Getting to know you

When I was in art classes, one of the benefits of the class was the assignment — that gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudge from the instructor to try something new. Now that my art practice takes place in my basement studio, pushing boundaries and innovating is much harder. During my weekend visit to the Boston Printmakers Biennial this fall, I came upon a display for Gamblin relief inks. I decided to order a set of these inks and give them a try. Here’s my first print with the new inks…

Elizabeth Busey. In Celebration of Thin Places.  Linoleum Reduction Print
17 x 25in, 2013.

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Obsession, or Printmaking as a Coping Mechanism

Things at my house are in a state of upheaval. For the most part, positive changes are happening, and since my house and studio are intrinsically intermeshed, I am constantly surrounded by emotions and preparations. None of these changes involve me directly, so my job is to be present. When I have to center myself and be present — especially when I have little control over the situation — I draw circles.

Circle drawing from a long committee meeting.

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Yet another developmental hurdle

I have teenagers in my home now. But I clearly remember when they were very young, that before they made a developmental leap like learning to crawl or walk, they fell apart. Happy children became irrational, weeping, demanding creatures. Child psychologists would call this disorganization. Perhaps this is what has been happening to me.

My newly expanded drying rack.

In my last post, I unveiled the newly expanded press. I knew that the challenges of working bigger were not over when the Rives BFK (30″ x 44″) I ordered would not fit into my flat files. When I began preparations for this new work, I went to hang the paper up and realized that my 12″ wire shelving racks weren’t wide enough and the paper would buckle.  Panic set in…

A trip to Lowes and an evening with my dear husband yielded a new wider drying rack thanks to 20″ wide shelving. Now I would have somewhere to put the paper while I was printing.

The paper trapeze is created with a dowel, rope and zip ties.

The next problem I encountered was how to control the paper when I placed it over the block. I really need another set of hands, but since I work during school hours, these were hard to come by. And my cats were not supportive.  I worried that I would not be able to handle this large (and expensive) paper. After one small meltdown and some pacing in the studio, I came up with the paper trapeze. (I do not recall if I have seen anything like this on the Internet, so forgive me if you are the original inventor!)

The paper trapeze is my silent studio assistant.
The idea behind the trapeze is that I can hang the paper over it while I pop on the registration tabs. The Rives paper is stiff enough that it does not make a crease.
I use four registration tabs on a 30″ side.
With the trapeze I can use both hands to snap in the registration tabs. With my left hand, I carefully begin smoothing the paper down on the block, while holding the remaining paper in my right hand. I try to smooth in the very same spot each time.
After my first printing session today, it is clear that I need to start a stretching and strengthening regimen immediately.  Lifting the 25″ x 40″ block straight up and then on and off the press is going to take some practice.  I must stretch in new ways to get the paper on and off the block, and then hang it on the rack.  10 prints and 4 proofs later I am a puddle of exhaustion. But then I remember why I am doing this — I wanted to create prints that are large enough to get lost in, the way you get lost in Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
Well, maybe not that big, but you get the idea. Hopefully with a little more practice, this developmental hurdle will be behind me.


My kingdom for something flat

The odyssey to expand my printing press began in the amazingly hot Midwestern sun, and has come to completion during a cold spell that has delayed schools. I imagined myself jumping up and down when it was finished, and inside I think I am, but outside I am simply relieved. Here it is…

My new expanded press!

What you see here are the old sides and gearing of the press with new rail extensions on either end to support the 64″ bed. Most of the construction process went without too much trouble — no emergency room visits but some serious bruising — and I did once have to assume the position of a Soviet-era weight lifter to get the top roller into the gearing. My husband did a great job fashioning extensions to support the new bed.

If there was one trouble spot in this whole process, it was the bed. One of the most important criteria for a press bed is that it be flat. And to the naked eye, lots of things appear flat. Our quest for just such a bed involved numerous layers of hardboard, rollers and wood glue, cinderblocks and solid core doors for weight, and a tremendous amount of middle-aged muscle. What we discovered was that each of our two attempts yielded a bed that was not flat. And thus, the obligatory winter dump run…

So in my twenty-first century problem solving mode, I scoured the internet for advice. People recommended something called phenolic resin, but it didn’t come in anything longer that 48″. I corresponded and visited with a plastics supplier, and learned that plastic is not nearly as rigid as we might think.

At this point I had been without my press for a month and was feeling panicked. Miraculously I found an old post from Dean Smith at Graphic Chemical who recommended a composite material called Arboron. Arboron is made of papers impregnated with melamine and phenolic resins and formed under extreme heat and pressure to create a very flat sturdy surface.

The 36″ rollers glide smoothly along my new Arboron press bed.

Google-fingers at the ready, I started searching for a supplier, putting in nearby states as I struck out with my own. I finally found Woodcraft Mfg. Co. in Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Jim and his family kindly let me come for a visit, test the material for flatness and cut a beautiful piece of Arboron for me to take home. They even gave me a great deal, and the visit with the shop Boston Terrier, Scooter, completed the day. The Abroron fits the press like a glove, and it the flattest thing I have come across.

The larger Rives BFK paper (30 x 44″) arrived and I am steeling myself for my first large print. I’ve been doing a small test print to see how the press handles, and how I deal with the new press size. So far so good.

Many thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission for making this adventure possible. Now back to printing…

Is it tedious…or meditative?

“That looks tedious!” exclaimed a tall fifty-something man recently as he watched me carve a linoleum block. I was working at Gallery North, the cooperative gallery to which I belong. I find that between visitors I can sometimes get some carving done.  After a deep breath, I smiled and replied, “On a good day, it is meditative.” He harrumphed and finished his browsing.

My newest print at an early stage of carving.

I get asked the question”how long does it take?” all the time. I envy the people who can participate in the “a sketch a day” or “daily painting” rituals. There is simply nothing quick about my work.  Here’s a list of the steps involved in making one of my prints:

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Getting out of your comfort zone keeps you young

Women should all learn how to use power tools.

Getting out of my comfort zone keeps me young. This week I gained a new appreciation for people who fabricate things out of metal. My husband and I have been working on the parts for my expanded etching press.  We purchased new steel rods, about 1-1/2in in diameter, and I learned how to use a lathe to reduce the diameter to about 1-1/4in. Using the lathe is pretty meditative, as you slowly turn a small wheel to guide the point of the lathe along the rod. You know you are doing the best job when the small metal curlicues it removes are very long. But boy they are hot when they hit your arm.

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It begins at the salvage yard

Our family motto is “How hard can it be?” With this perspective we have embarked on many adventures: from renting an auger and cleaning out our own sewer (you shouldn’t) to learning to survive a dangerous hike in the Italian Alps (sing show tunes loudly to combat fear.)

Four and a half years ago, “How hard can it be?” got me my first press. As I’ve detailed in a past post, my husband built it for me out of recycled steel. Friday I received an e-mail that I am a recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the state of Indiana. In the grant I described how I wanted to expand my press to accommodate larger work. I have one year to use the funds, so we began immediately.

When does art begin at the salvage yard?

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