It has finally stopped raining in the Ohio River Valley. Until a week ago, constant rain and heavy storms caused flooding in places that are nowhere near a river. Lake Monroe, built in the 1960s by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control, is doing its job. It is 13 feet about normal levels. Water is relentless.
I am a neat person, as well as a clean one. While I appreciate patina on certain antiques, I don’t seek it out. This predisposition doesn’t always serve me well in the studio, though. Sometimes it is best to praise being messy.
This is a quick story to tell you why some of my latest work uses masking tape. And to illustrate the maxim that you never know where your next inspiration might come from…
I am not one of those artists (or writers) who is able to go to the studio every day and create. There are seasons of my life where creative pursuits are excruciatingly difficult, like earlier this summer. So instead, I painted the interior of my house. House painting is my form of meditation — even prayer. Two bedrooms later, and I realized that the main bathroom could use a make-over.
What to do with all those sample paints?
I realized that I had ten small sample cans of paint from my various projects, and set a challenge for myself to create a mural in this otherwise nondescript bathroom. The design must also harmonize with the 1970s vintage gold tiles which are sadly staying.
I am fascinated by nature patterns and their mathematical foundations, so while doing some internet research, I came across Delaunay triangulation and Voronoi diagrams. (Click on these links for more mathematical explanations.) These constructions explain many patterns in nature including air bubble packing and leaf cellular structures.
More people would love doing math if it involved tape and paint
I started the process by drawing random dots lightly on my white wall. A mathematician friend pointed out that humans can’t actually be completely random, and he’s right. I just tried not to make them regular. Then I used 1/4 inch painter’s tape to connect the dots into triangles that had the smallest sides possible. I overlapped on the mirror a bit so that my design would seem to grow out of the mirror.
Next I used a clear ruler to find the midpoints of each line of each triangle, and marked this on the masking tape. Then I lightly drew pencil lines perpendicular to each of these midpoints. The intersection of these perpendicular lines was a new point — usually inside the triangle but not always.
I connected these new points, and they created polygons. My intention was to paint these polygons with the various colors of sample paint, which were surprisingly harmonious. I traced the polygons with Sharpie marker so I didn’t get lost.
My sample paints are surprisingly harmonious
I chose seven colors of sample paint, including a new gold paint that would harmonize with my tiles. The darkest color reads as almost black in the images, but is really a dark purple. It took two coats of paint to make sure the polygons were saturated with color. Now the fun part begins!
About an hour after I finished the second coat, I began carefully peeling off the painter’s tape. From all I have read, this is the best timing to avoid pulling up the paint. I needed to touch up some places where the paint bled through the tape.
Here is the completed wall. It is amazingly difficult to take an accurate image of this narrow space. See the video below to get a glimpse of the entire wall, including where the design wraps around a corner.
Is my bathroom great art? Probably not. Was it therapeutic during a time when I couldn’t do my studio work. Absolutely.
Now I have a new tool in my toolkit that was instrumental in my explorations at Penland School of Crafts. Stay tuned for more about me and the painter’s tape in my next blog.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
I have Penland withdrawal. Penland School of Crafts is an artist retreat in the mountains of western North Carolina. It was originally established in 1929 to train local women to weave and market their products. Over the years it has evolved into one of the premiere craft schools, increasing its offerings to include media outside the traditional craft realm, including printmaking.
Penland is an artistic bucket list destination
Participating in a Penland summer workshop has been on my bucket list for some time, so when a monoprinting workshop showed up on the schedule, I signed up as soon as the application site went live. (Some of their courses are so popular that this is a very good idea.) For almost two weeks you are taken out of your normal routine to a stunning mountain campus. You are fed three meals each day, at which time you can chat with over 200 people who are there to make art, just like you. You can see a Youtube video about Penland here.
The monoprinting class was taught by Andy Rubin, who has extensive printmaking knowledge from his many years of teaching at various universities as well as serving as the master printer for Tandem Press at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Along with studio assistant Jessica Merchant (MFA in Printmaking from UW, Madison), the class began with the basics of monoprinting and using Penland’s etching presses. Monoprinting was not covered in my classwork at Indiana University, so while I know my way around a press, the rest was completely new territory.
Learning something completely new with monoprinting
This summer has been yet another in my life with many transitions. Adult children moved away and I completely changed how I have been showing my work. I felt strongly that I needed to push my work in new directions, and monoprinting seemed like a splendid way to do this. I was not disappointed. I learned new techniques such as stencils, ghost printing, and the use of solvent on ink. Others included painting directly on the plate, transferring drawing media, and creating a collagraph. Monoprinting can be fast or slow, depending on the techniques you choose. We had a wide variety of painters, printmakers and collage artists in the class, so someone was always doing new exciting work. Working in the studio was the perfect combination of demonstrations with lots of time to work in our own unique styles.
Our studio of twelve had artists from seniors in undergrad programs to people who were embracing art in their retirement. I spent almost all of my time in the studio, so I was able to experience the differing energies of the morning printers, and those who found their groove towards midnight. Everyone brought such generous energy and good will to the studio each day.
Did I mention this was my first experience with monoprinting? In the next set of blogs, I will show you some of my early works. I sarcastically call them “newbie art” but there is no doubt that learning something new as an adult can be humbling.
New techniques produce new imagery
The above work was made during my first evening studio session after a day of introductory demos. I chose Phthalo Blue and a warm yellow lithography ink and created a huge blend roll. I cut stencils out of mylar (the small swooping shape) and tried out using mineral spirits to move the ink around on the block with both q-tips and brushes. While the movement was quite interesting, I wanted to use the techniques more intentionally.
My next series dealt with icebergs. Above the waterline, I used opaque inks (pigment mixed with white) and a brayer to create the ice. Masking tape defined the edges of the iceberg top, and was removed before printing. The underwater portions were created by dragging a dauber of folded printing paper through the transparent phthalo blue, displacing some of the ink. I quickly used some solvent in a more judicious manner before running everything through the press.
Clearly re-entry into normal life is going to be rough. Suddenly I am in charge of meals once more, plus the myriad of other chores that life entails. I can now receive phone calls and texts again, and it is much harder to achieve that groove that Penland can give you.
Further blogs will talk more about solvents and my new love — masking tape. Stay tuned.
Need some quick inspiration? Consider things that you have at hand. Postcards or photographs, some masking tape, and blank wall. Instant inspiration.
Redecorating can recharge your creativity
I’ve just come off of some big completions… I finished a large linocut (see No Atonement for Arcadia here.) This month and the next will be times of transition for my family, with graduations and moves to other places. All of this is exciting, but also exhausting. Getting started on new work can be difficult for me. Enter the inspiration wall.
I have had an inspiration wall ever since I created my basement studio. The walls are an eggshell white. I thought about painting areas with magnetic paint and using magnets, but the reviews of this type of paint are not good. Blue masking tape works just fine.
Be sure to refresh you inspiration wall
The trick to keeping your walls inspiring is to CHANGE THINGS. You get used to seeing the same images, and they cease to be as meaningful. Even if you rearrange the same images, this can help. I took down the previous wall and sorted into three piles: “definitely put back up”, “if there is room”, and “time to file away.” Then I could work in newer finds from my trips over the past year to Spain, Vancouver BC and Santa Fe.
You don’t need to travel far to create something for yourself. You can use images from magazines, on-line resources or photographs you have taken. Getting things off your screen and onto a wall can make a big difference.
Have a new inspiration wall? Share an image of it here! Happy creating…
One of my goals for 2018 is to develop a more consistent and intentional studio practice. I imagine myself like those famed artists and writers who march off to their studios each day to produce great art. I find it hard to create in the bits and pieces of time that my real life often provides.
What does the Emperor have to do with studio practice?
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.
Sometimes it is important to start small. I have a tendency to be impatient. I want to create an image on a LARGE scale. Unfortunately, I have some works that are large and problematic. If I had just taken the time to do a smaller study, I could have foreseen things that would go wrong later, but with much less heartache and with fewer sore muscles.
This year’s eclipse has been on my creative mind for a while. I spent the event deep in the woods, watching crescent moons dance across a dry shale creek bed. I have been wanting to capture the feeling of this experience, and tried out a few ideas recently.
When looking my eclipse photographs, I noticed two things. First, the crescent moon shapes weren’t sharp, but rather were soft, and didn’t meet at points. Some were larger than others, some more complete. The variation came from the different pinholes made in the forest canopy as the light came down. I wondered if I might distinguish between the shapes with different transparent colors, even though my experience and my photographs were mostly black and white.
Second, because it was not completely dark, you could see some of the tiny leaves and detritus that was on the creek bed. This provided some important 3D cues for the image. To address this issue, I decided to print on Thai Unryu paper. Sometimes called cloud paper, this is mulberry paper with thicker, longer fibers included. I wondered if the long fibers would show through in a way that might suggest the texture of the creek bed.
I’m glad I did this 9 x 12″ test print, because I think neither of these experiments was completely successful. Even while using very small changes in tone, the crescents separate in confusing ways. And when I printed the final darkest tones of the eclipse, the thin paper was completely saturated with pigment, and the long fibers are difficult to see.
I think I will do something I haven’t done for a long time — create an image with only one color — perhaps with only two or three passes of the same color. I will stick with my trusty Rives BFK as well, as the Thai Unryu paper became saturated and began to stretch out of shape as I repeatedly printed on it.
Learning on a smaller scale. It would be great if we could approach other things in life this way!
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.
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?