Category Archives: Inspiration

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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Accepting the muse that shows up thanks to Big Magic

Finding your next great idea — or maybe you would call it connecting with your muse — can be difficult. I wonder if Georgie O’Keefe had self-doubts about her transition from dark cityscapes to colorful desert landscapes. I’m still mulling over what to do with my recent eclipse study, but have been recently captivated by the topographic map bookmarks we made at my recent Open Studio.

topography inspired bookmarks

These bookmarks continue to inspire me with their undulating line work.

I created the drawing for the second block from a real topo map of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I have hiked this area which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is filled with unexpected formations, from gorges to natural bridges, all noted by these squiggling lines. Back in my studio, most of my work does not depend on line work specifically, but I continue to be drawn to these topo lines.

topographical hiking maps

Topographical maps are not only essential when hiking, but aesthetically inspiring as well.

Topo maps are helpful and beautiful…

We have a collection of hiking maps from our travels in North America and Europe. In our recent trip to the Pyrenees, my husband and I relied heavily on a topo map to get us safely down from an exposed trail during an afternoon thunderstorm. The lines told us that yes, the scree-filled avalanche chute was in fact the way down.

I find these lines aesthetically pleasing as well. After the Open Studios tour, I now have time to get back to work, and kept thinking about these lines. The bookmarks we created were colorful and visually active, but perhaps not complex enough for larger work. This is where Big Magic comes in…

Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is essential reading if you are a creative person who sometimes puts too much pressure on your creativity.

Big Magic is essential reading

If you are a creative person of any type, you should get a copy of Big Magic and read it. I refer to mine so frequently that I don’t loan it out to anyone. In the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of several books including Eat, Pray, Love, discusses how to live sanely as a creative person. One of my favorite parts considers how we mistreat our creativity in our quest for fame or remuneration.

“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” (Gilbert. Big Magic, 154)

I am guilty at being unkind to my creativity when I demand to know before I start whether my next endeavor will be worthy of a frame — or a possible entry for a prominent show — or my next sale. When I yell, so to speak, nothing goes well.

So I’m back in the studio with two blocks, pushing topographical lines into new contexts. Will it work out? I have no idea. But grooving to my Spotify throwback list and rolling our fresh ink made for a memorable day. And there was no yelling…

 

 

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When your passion becomes work (and what to do about it)

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is a professional musician. She mentioned that she doesn’t listen to music at home. “It feels too much like work,” she admitted. She usually opts for television or non-music radio.

This observation resonated with me. There are times in my life where I need some sort of creative distraction to relax and alleviate stress. Because my visual art practice is what I do for a good part of my day – and is sometimes the source of my stress — I have been looking for other ways to be creative.

glimpses of the elipse

I am thoroughly enjoying reading poets who write about the natural world, and trying my hand at some writing as well.

Trying something different

I recently signed up for a writing circle with a local nonprofit writing group called Women Writing for a Change. The topic of the six-week Thursday night writing circle is “Listening to Mystery: Writing, Presence and Poetry.” Each week, we begin with a poetry reading from various spiritual traditions and have a time of meditation. We do “fast writes” where we write furiously about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes we share our writing in small groups, and sometimes we read to the entire circle.

I am thoroughly enjoying the experience, in part because it is a creative practice that I am doing just for me. For two and a half hours my cell phone is silenced, and I am present to myself and my circle-mates. I have no ambitions to become a published writer. Creation for creation’s sake is a gift.

This class has also encouraged me to have a morning ritual to get myself into creative time. For years I have fought against the Morning Pages of Julia Cameron. Thanks to my writing circle, I have been beginning my creative time by emptying my monkeymind on the page and writing any thoughts about what I want to accomplish in the studio that day. Then I read a poem (my favorites are Mary Oliver and W.S. Merwin) and spend some time writing about something I hear in the poem, or something the muse brings me. After that, I am in a place to begin my studio time.

cat on fabric color chart.

My cat Gingersnap relaxes on a color chart from custom fabric printer Spoonflower. Apparently she has a fondness for purple.

Dabble in something practical

I have also begun dabbling in designing fabrics using some of my patterns that I have simplified. I have no idea where this practice will take me, but I will at least reupholster my sagging dining room chairs and get some new pillows.

I find that with these new additions to my creative life, I am finding my studio time to be more energized and fruitful.

What do YOU do to enhance your creative practices?

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How do you make creative work in a time of chaos?

This blog post is a long time coming. Stuck in my throat for months, today is the day when the not writing becomes more painful than the writing.

How do you make creative work in a time of chaos?

I’ve been asking myself this question for the better part of nine months, without coming to any conclusions. Over the past months, I have felt my energies pulled in areas where I am deeply concerned, but powerless to affect in an immediate sense. I have felt this from my audiences as well. It takes energy to engage with artwork. When you have spent your emotions for the day by calling your elected officials, or trying to engage with your racist cousin, you want nothing else than to sip your purchased wine and stroll past art festival booths without going in.

Great Unknown, a linocut by Elizabeth Busey

Elizabeth Busey. Great Unknown. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 18 x 18 in (image size), ed of 21.

I get it. I feel that way as well.

Instead of throwing myself into my materials and the swirling worries of the day, it is easier to numb my brain watching energetic people flip houses in thirty minutes to an hour. If only a fresh coat of paint, some exposed shiplap and a new backsplash of subway tile would wash away the horrors of each day’s news headlines.

Making things new. Making things better. These are valid, even valuable goals to have. But what if what I “do” now seems superfluous, even vapid and shallow? Should I create more? Should I press on with my body of work and wait until the skies clear?

Some would argue that your work should speak to the times. How I envy people whose artistic vision can dovetail seamlessly and speak directly to all of the pain, fear and anger that has arisen in the United States. Perhaps my work is an antidote to all of these feelings, but right now that does not seem to be enough.

How do you make creative work in a time of chaos?

I visited the Catalan region of Spain this summer with my husband. We spent time in the cities of Barcelona and Girona, and hiked in the Benasque region of the Pyrenees. I saw the works of the native sons of the region — Picasso and Miro. I’m not a devotee of either artist, but it was illuminating to see their progression as artists at museums that housed their work.

What was more illuminating in this trip was learning about the Spanish Civil War. Both cities still had public bomb shelters that were now contained in city parks. Plainly said, these shelters were built to protect the citizens from the bombs of their own government. Both Picasso and Miro escaped to France during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso painted his famous protest painting Guernica in 1937 in Paris, a protest of the German bombing of the city of the same name.

Some people today will create work in the vein of Picasso’s Guernica. That will be valuable. Yet most of us would not like this image to greet us daily on our living room walls.

Is creative work that is calm, peaceful, rejuvenating, or even hopeful appropriate today? Necessary?

I would like to think that it is.

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