Relief Printmaking as Topography in Action

My new series, Beloved, looks at land areas at the edge — places where land and water combine in spectacular fashion. Places that will be lost with sea-level rise.

It is often hard for people to imagine how I go about creating my linocuts. You have to think backwards, I tell them, like in watercolor. I usually have a pencil outline of the most important features of the image — in this case, land and water. After these sections are marked, I use colored pencils to remind myself where I should carve. Here is a progression from one of the linocuts:

Water is drawn in blue. Places to carve away pink.

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Incomparable Wonder in Louisville

I ventured two hours south last Friday to bring my work to the Roberta Marx Gallery at the Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I crossed snowy fields covered with a strange fog — even though the air temperature hovered around 10 degrees F. Other fields had rows of corn stubble peaking up, fodder for future prints.

 

The Roberta Marx Gallery at Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church.
Photo by Jill Baker

The atmosphere at the church felt much warmer, with modern architecture and a clear appreciation for the natural world. The late winter sun streamed in through a round skylight.

I titled this exhibit: Incomparable Wonder: The Intersection of Spirit, Science and Art. The idea of exhibiting in a place of worship appeals to me. In centuries past, places of worship used stone carvings and later stained glass windows to communicate important stories to the congregation. Today, everyone can read stories from sacred texts. Art can take on a whole new role of asking what we value today. In my mind, what could be more important
than considering our natural world – both its beauty and fragility?

My newest work finds a bright wall. Photo by Jill Baker.

I had intended to make a return trip to Louisville two day later to join the congregation for its service, and a pot-luck reception afterwards. I even baked my white cheddar cheese biscuits with sage. (Full disclosure, this is a Martha Stewart recipe, and I am happy to share it.)

Alas, even though I make work considering the forces of nature, I am still amazed when nature affects me directly. The morning of the reception dawned with seven inches of new snow outside our window and travel advisories issued for the counties we needed to cross. The threat of freezing rain later made even my Montana-born husband demur from making the trip.

Bubble images are brightly lit by the round skylight and late
winter’s sun. Photo by Jill Baker.

Thankfully my work was wonderfully introduced to the congregation by artist and member Jill Baker. I enjoyed hanging the work with Jill on Friday and hearing about her journey as an artist. Advice from successful artists is priceless. I was sorry to miss meeting the good people of Thomas Jefferson, but am glad that my work can have a home in their gallery for the month.

Time to head back to the studio for a new series…and to try to forget that the cheese biscuits are residing very close by in the basement freezer.

Synthesizing sunlight in the studio

It has been a dark winter. When I lived in Seattle, I craved sunlight so much that I would sit in our tiny Honda CRX during rainy lunchtimes on the off-chance of glimpsing some rays. Our midwestern winter has been mostly grey and overcast. Perhaps that is why I’ve been delving into the joys and trials of yellow.
Elizabeth Busey, In Anticipation of Sweetness. Reduction Linocut,
18 x 18in circle, Edition of 16.

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If it’s yellow…let it mellow…*

I have been up against a self-imposed deadline. During February, I am the featured artist at the Bloomington Bagel Company. Besides the fabulous bagels, the venue has a large white, well-lit wall, and my people (folks who like or buy my art) eat there. So I wanted to get several leaf prints finished.

Everyseed bagels are my sustenance of choice.
But be safe — don’t eat in your studio.

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Yielding Somewhat Gracefully to Life and Adding Some Bling

Elizabeth Busey, Yielding Gracefully. Reduction Linocut, 17 x 25″

During my exploration of the sassafras leaf, I was operating under the assumption that the colors I see in the fall were always in the leaf, but became more apparent in autumn. For the yellows and oranges we see, this is basically true. But not for the red. The red that I found so challenging and unfamiliar is in fact produced by the leaves as a sort of battle against the inevitable arrival of winter.

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Another printmaker comes to town!

One of my New Year’s resolutions for my blog is to highlight artists that I enjoy — especially printmakers. February provides me with the opportunity to introduce you to James Hubbard, who will have an exhibit at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center in February in Bloomington Indiana. For those of you in Bloomington, you can meet James on Friday, February 7th from 5pm until 8pm.

James Hubbard, Mountain Contours Through Pines. Linoleum Print, 12 x 18in, 2013.

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Inspired by the Chroma

My trusty Tama To needs sharpening after the completion of my latest prints. (For new readers, this is a fabulous tool that cuts small circles in wood or linoleum.) Like my last huge square cellular print, I decided to run two different color series, and the result is two very different prints.

Elizabeth Busey. Ambrosia. Linoleum Reduction Print,
Edition of 13, (28 x 28in), 2013.

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Obsession, or Printmaking as a Coping Mechanism

Things at my house are in a state of upheaval. For the most part, positive changes are happening, and since my house and studio are intrinsically intermeshed, I am constantly surrounded by emotions and preparations. None of these changes involve me directly, so my job is to be present. When I have to center myself and be present — especially when I have little control over the situation — I draw circles.

Circle drawing from a long committee meeting.

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If you’ve got the itch to etch

I love relief printmaking. I don’t have a desire to do other media — to paint or to sculpt. But sometimes I crave the textural effects that you can only get with an aquatint. Aquatint is an etching process where tiny pieces of rosin (pine resin) are deposited on a block and then heat-fused. Then the plate (usually copper) is placed in acid, and the places that lack the rosin are etched away.

This technique makes luscious gradations and textures, and I try to create similar effects with my dremmel and many layers of ink. There is a method of etching linoleum, and last spring I gave it a try. I’m posting my results below, and am going to use the etching in my latest work.  But first, an explanation about etching linoleum:

I used ten small blocks, and sealed the MDF with polyurethane. The best instructions for mixing the etching solution are from Warepuke Studios in New Zealand. You are using drain cleaner and creating a caustic solution, so do this outside with goggles, chemical resistant gloves and respirator.

The blocks were exposed for different time intervals. From the left (for both the top and bottom blocks), these were 30 min, 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours and 8 hours.

To further my experiment, I used several resist techniques. Running in vertical rows these four techniques were:

Top block
1) Etch held in by a ring of sculpy clay
2) Just the etch in a blob by itself

Bottom block
3) The etch over dried PVA glue
4) The etch mixed with acrylic self-leveling gel (supposed to make the etch easier to control.) I found this seized up like mozzarella cheese.

My personal preference in all of these is the second area down — the etching solution only. The two hour time period made nice textures, without completely etching the area. If the area is completely etched, it is as if you had carved it away.

In my next post I will reveal the block that I will be etching — entitled Perspectives of Plenty.

 

“Ogres are like reduction prints…they have layers!”

In a memorable scene from the movie Shrek, Shrek is trying to describe ogres to his traveling companion, Donkey. “Ogres are like onions…they have layers!” he exclaims.  They are complicated, nuanced…  Layers are also the secret behind printmaking. As I detailed in my last post, most of my prints have eight to ten layers of transparent ink to create an image that “pops” out from the paper.

Elizabeth Busey,  Breath Intertwined.
Linoleum Reduction Print, 25 x 17in, 2012.

My latest print, Breath Intertwined, has many layers, and different parts of the print have different layers. By making use of some cardboard masks, I was able to use thalo blues in the lower green part of the print. The purple-red leaf section received several layers of outrageously electric purple to achieve the dusky red-purple of the finished leaf.

Last night I explained to my art group friends that even though different parts of the prints had different layers, it was necessary for them to share some layers as well. In the case of the two leaves, they share several layers, yielding the bold chartreuse color of their veins. This shared color palette helps the image feel connected and harmonious.

This explanation made me question why plants like my featured Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis L.) can have green leaves, or purplish red ones. According to Sven Svenson, an Oregon State horticulturist, all leaves have three types of pigments. Leaves that appear green have higher levels of chlorophyll, which absorbs red and blue light, so we see them as green. By contrast, some leaves have a higher level of anthocyanin, which absorbs blue, blue-green and green light, so we see them as having red to purple pigment. (A third pigment, carotinoid, is responsible for yellow to yellow-orange leaves.)

Can you see the chlorophyll? It is all about the layers.

Even leaves that block the green light from our eyes have the chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis. I imagine that they have the layers of green in them, but we just can’t see them.  We just have to have faith (or confidence) that it is there.