Tag Archives: printmaking

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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Breaking the rules

Sometimes it feels good to break the rules. Printmaking has many of them — perfect alignment, clean edges, no brayer marks. I had tried breaking some rules by working with the dyed silk, and even though this experiment did not work, I couldn’t let my key block image go. So I’ve decided to break some more rules in the search for blended, variegated colors.

My key block from my last experiment. Sadly, I will need to carve a new one.

 

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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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Reading signs in the clouds

My love affair with large linocuts has been tested this summer. In June, I began a 25 x 40 inch linocut of a large severe thunderstorm, fully intending to complete it in a month. Over the course of two months, I have used an engraving bit to texture every inch of this block — change occurring at a glacial pace — which is completely the opposite of a fast moving storm.

©Elizabeth_Busey_Breath_of_Hermes

©Elizabeth Busey. Breath of Hermes. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK Heavyweight. 25 x 40in (image size), Edition of 6, $600 unframed.

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Working from photographs … sort of

Clouds — my current fascination — are natural phenomena that are very difficult to sketch with any detail. They move, and your perspective changes each time you look up at the cloud and then down to your paper. My latest linocut planning makes use of a photograph I took with my Iphone and this artist’s secret tool — tracing paper.

small photo & sketches

A large photograph, tracing paper and ruler begin the transformation process.

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Opening up the studio (and the house)

“How do you feel about opening your studio to the public?” was a question from a local journalist recently. I am on the steering committee of the Bloomington Open Studios Tour which is being held Saturday, June 4th (10am – 6pm) and Sunday, June 5th (10am – 4pm), 2016. When I wrote back, I said that I loved welcoming people to my studio because I enjoy showing what I do. Plus thinking as a business person, I know that people who make connections with the artists are more likely to buy art.

Welcoming people into your space makes you a little crazy — you see all of the dirt and imperfections a bit more clearly and have the irrational need to redecorate. When people come to my studio, they actually come into my house, so you can see the problem. With a little elbow grease and some strategically placed display panels, I’m able to welcome the public inside without feeling like everyone is in my private spaces. Here’s a quick tour:

Open studios hallway

You enter into my quad level house, and must descend to the studio.

People enter into my 1970’s era quad level house and can immediately go downstairs to see the studio. A display panel helps them not wander into our kitchen/dining room and see the breakfast dishes.

Going downstairs

Display panels help people not get lost on their descent.

A quick turn and people are down half-a-level, guided away from the TV, past my washer and dryer, and into my basement studio.

2016 Studio

The studio is ready for printing solar flags.

My studio is swept, de-spidered, and ready for visitors. This year we are printing solar flags, an homage to prayer flags.  The solar flags are to celebrate the solar array that is being installed at First United Church, Bloomington — which provides our open studios committee with a place to meet for free. I’ll share more about the flags in another blog. After printing, talking about inks and presses and looking at my inspiration wall, people can head back upstairs…

living room 2016

Our living room gets transformed into a small gallery.

We have turned our living room into a small gallery, complete with framed and unframed work. People can have a quick snack and beverage, rest in the air conditioning and chat with my husband, who is my invaluable assistant for the weekend. Setting up for this event does take some time, but I enjoy being able to share a great deal about my art — and my life — with visitors.

yard 2016

My yard, very recently spiffed up by New Leaf Landscaping Consulting. My family and my thumbs so appreciate their work.

If you are in Bloomington this weekend, please stop by and say hello. I’m at 4324 E Beacon Ct.

You can find out about all the participating artists at BloomingtonOpenStudiosTour.com.

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Houston we have a problem

landscape two layers

Two layers printed of my latest linocut featuring clouds.

Today was one of those studio days that makes you question all of your decisions…and all because of ink. I have been working on my latest linocut, a landscape with broody clouds and dark early spring fields, with a hint to clearing in the middle. Here is the underprinting of lighter colors before the contrast…

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Now the possibilities are endless

©Elizabeth Busey_Cantata_for_Eventide

©Elizabeth Busey, Cantata for Eventide. Reduction Linocut on Rives BFK, 18 x 18in image size, $350 unframed.

My latest linocut, Cantata for Eventide, was inspired by a blanket of clouds, and benefits from an entirely new color in my palette. My local art supply store, Pygmalion’s, creates a custom oil color each year. All proceeds go to a local charity, and there is a show in the spring for people to show the artwork they created with the color.

new color in a tube

My yellow relief ink made by Gamblin is definitely on the greenish side, so I was intrigued to use this buttery, warm yellow. Owner and fellow printmaker John Wilson advised me to squeeze out some oil paint on a paper towel and let it sit for several hours. Sure enough, some of the oil soaked into the towel, leaving me with a substance that looks much like my relief inks. Mixed with some transparent base, it is the base for the setting sun in Cantata for Eventide.

I’m thrilled with the results. I haven’t been able to get quite this warm a yellow before. Now it is all I can do to not go and buy lots of Gamblin oil colors with which to experiment. While the number of colors you can make is infinite, the colors you start with make all the difference. 

I wonder what color I will adopt next…

 

 

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This printmaker is grateful for the humble flax

I have been methodically carving my latest linocut looking at cloud formations, but I don’t have too much to show for it…

Cloud 1 three layers

Three layers of very transparent ink are just the start of this linocut celebrating clouds.

This linocut has three layers of ink on it, but the differences in layers are intentionally subtle. I achieve this through the use of what printmaking ink manufacturers call tint base. It is the substance that holds all of the tiny pigment particles together and allows them to be evenly distributed on my glass table with my rubber brayer. The base is also responsible for drying so that the pigment will stay adhered to my paper, even when there is very little pigment. Tint base is very important.

I use a great deal of transparent base in my work — I will order several cans at one time to keep it in stock. Gamblin — the creator of my inks — uses burnt plate oil as the binder, with the addition of some calcium carbonate. I wondered what burnt plate oil actually was, because in the can the transparent base looks like spun honey, and doesn’t look burned at all.

Burnt plate oil is linseed oil which has been heated to 425 F degrees (or has ignited) and has become thick and viscous. Linseed oil has a drying tendency — it forms polymers — and therefore is used as a binder in paints, inks…and linoleum! The wood pulp and cork particles of linoleum are ably held together with linseed oil. The only thing that is not linseed based in my process is the cotton paper.

Europe was closed to flax exports after a genetically modified variety was discovered in shipments, but the continent is opening up after poor weather in Russia and Kazakhstan dried up sources. File photo. (date last used May 23, 2013) Building a new flax processsing facility in Angusville, Man., is one of several moves Grain Millers Inc. is making to serve health food markets in North America. File photo. (date last used March 21, 2013) Irish flax processor plans to relocate, rebuild plant. File photo. (date last used December 6, 2012) If flax growers can get their crop sequence right and properly manage the mycorrhiza population in the soil, there may be potential to save money on fertilizer. File photo. (date last used August 2, 2012) Western Europe accounted for about 70 percent of Canadian flax exports but some analysts expect to see demand from the U.S. File photo. (date last used September 15, 2011) The flax is in full bloom at plots in the Northern Adapted Flax Variety Development Project plots near Vegreville. The goal of the project is to develop flax varieties better adapted to the northern Prairies.

The flax plant has a gorgeous blue-purple flower that yields the all important flax seed.

Linseed is also referred to as flax, a plant that was used in its wild fiber state nearly 30,000 years ago in the Republic of Georgia. There is evidence of domesticated oil seed in Egypt 9,000 years ago. The seeds and resulting oil are edible, and the fibers can be woven into a strong, if scratchy fabric. The amazing thing about flax is that it made its way into the artist’s studio.

I searched for the genesis of burnt plate oil, but found nothing definitive. There is a spirited debate on-line regarding whether painter and printmaker Rembrandt used burnt plate oil for the impasto parts of his paintings. I can imagine a careless studio assistant getting distracted, only to turn around and see his pot of oil on fire, and later being intrigued by the new consistency of the oil. However it happened, I am grateful for the humble flax plant which brings me not only my printmaking inks, but my linoleum as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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