Category Archives: Landscape

Printmaking sometimes takes an eternity

Printmaking can sometimes take an eternity. Or this is how it seems. My first art professor impressed upon me that unlike reading a book which can be skimmed, or writing a paper during an all-nighter, making art takes the time it takes. This fall, I have found this to be true. I decided to create a linocut concept that had twelve layers of ink, the most I have ever done.

On the Far Side of Forever, an aerial inspired linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. On the Far Side of Forever. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 16 x 21in (image size), 28 x 37in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

I wanted to create imagery that asked the question — what if aerial views were like topographical maps? To answer this question, I created both horizontal (above) and vertical (below) compositions. I imagined the views a hawk or turkey vulture might have, if they were flying around in a topo-filled world.

The Grand Eternal Show, a topographically inspired aerial view linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. The Grand Eternal Show. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 21 x 14in (image size), 31 x 23in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

Creating similar but not the same

To make these works harmonize, but not be the same, I used different views of the topography so that the largest shapes are repeated. I also wanted to find a way to make the layers not be completely homogeneous. To do this, I started both series with some loose diagonal color fields as the first layer of ink. I even reversed the location of each color for the different linocuts.

First layer of linocut has rough inexact color fields.

The first layer had rough, inexact color fields.

Carve this, not that

One of the more difficult tasks was remembering where to carve for each subsequent layer. Once a layer was carved away, I could not go back and touch up the linear marks that divided it from the others. Each time I printed, I also printed the line marks to keep them a consistent tone throughout, even if the color was somewhat different.

The last layer — the lines alone — required some strategy. I could leave them with the darkest tone only, but this meant that the darkest areas were not well differentiated from a distance. So I went to my old friend, gold ink.

Getting serious with pigment

I had been using a very old gold ink from Handschy, and wondered if another ink would give me more brilliance. I ordered some Charbonnel gold etching ink on a whim, and now was able to give it a try. As you can see from the video, this ink does not have the viscosity of most relief inks. I wanted to keep the pigment as intense as possible, since it was going to go over fairly dark blues and greens. The addition of some burnt plate oil allowed me to gradually roll out the stiff ink.

Gold ink on the last layer of the topography linocut.

The last layer need to print clearly. The thick gold etching ink did the job well.

While the ink looked too thick on the glass, and didn’t make that velvety sound I usually strive for, it did adhere to the linoleum well and printed evenly on the ink-saturated paper. With one layer of ink, the gold sheen can be delicately seen, especially in the problem dark areas. I wondered if more gold would be better, and printed another layer of gold immediately. This gave me more gold reflection, but meant that now your eye was confused about what was important. I wanted the work to be more about the layers, with the lines playing a supporting role. So I stuck to one layer of gold ink.

The feeling of satisfaction I had upon completing these two linocuts was one I haven’t felt in a long time. For this, I am eternally grateful.

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Embracing Acceptance as an Artistic Practice

With each passing year, I have been working to accept things as they are. My abilities in my rowing class will never match those of rowers who are twenty year my junior. I cannot make decisions for others who are now fully in charge of their lives. And when ink misbehaves, all I can do is try to finish the linocut, letting go of that elusive goal of perfection.

large cloud exploding over mountains.

©Elizabeth Busey. The World Turned Upside Down. Reduction Linocut on Somerset, 25 x 40in image size, edition of 12, $800.

The World Turned Upside Down has been a two-month odyssey in perseverance and acceptance. If you read my earlier blogs, I wrote about ink overextension. With reduction linocuts (and perhaps with any multi-layered printmaking) the behavior of one ink layer completely affects the following layers. If the first layer does not print evenly, the following layers will not either, no matter what pressure you use, what ink concoction you create or whatever sacrifices you make to the printmaking gods.

This large linocut was printed on new, expensive Somerset paper. I purchased the paper in hopes of solving a texture problem I thought was perhaps related to the paper surface. Once my problems began, the paper was already committed, so I made the decision to go ahead with the print anyway.

This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. A block this size takes lots of time to carve and maneuver in the printing process. As I worked through the various ink layers, the textures that were appearing began to work with the image, with some areas having an interesting patina I could not have planned.

Acceptance is different from resignation. Acceptance is the mature recognition that you are not omnipotent, and do not have unlimited energies. It also opens up the possibility of something that you had not dreamed of, something serendipitous.

 

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Linocuts, rice paddies and Woody Guthrie

linocut of rice paddies reflecting a colorful sun.

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Freedom Highway. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK, edition of 10, 10 x 33in (image size), $375 unframed.

How do you work through ideas? Some people run. Others have long conversations in coffee houses. Many artists make art. I used to think that my explorations in art were more about the materials. But if I look at my work more retrospectively, I see my own thought processes come into focus.

Trying an idea one more time

My most recent linocut for 2017, Walking the Freedom Highway, was a second attempt to use a sketch originally inspired by rice paddies. I am especially drawn to the sinuous rhythms of the fields in Asia, where less available land means more creative agricultural layouts. Rice fields in the U.S. are sometimes sinuous, but mostly bordered by a familiar quadrilateral. As I printed, the forms began to remind me of many places I have visited throughout the United States.

How does the paper change the linocut?

Rice paddies reflecting setting sun on textured Asian paper

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Cloud Highway. Reduction linocut on Thai Unryu, edition of 3, 10 x 33 in (image size), $375 unframed

This linocut is long (10″ high by 33″ wide) and requires oversized, expensive paper. I discovered that I had a limited quantity of western cotton paper, but I was so eager to begin, that I decided to experiment once again. This time I used some Thai Unryu paper (which translates as “Cloud Dragon”)  that I had in a roll. This paper has thick fibers running through it which show up subtly in the printing.

Close-up of linocut printed on Thai Unryu paper. Thicker fibers show through the darker ink.

As you can see, the Thai Unryu makes the linocut softer and more velvety. Some of the pinks on the cotton paper are quite bright, so this softness may be appealing for some people. In the interest of clarity, I have named the three on Thai Unryu paper Walking the Cloud Highway.

What does patriotism have to do with rice paddies?

It is my practice to carve and print in the morning and early afternoon, before my hands, shoulders and mind get tired. I listen to an NPR program called 1A (in reference to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) As you might guess, many of the topics led me to think about what it means to be “an American…”

I never name my linocuts until after they are completed. As I was searching for an idea this morning, I came back to my feeling that it needed to be something patriotic. I say patriotic not in the nationalistic sense, but in the sense of deep affection for where I live and the people around me, even for people with whom I completely disagree. I decided to consult “This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie ©1956) — my favorite patriotic song. It has poetic, pointed lyrics, and even I can reach all of the notes.

New stanzas change the meaning

As I read the lyrics online, I was stunned to see that there are three stanzas that I never knew existed. Read this Wikipedia article for an interesting account of where these stanzas went.  I give you the entire song here to read, ponder, and perhaps even sing…

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was changing, As the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever made me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

 

 

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Key blocks bring everything together

I enjoy getting lost in cities — at least on foot. I delight in the unexpected finds that are off the typical tourist trail. But sometimes life demands a predetermined order, and my life has felt like that of late. I have been wanting to do another linocut featuring the undulating forms of rice paddies, and my current project demands structure in the form of a key block.

key-block

A test print of my latest linocut on newsprint. I’m wondering whether the large dark areas, when printed with an opaque green, will read convincingly as planted paddies.

For printmaker who use multiple blocks, a key block is a familiar element. In Japanese printmaking — especially Ukiyo-e — the key block carries all of the final graphic information and is usually printed last in a dark color. Printmakers will also use this block to transfer information to other blocks so they will know where to carve away for each color block. April Vollmer has written a terrific book on Japanese printmaking called Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop if you want to read more about this technique.

No key blocks for reduction printmaking

I never use key blocks with reduction printmaking. First, remember that I am only using one block. Sometimes the final stage of a block will look as though it is a key block, as I usually print the darkest color last. But I didn’t start with this last stage in mind; rather, the block evolved throughout the process.

Bahamas-last-layer

The last layers of my reduction work often look like this — where only the orangey part is actually printed. Not like a key block at all.

My latest linocut has a key block though. I will be using hand dyed silk to create the floating world imagery that my imagination has been clinging to. With these dyes and the silk, colors can flow easily into one another in way that is impossible to create using my typical techniques. The large blocks of dark ink are where I am considering having some rice that remains to be harvested, while the other areas are reflected water.

Carving as therapy

Carving a key block during this particular week has been a tonic. It is my equivalent of cleaning my house — a repetitive activity that has a tangible result at its end, but requires reduced thinking during the process. Like a working meditation, my mind can wander, my breath can slow.

Now I wait for longer paper to be delivered and prepare to allow the silk dyes to flow unimpeded through the fabric. A peaceful process for a peaceful image.

 

 

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My love affair with clouds continues

My love affair with clouds continues. Clouds encapsulate the emotions of human life that more static entities cannot. They can be majestic or tender, suffocating or fleeting. In the Midwest, we say that clouds are our mountains. But unlike mountains, clouds are ever-changing.

My latest linocut, Emancipation of the Sun, highlights clouds that I saw over Lake Michigan earlier in the summer. My daughter had joined me at the Krasl Art Fair, and after the tiring job of setting up the festival tent and hanging the work, we retreated to the lakeshore. As we walked the waters edge, conversation flowed as the scenery changed, finally culminating in the darkening clouds lifting away, releasing the sun to shine on other shores.

elizabeth-busey-emancipation-of-the-sun

Elizabeth Busey. Emancipation of the Sun. Reduction Linocut on Rives BFK, 25 x 40in (image size) Edition of 12, $600 (Until 12/1/16)

The Great Lakes are so vast that to our human eyes, they are simply freshwater oceans. The sun was setting over Chicago as well, but was still high above the West Coast and beyond. We have no control over the sun. Imagine how grateful early humans must have felt when the sun rose in the morning, and how terrifying it must have been when it left. They had to create stories and rituals — their own sort of faith that the sun would return.

Today we know that the sun returns. Our cell phones tell us exactly when to expect it. We celebrate or curse our society’s penchant for time changes. But the rising and setting is still the most breathtaking part of the day. It is a small acknowledgement that much as we wish to control everything about our lives and the people in them, we cannot. We must let go.

We must emancipate the sun.

 

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Perspective is everything

Perspective is everything. I’m not just talking about two or three point perspective here, but also the question of “Why do you do what you do?” What is your motivation? This is a question ask of every linocut I undertake.

Using my imaginary view finder

In all of my linocuts, I take a subject matter that is familiar and try to look at it through a different view finder. Take your thumbs and pointer fingers into L-shapes and make a square. When you crop the scene, how does it change your experience of the subject matter?  I am most struck by how I experience topography, especially when viewed through the window of an airplane.

mountains-right-wing

View of mountains on my way to Portland, Oregon.

(more…)

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Reading signs in the clouds

My love affair with large linocuts has been tested this summer. In June, I began a 25 x 40 inch linocut of a large severe thunderstorm, fully intending to complete it in a month. Over the course of two months, I have used an engraving bit to texture every inch of this block — change occurring at a glacial pace — which is completely the opposite of a fast moving storm.

©Elizabeth_Busey_Breath_of_Hermes

©Elizabeth Busey. Breath of Hermes. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK Heavyweight. 25 x 40in (image size), Edition of 6, $600 unframed.

(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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Sometimes horizons are necessary

Perspective in art is difficult. My early lessons came from sketching the interior of the Indiana University Art Museum, designed by famed architect, I.M. Pei. There are few right angles to be found except between the walls and the floor. So when I began my exploration of nature patterns and topographies, I was delighted to find that I could do this without using traditional perspectives.

Tranquil Terraces Dawning

©Elizabeth Busey. Tranquil Terraces Dawning. Reduction linocut. 10 x 33in image size, edition of 19, $300 unframed.

With some of my topographies, like Tranquil Terraces Dawning, I immersed the viewer in the patterns, which give a sort of roller coaster feeling of being about to plunge down into the rice paddies. But with clouds, this makes less sense…

The reality is that sometimes, what you are exploring is interesting only in relation to something else. With clouds, your eye really needs some cues if you are to understand the scale and the vastness of each formation. You need a horizon. I slipped a horizon into my second linocut, Highway Caprice. Now with my latest linocut, I’m back to horizons again.

pink horizon

You can see where I need to start experimenting with monotypes.

I have printed two layers of ink here, and you can see where the horizon line might be, but all will be revealed only after I do some carving and lay down some darker inks. The image for this linocut was captured east of where I live, after a tremendous storm over early spring fields. More will be revealed soon…

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My Iphone is the best creativity tool

Travels, art delivery, holidays and my upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon have kept me from my next cloud linocut. But given that this is late March in the midwest, perhaps that is fortunate. I always have my phone with me, not so much to be connected with the outside world, but for the camera. Here are some of my most recent cloud captures — potential subjects for new work:Cloud twist

You never know when you will see really special formations. This one looks like part of a Kelvin-Hemlholtz formation. 

Cloud menacing

This menacing beauty emerged after I drove through a complete white-out of rain. My husband took the image as I tried to regain my composure. I felt sure we were going to be engulfed.

Clouds and reflections

In a landscape with very little elevation, clouds provide another dimension. I can’t really see the clouds reflected in the flooded fields from this angle, but that is what imagination is for.

Clouds along the road

When the sun and clouds compete for attention, you can get some spectacular effects.

Clouds predict hail

This cloud followed us around on our Easter night walk in our neighborhood, and brought super-ball sized hail.

I hope my flight to Portland comes complete with some spectacular clouds as well, but perhaps since I want a smooth flight with no delays, that might be asking too much.

If you want to see images from the 2016 Southern Graphics Council International conference in Portland, Oregon you can follow me on Instagram at elizabethbusey. Or search for #sgci2016 for images from lots of printmakers.

 

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