Delight (and printing) from the sun

Cyanotype of maple leaves moving dries and darkens on a retaining wall.

2020 has been dark, so whenever we have bright sunshine, my heart lifts. When a clear day is forecast, I burst into action to capture art from the sun. I quickly sensitize paper in a windowless bathroom with only a 40 watt incandescent bulb to see by. Images are  most brilliant when you make your exposures within 24 hours of sensitizing the paper, so planning is critical.

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Adventures into the land of LEDs

My basement studio has no natural light. To get colors just right, I have been relying on a hodgepodge of halogen and fluorescent bulbs.  Over time I can tell that the halogen bulbs are aging — and I perceive them getting strangely yellow. Plus the halogens run very hot, which is quite a waste of energy.

Do bulbs really make a difference?

photo in studio
Taken in my studio

photo outside
Taken outside in the shade on a sunny day.

I use my Iphone to take quick images of the preliminary stages of my work. You can see that the camera perceives quite a difference, and I wondered how this was affecting my color choices. It was time for a change to something that more closely resembles natural light.

I spent some time on, and came away with replacements for the various fixtures in my track lighting system. They were expensive. But considering that lighting can make up about 25% of household electrical costs — and that these lights are often on for many hours — I thought the splurge was worth it. The bulbs I will use in my studio state that they will last for 32 years — based on three hours of use per day — and cost $2.23 annually.

led bulbs
Part of a household LED upgrade order.

Which LED should I choose?

LED bulbs come in several color temperatures. When I wanted to light my art tent this summer, we did a test with three temperatures: 2700K (warm), 4000K (moderate) and 5000K (cool.) For illuminating my artwork the 5000K was clearly the best choice — mimicking natural daylight. So I ordered this temperature bulb for my studio and am using a narrow floodlight.

When I tried the 5000K bulb in one of our household recessed can lights, my husband objected to the harshness and the narrow spot. So I’m trying some 4000K wide spotlight LEDs in our living area. Many people might prefer the warmth of the 2700K bulbs, but I would love light that is closer to natural daylight.

UPDATE September 2016: My husband and I have compromised and have 2700K LED bulbs in our living areas. Warmth won me over!

Use LEDs (carefully) in outside displays

art tent at night
My art tent lit up at night in Columbus, Ohio courtesy of 5000K LED bulbs.

I invested in LED bulbs this summer for two festivals that went late into the evening and provided electricity. Having LED bulbs meant that my tent was brilliantly lit, and my seven bulbs came in under the power limit set by the show. The effect was spectacular. Because the bulbs are expensive, we take them out of the fixture after each show and nestle them carefully back in their original boxes. These bulbs travel in safety.

Tonight I will set up my art tent for the last time this year at my hometown art festival, The Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts. The show only goes until 6pm on Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, but my tent is situated under an imposing ash tree. On many hot Labor Day weekends I am grateful for this shade, but it does make the tent darker than I would like. Luckily my mensch of a husband has set me up with a rechargeable marine battery to power these very efficient lights.

A wise artist once told me that if people can’t see the artwork, they certainly won’t purchase it. We will be fully lit this weekend.

Open Studios are awesome

It has been a long time since I worked 14 to 16 hour days at this pace — perhaps going back to graduate school…or the early months of motherhood. I’ve been preparing for a show at the Bloomington Monroe County Convention Center which opened Friday will hang through July 26th.

I am now in the midst of the Bloomington Open Studios Tour. The traffic is light on Sunday mornings, so I thought I would post some images of what an Open Studios looks like. I’ve talked more in the past 48 hours than I have in the past four months, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

The front walk is weeded and ready to welcome people to my home studio.

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Keeping pace with an artistic practice

When I’m not carving or printing, I am also a student of the practices of other artists. There are numerous resources to choose from…

•  Julia Cameron writes of the morning pages in her now iconic The Artist’s Way. •  Mason Curry relates the experiences of artists & writers in Daily Rituals : How Artists Work. Some writers say they find inspiration by sitting down every day at 8:30 to write. A good many artists relied on a daily dose of alcohol and amphetamines to bring the muse.
•  Twyla Tharp writes of her own practice in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. One of her habits is to order a cab every morning to take her to the gym. The cab ride itself is the habit.

Gingersnap thinks it is time for less carving and more food.

Truthfully, such daily habits have always eluded me. I’m not a person to sit idle, but each time I try stick to a studio schedule, within days I am foiled. Not by the catastrophic event, but by the holiday, the actively dying minivan, or the forgotten lunch and cell phone of my spouse. Little things that frankly make up the bulk of my life. I have always suspected that the artists who claim to work exclusively — five to seven days a week from 9am to 5pm — have had staff.

So what is the flexible artist to do?

Recently I’ve begun the practice of capturing small chunks of time to work, whether this be 15 minutes or two hours. Rather than throwing up my hands when my planned studio morning has been interrupted, I quickly recalibrate in my head to capture the needed time somewhere else in the day.

Armed with my trusty earbuds and a strong Pandora connection, I try to blot out the distractions, and the screaming inner critic that says “you can’t be a real artist if you don’t spend vast amounts of time creating…” and press on.

My favorite example of this talent is showcased in the documentary Who Does She Think She Is? where sculptor Janis Wunderlich, mother of five children, explains where she finds some of her time to work. After four children are at school or preschool, the youngest often falls asleep the in the family car. Janis tiptoes into her (presumably) adjacent studio and works for whatever time she has. A woman after my own heart.

Spectacular clouds and tornado warnings chase me to the basement.

And when I’m not able to create, I take pictures of the clouds with my cell phone, or indulge in my latest American Craft Magazine while I wait for the car to be repaired.

What do you do to keep yourself in the habit of making art?