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A true monoprint is unique. But coming up with a new idea for each monoprint can be exhausting! So I have used my painter’s tape technique to create variations on a monoprint theme. I hope the traditionalists in the printmaking world will forgive me.
One of my latest variations uses a landscape/perspective matrix, with similar colors but different techniques. Images may help me explain…
Solvent drops and a view from an airplane
Boulder to Birmingham (title inspired by the classic Emmy Lou Harris song) considers an imaginary view from an airplane. I used translucent Thai Unryu paper to create the illusion of a curved airplane window. The cloud-like papers were a ghost print from an earlier monoprint. Ghost prints are made when you print the plate again without re-inking. I use thin Masa (mulberry) paper because it has a smooth texture and captures lots of ink while being thin enough to collage. The spots on the surface — are they raindrops? — were created by solvent. Continue reading “Variations on a Monoprint Theme”
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:
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.
How do you talk about something that cannot be reclaimed? Many parts of nature can regenerate over time. Mountains cannot. On a recent plane trip, I came upon the exact topic with which I have been wrestling for the past few months — mountaintop removal (MTR). My latest linocut, No Atonement for Arcadia, imagines a place that is deeply loved and valued by humans, and is in danger of annihilation.
The true cost of MTR
In the Appalachian mountains, most of the coal that is accessible using underground mines has been extracted. Coal companies, in the hunt for low sulfur coal, have turned to MTR. The seams of this coal are thin, necessitating removing 99 meters of other rock to obtain 1 meter of coal. Removal means blasting and hauling rock, and then dumping this material in existing streams. Continue reading “Can art be an effective harbinger?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.