Category Archives: Experimentation

My love affair with painter’s tape begins here

I love painter’s tape.

This is a quick story to tell you why some of my latest work uses masking tape. And to illustrate the maxim that you never know where your next inspiration might come from…

I am not one of those artists (or writers) who is able to go to the studio every day and create. There are seasons of my life where creative pursuits are excruciatingly difficult, like earlier this summer. So instead, I painted the interior of my house. House painting is my form of meditation — even prayer. Two bedrooms later, and I realized that the main bathroom could use a make-over.

Bathroom freshly painted white.

My main bathroom, newly painted a fresh white. The vintage 1970s gold tiles sadly must stay.

What to do with all those sample paints?

I realized that I had ten small sample cans of paint from my various projects, and set a challenge for myself to create a mural in this otherwise nondescript bathroom. The design must also harmonize with the 1970s vintage gold tiles which are sadly staying.

I am fascinated by nature patterns and their mathematical foundations, so while doing some internet research, I came across Delaunay triangulation and Voronoi diagrams. (Click on these links for more mathematical explanations.) These constructions explain many patterns in nature including air bubble packing and leaf cellular structures.

Cat in mirror

My cat Gingersnap thought this project was fabulous, but needed more treats.

More people would love doing math if it involved tape and paint

I started the process by drawing random dots lightly on my white wall. A mathematician friend pointed out that humans can’t actually be completely random, and he’s right. I just tried not to make them regular. Then I used 1/4 inch painter’s tape to connect the dots into triangles that had the smallest sides possible. I overlapped on the mirror a bit so that my design would seem to grow out of the mirror.

Masking tape triangles and polygons

It took a lot of measuring to find the midpoints of all of the triangle sides and then perpendicular bisectors of each midpoint.

Next I used a clear ruler to find the midpoints of each line of each triangle, and marked this on the masking tape. Then I lightly drew pencil lines perpendicular to each of these midpoints. The intersection of these perpendicular lines was a new point — usually inside the triangle but not always.

I connected these new points, and they created polygons. My intention was to paint these polygons with the various colors of sample paint, which were surprisingly harmonious. I traced the polygons with Sharpie marker so I didn’t get lost.

Painting the polygons

Painting the polygons took one day for each coat of paint.

My sample paints are surprisingly harmonious

I chose seven colors of sample paint, including a new gold paint that would harmonize with my tiles. The darkest color reads as almost black in the images, but is really a dark purple. It took two coats of paint to make sure the polygons were saturated with color. Now the fun part begins!

About an hour after I finished the second coat, I began carefully peeling off the painter’s tape. From all I have read, this is the best timing to avoid pulling up the paint. I needed to touch up some places where the paint bled through the tape.

Completed

My wall completed.

Here is the completed wall. It is amazingly difficult to take an accurate image of this narrow space. See the video below to get a glimpse of the entire wall, including where the design wraps around a corner.

Is my bathroom great art? Probably not. Was it therapeutic during a time when I couldn’t do my studio work. Absolutely.

Now I have a new tool in my toolkit that was instrumental in my explorations at Penland School of Crafts. Stay tuned for more about me and the painter’s tape in my next blog.

 

Share

Ceding control to solvents

Solvents can make you lose control… in a good way. I learned about using them with monoprints during my time at Penland School of Crafts.

One of my biggest complaints about relief printmaking is that it is hard to have an image look painterly. You either have flat ink, some kind of blend roll, or layers of texture made by a rotary tool. Flow is something you rarely get with a relief print.

Solvent creates icy effects

This iceberg was created by dropping mineral spirits onto a rich phthalo blue inked plate.

Solvents are the Wild West

This iceberg image was one of the first ones where I used solvent freely. I liberally dropped mineral spirits on a transparent layer of phthalo blue lithography ink. Using a Q-tip and a paint brush, I drew around the areas with the solvent, and then let the pigment disperse. If you have ever sprinkled salt crystals on wet watercolor, the effect is similar, but much more pronounced.

Solvents are the Wild West on the monoprinting plate. Your inks can bleed into areas you didn’t intend, such as where the iceberg is now peaking out above the surface of the water. While oil-based ink can stay “open” — meaning you can work with it or wait to print for some time, when you put down the solvent, you are on the clock. I found that within 10-15 minutes, areas of my block had little pigment, and the surface appeared dry. When printed, you will see the white of the printing paper. Whether this is what you intended, or not. Delays also mean you lose some of the sharp details that solvents and brushes can create.

Bringing solvent back to the home studio

Despite the challenges of solvents, I was determined to figure out a way to use them in my home studio. I don’t have adequate ventilation to use solvents in my basement, so I purchased a small metal office table at the IU Surplus Store and placed it outside, close to a door that leads to the basement. I can bring the inked plate outside, use Q-tips, brushes and toothbrush bristles to apply the solvent to the plate, and then rush the plate back inside to the press.

Be careful to keep the plate perfectly level on the way to the press. Juicy solvent areas will run. I learned that the hard way.

Gamsol moves relief ink.

Gamsol moved the Gamblin relief ink well, but the ink itself transferred poorly from the plate to dry paper.

The battle between solvents, inks and papers

Even outside, odorless mineral spirits are toxic, so I was hopeful that I could use Gamblin’s Gamsol as a solvent and use my Gamblin relief inks for monotypes. I discovered two things: 1) the Gamsol moved the relief ink quickly on the plate, but 2) the Gamblin relief ink transferred poorly from the polycarbonate plate to dry paper. Gamblin’s website does recommend monoprinting on damp paper, but my studio doesn’t have the capability to soak paper. It would have to be done in our only bathtub up an entire flight of stairs. Plus once you get paper wet, it is difficult to register subsequent layers. So no relief ink…

Luckily I had some Hanco lithography inks, like those I used at Penland.  Unfortunately, the Gamsol didn’t move this ink well at all. So I will need to continue using odorless mineral spirits on my monoprint plates, and reacquaint myself with litho inks.

Gamsol didn't move lithography ink

Gamsol wasn’t strong enough to move the lithography inks in the ways I wanted.

One of the challenges I made for myself is to use new techniques intentionally. I want to ask myself — is there a reason why I am using solvent in this piece — other than the fact that it creates cool organic oozings of color…

This block has a great deal of ink and solvent. Not sure it is going to print well…

Here is a sneak peek at a multi-layered monoprint that I created using solvent and tape. Parts were successful, and parts went, well, squish.

More about the squish and the tape to come…

 

Share

Exploring Underprinting

Underprinting. Yep, that’s a thing. I have always envied oil painters who begin their paintings with loose gestures of colors — sometimes in a complementary color. The white of the printing paper can be daunting, and I am always looking for ways to create more depth and texture in my work. Enter the underprint.

When I created my new linocut Treasure of Great Price (see below), along with the companion Pandora’s Paradise, I wanted to experiment with something printed underneath that would provide movement and depth to my topography. I have also been thinking about the topographies that humans create — like mountaintop mining — and how harmful these can be to the earth. So I decided my underprinting block would be a fingerprint.

linoleum carved with fingerprint, gold ink

My twelve-inch block with one fingerprint, rolled up in gold.

Underprinting in the world of stamps and fossils…

Underprinting is used in the paper security industry — you might see these marks on stamps or paper currency. It also refers to the impression left by the footprint of a prehistoric creature, fossilized in lower sedimentary rock levels below the level of the initial footprint.

… and now printmaking…

I cut two twelve-inch blocks for this linocut, one that had the fingerprint, and one that would be reduced in my usual fashion. Because I used gold ink, the initial gold marks created a sort of resist as I printed subsequent layers, yielding an interesting texture. The marks are more visible in some layers than others, depending on tone and also hue.

linocut with colorful layers entitled Treasure of Great Price

©Elizabeth Busey. Treasure of Great Price. Reduction linocut. 12 x 12in (image size), ed. of 12, $300.

My small underprinting block’s success has led me to create a 25 x 40 inch block filled with seven fingerprints. I can’t wait to see how this will appear on a larger scale. Finger(prints) crossed.

 

Share

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!

Share

Sometimes it is smart to start small

Sometimes it is important to start small. I have a tendency to be impatient. I want to create an image on a LARGE scale. Unfortunately, I have some works that are large and problematic. If I had just taken the time to do a smaller study, I could have foreseen things that would go wrong later, but with much less heartache and with fewer sore muscles.

This year’s eclipse has been on my creative mind for a while. I spent the event deep in the woods, watching crescent moons dance across a dry shale creek bed. I have been wanting to capture the feeling of this experience, and tried out a few ideas recently.

 

Study of eclipse

A 9 x 12 inch study of eclipse moons on Thai Unryu paper.

When looking my eclipse photographs, I noticed two things. First, the crescent moon shapes weren’t sharp, but rather were soft, and didn’t meet at points. Some were larger than others, some more complete. The variation came from the different pinholes made in the forest canopy as the light came down. I wondered if I might distinguish between the shapes with different transparent colors, even though my experience and my photographs were mostly black and white.

Second, because it was not completely dark, you could see some of the tiny leaves and detritus that was on the creek bed. This provided some important 3D cues for the image. To address this issue, I decided to print on Thai Unryu paper. Sometimes called cloud paper, this is mulberry paper with thicker, longer fibers included. I wondered if the long fibers would show through in a way that might suggest the texture of the creek bed.

sample of thai unryu paper

Thai Unryu paper has longer fibers embedded in each sheet.

I’m glad I did this 9 x 12″ test print, because I think neither of these experiments was completely successful. Even while using very small changes in tone, the crescents separate in confusing ways. And when I printed the final darkest tones of the eclipse, the thin paper was completely saturated with pigment, and the long fibers are difficult to see.

I think I will do something I haven’t done for a long time — create an image with only one color — perhaps with only two or three passes of the same color. I will stick with my trusty Rives BFK as well, as the Thai Unryu paper became saturated and began to stretch out of shape as I repeatedly printed on it.

Learning on a smaller scale. It would be great if we could approach other things in life this way!

Share

What does HOPE look like?

I love art installations. I have yet to create an installation purely of my own work, and so I turn to my greater community for help. Thankfully, the congregation at First United Church in Bloomington, Indiana is tolerant of my needs and gladly participates when I ask.

This winter, I was obsessed with finding hope. I asked the congregation, as well as the community groups that use our space, to send me images of hope from their cell phone cameras. My comment to them was that unless it was an image of their grocery list or the book they wanted to read, the content was probably something that other people might find hopeful.

wave of photographs on blue paper

An installation of photographs on blue paper creates a wave of hope in the hallway of First United Church, Bloomington, Indiana.

Assembling the wave of hope

Over the course of a month or so, I received 120 images, which I downloaded and sent off to be printed. My challenge was to combine these images in a way that made a statement, but did not require expensive framing and could be displayed easily on a painted cinderblock wall.

A few years ago, I had seen an installation of solar printmaking using cardboard and small loose-leaf binder rings. I decided to augment this idea to create what I was seeing as “A Wave of Hope.” I purchased four colors of blue scrapbooking paper — thick enough, but not too heavy — along with 500 1/2 inch binder rings. With a newly acquired ATG tape dispenser, I mounted the photos in either a landscape or portrait format on the blue paper. I drilled holes through the stacks of paper, and took the entire set to the site for assembly.

 

The challenge of the actual installing

With the help of my daughter Hannah, we created a makeshift armature out of dowel rods and the hanging system in the art hallway. We formed chains of imagery, linked with these rings and attached each one invisibly to the armature with fishing line. The chains moved up and down as if they were waves, but were attached to one another so that they did not twist and the entire piece had a bit more stability.

I don’t hear huge exclamations when people pass the installation, but they slow down and seem absorbed in the imagery. I think that is what hope is like — it will sneak up on you if only you are open to receive it.

If you are so moved– why not attach a hopeful image in the comment section?

Share

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.

Share

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em … know when to fold ’em…

After a fall of experimentation, I have officially learned how NOT to print onto dyed silk. Economists talk about “sunk costs” — time and resources that have been used and cannot be regained. A month’s worth of work has been sunk. After licking my artistic wounds and engaging in some serious self-care, I now need to acknowledge all of the things I learned if only to avoid ever doing them again. Here’s a visual of what went wrong, and my interpretation that follows:

My dyed, glued and printed work, hopelessly warped and therefore impossible to register again.

Always test all of your materials before a big project

My first mistake was that I used untested materials in this linocut project. I had used a very lightweight silk for my Cope Hollow series, and blithely thought that if some silk was good, then a thicker silk would be better. I hypothesized that a slightly thicker weight fabric would be easier to control. It was easier to iron, but when I tried to adhere it with my combo of PVA and methyl cellulose, it stretched horribly no matter which way I worked with it. This lead to wrinkles in the fabric as it dried on the cotton paper.

Water was my Waterloo

Cotton rag paper like the Rives BFK paper that I use has no sizing, so it quickly absorbs water. I knew when I began this experiment that any water would make the BFK ripple. I did need some methyl cellulose (which contains water) in my glue mix because the PVA was too thick and dried too quickly. On my smaller Cope Hollow series, the amount of glue mix use didn’t seem to make the paper ripple terribly. But with a 10 x 33in block size, the increased amount of glue mix made the entire paper buckle, despite being dried amongst blotters with added weight. Making something multiplicatively bigger often multiples the problems as well.

Distance magnifies mistakes

I should have known that my registration set-up was going to be problematic. With my registration jig setup, some sacrificial paper is needed on one side for the attachment of the plastic tabs with masking tape. To most efficiently use my expensive paper, it made the most sense to put the tabs on the short edge. I learned many linocuts ago that it is very easy to misalign a long linocut because I’m placing the paper down from the side, and not head on. With the already warped paper, while I could manage to print the linocut in one color, I was completely unable to register the next color. Each attempt just got worse and worse, until I gave myself a studio time out and then decided to abandon the project.

Moving on and making plans

I still like the image itself, so one option I have is to cut another block the exact same size and use it to create the colors, printing my existing key block last. For now, I’ve put this block aside and have been coaxing some cumulus clouds from a similarly long block.

A section of a long linocut with towering cumulus clouds. No silk in sight.

Why is learning often painful and expensive? Thankfully there is always another linocut to distract me…

Share

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.

Share

Why would you want to print on silk? Part 1

I’m waiting…I needed to order more linoleum for another large cloud linocut, and of course this is taking longer than expected.

So as I wait, I’m exploring more ideas to incorporate into my printmaking. I have several drawings of rice paddies, and thought how nice it would be if there could be a watercolor effect in the paddies that are flooded. This type of blending with relief printmaking is nearly impossible. As my mind turned toward all things originating in Asia, I thought “SILK!”

Painting on silk is harder than tie-dying

My daughter and I have painted silk scarves with Procion dyes, often used for tie-dying. A e-mail exchange with the folks at Dharma Trading Company prompted me to purchase Jacquard (Green Label) dyes because I wanted to make sure all the colors were going to be stable. Blues (again!) are often the problem.

jacquard-colors

Jacquard (Green Label) Silk Colors were recommended as more stable than the tie-dye Procion dyes I had used before.

(more…)

Share