Patterns ground me. I’ve tried to make work that had nothing to do with patterns, and it didn’t feel like me. In the midst of midterm election shenanigans in the U.S., working with the Voronoi diagrams has provided me with times of peaceful creation and discovery.
My latest linocut commission has been safely delivered, so I can now reveal Flowing Freely — Goose River.
Sometimes realism is what is needed
My topographical work is often a blend of locations and shapes, but occasionally I highlight actual places in a more realistic way. Flowing Freely shows a snapshot of an ever-changing river delta in the Goose River, Labrador, Canada. The soft peach and blue parts of the form are the shifting sandy soils of the delta that are sweeping from side to side. The green parts are what geologists consider the older parts of the delta, now deceased. (more…)
Underprinting. Yep, that’s a thing. I have always envied oil painters who begin their paintings with loose gestures of colors — sometimes in a complementary color. The white of the printing paper can be daunting, and I am always looking for ways to create more depth and texture in my work. Enter the underprint.
When I created my new linocut Treasure of Great Price (see below), along with the companion Pandora’s Paradise, I wanted to experiment with something printed underneath that would provide movement and depth to my topography. I have also been thinking about the topographies that humans create — like mountaintop mining — and how harmful these can be to the earth. So I decided my underprinting block would be a fingerprint.
Underprinting in the world of stamps and fossils…
Underprinting is used in the paper security industry — you might see these marks on stamps or paper currency. It also refers to the impression left by the footprint of a prehistoric creature, fossilized in lower sedimentary rock levels below the level of the initial footprint.
… and now printmaking…
I cut two twelve-inch blocks for this linocut, one that had the fingerprint, and one that would be reduced in my usual fashion. Because I used gold ink, the initial gold marks created a sort of resist as I printed subsequent layers, yielding an interesting texture. The marks are more visible in some layers than others, depending on tone and also hue.
My small underprinting block’s success has led me to create a 25 x 40 inch block filled with seven fingerprints. I can’t wait to see how this will appear on a larger scale. Finger(prints) crossed.
Printmaking can sometimes take an eternity. Or this is how it seems. My first art professor impressed upon me that unlike reading a book which can be skimmed, or writing a paper during an all-nighter, making art takes the time it takes. This fall, I have found this to be true. I decided to create a linocut concept that had twelve layers of ink, the most I have ever done.
I wanted to create imagery that asked the question — what if aerial views were like topographical maps? To answer this question, I created both horizontal (above) and vertical (below) compositions. I imagined the views a hawk or turkey vulture might have, if they were flying around in a topo-filled world.
Creating similar but not the same
To make these works harmonize, but not be the same, I used different views of the topography so that the largest shapes are repeated. I also wanted to find a way to make the layers not be completely homogeneous. To do this, I started both series with some loose diagonal color fields as the first layer of ink. I even reversed the location of each color for the different linocuts.
Carve this, not that
One of the more difficult tasks was remembering where to carve for each subsequent layer. Once a layer was carved away, I could not go back and touch up the linear marks that divided it from the others. Each time I printed, I also printed the line marks to keep them a consistent tone throughout, even if the color was somewhat different.
The last layer — the lines alone — required some strategy. I could leave them with the darkest tone only, but this meant that the darkest areas were not well differentiated from a distance. So I went to my old friend, gold ink.
Getting serious with pigment
I had been using a very old gold ink from Handschy, and wondered if another ink would give me more brilliance. I ordered some Charbonnel gold etching ink on a whim, and now was able to give it a try. As you can see from the video, this ink does not have the viscosity of most relief inks. I wanted to keep the pigment as intense as possible, since it was going to go over fairly dark blues and greens. The addition of some burnt plate oil allowed me to gradually roll out the stiff ink.
While the ink looked too thick on the glass, and didn’t make that velvety sound I usually strive for, it did adhere to the linoleum well and printed evenly on the ink-saturated paper. With one layer of ink, the gold sheen can be delicately seen, especially in the problem dark areas. I wondered if more gold would be better, and printed another layer of gold immediately. This gave me more gold reflection, but meant that now your eye was confused about what was important. I wanted the work to be more about the layers, with the lines playing a supporting role. So I stuck to one layer of gold ink.
The feeling of satisfaction I had upon completing these two linocuts was one I haven’t felt in a long time. For this, I am eternally grateful.
Finding your next great idea — or maybe you would call it connecting with your muse — can be difficult. I wonder if Georgie O’Keefe had self-doubts about her transition from dark cityscapes to colorful desert landscapes. I’m still mulling over what to do with my recent eclipse study, but have been recently captivated by the topographic map bookmarks we made at my recent Open Studio.
I created the drawing for the second block from a real topo map of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I have hiked this area which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is filled with unexpected formations, from gorges to natural bridges, all noted by these squiggling lines. Back in my studio, most of my work does not depend on line work specifically, but I continue to be drawn to these topo lines.
Topo maps are helpful and beautiful…
We have a collection of hiking maps from our travels in North America and Europe. In our recent trip to the Pyrenees, my husband and I relied heavily on a topo map to get us safely down from an exposed trail during an afternoon thunderstorm. The lines told us that yes, the scree-filled avalanche chute was in fact the way down.
I find these lines aesthetically pleasing as well. After the Open Studios tour, I now have time to get back to work, and kept thinking about these lines. The bookmarks we created were colorful and visually active, but perhaps not complex enough for larger work. This is where Big Magic comes in…
Big Magic is essential reading
If you are a creative person of any type, you should get a copy of Big Magic and read it. I refer to mine so frequently that I don’t loan it out to anyone. In the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of several books including Eat, Pray, Love, discusses how to live sanely as a creative person. One of my favorite parts considers how we mistreat our creativity in our quest for fame or remuneration.
“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” (Gilbert. Big Magic, 154)
I am guilty at being unkind to my creativity when I demand to know before I start whether my next endeavor will be worthy of a frame — or a possible entry for a prominent show — or my next sale. When I yell, so to speak, nothing goes well.
So I’m back in the studio with two blocks, pushing topographical lines into new contexts. Will it work out? I have no idea. But grooving to my Spotify throwback list and rolling our fresh ink made for a memorable day. And there was no yelling…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Water is not a friend of relief printmakers who usually print on dry paper. Water sinks into the fibers of printmaking paper and makes it buckle and ripple. After this, registration is a problem. So when I set about glueing silk fabric onto Rives BFK, finding a glue with a large enough open time and low enough water content was a challenge.
Cutting the silk
(See Why would you want to print on silk? Part 1 to see how I stabilized and dyed the silk.) Before glueing, I had to cut the silk down to the size of the block so it would register. Using the block as a guide, a very sharp Exacto blade was a quick way to trim the dyed silk down to size.
The secret glue recipe
After trial and error with PVA (an archival white glue), rice paste, and methyl cellulose, I settled on a three-quarters PVA and one-quarter methyl cellulose mix. The PVA provides a strong bond, but dries almost instantly in the very thin layer that is needed for my purposes. Methyl cellulose, which creates a hair gel like substance when mixed with water, put enough water into the mix to allow for a very brief open time.
Thanks to several bookbinding videos on mounting silk onto paper, I learned to work fast with a rubber scraper, pulling the glue from the center across the silk and off onto the newsprint. (You need to use new newsprint for each piece of silk.) Any globs of glue will squeeze out when run through the press, so an thin even layer is critical.
A chine collè of sorts with silk
After getting the silk all glue-y, I had to work fast to orient it on my block (glue-side up please!) so that it would register later with my lino block. On the first pass I made the mistake of having the block lino side up, which gave a much more embossed effect, but less consistent glueing. The registered printing paper is gently lowered onto the glued silk, run through the press, and then you get…
Taking the time to dry right
Here the silk is adhered to the paper (above), but remember we still have the freezer paper on one side of the silk. To make sure that the silk dries as flat as possible, I sandwiched the newly glued paper/silk combo with newsprint and blotter paper, and let this stand under old lino blocks over night.
Finally the linocut takes shape
After everything is dry, you can carefully lift one corner and pull off the freezer paper. A corner or two may need a bit more glue… Now it is time to add the lino block. Here are several versions as I thought about seasons, and had a bit of fun with colors that you don’t typically see in the forest. The topo lines are taken from an actual place in the Deam Wilderness (near Bloomington, IN) poetically called Cope Hollow.
In my painting, I used a reversed image of the block as a crude guide to have the colors follow the topo lines. Lucky for me, the colors seem to move through the silk for a long time, and the merging effect is better that I could have imagined.
An art-group friend asked why I was insisting on glueing down textiles instead of letting them float freely. I don’t have an answer to this yet, but perhaps some hanging silk will be in my future. For now I’m enjoying the free-flowing intense colors that dyed silk brings to my linocuts.
One of the most challenging things for me about being an artist is that about half of the time I must be a businessperson. I must find collectors for my work, if for nothing else than I need to buy more paper. But in truth, I also need to find homes for my work because that conversation — between me and collector — is crucial.
Some may be lucky enough to have a gallery that just handles all of the business side of creating art, but I am always seeking new ways to market my work to the world. So last week I took a break from my usual studio routine to attend Art Biz Breakthrough, a conference in Golden, Colorado produced by artist coach, Alyson Stanfield. I have worked personally with Alyson in 2015 and will again in 2016, but the event still gave me lots of great things to think about. (more…)
Interconnection has always been one of the defining concepts of my work. In doing research for my latest linocut on alfalfa of all things, I read articles about pollination, bee species, crop rotation and water export controversies.
This linocut is a depiction of a field of alfalfa, a plant from the legume family that produces a bluish-purple flower. Even more important than cranberries (the focus on my last linocut), alfalfa is a forage crop that is fed to dairy cattle. Like cranberries, alfalfa relies on bee pollination, in this case to produce seed to replenish the crop. So without bees, we wouldn’t have that milk for your coffee or for your favorite ice cream.
Alfalfa is a plant that has been around the world and back. We have records of its cultivation as a forage plant by the Greeks and Romans. It isn’t really a favorite of our imported honey bees. They complain that the structure of the flower smacks them on the head. And many experienced bees remember — so you need lots more bees — and young ones in particular — who are willing to be smacked on the head for the nectar. To the rescue comes our own native alfalfa leafcutter bee who somehow gets the nectar collected and the pollinating done without a fuss. But each of these species is greatly troubled by the use of the pesticides called neonicotinoids. You can read more about this issue in my previous blog.
In addition to the challenges of pollination, alfalfa is now positioned squarely in the middle of the water wars of the American West. Western farmers produce alfalfa (irrigated by precious water resources) as a good cash crop, and also as a rotation crop in the fields that grow the vast majority of the produce crops we enjoy. These farmers claim that if they don’t use their allotted water, they will lose rights to it according to current water laws. In addition, some part of this alfalfa crop is being harvested, baled, and shipped in containers around the world. Right now, American alfalfa is feeding Chinese dairy cows.
Beauty, fussy insects, water rights — honey, ice cream, the produce that makes up your nightly salad. I am left with a speechless fascination and awe of the intricacy and connectedness of our natural world. How to protect it? Which choices to make? How to make people care, especially when things get complicated — as they do with alfalfa.