Tag Archives: Linocut

What is a diptych anyway?

If one is good, two must be better. My latest linocut, Iridescent Argosy, is comprised of two 24 x 13in blocks that are intended to be framed separately, but be hung close together to create one display. This is my version of a contemporary diptych.

Two panel linocut of brilliantly colored cumulus cloud.

©Elizabeth Busey. Iridescent Argosy. Reduction linocut diptych. 24 x 13in (each block), ed of 12, $600 set.

The origins of the diptych begin in antiquity, when lesson books were two wax-coated plates linked with a hinge. Later, low relief artwork that was related in topic was used. In the Middle Ages, clergy began using this format, allowing for the safe transport of icons. Several famous altar pieces are actually three joined panels, or a triptych. In these examples, one side was related to the other, but each side could also stand alone.

A modern version of the diptych

My interest in the diptych was inspired by printmaker and painter Yvonne Jacquette. (Follow this link to see a 2016 interview with the artist.) In her woodcut Hudson River Diptych, Jacquette uses two blocks slightly separated to show the expanse of a harbor scene. For me, this artistic choice emphasizes the vastness of the subject, and also gives the feeling of gazing through a window into a different world.

Using two blocks is also logistically helpful in some ways. Smaller blocks are easier on my hands and elbows, and smaller paper and framing materials are less expensive. But I’m mostly drawn to the notion that this image was just too expansive to be contained within one frame.

And now I can spell diptych…

 

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Metallic inks put the shine on

Art-making is compromise.  Those who say that you can make whatever you want are simply mistaken. Art making is a compromise between what you have in your imagination, and what you can accomplish with your materials. In reduction printmaking, this compromise has to do with the number of shades, colors or details you would like versus the amount of ink your paper is willing to accept. Apply too much ink, and you are finished.

What is an overzealous printmaker to do? In many of my linocuts, I turn to metallic inks to finish the piece, even if I wasn’t quite finished myself.

silver and gold metallic inks on a carved linoleum block

A blend roll of gold and silver metallic inks are the last layer on my latest cloud linocut.

Why metallic inks are different

Metallic inks are different from other printmaking inks. The pigments are not ground as finely as other colors so they can reflect light. Gold inks are simulated with combinations of copper and zinc (yielding a sort of bronze) and silver inks are made from aluminum. As these inks dry, the metals rise to the surface.

How shiny these pigments appear depends on the surface on which they are printed. On my very absorbent Rives BFK, the inks aren’t too shiny unless they are the last in a series of ink layers. With the above inked block, these inks are going over six other layers of ink, so the paper is nearly sealed. If you printed on a very slick surface, the results would be shinier. If a very reflective result is required, you would need to resort to foil printing — a fascinating technique with which I would love to experiment.

cans of metallic gold and silver printmaking ink

Cans of metallic inks can bring a shine to any situation.

Mixing brands of ink — apologize later

Gamblin –the maker of my other relief printmaking inks — does not make metallic inks. I have had my Handschy gold and Kohl & Madden silver inks for years. Straight out of the can they are very dark and strong, so I mix in some Gamblin Relief Transparent Base and some tack reducer to get the strength I need. So far my mixing of different ink brands has not resulted in a visit from the ink police.  I also use a bit of metallic ink to make an ink less transparent, without adding white — which can lead to too-pastel colors.

I just applied a layer of metallic gold and silver blend roll to my latest cloud linocut, and I think it is finished. It is a diptych, so I am working on just the right way to display it on-line.

In the meantime, consider if a little metallic ink might help you put your shine on.

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If only every mistake could be fixed with Bondo

The English language needs a word for that chilly feeling of regret that washes over you, followed by the hot flush that confirms that you just made a terrible mistake. In relief printmaking, this comes when you have carved away a portion of your block that you had not intended. This happened to me recently, and after I discarded the possibility of having a toddler-style tantrum on the floor, I turned to Google.

Thankfully, me eyes soon rested on a blog post by Erich Neitzke on how to use Bondo to repair a linoleum block. My only experience with Bondo comes from my childhood, when I would help my father use Bondo and fiberglass mesh to patch our 1967 Volvo. After reading Erich’s blog, I headed to the hardware store to give Bondo a try on my block.

Can of Bondo

Yep, they still make Bondo. You shouldn’t need the fiberglass kit.

My trouble came from my carelessness when using a mask or frisket to block out part of the linoleum. A mask is simply a packing tape covered piece of tracing paper that physically covers part of the block so the roller can’t deposit the ink. The result is an ink/no ink line. The actual mask that I created was slightly different from the lines on my tracing paper drawing, but I had forgotten this, and merrily began carving away the incorrect lines. This would mean that there would be a strange white space between my yellow sky and purple mountains. There was no way to glue back the pieces of linoleum with Superglue, which only works on minute areas where the linoleum is somewhat attached.

Masking tape around the mistakenly carved linoleum.

Masking around the area means that you will have less area to sand later.

Armed with my Bondo, I first masked around the area I wanted to fill with blue tape. I mixed a small amount of the white compound from the can, with a tiny amount of the brick red paste from the accompanying tube. I used a Dixie cup as a container and a popsicle stick for mixing and spreading. Make sure to use gloves and have proper ventilation. (Don’t do this inside.)

Bondo is spread over the area.

Press the Bondo firmly over the area, and don’t scrape down too deep. You want it to be a little bit higher than the block at this point.

I quickly spread the Bondo firmly into the channel I wanted to fill and scraped down some of the excess. You will want to leave a raised mound that you can sand. Bondo cures, rather than dries, so I was able to start sanding after an hour.

The linoleum has been patched by Bondo, but must be sanded.

Remove the masking tape. Now it is time to gently sand by hand.

After removing the masking tape, I began sanding with 220 paper. I was careful not to sand too far down, as then I might get small lines around the filled area that might print. This patch will work if you have relatively small areas to fill, or if you fill in several steps. It might be hard to fill an area that is not surrounded on most sides by linoleum.

Pencil marks now show the correct place to carve.

The correctly carving marks are transferred to the block, with a written reminder.

After the sanding, I carefully transferred the correct marks to the block, and reminded myself where to carve. It is always better for colors to overlap slightly than to have those unsightly white lines. You can always carve away more later.

After two colors, the Bondo area is still holding well. My diptych of cumulonimbus clouds was saved. If only other problems were so easy to solve with a simple patch and some sanding.

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Linocuts, rice paddies and Woody Guthrie

linocut of rice paddies reflecting a colorful sun.

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Freedom Highway. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK, edition of 10, 10 x 33in (image size), $375 unframed.

How do you work through ideas? Some people run. Others have long conversations in coffee houses. Many artists make art. I used to think that my explorations in art were more about the materials. But if I look at my work more retrospectively, I see my own thought processes come into focus.

Trying an idea one more time

My most recent linocut for 2017, Walking the Freedom Highway, was a second attempt to use a sketch originally inspired by rice paddies. I am especially drawn to the sinuous rhythms of the fields in Asia, where less available land means more creative agricultural layouts. Rice fields in the U.S. are sometimes sinuous, but mostly bordered by a familiar quadrilateral. As I printed, the forms began to remind me of many places I have visited throughout the United States.

How does the paper change the linocut?

Rice paddies reflecting setting sun on textured Asian paper

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Cloud Highway. Reduction linocut on Thai Unryu, edition of 3, 10 x 33 in (image size), $375 unframed

This linocut is long (10″ high by 33″ wide) and requires oversized, expensive paper. I discovered that I had a limited quantity of western cotton paper, but I was so eager to begin, that I decided to experiment once again. This time I used some Thai Unryu paper (which translates as “Cloud Dragon”)  that I had in a roll. This paper has thick fibers running through it which show up subtly in the printing.

Close-up of linocut printed on Thai Unryu paper. Thicker fibers show through the darker ink.

As you can see, the Thai Unryu makes the linocut softer and more velvety. Some of the pinks on the cotton paper are quite bright, so this softness may be appealing for some people. In the interest of clarity, I have named the three on Thai Unryu paper Walking the Cloud Highway.

What does patriotism have to do with rice paddies?

It is my practice to carve and print in the morning and early afternoon, before my hands, shoulders and mind get tired. I listen to an NPR program called 1A (in reference to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) As you might guess, many of the topics led me to think about what it means to be “an American…”

I never name my linocuts until after they are completed. As I was searching for an idea this morning, I came back to my feeling that it needed to be something patriotic. I say patriotic not in the nationalistic sense, but in the sense of deep affection for where I live and the people around me, even for people with whom I completely disagree. I decided to consult “This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie ©1956) — my favorite patriotic song. It has poetic, pointed lyrics, and even I can reach all of the notes.

New stanzas change the meaning

As I read the lyrics online, I was stunned to see that there are three stanzas that I never knew existed. Read this Wikipedia article for an interesting account of where these stanzas went.  I give you the entire song here to read, ponder, and perhaps even sing…

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was changing, As the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever made me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

 

 

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Why clouds anyway?

Saturated Reverie, the last cloud linocut for 2016, reexamines those puffy, cartoon “Simpson’s clouds” of a previous decade. These clouds represent the fluffy cotton balls we used in preschool to portray fair weather formations. In my clouds, only some of the formation is actually white or very light blue. The rest belies what is inside…

The real cumulus

These cumulus clouds are usually signs of fair weather. Their towering, flat-bottomed presence reminds me of ships, sailing in the teal blue of sunny skies. They are filled with ice crystals, water droplets, or both, and are low-lying, occurring at about 2,000 meters (3,300 feet.) The (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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Key blocks bring everything together

I enjoy getting lost in cities — at least on foot. I delight in the unexpected finds that are off the typical tourist trail. But sometimes life demands a predetermined order, and my life has felt like that of late. I have been wanting to do another linocut featuring the undulating forms of rice paddies, and my current project demands structure in the form of a key block.

key-block

A test print of my latest linocut on newsprint. I’m wondering whether the large dark areas, when printed with an opaque green, will read convincingly as planted paddies.

For printmaker who use multiple blocks, a key block is a familiar element. In Japanese printmaking — especially Ukiyo-e — the key block carries all of the final graphic information and is usually printed last in a dark color. Printmakers will also use this block to transfer information to other blocks so they will know where to carve away for each color block. April Vollmer has written a terrific book on Japanese printmaking called Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop if you want to read more about this technique.

No key blocks for reduction printmaking

I never use key blocks with reduction printmaking. First, remember that I am only using one block. Sometimes the final stage of a block will look as though it is a key block, as I usually print the darkest color last. But I didn’t start with this last stage in mind; rather, the block evolved throughout the process.

Bahamas-last-layer

The last layers of my reduction work often look like this — where only the orangey part is actually printed. Not like a key block at all.

My latest linocut has a key block though. I will be using hand dyed silk to create the floating world imagery that my imagination has been clinging to. With these dyes and the silk, colors can flow easily into one another in way that is impossible to create using my typical techniques. The large blocks of dark ink are where I am considering having some rice that remains to be harvested, while the other areas are reflected water.

Carving as therapy

Carving a key block during this particular week has been a tonic. It is my equivalent of cleaning my house — a repetitive activity that has a tangible result at its end, but requires reduced thinking during the process. Like a working meditation, my mind can wander, my breath can slow.

Now I wait for longer paper to be delivered and prepare to allow the silk dyes to flow unimpeded through the fabric. A peaceful process for a peaceful image.

 

 

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My love affair with clouds continues

My love affair with clouds continues. Clouds encapsulate the emotions of human life that more static entities cannot. They can be majestic or tender, suffocating or fleeting. In the Midwest, we say that clouds are our mountains. But unlike mountains, clouds are ever-changing.

My latest linocut, Emancipation of the Sun, highlights clouds that I saw over Lake Michigan earlier in the summer. My daughter had joined me at the Krasl Art Fair, and after the tiring job of setting up the festival tent and hanging the work, we retreated to the lakeshore. As we walked the waters edge, conversation flowed as the scenery changed, finally culminating in the darkening clouds lifting away, releasing the sun to shine on other shores.

elizabeth-busey-emancipation-of-the-sun

Elizabeth Busey. Emancipation of the Sun. Reduction Linocut on Rives BFK, 25 x 40in (image size) Edition of 12, $600 (Until 12/1/16)

The Great Lakes are so vast that to our human eyes, they are simply freshwater oceans. The sun was setting over Chicago as well, but was still high above the West Coast and beyond. We have no control over the sun. Imagine how grateful early humans must have felt when the sun rose in the morning, and how terrifying it must have been when it left. They had to create stories and rituals — their own sort of faith that the sun would return.

Today we know that the sun returns. Our cell phones tell us exactly when to expect it. We celebrate or curse our society’s penchant for time changes. But the rising and setting is still the most breathtaking part of the day. It is a small acknowledgement that much as we wish to control everything about our lives and the people in them, we cannot. We must let go.

We must emancipate the sun.

 

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Good rollers can save your wrists

I had a birthday recently. It wasn’t a momentous one, but pretty close. As I work on my latest large linocut, I am increasingly aware of how much wear and tear printmaking can have on my body. Blocks are heavy, and need to be slid from the table to the press rather than lifted over shoulder height. Large blocks mean large areas to cover with ink using brayers. This motion can put a great deal of stress on my hands and wrists. Luckily I learned a few years ago that good rollers can save your wrists.

brayers

My brayers are used for smaller areas of my large block.

Brayers work well for small blocks

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Perspective is everything

Perspective is everything. I’m not just talking about two or three point perspective here, but also the question of “Why do you do what you do?” What is your motivation? This is a question ask of every linocut I undertake.

Using my imaginary view finder

In all of my linocuts, I take a subject matter that is familiar and try to look at it through a different view finder. Take your thumbs and pointer fingers into L-shapes and make a square. When you crop the scene, how does it change your experience of the subject matter?  I am most struck by how I experience topography, especially when viewed through the window of an airplane.

mountains-right-wing

View of mountains on my way to Portland, Oregon.

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