Category Archives: Inspiration

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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Every piece has a story

When is the story of a piece of artwork helpful, and when is it best to allow the viewer to create the story? This is a constant tension that I experience when I create and write about my work. Many of my images are inspired by actual places I have visited, or places that inspire me. People often see different things, which argues for the universality and diversity of our human experience, and this is delightful.

But sometimes people really want to know where the inspiration comes from. I recently came upon a short essay I wrote about driving across North Dakota. My linocut, March of the Cumulus, shares this inspiration, from a slightly different vantage point. Here are both:

bird's eye perspective of yellow green fields and clouds

Elizabeth Busey. March of the Cumulus, Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 13 x 28in, ed of 28.

Praying at High Speed

There is a thin place where this world and another almost touch on Interstate 94 in North Dakota. I have only experienced it from the windows of a minivan, driving at 80 miles per hour. It is either the very beginning or the very end of a day in our journeys to western Montana. In the middle, where your mind says “Stop and stay a while” but your body says “Just keep going – I cannot abide yet another day in the car.”

It is a holy drive of sorts. Windows up – it is only with my eyes that I am able to take in the grandeur of creation. Vast undulating planes of vibrant greens and shocking chartreuse unfold before me like an origami spring let loose. The fields are new wheat, milo, or rapeseed.  Over a small ridge, and suddenly the Tournesols – the sunflowers – slowly point the way to the source of all energy.

At 80 miles per hour, I feel slow and meditative. Cruise control on, my feet relaxed, the car steers itself ahead with little input from me. At once a jewel comes into view – a small lake with the dead white carcasses of trees sticking out topped deliciously with black crows. What color blue is this? I am going by so fast that I cannot guess – but it is a hue I carry inside me.

The July sky is cloudless. The sheer vastness and weight of our cerulean atmosphere presses down on everything.  We are slicing through a kaleidoscope carpet of colors held fast by this immense sky above as my prayers begin.

A prayer for the farmers and their difficult life. Being a farmer means risking your livelihood against capricious storms and winds and pestilence – against banks and markets and tariffs.

A prayer for the land. Little I see is in fact nature-made. The fields are planted atop soils that used to host prairies.

A prayer for the creatures that used to live in these prairies. Those that roamed along or crawled beneath or soared above. Now it is just the crows that call this place home.

A prayer for those whose footsteps and hoof prints used to make tracks in this land. For the sadness of their loss and the hope that their spirits might connect in new ways with forgiveness.

One hand on the steering wheel – my prayers emanating from this tiny capsule — carried off by the wind.

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What does your fear look like?

What does your fear look like? Does your inner critic have a face? What does that nagging voice say in your ear — making you doubt your current and past choices?  Certainly everyone faces these types of experiences, but for artists, it can be a daily struggle.

Taking Big Magic to heart through writing

I’m taking a six-week class looking at Big Magic, the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert examines creativity as an everyday activity that everyone can embrace, not a rarified talent only bestowed on a few. In our first session, our facilitator Kim Evans, asked us to consider what our fear looks like — what does it say to us and what adjectives would describe it. We even drew pictures of our fear. Here’s my funny caricature:

adjectives and a drawing of my fear

I’m pretty sure my fear would be critical of my portrait skills as well.

We were also asked to write a letter — either to our fear, or from our fear to ourselves. I chose the later. My fear expressed concern that I lack a BFA in Fine Art, let alone an MFA. The fact that my art creation could not support our family also reared its ugly head. Finally, my fear posited that it was possible I would become a curly white-haired woman who just talked to her cats. With the exception of the last worry, most of these worries are very similar to those that my young adult children are experiencing as they leave my home and make their way in the world. My advice of them is to try their hardest to embrace the thing that interests them, and see what happens. It is harder to take one’s own advice.

When fear shows up in the studio

In my studio, I’ve had a very different kind of fear show up. I’m working on a very large linocut (25 x 40 in,) and I found myself paralyzed as I tried to make my starting color choices. The large paper (30 x 44in) costs over $9.00 per sheet, making printing on my 20 pieces of paper in the edition suddenly a costly decision. I struggled all of Friday with thumbnails of how I could possibly begin. Because I use transparency, this first color sets the entire composition.

Beginning a plan for a large linocut

I use thumbnail sketches to imagine how my color choices will work on a larger scale. Here I use my smaller work to remind myself of possible starting places.

I finally had to put the sketchbook away for the weekend. Monday morning, I simplified my approach, took a deep breath, and began. I have to trust that my previous experiences can inform this new work, and it will be OK. The fearful, critical voice must be drowned out and the printing commence.

After five hours of printing with this huge block of linoleum today, I’m exhausted, but I’ve quieted most of my fears. I still may become a curly, white-haired woman who spends most of her day talking only to her cats. I guess I’m OK with that.

A Big Magic workshop in July

If you think you’d like to work with a group on the topics of creative living — and yes, fear — Kim is offering a workshop in Asheville, NC this July. Here are the details.

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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.

 

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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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Meditating on Land and “From the Ashes”

Life is not linear…and neither are the ways of inspiration.

It all started with a landscape-themed invitational show at the Krempp Gallery in Jasper, Indiana. The curator of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Ferdinand, Indiana saw my work there, and contacted me to see if I would like to have a show in their library next January.

Since I have some time, and because of the particular spiritual nature of St. Meinrad’s, I thought I would take the next nine months or so to develop a special body of work for this exhibit. I had started working with topographical themes again at the end of 2017, and I didn’t feel finished with the topic. Then John Mellencamp came to campus…

Can you tell whether this topography was created by nature, or by people?

What does John Mellencamp have to do with land?

I should explain that John Mellencamp lives outside of Bloomington, Indiana and owns land adjacent to my subdivsion, which he bought in the 1970s to prevent the subdivision from getting any bigger. He was in his mid-twenties at that time, and was protecting what was then land recovering from farming from becoming more split levels and ranches. There are now hiking trails through this land, and I appreciate his forethought.

Recently Mellencamp was on the IU campus to introduce a screening of the documentary From the Ashes, which looks at the US coal industry, and how it affects disparate areas of the nation as well as the environment as a whole. I wasn’t able to attend the screening, but discovered I could easily purchase the documentary on Amazon. (You can rent it as well on many streaming services.) It is worth your time to watch this documentary.

Land isn’t only on the surface

Coal is land. Burning coal is the biggest contributor to climate change. Leaving coal in the ground — admitting that clean coal is economically not feasible — stopping mountaintop removal — protecting water sources from pollution … all of these topics center on land.

How we think about it.
How we use it.
How we share it and profit from it.
How we protect it.

Two new topographical studies began with the pattern of a human fingerprint. Who knows if this will work…

I’ve started two small studies of topography, thinking about land not only as a surface, but also imagining what is underneath. How can I talk about this three dimensional question in a two-dimensional medium?

This new direction may be meandering and uncertain. But it feels important to take the journey.

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What good does your art do for the world?

What good does your art do for the world? I realize this is a challenging question for artists — at least it is for me. But as 2017 has come to an end, it is just the sort of thing I want to ponder as I make plans for 2018.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

Printmaking meets installation

During our recent arctic blast, I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center to see the work of Caledonia Curry, who also goes by the name Swoon. Curry combines large scale relief and silkscreen printmaking to create large vibrant installations. Spanning two floors, the exhibit also makes use of wallpapers that she designed and had printed near her Brooklyn studio.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

The exhibit, entitled Swoon The Canyon • 1999-2017, is Curry’s first retrospective show. We see her take inspiration from New York City street scenes and subway windows, and then transition to much larger social and environmental themes. Often, Curry combines the creation of the work with some sort of direct social involvement. Her early New York City work was adhered with wheat paste to the very neighborhoods she was celebrating.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

Printing the personal…

Curry looks to more personal themes in the section entitled Medea. The lifecycles of women are superimposed on intricate wall papers as she works through personal themes of love, loss, trauma and forgiveness. An explanatory pamphlet and many audio visual links accompany this exhibit, so I felt both included in the artist’s process and thinking, while still being able to engage with the work on a personal level. As my own children leave me for their own lives, the Medea section was particularly poignant.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

… as well as the political

The final section of the exhibit encompasses Curry’s interest and involvement with social justice, where she seeks to have her artistic practice affect change for individuals and communities. She has done this in Kenya, Haiti, and Mexico, as well as communities in the United States. In the image above, Curry highlights her work in Braddock, PA where she helped establish a non-profit that provides employment for young adults creating architectural and fine art tiles.

I came away both encouraged and a bit daunted. My path to art creating has been different from Curry’s to be sure. I probably won’t be able to affect change on the same scale. For 2018, I’ve decided to keep my eyes open for opportunities to make the world just a bit better. Perhaps one person at a time.

How will you do good in 2018?

 

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Finding beauty in your own backyard

Oil on pavement on a misty day.

Oil on pavement on a misty day.

How do you find beauty in your own backyard? This was a question posed to me by my dear childhood friend Renee’s husband, Henry Styron, as part of an interview for his blog. The blog — Advice for Everyone (and other stuff) is a delightful combination of interviews with regular folk like me, and other things Henry has compiled from the more famous — from William Shakespeare to Ann Landers.

Follow this link to my interview and my advice! 

Pistachios

Pistachios ready for chopping!

Fingerprint cloudscape

Fingerprint cloudscape from Bloomingfood’s parking lot!

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A Visit with Emily

Emily Carr must have been quite a woman.  She smoked a pipe and sometimes swore at her art pupils, ran a boarding house and bred dogs to earn money, and spent her life learning and growing as an artist. A Canadian artist who lived between 1871 and 1945, she is well-known for her work documenting the people and totems of the First Nations of the Canadian Northwest.

Much has been written about Emily Carr, from various biographies to the somewhat fiction of Susan Vreeland’s The Forest Lover. Carr wrote prolifically herself, from autobiographical works to a hilarious book of cartoons chronicling a trip to Alaska with her sister. The facts of her life are a bit of a mystery — she sometimes contradicted herself in describing her incredible life. These are fascinating reads to be sure, but what I love about Emily Carr are her trees. I had an opportunity recently to go to Vancouver, B.C. and see some of Emily’s trees in person.

Emily Carr, Abstract Tree Forms.

Emily Carr. Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32. Oil on paper. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.

Capturing the feeling of the forest

The Vancouver Art Gallery has a substantial collection of Emily Carr’s works. Her immersion in the forests themselves came during the last part of her painting career, after she spent many years painting the totems and villages of the coastal Northwest.

Small cedar tree growing on a larger stump

Rare November sunlight backlights a young cedar tree, determined to grow on the stump of an ancient ancestor. Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.

If you have ever visited a forest in the Pacific Northwest, you will know that they feel intrinsically different from the forests of eastern North America, and distinct still from the dry mountain west. These forests have plentiful water and lush vegetation. During Emily’s time, their isolation from logging meant that she was able to experience the overwhelming green presence of the forest as its own living, breathing entity. This is what she captures in her earlier forest paintings.

Part of her success in capturing these feelings comes from her unorthodox use of materials. She was constantly economizing so that she could continue to paint prolifically. So that she could go paint on site in the forest, she invested in manila paper as a substrate and made a cardboard hinged portfolio that was easy to carry. She used “good quality white house paint thinned with gasoline” so that her oil paints flowed like watercolors and dried quickly, but were also opaque and felt substantial.

Emily Carr. Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky.

Emily Carr. Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky. 1935. Oil on Canvas. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.

Emily Carr as environmentalist

The appetite for raw lumber in British Columbia was voracious, with much of Vancouver Island being decimated by clear cutting during her final painting years. Thus, Emily’s later work becomes an environmental commentary. She anthropomorphized trees, calling the tree stumps she captured in her work “screamers.” Last week, the State of Indiana unnecessarily sold nearby older growth forest land for clear-cutting, so her characterization resonates with me.

Emily Carr. Above the Trees.

Emily Carr. Above the Trees. 1939. Oil on Paper. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.

One of my new favorite works of Emily is Above the Trees. As a result of her painting logged forests,  she became more aware of skies. My non-flash image does not do this work justice — the intensity and activeness of the blue sky makes me think of a heavenly fingerprint above tree spirits.

Emily Carr is now a celebrated artist both in Canada and beyond. She has a school of art named after her, and her life is now the subject of much scholarly discourse. But throughout her life she was mostly alone and unappreciated, living at the edges of a society that did not support women as artists. For her tenacity in every day life and for her dogged pursuit of her vision, I am eternally grateful. Nice to see you in person, Emily.

 

 

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