I usually work by myself in my home studio. Collaboration is difficult as my cats simply are not that motivated. During my recent workshop at Penland School of Craft I had several opportunities to collaborate with other artists. I found it to be both delightful and challenging.
The workshop was led by April Flanders, a professor at Appalachian State University, who creates large-scale installations using paper and printmaking. We also had a vastly qualified studio assistant in Lauren Kussro, who is a professor of art at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Both artists encouraged us to find ways to collaborate, seeing how the imagery of one person could compliment that of others.
Here are some snapshots of some of the new things I learned during my workshop at Penland School of Craft this summer. The class was filled with ideas of how you could push printmaking beyond the traditional. Rather than creating one finished idea, I spend much of my time trying things that were novel to me, and following ideas down rabbit holes…
I’m about to depart for another workshop at Penland School of Craft. I went to a monoprinting workshop last summer with Andy Rubin, and it was transformative. This year’s workshop is with April Flanders entitled Singular Prints and Alternative Presentations.
The workshop promises to work with monotypes and screen printing, plus explore unusual ways of presenting the work — installations, sculptural prints and shadow boxes. Plus new techniques (to me) including paper cutting and sewing. With such an open-ended agenda, I’m tempted to bring everything from my studio — just in case. Restraint has prevailed, so here is what I’m taking to the workshop.
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.
How do people identify a creative endeavor that speaks to them? Very few people have a driving passion for writing or art or music — one that motivates them throughout their life. Most of us don’t. Elizabeth Gilbert has an insightful presentation where she argues that for most people, life isn’t about one great passion, but rather a meandering path where we find one interest, and then another. It is about our journey where we gather each breadcrumb as it appears on our path, and at the end, hopefully we are filled.
At the printmaking evening at WonderLab I was thrilled to unveil my bromeliad flower. I finally realized that rather than trying to put another strong color on the print, a transparent one would be best. A bit more carving and a transparent blue brought out the shadows of the very pink flower.
One of the biggest challenges of reduction printmaking is registration. We were printing with spoons at the museum, so I created a mini-registration jig complete with pins and tabs. I cut the hole for the block in a piece of foam core — just large enough to hold the block snuggly. My printers did not need to take the block out at all, just use the brayer to ink the block. Then the tabs could be clicked into place and the spoon rubbing began.
I sometimes envy painters. They can demonstrate their magic in real time. Full disclosure: I did watch Bob Ross painting his landscape scenes when I was home with babies. He was so calming and effortless in his movements as he drew craggy peaks out of black gessoed panels.
I have the same challenge on Friday, October 2nd. I am the visiting artist at First Friday Evening Science of Art at the WonderLab Museum of Science Health & Technology here in Bloomington. The entire evening will be printmaking — including letterpress and real leaf printing. And me.
Carving with my trusty Foredom drill makes short work of a small block.
For me, demonstrating on-site is tough. Watching someone carve linoleum can be a dull as dirt. I certainly can’t drag my press with me. We had a wonderful time printing two-layered linocuts at my Open Studios tour in June, so I decided to do a variation of this for the WonderLab event.