Category Archives: Techniques

Adventures in tape Part 2

My final adventure with painter’s tape was to use it as it was intended. Also known as masking tape, its purpose is to protect a surface from paint or ink.

When I perused a collection of images I had gathered for inspiration during my workshop at Penland School of Crafts, I was surprised to see how many were of city window reflections.  Inspired by this, I first used a blank polycarbonate plate to print a vertical light blue-grey flat.

Newsprint sketch makes masking easy

Now it was time to create my matrix. Hint #1 — If you want to recreate this matrix quickly (you are going to pull the tape up) draw your design on a similarly sized piece of newsprint. Placed underneath your plate, it is easy to recreate your matrix. I wanted to create another version of my icebergs, but now the iceberg would be reflected in the windows of a building. This might be a reminder of the perils of global warming when we are ensconced in our people-made bubbles.

Monoprint plate

A monoprint plate, sans the masking tape, ready for printing.

The painterly approach proves problematic

I created the above image by rolling a very light blue on the top and darker pthalo blue below the waterline. Sharpie marks on the back of the plate helped me to keep the horizon parallel. I used rollers, palette knives and pieces of mat board to add color to the ice above and below.

I found there were several challenges to this approach. First, the ink tended to gather along the tape, which didn’t allow for a crisp a line when I removed the tape. In addition, the plate above has a great deal of ink on it. When I ran it through the press, some of it actually squished and ruined the reflection effect. Hint #2 — One solution might be to remove some of the ink with a sheet of newsprint…maybe with the press, or perhaps without.

Another problem was the removal of the tape. Once your fingers marred the ink surface, especially where it was flat, there was no fixing it. Hint #3 –Leaving “tails” along the edges made the removal much easier. Sticking the inky tape segments immediately to an old phone book kept them under control.

Two layer monoprint

This version used much less ink, with better results and no squish.

The next iceberg was simpler — less ink and no squish. But you can still see places where the ink has bled into the areas kept blank by the painters tape. I guess this is a problem that is universal.

Layers of tape are perfect for blind embossment

My final experiment combined my love of the mathematical patterns I painted on my bathroom walls. Some tape was one-layer, used to delineate polygons. I used small rollers to combine two colors on some of the shapes. I used four layers of 1/8 inch tape to create embossment lines that continue the pattern out to an embossed border. I discovered that 1/4 inch tape doesn’t yield nearly as crisp a line as the thinner tape. Hint #4 — Avoid getting any ink on the areas where you are doing blind embossing. Even a little ink will stain the tape and will print faintly.

Monoprint with blind embossment.

Tape provides the geometric structure and some linear blind embossment.

Will I use painters tape in the more traditional sense in my monoprints? It worked best in areas where a thin layer was rolled evenly over the entire surface. Looser, thicker ink was less successful. And yet I haven’t entirely let go of the idea of environmental problems reflected in skyscrapers.

Maybe the solution is out there waiting to be discovered…

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Adventures in painters tape Part 1

My adventures with painter’s tape continued during my time in a monoprinting workshop at Penland School of Crafts.  I should probably mention that monoprinting usually uses a plate with no matrix. No etched plate, no carved linoleum or wood block, no collagraph. Nothing repeatable.

I just had to have a matrix

Yet I felt compelled to try out my new tool by creating a matrix. My intention was to create the matrix, roll out the ink and then remove the tape. I eventually did this, thus destroying the matrix before I could take a picture of it. Here’s what a new matrix looks like, with both 1/4 inch tape and 1/8 in tape. You can see some ink residue on the tape even after it has been cleaned. (more…)

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Ceding control to solvents

Solvents can make you lose control… in a good way. I learned about using them with monoprints during my time at Penland School of Crafts.

One of my biggest complaints about relief printmaking is that it is hard to have an image look painterly. You either have flat ink, some kind of blend roll, or layers of texture made by a rotary tool. Flow is something you rarely get with a relief print.

Solvent creates icy effects

This iceberg was created by dropping mineral spirits onto a rich phthalo blue inked plate.

Solvents are the Wild West

This iceberg image was one of the first ones where I used solvent freely. I liberally dropped mineral spirits on a transparent layer of phthalo blue lithography ink. Using a Q-tip and a paint brush, I drew around the areas with the solvent, and then let the pigment disperse. If you have ever sprinkled salt crystals on wet watercolor, the effect is similar, but much more pronounced.

Solvents are the Wild West on the monoprinting plate. Your inks can bleed into areas you didn’t intend, such as where the iceberg is now peaking out above the surface of the water. While oil-based ink can stay “open” — meaning you can work with it or wait to print for some time, when you put down the solvent, you are on the clock. I found that within 10-15 minutes, areas of my block had little pigment, and the surface appeared dry. When printed, you will see the white of the printing paper. Whether this is what you intended, or not. Delays also mean you lose some of the sharp details that solvents and brushes can create.

Bringing solvent back to the home studio

Despite the challenges of solvents, I was determined to figure out a way to use them in my home studio. I don’t have adequate ventilation to use solvents in my basement, so I purchased a small metal office table at the IU Surplus Store and placed it outside, close to a door that leads to the basement. I can bring the inked plate outside, use Q-tips, brushes and toothbrush bristles to apply the solvent to the plate, and then rush the plate back inside to the press.

Be careful to keep the plate perfectly level on the way to the press. Juicy solvent areas will run. I learned that the hard way.

Gamsol moves relief ink.

Gamsol moved the Gamblin relief ink well, but the ink itself transferred poorly from the plate to dry paper.

The battle between solvents, inks and papers

Even outside, odorless mineral spirits are toxic, so I was hopeful that I could use Gamblin’s Gamsol as a solvent and use my Gamblin relief inks for monotypes. I discovered two things: 1) the Gamsol moved the relief ink quickly on the plate, but 2) the Gamblin relief ink transferred poorly from the polycarbonate plate to dry paper. Gamblin’s website does recommend monoprinting on damp paper, but my studio doesn’t have the capability to soak paper. It would have to be done in our only bathtub up an entire flight of stairs. Plus once you get paper wet, it is difficult to register subsequent layers. So no relief ink…

Luckily I had some Hanco lithography inks, like those I used at Penland.  Unfortunately, the Gamsol didn’t move this ink well at all. So I will need to continue using odorless mineral spirits on my monoprint plates, and reacquaint myself with litho inks.

Gamsol didn't move lithography ink

Gamsol wasn’t strong enough to move the lithography inks in the ways I wanted.

One of the challenges I made for myself is to use new techniques intentionally. I want to ask myself — is there a reason why I am using solvent in this piece — other than the fact that it creates cool organic oozings of color…

This block has a great deal of ink and solvent. Not sure it is going to print well…

Here is a sneak peek at a multi-layered monoprint that I created using solvent and tape. Parts were successful, and parts went, well, squish.

More about the squish and the tape to come…

 

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Getting the color right online Part I

Getting the color of your art right online is complicated. When I first created a website, I naively believed that I could just take a digital camera image, upload it into my image library, and post it directly to my web page. The results were shocking. My work looked dull and my colors were off.

Many years later, with the generous guidance of my photography and tech savvy husband, I have a strategy that yields online images that are fairly close in color and tone to the originals. Since this is how many people first experience my work, accuracy is crucial. I am certainly not an expert on this subject, but I’m sharing what I do in this blog series in hopes that people will find useful tips for themselves.

My latest linocut in my framing/photography/guest room combination.

(more…)

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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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Getting your hands dirty is sometimes necessary

The gleaming white borders of my linocuts mean that I am fastidious about keeping clean hands and fingers. But on rare occasions, getting my hands inky becomes necessary. In one of my latest linocuts, I am using many transparent layers, and needed to join contrasting pinky orange and a cerulean blue layers.

I use rubber brayers to apply the ink, but need to solve the problem of the hard and unblended edges.

 

I know that a blend roll combination will yield a sort of greyish-brown, which I really don’t want. So instead I’m using a technique that I learned from printmaker Karen Kunc. Kunc is able to get many different colors and fading techniques from one block by using the heel of her palm.

Dab with the outside heel of the palm

 

When I use the heel of my palm, I am blending the inks slightly, but I am also removing some of the ink as well. This makes the unwanted blend of contrasts less intense when it is printed.

Reducing unwanted blending

Here is what the block looks like before I printed it. This isn’t an exact technique, but I find that if it is used in the middle of a linocut, or at the end, any variation is not noticeable.

My palm blended layer after printing.

I still have to be careful to keep the white edges clean!

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Being at the end of your rope

Being overextended — at the end of your rope — is a familiar human condition. Managing internal and external demands can be challenging. I met overextension while working on one of my large cloud linocuts, and the results have been challenging.

blue ink

Transparent ink looks deceivingly cohesive when not rolled out.

When ink isn’t quite so juicy

In many of my cloud linocuts, I begin with very transparent layers because I want to make a smooth transition from the white of the paper. I am working on another 25 x 40 inch cloud linocut, and ran into trouble as I printed the first light blue-grey layer. When I printed the first layer onto some very expensive Somerset paper, a strange chalky dry residue remained on the block. When I rolled ink over the block and printed on the next pristine piece of paper, the residue pattern then printed.

Exasperated, I tried cleaning the block, but the problem reoccurred. I tried adding more tack reducer to some of the ink, burnt plate oil to some more, but neither was successful.

uneven ink on paper

Chalky ink clumped on the block, and then printed strangely on the paper.

Help from the internet

I use relief inks by Gamblin, so I sent a query through their website. Cecilia Hamlin reached out with some suggestions. The first was to clean the block with vegetable oil, and then with mineral spirits. Cleaning a block this size and weight is non-trivial, as it requires hauling the cumbersome block out to the garage. I also tried re-sanding the entire block with 400 grit sandpaper twice. Still no improvement.

I sent Cecilia photos of the ink on the glass and on the paper. Then the problem was made clear. She suggested that I had overextended my ink — using too little pigment in too much tint base. The addition of too much tack reducer also meant that the pigment did not disperse evenly, but rather clumped together and stuck to my linoleum.

Ink has a memory

On my latest layer, I followed Cecilia’s advice:

  1. Start with the tint base needed and then add in color.  Mix thoroughly. (I have a bad habit of not mixing as long as I should.)
  2. Only then should I add the tack reducer, with a maximum of 10% of the total ink volume. I tried to use less.

Layer 4 blue prints unevenly over previous layers providing me with a challenge.

The result seemed to be better. Unfortunately, the ink on the paper now affect how much new ink transfers from the block onto the paper. So you get these strange textures. The next linocut will be the true test of the new ink strategy.

In the meantime, I must use all of my creativity to salvage the current work. I’m already thinking of some radical measures to make all of the variation work for the image.

Patience and perseverance are the words for February in my life. What are your words?

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Breaking the rules

Sometimes it feels good to break the rules. Printmaking has many of them — perfect alignment, clean edges, no brayer marks. I had tried breaking some rules by working with the dyed silk, and even though this experiment did not work, I couldn’t let my key block image go. So I’ve decided to break some more rules in the search for blended, variegated colors.

My key block from my last experiment. Sadly, I will need to carve a new one.

 

(more…)

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You’ve got to know when to hold ’em … know when to fold ’em…

After a fall of experimentation, I have officially learned how NOT to print onto dyed silk. Economists talk about “sunk costs” — time and resources that have been used and cannot be regained. A month’s worth of work has been sunk. After licking my artistic wounds and engaging in some serious self-care, I now need to acknowledge all of the things I learned if only to avoid ever doing them again. Here’s a visual of what went wrong, and my interpretation that follows:

My dyed, glued and printed work, hopelessly warped and therefore impossible to register again.

Always test all of your materials before a big project

My first mistake was that I used untested materials in this linocut project. I had used a very lightweight silk for my Cope Hollow series, and blithely thought that if some silk was good, then a thicker silk would be better. I hypothesized that a slightly thicker weight fabric would be easier to control. It was easier to iron, but when I tried to adhere it with my combo of PVA and methyl cellulose, it stretched horribly no matter which way I worked with it. This lead to wrinkles in the fabric as it dried on the cotton paper.

Water was my Waterloo

Cotton rag paper like the Rives BFK paper that I use has no sizing, so it quickly absorbs water. I knew when I began this experiment that any water would make the BFK ripple. I did need some methyl cellulose (which contains water) in my glue mix because the PVA was too thick and dried too quickly. On my smaller Cope Hollow series, the amount of glue mix use didn’t seem to make the paper ripple terribly. But with a 10 x 33in block size, the increased amount of glue mix made the entire paper buckle, despite being dried amongst blotters with added weight. Making something multiplicatively bigger often multiples the problems as well.

Distance magnifies mistakes

I should have known that my registration set-up was going to be problematic. With my registration jig setup, some sacrificial paper is needed on one side for the attachment of the plastic tabs with masking tape. To most efficiently use my expensive paper, it made the most sense to put the tabs on the short edge. I learned many linocuts ago that it is very easy to misalign a long linocut because I’m placing the paper down from the side, and not head on. With the already warped paper, while I could manage to print the linocut in one color, I was completely unable to register the next color. Each attempt just got worse and worse, until I gave myself a studio time out and then decided to abandon the project.

Moving on and making plans

I still like the image itself, so one option I have is to cut another block the exact same size and use it to create the colors, printing my existing key block last. For now, I’ve put this block aside and have been coaxing some cumulus clouds from a similarly long block.

A section of a long linocut with towering cumulus clouds. No silk in sight.

Why is learning often painful and expensive? Thankfully there is always another linocut to distract me…

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Silk creates the sky

I began my exploration into art as an adult in a watercolor class. The fast, loose, unpredictable medium was difficult for me to master. Yet I have been delving into the physical movement properties of water and pigment recently with my latest work.

soft-shapes

Silk, ironed onto freezer paper, is flooded with dyes.

My silk is stabilized on a piece of wax paper, and is laid across a large light box. Underneath is a reverse of the test print of the linocut that will go over the colored silk. (It is necessary to use the reverse because the silk will be flipped over when glued down.

Using dyes to flow like skies

I discovered that if I wet the silk with plain water, and then touched color in specific places, the dyes spread out in a way that said clouds to me.  Each piece in the series will be different, using blues, purples, pinks, yellows and oranges to create different moods and times of day. (This work merged some orange and blue, giving me a bit of green sky. I’m choosing to embrace this.)

After painting five pieces of silk, I have stopped to let everything dry. The colors are stronger and darker when they are off the light box, so I will need to experiment with the linocut block more before dyeing and printing the remainder.

So far I am enchanted by my “clouds” and hope the effect carries through the end of the process.

 

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