Tag Archives: printmaking

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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Looking for a new gold ink

I love gold ink. There, I’ve said it. I’m not a flashy person in personality or dress. But in my studio practice, gold ink is a necessity.

Is one gold ink better than another?

To answer this question, I put three inks to the test.

Hanschy RichGold (now Hanco) litho ink (Hanco CS-951 $26.55 Blick.com)
This was my first gold ink. I was taught to do relief printmaking with lithography inks, and I’ve had this one for about eight years. Until October, it was my go-to gold. Straight from the 1lb. can, it is strikingly green-gold and moderately thick. Little evidence of grainy pigments.

Update from Hanco: The can in the picture is about 10 years old and has been discontinued. You’ll want to try our Brilliant Rich Gold or our Rich Gold paste. They are much brighter than the old Metal Sheen metallic ink. 

I haven’t tried out the new Hanco inks, so if you have experience with them, please add your thoughts to the comments!

Handschy RichGold has been my go-to gold for quite a while.

Cranfield Traditional Relief Ink Gold (75 ml $15.21 Blick.com)
I just received this one, and I was looking for great color in a true relief ink. The color on the tube matches the ink itself — it looks like copper. When squeezed out of the tube, you do see evidence of some grainy pigments.

Cranfield gold looks like copper…

Charbonnel Etching Ink Gold (60ml $18.36 Blick.com)
I have been using this ink for a few months. Out of the tube, it looks the most like gold and is thick and stiff, with lots of grainy pigment.

Charbonnel etching ink is quite stiff.

Putting the ink to the test

I don’t usually use gold ink as a first layer. It would sink into my thick cotton paper and lose all of its reflective qualities. I wanted to see how each ink behaved when printed over previously printed colors. Luckily I had some unfinished bookmarks left over from this year’s Open Studios Tour that I could use. I modified each ink with a similar amount of Gamblin’s tack reducer, until each ink was viscous enough to be rolled out.

When similarly modified, each ink was rolled out and used for printing a bookmark. Left: Handschy, Middle: Cranfield, Right: Charbonnel.

When rolled out, the difference in inks is quite apparent. The Handschy ink on the left is not very reflective, and looks more greenish-brown than gold. The Cranfield in the middle is more reflective, but is still quite coppery and dark. The Charbonnel on the right was the most difficult to roll out. It never gets buttery when mixed on the glass and rolls out into a stiff rectangle.

The proof is in the print

When printed onto the unfinished bookmarks, the difference is even more clear. Both the Handschy and Cranfield and very dark and not at all reflective. By contrast, the Charbonnel is lighter, and its reflective surface contributes to a feeling of depth in the bookmark.

Which ink do you prefer? My heart is with the Charbonnel.

The Charbonnel is so superior to the others that I can’t see when I would ever use the other two. When you want a reflective surface, the ink with the most pigment is the one to use. Hands down.

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What good does your art do for the world?

What good does your art do for the world? I realize this is a challenging question for artists — at least it is for me. But as 2017 has come to an end, it is just the sort of thing I want to ponder as I make plans for 2018.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

Printmaking meets installation

During our recent arctic blast, I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center to see the work of Caledonia Curry, who also goes by the name Swoon. Curry combines large scale relief and silkscreen printmaking to create large vibrant installations. Spanning two floors, the exhibit also makes use of wallpapers that she designed and had printed near her Brooklyn studio.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

The exhibit, entitled Swoon The Canyon • 1999-2017, is Curry’s first retrospective show. We see her take inspiration from New York City street scenes and subway windows, and then transition to much larger social and environmental themes. Often, Curry combines the creation of the work with some sort of direct social involvement. Her early New York City work was adhered with wheat paste to the very neighborhoods she was celebrating.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

Printing the personal…

Curry looks to more personal themes in the section entitled Medea. The lifecycles of women are superimposed on intricate wall papers as she works through personal themes of love, loss, trauma and forgiveness. An explanatory pamphlet and many audio visual links accompany this exhibit, so I felt both included in the artist’s process and thinking, while still being able to engage with the work on a personal level. As my own children leave me for their own lives, the Medea section was particularly poignant.

Swoon The Canyon • 1999 – 2017. Installation at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

… as well as the political

The final section of the exhibit encompasses Curry’s interest and involvement with social justice, where she seeks to have her artistic practice affect change for individuals and communities. She has done this in Kenya, Haiti, and Mexico, as well as communities in the United States. In the image above, Curry highlights her work in Braddock, PA where she helped establish a non-profit that provides employment for young adults creating architectural and fine art tiles.

I came away both encouraged and a bit daunted. My path to art creating has been different from Curry’s to be sure. I probably won’t be able to affect change on the same scale. For 2018, I’ve decided to keep my eyes open for opportunities to make the world just a bit better. Perhaps one person at a time.

How will you do good in 2018?

 

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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.

 

(more…)

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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.

(more…)

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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.

(more…)

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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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