Coaxing inspiring art out of the weeds

Resilience. One of those watchwords for the year 2020. Staying at home for me meant creating cyanotypes, often with whatever was around. So I had to coax my inspirations out of my nemesis — the ground cover weed Creeping Charlie. In the Midwest, this European transplant is definitely resilient.

Vertical monoprint collage reflections skyscraper building sunrise plants cyanotype vintage maps Elizabeth Busey 24 x 18 inch
Resilience at Daybreak. Monoprint collage with cyanotypes and vintage maps, 24 x 18in, $600 ($770 framed.)
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Creation as Meditation

“This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.”

This is My Song
Lyrics by Lloyd Stone (with a third stanza by Georgia Harkness)
Sung to the tune Finlandia from a tone poem by Jean Sibelius
©Elizabeth Busey. This is my song. Monoprint collage, 12 x 12 in. ($350, $450 framed)
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Creating amidst crises

Creating amidst crises can either be cathartic or impossible. My crises actually started before the current novel coronavirus. In early February, my husband was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor, and within a week he had surgery to have it removed. Rare, but benign, I guess you could say we won the brain tumor lottery. Could I create anything during a month of worry and caregiving. Not at all.

Getting your creative groove back is something I have spent some time considering. Read some suggestions here. A month after his surgery, I spent time looking at old work in my flat files, and came across a multiple block woodcut I created while a student at Indiana University in 2009. Our prompt was another worrying pandemic — the novel H1N1 virus, nicknamed Bird Flu

Goose Girl in the Time of Flu. Multiple block woodcut, 18 x 18in approx.
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Being mindful can make the difference

Tomorrow night is the winter solstice where I live.  As much as I try, I find the darkness and gloom this time of year oppressive. Add challenging circumstances, whether they be personal, relational or political, and it can be just unbearable. Since a vacation to the southern hemisphere is not a possibility this year, I have turned to being mindful — in my art and in my life.

Coming of the Light. Monoprint collage with gold leaf. 18 x 24in, $475.
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Coaxing emotion out of color and shape

Do you ever get a feeling simply from the color or shape of something? Sanctum (below) came about as I mused about what made me feel supported and renewed. Relying on a Voronoi diagram matrix, I employed both color and shape to explore these emotions. (New readers: You can learn more about my obsession with Voronoi diagrams and art here.)

Elizabeth Busey. Sanctum. Monoprint collage. 18 x 18in, $475 ($575 framed.)

I purposefully used the structure in different ways. Some were familiar polygons, and others more angular.  I can see several  examples from nature that are evoked by these elements. But I’d rather not influence your reactions.

What do you see?

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A study in blues

What do you think of when you see the color blue? To me, it is the color of beginnings — of water and sky. Deep and moody, filled with possibility. My latest monoprint collage is a meditation on blue.

©Elizabeth Busey. Emanation. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Water figures prominently is creation stories worldwide. At a time when I find myself impatient for progress and peace, both personally and globally, immersing myself in blues has been a calming practice.

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Stop watching and start doing

We have so many ways to learn new things. We can watch Youtube videos to learn how to fix our cars. We can watch cooking shows to improve our culinary techniques. Watching other people being creative can be stimulating or calming. But is it actually enriching? At what point should we stop watching and start doing?

Rolling out a new blend and seeing how it behaves on my Voronoi diagram inspired monoprint matrix.
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Making sense of why

After two days of ridiculously warm weather, February has returned to its normal pace of dark and dankness. As someone who needs sunlight to boost my mood, this is a rough month. While I sit at my drawing table, or print in my basement, I struggle to make sense of why I am creating art.

One of the delights of working with collages is that each one begins with a great deal of unknown. As I choose patterns and rhythms, maps and papers, the work begins to make more sense. This sense of now knowing can be a challenge as well. I hope at some point, the work begins to feel whole.

©Elizabeth Busey. Opalescence. Monoprint collage, 12 x 12in.

Opalescence is one of those collages that came together only at the very end. The addition of the mint green topomaps and my use of interference pigments on some of the patterned monoprints made me think of the random color effects of an opal, my birthstone.

What if no one knew what they were doing?

Imagine if most of the world sat down each day to work thinking, “I have no idea where this is going, and I have no idea why I am doing it.” Certainly chaos would ensue. Yet this is exactly the state I signed up for when I decided to create art.

I came across a passage from Anne Lamott’s writings in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (2012) which perfectly captured why I make art despite this state of constant discomfort:

“In paintings, music, poetry, architecture, we feel the elusive energy that moves through us and the air and the ground all the time, that usually disperses and turns chaotic in our busy-ness and distractedness and moodiness. Artists channel it, corral it, make it visible to the rest of us. The best works of art are like semaphores of our experience, signaling what we didn’t know was true but do now.”

Back to making my semaphores… Thanks Anne.

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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.

 

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Experiencing Penland School of Crafts Withdrawal

I have Penland withdrawal. Penland School of Crafts is an artist retreat in the mountains of western North Carolina. It was originally established in 1929 to train local women to weave and market their products. Over the years it has evolved into one of the premiere craft schools, increasing its offerings to include media outside the traditional craft realm, including printmaking.

Penland is an artistic bucket list destination

Participating in a Penland summer workshop has been on my bucket list for some time, so when a monoprinting workshop showed up on the schedule, I signed up as soon as the application site went live. (Some of their courses are so popular that this is a very good idea.) For almost two weeks you are taken out of your normal routine to a stunning mountain campus. You are fed three meals each day, at which time you can chat with over 200 people who are there to make art, just like you. You can see a Youtube video about Penland here.

Sunset over The Pines at Penland School of Crafts
The view of the mountains and The Pines, where delicious food and good company are served up in equal measure.

The monoprinting class was taught by Andy Rubin, who has extensive printmaking knowledge from his many years of teaching at various universities as well as serving as the master printer for Tandem Press at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Along with studio assistant Jessica Merchant (MFA in Printmaking from UW, Madison), the class began with the basics of monoprinting and using Penland’s etching presses. Monoprinting was not covered in my classwork at Indiana University, so while I know my way around a press, the rest was completely new territory.

Printmaking demo by Andy Rubin at Penland School of Crafts
Andy Rubin demonstrates using a blend roll and stencils on the polycarbonate monoprinting plate, as studio mate Lisa Steffens looks on.

Learning something completely new with monoprinting

This summer has been yet another in my life with many transitions. Adult children moved away and I completely changed how I have been showing my work. I felt strongly that I needed to push my work in new directions, and monoprinting seemed like a splendid way to do this. I was not disappointed. I learned new techniques such as stencils, ghost printing, and the use of solvent on ink. Others included painting directly on the plate, transferring drawing media, and creating a collagraph. Monoprinting can be fast or slow, depending on the techniques you choose. We had a wide variety of painters, printmakers and collage artists in the class, so someone was always doing new exciting work. Working in the studio was the perfect combination of demonstrations with lots of time to work in our own unique styles.

Printmakers take time to explain artwork and technique at Penland School of Crafts
Artists and other visitors would wander through the studios, and my classmates Kendall and Taylor were tremendous ambassadors for the printmaking tradition.

Our studio of twelve had artists from seniors in undergrad programs to people who were embracing art in their retirement. I spent almost all of my time in the studio, so I was able to experience the differing energies of the morning printers, and those who found their groove towards midnight. Everyone brought such generous energy and good will to the studio each day.

Monoprint in warm yellow and Phthalo blue. My first monoprint at Penland School of Crafts
One of my first monoprints (18 x 24in) created with a large brayer, stencil, solvent, Q-tips and brushes.

Did I mention this was my first experience with monoprinting? In the next set of blogs, I will show you some of my early works. I sarcastically call them “newbie art” but there is no doubt that learning something new as an adult can be humbling.

New techniques produce new imagery

The above work was made during my first evening studio session after a day of introductory demos. I chose Phthalo Blue and a warm yellow lithography ink and created a huge blend roll. I cut stencils out of mylar (the small swooping shape) and tried out using mineral spirits to move the ink around on the block with both q-tips and brushes. While the movement was quite interesting, I wanted to use the techniques more intentionally.

Iceberg, both above and below the water, is created with opaque and transparent inks. Created at Penland School of Crafts
Opaque and transparent inks, plus brayers, paper daubers, solvent and masking tape created my first iceberg. More to come?

My next series dealt with icebergs. Above the waterline, I used opaque inks (pigment mixed with white) and a brayer to create the ice. Masking tape defined the edges of the iceberg top, and was removed before printing. The underwater portions were created by dragging a dauber of folded printing paper through the transparent phthalo blue, displacing some of the ink. I quickly used some solvent in a more judicious manner before running everything through the press.

Clearly re-entry into normal life is going to be rough. Suddenly I am in charge of meals once more, plus the myriad of other chores that life entails. I can now receive phone calls and texts again, and it is much harder to achieve that groove that Penland can give you.

Further blogs will talk more about solvents and my new love — masking tape. Stay tuned.

By the way — what’s for dinner?

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