Category Archives: Experimentation

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?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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…)

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Where do you hide your experiments?

I sometimes wish I was a painter. There are efforts throughout the year where artists create a painting a day. What that must be like — the potential to experiment with a new idea each day! I am usually wedded to an artistic idea for quite a while. Some end up in frames, and others lie quietly in a drawer, silently mocking me.

The challenge of trying something new

img_4108

I cut some linocuts into one inch squares, finally aided by a scrapbooking punch.

I crave novelty, especially when I have just finished something large and demanding. I had been feeling this way after framing my large linocuts, Breath of Hermes and Summertide Brings the Derecho. My spoiled linocuts had been used in a project to create eight-pointed stars, and my brain wanted to pursue this idea further. I decided to cut some of these linocuts into small squares and experiment with some collage in an homage to Chuck Close.

My first realization was that it is quite difficult to cut perfect one-inch squares. So I ventured into a craft store and found a scrapbook punch that make quick of work of my scrap linocuts. Suddenly I had a quite a palette of color.

The joy of taking things apart

In my style of printmaking, there is no going backwards — only forwards. So I delighted in the ability to try different things with these squares…

img_4109

First I put the squares flowing from color to color….

experimental-friday

I posted this on Instagram during an Experimental Friday.

Then I chose a pattern from the center, working outward. After making my commitment, I glued everything down to a cradled board and covered it with a few layers of self-leveling gel medium. Turns out that this medium is not completely flat like a resin, but was certainly adequate for my experiment.

What do you do with your experiments?

Now I was left with this lighthearted creation that I was pleased with. But I had no burning desire to venture into the world of collage. My 12-inch square creation was propped in my studio for a few weeks, until a fit of home-change overtook me.

bathroom-art

We have the world’s smallest master bathroom which has never had artwork in the over twenty years we have used it. So I took nails and a hammer, and hung it! Because the work is coated with acrylic gel medium, it should resist the steamy conditions. It is the perfect hiding place for a fun experiment. Now back to another cloud linocut… and some more experiments.

What do you do with your experiments?

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What do you do with your failed linocuts?

Working in multiples has the unfortunate consequence that when you fail, you fail in multiples. For every few linocuts I create, there is always a series that doesn’t work out. Maybe the image doesn’t read right. Perhaps it is boring. There are others in a successful series that have poor registration or inking problems. The paper I use is expensive, and when you are left with a stack of linocuts not destined for frames, it is hard to know what do with them, but also hard to throw them away.

If the paper is large enough, I simply put the stack away, later to be flipped over and used as tests for the next series.  I’ve heard of people who have an annual bonfire of their less successful work, and that has its appeal although it is clearly not environmentally friendly. My friend artist James Campbell has used old art magazines as the basis for sculptures, and I have considered cutting and stacking my linocuts, adhering them in some way that I could then sculpt them.

Lotus stars

Two folded eight-point stars made from my linocuts are ready to join over 10,000 stars woven in Bloomington, IN as part of a worldwide effort.

The best use so far has come from staff and volunteers from the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation in the form of eight-pointed woven stars.  “One Million Stars to End Violence : Lotus International Star-Weaving Project is part of a global effort to create an installation that speaks to the violence occurring globally. Creator Talia Pau from Australia explains, “Every star is a commitment to resist violence and revenge, to believe in forgiveness and healing.” The more than 10,000 stars woven in Bloomington, IN will join those woven around the world at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.  (more…)

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The completion of a temperamental linocut

Vexing. This an apt description of the weather in my part of the world. Wide swings in temperature, plus punishing storms make for unpredictable living. Two weeks ago I wrote about similar trials in layering inks. After giving the linocut an entire week to dry, I soldiered on, armed with metallic inks.

Tempest Intermezzo

©Elizabeth Busey. Tempest Intermezzo. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 14 x 28in image size, edition of 14, $350 unframed.

I first printed a gold layer, which faded as it approached the horizon, over the patchy purple. Thankfully metallic inks are very opaque and tend to cover a multitude of difficulties. Another deeper blue went on the clouds, which did not share the inking problems. But I was concerned that the clouds might not tolerate too many more layers… (more…)

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Houston we have a problem

landscape two layers

Two layers printed of my latest linocut featuring clouds.

Today was one of those studio days that makes you question all of your decisions…and all because of ink. I have been working on my latest linocut, a landscape with broody clouds and dark early spring fields, with a hint to clearing in the middle. Here is the underprinting of lighter colors before the contrast…

(more…)

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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

pochoir

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.

 

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