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Celebrating all the greens

Green is a funny color. It can range from almost beige to nearly black, with many verdant hues in between. Learning to mix and celebrate all the greens has been a long term project for me. I’m never disappointed.

©Elizabeth Busey. Magna Mater. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

A glimpse out of my window illustrates the myriad of green possibilities. While it is not true of everywhere in the world, in the midwestern part of the United States, spring is a riot of greens.

Spring is high green season

Outside of my front door, many greens harmonize and compete for my attention.

My front garden is filled with examples of green. A chartreuse miniature hydrangea sits in front of the tender leaves of maidenhead ferns. The seafoam fuzzy lambs ears leaves contrast with the dark blue-green of hellebore foliage. These very distinct colors create a rich, verdant tableau, perfect for collage inspiration.

Your green depends on temperature

When printing my square spiral matrix recently, I created a green that was much more olive-y than my previous mixes. No matter what I did, the green always turned out warmer than I had intended. I blame the Milori blue ink in my palette that day which has a red tint. A phthalo blue would have been much more supportive of a cool green.

©Elizabeth Busey. Magna Mater detail, monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

Can all the greens live together?

I recently pulled this printed matrix out of the “to be collaged” drawer. I considered letting the monoprint be a weed barrier in the yard. Instead I challenged myself. Was there a way to create a collage where all the different greens coexist in one happy whole? Midway through it was not looking successful, but I decided to persevere and finish the collage.

The result in Magna Mater — or Great Mother – representing the enveloping greenness of a midwestern spring.

For further reading on how to mix greens, I highly recommend Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green by Michael Wilcox. This book gives you both the how and the why of color mixing, which is just what you need as you seek to celebrate all the greens.

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Why DO we love maps so much?

“Oh, I just love the maps,” say many people upon seeing my latest collages. I confess that I too am a map lover — or more properly a cartophile. I saved a box of old road maps for nearly 15 years before I found their perfect use.

New (to me) maps came my way recently thanks to a friend and the IU Surplus Store. The maps were decommissioned from the Indiana University branch of the U.S. Geological Survey, and feature geological features from around the United States. As I sorted amongst these dusty gems for several hours, I began to wonder, why DO we love maps so much?

Maps bring back memories

The coast of Maine has one of the longest coastlines in the US. Its undulating pattern is captivating. I love this map because my cousin was married in Boothbay Harbor. She and her new husband took a tugboat ride to the reception and we all gathered on a bridge that rotated to let them pass. Truly memorable.

Maps show our struggle to structure our world

If you have ever tried to drive across the Appalachian Mountains, you can perhaps sympathize with previous generations of travelers. The geology of compressed ridges requires that roads go up one valley, and then down another. There are no straight routes, no one perfect pass.

Maps catalog what is lost or is in danger

This is a section of a map of Glacier National Park published in 1938. The Burlington Northern Railway built Sperry Chalet as a way for its rail travelers to enjoy the backcountry. Chalet visitors would have marveled at the Sperry Glacier, which has been shrinking because of global warming. The chalet itself was gutted by the Sprague Fire in 2017. Thankfully, it is being rebuilt, as it is a picturesque place to stay in the backcountry, safe from the grizzly bears that frequent the park.

Maps give us a bird’s eye view

North Dakota is one of my favorite places for a road trip. Bright yellow-green fields are punctuated by “numerous small lakes” as the map indicates. These lakes are a very particular blue as they contrast with the vibrant greens and yellows surrounding them. You can read more about my love of the terrain here.

Now back to cutting these beauties for the next collage.

Why do you love maps? Share an image of them in the comments!

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How much contrast is too much?

I like orange…in small doses. While I own no orange clothing, I do have one throw pillow. I enjoy including a bit of orange in many of my pieces. Orange often provides a needed contrast to the blues that fill my work. But, how much contrast is too much?

©Elizabeth Busey. Searching for Other Suns. Monoprint collage, 18 x 18in.

You can see just a bit of orange in Searching for Other Suns. I like how it amplifies the pull you feel toward the inside of the circle. But look what happens when I use mostly orange, with a great deal of blue…

Way too much orange and too much contrast!

I blame civic loyalty for this creation. Pygmalion’s, my local art supply store, creates a signature color each year in conjunction with Gamblin. Artists purchase a tube of the oil color, and create art that uses the color. This year’s color was Sunset Orange, and after the bleak, gray winter we have had, I thought I would create a monoprint collage that felt as juicy as the color out of the tube.

Sadly, I felt the same way about this collage as I felt when wearing my peach Izod Laoste polo in high school. The color just did not feel right. Luckily Pygs doesn’t care how much of the color you use. With the very orange collage safely tucked in my flat files, balance has been restored in the studio.

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In praise of being messy

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.

A close-up view of one of my monoprint sheets I create for my collages.

Who knew that repelling materials could create such beauty?

The above image is the result of not cleaning off my polycarbonate plate after I printed. You can see the fainter circles and roller marks, which are remnants of the previous inking. In some places, solvent has dried the pigments on the plate, resulting in places that print white. Below is what the plate looked like after the first printing. (You can see my non-slip mat beneath the almost transparent plate.)

A polycarbonate plate after printing. It looks as though there isn’t much left on it.

Old ink, brayer marks and solvent-dried areas repel the new ink in interesting ways. I would never be able to create these marks intentionally. I think of it in the same way that human beings are probably incapable of doing things that are completely random. You can read an engaging, philosophical article about this here.

Monoprint sheet achieved after a second inking. Lots of seredipitous marks, just waiting to be collaged.

Above is a view of the entire 24 x 18in plate, inked and printed for a second time. I just love how the colors mix and layer on the plate, creating something completely surprising on the paper. You can read more about how I work with collage papers in this blog.

So I will sometimes leave the plate unclean, because you never know… The studio itself is clean, however. Can’t have the studio cats tracking ink everywhere!

Gingersnap’s favorite color ink to step in is yellow… Very colorful and staining.

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My love affair with painter’s tape begins here

I love painter’s tape.

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.

Bathroom freshly painted white.

My main bathroom, newly painted a fresh white. The vintage 1970s gold tiles sadly must stay.

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.

Cat in mirror

My cat Gingersnap thought this project was fabulous, but needed more treats.

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.

Masking tape triangles and polygons

It took a lot of measuring to find the midpoints of all of the triangle sides and then perpendicular bisectors of each midpoint.

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.

Painting the polygons

Painting the polygons took one day for each coat of paint.

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.

Completed

My wall completed.

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.

 

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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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Experiencing Penland School of Crafts Withdrawal

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.

Sunset over The Pines at Penland School of Crafts

The view of the mountains and The Pines, where delicious food and good company are served up in equal measure.

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.

Printmaking demo by Andy Rubin at Penland School of Crafts

Andy Rubin demonstrates using a blend roll and stencils on the polycarbonate monoprinting plate, as studio mate Lisa Steffens looks on.

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.

Printmakers take time to explain artwork and technique at Penland School of Crafts

Artists and other visitors would wander through the studios, and my classmates Kendall and Taylor were tremendous ambassadors for the printmaking tradition.

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.

Monoprint in warm yellow and Phthalo blue. My first monoprint at Penland School of Crafts

One of my first monoprints (18 x 24in) created with a large brayer, stencil, solvent, Q-tips and brushes.

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.

Iceberg, both above and below the water, is created with opaque and transparent inks. Created at Penland School of Crafts

Opaque and transparent inks, plus brayers, paper daubers, solvent and masking tape created my first iceberg. More to come?

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.

By the way — what’s for dinner?

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Jumpstart your inspiration with a wall

Need some quick inspiration? Consider things that you have at hand. Postcards or photographs, some masking tape, and blank wall. Instant inspiration.

art inspiration wall

Postcards from museums and art openings inspire me whenever I’m in my studio.

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.

another inspiration wall

I try to use few words, but I felt these were important.

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…

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How to get (and stay) in your groove

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.

I find I can really concentrate on airplanes. Not a good daily option, however.

What does the Emperor have to do with studio practice?

I often feel just like the Emperor in the Emperor’s New Groove. Remember the memorable scene with John Goodman as Pacha, who discovers an old man hanging upside down from a fabric banner? (more…)

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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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