation, my mind can wander, my breath can slow.

Now I wait for longer paper to be delivered and prepare to allow the silk dyes to flow unimpeded through the fabric. A peaceful process for a peaceful image.

 

 

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Perspective is everything

Perspective is everything. I’m not just talking about two or three point perspective here, but also the question of “Why do you do what you do?” What is your motivation? This is a question ask of every linocut I undertake.

Using my imaginary view finder

In all of my linocuts, I take a subject matter that is familiar and try to look at it through a different view finder. Take your thumbs and pointer fingers into L-shapes and make a square. When you crop the scene, how does it change your experience of the subject matter?  I am most struck by how I experience topography, especially when viewed through the window of an airplane.

mountains-right-wing

View of mountains on my way to Portland, Oregon.

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Avoiding linocut regret … true confessions

The past week has been all about clouds and heat. My visit to the Des Moines Arts Festival was positive, but as always it was punctuated by lots of heat and threatening clouds. Luckily clouds are inspiring to me. Here are some that lit our way as we drove east back to Indiana…

skies over iowa

Traveling at over 70 mph meant that my Iphone could only capture this scene in a diffused impressionistic manner. I think it works for the image.

Back at home, I have been working hard on the plans for my large linocut inspired by another cloud scene. I worked to complete the drawing I had started before I left for Iowa — inspired in part by the lines and curves of a Georgia O’Keefe painting. One of the benefits to doing a full-sized study is you can see what your linocut might look like, and watch for mistakes.

I’m sometimes willing to start just from a pencil outline, and allow the design to develop as the printing progresses. I’m not willing to do this in the case of this large linocut. Perhaps it is the size of this linocut, along with the corresponding risks including the cost of the block (about $60), the paper (about $120), and my time that are giving me pause. I hung my completed tracing paper study on my hallway wall one evening, and the next morning had the terrible feeling that it was not right. Back to the drawing table…

graphite stick

My creation tool for large studies is a 9B graphite stick. The flat back end is useful for laying in tones without creating lines.

After another entire day of work, I came up with another version which I think works better. I spent lots of time looking at the values needed to make this a good composition, as well as what patterns I wanted to highlight in the work. When the two are hung together, I felt the bottom study was much more successful.

do over skies

A tale of two studies. I think the lower one works better for my purposes.

I’m still deciding about the horizon line. In the actual photograph, the horizon is made up of deciduous trees. But perhaps a more Iowa-like horizon would provide a better complement to the curvaceous clouds.  Now it is time to decide on the colors scheme for the clouds…

Even though I lost a few days of work with my do-over, I’m happy to realize my large mistakes on tracing paper — rather than after a month of carving and printing.

Where do you try to catch your mistakes? Any stories of linocut regret?

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Working from photographs … sort of

Clouds — my current fascination — are natural phenomena that are very difficult to sketch with any detail. They move, and your perspective changes each time you look up at the cloud and then down to your paper. My latest linocut planning makes use of a photograph I took with my Iphone and this artist’s secret tool — tracing paper.

small photo & sketches

A large photograph, tracing paper and ruler begin the transformation process.

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Sometimes horizons are necessary

Perspective in art is difficult. My early lessons came from sketching the interior of the Indiana University Art Museum, designed by famed architect, I.M. Pei. There are few right angles to be found except between the walls and the floor. So when I began my exploration of nature patterns and topographies, I was delighted to find that I could do this without using traditional perspectives.

Tranquil Terraces Dawning

©Elizabeth Busey. Tranquil Terraces Dawning. Reduction linocut. 10 x 33in image size, edition of 19, $300 unframed.

With some of my topographies, like Tranquil Terraces Dawning, I immersed the viewer in the patterns, which give a sort of roller coaster feeling of being about to plunge down into the rice paddies. But with clouds, this makes less sense…

The reality is that sometimes, what you are exploring is interesting only in relation to something else. With clouds, your eye really needs some cues if you are to understand the scale and the vastness of each formation. You need a horizon. I slipped a horizon into my second linocut, Highway Caprice. Now with my latest linocut, I’m back to horizons again.

pink horizon

You can see where I need to start experimenting with monotypes.

I have printed two layers of ink here, and you can see where the horizon line might be, but all will be revealed only after I do some carving and lay down some darker inks. The image for this linocut was captured east of where I live, after a tremendous storm over early spring fields. More will be revealed soon…

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Sneaking up on color

Were you one of those people who saw the Internet-featured dress as blue and black? Or were you in the white and gold camp? This was an example of color perception being relative — that color isn’t fixed, but changes depending on many factors. This makes finding the right next color layer a challenge for me. I have spent the last week or so sneaking up on the colors that I imagine for my next cloud-themed linocut. Here’s a portion of the linocut in progress:

Rosy colored cloud

Sunset illuminating clouds — in progress.

I’m exploring the effect that the setting sun would have on a blanket of clouds. I wanted the brightest parts to be either completely white or a warm yellow. The task then was to choose colors that will provide the dimensionality of the clouds, and then the dark (by contrast) blue and purple sky.

color chart

Watercolor chart created during election night for Bush v. Gore. I wonder if I will have some more nights like this during the current U.S. political season.

Intuitively, I want the lowest parts to have purple shadows, and the upper part to have a dark-greyed teal. But how to get there is the question. Purple over the yellow yields a rich brown, a color only associated with tornado clouds. I use this color chart to give me ideas of which way to head. I created this chart on the ill-fated election evening of the Bush vs. Gore election. Hour after hour we watched to see if a winner would be declared, and instead watched the newscasters flounder about in confusion. Mixing these watercolors kept me grounded.

My color challenges are two-fold. My sense is that the colors in the clouds should be transparent, so what color is beneath will directly affect the next color layer. In addition, what a color is next to greatly affects our perceptions. My favorite college art class (besides printmaking) was a color and composition class. Using a box of colored papers we were asked to create demonstrations that would fool the eye. Here are my two best examples:

pantone different looks same

Stripes of two different colors look the same when placed on different colored grounds.

In this example, the challenge was to take two different colors, and using different backgrounds convince the eye that it was seeing the same color. The colors I used are at the top, and then shown on top of two other colors. The illusion is helped by keeping the stripes away from each other.

pantone same looks different

Rectangles of the same blue green paper look markedly different on purple and yellow grounds.

In this example, the blue green paper is the same on each side, but your eye is challenged by the different color fields of purple and yellow.

I have probably two or three color layers left on my present linocut. Not much carving, but adding layers will more fully define the clouds and hopefully provide some more depth. To get to the darkest colors I may have to employ some more opaque ink, now that the cloud body is finished. I just hope I can accomplish on paper what I have had in my mind all along…

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