Monday, May 30, 2016

Monotype Workshop

It was a couple of weeks ago now, but I'm finally taking the time to write this up. Show season has me traveling all over the place instead of typing blog posts while I wake up.

The second day of the two-day workshop with Robert Canaga at Whiteaker Printmakers was an exploration of a simple technique with lots of uses. We did monotypes with Caran D'ache water-soluble crayons. My goal with this was to explore ways to add "tone" to my block printing. Wood block prints are usually pretty binary. There is ink or no ink. Black or white. No shades of grey. I'm always looking for ways to use wood blocks, but break the binary and use more shades in the middle.

As soon as I heard that these crayons were water soluble, I realized that I could mix them with water and just paint watercolors. The process is pretty simple. I placed a piece of frosted plexiglass on the block and painted the "wrong-reading" image onto the plexi. Then I coated the water-soluble painting with an acrylic medium and "melted" the painting, allowing the press to transfer it to the paper, suspended in the clear acrylic vehicle.

[Four stages]

  1. Painting on plexiglass
  2. The finished painting
  3. Flipped and laid over a block-printed image
  4. The final result

[Another painting on the block]

[Another one, flipped onto the original print]

 [Four tests in one workshop]

At the end of the day I was pretty pleased with the results of this technique. I will definitely be using this in some of my work, but probably not all of it. It doesn't do one of the important things that I want out of printmaking - the multiple. Each piece is hand painted, which prevents editioning and will make the resulting prints more expensive than I want them to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Collagraph Workshop

Last weekend I drove up to Eugene for another fantastic set of workshops at Whiteaker Printmakers, this time with Robert Canaga, a longtime printmaker and supporter of the arts in Eugene. This first day was an exploration of collagraph techniques. The word has the same root as collage and "chine collé" and refers to the glue that holds things down on the plate.

This technique has a ton of potential, but just like intaglio, it didn't grab me. Robert did a great job of showing us the ropes while leaving us completely free to do anything we wanted. His standard answer to students asking "can I do such-and-such" was "yes, let's figure out how" or "let's try it!"

[Relief on the left, intaglio on the right]

He brought an inspiring set of boards that showed us a few of the many, many items that can be used to create interesting marks. On the left are the results of rolling ink onto the surface of these objects. On the right, you can see what happens when you print the same objects intaglio-style by applying ink and wiping it off with a cloth. As I've said before, I have no patience for wiping and no desire to get my hands dirty or to waste all of that ink so intaglio is out of the running for me.

I also came with an agenda, which is probably not a great idea. I am looking for a way to bridge my weaving work into my printmaking work.

[Scraps from my world]

I tried all kinds of stuff with the types of things that I have kicking around in the weaving studio.

[The results]

And here is the predictably uninspiring result. I'm interested in the rhythm of my weave structure as it gets translated to printmaking, but as yet don't really see a place for it in my printing work.

The second day of the workshop covered a specific monotype technique with caran d'ache pigments and acrylic medium. Stay tuned to see the results of that workshop...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Leaf Silhouette Series

It's been a very long, whirlwind of a week. I set a tough goal for myself and met it. If you remember, last weekend the muse hit me with a bunch of new skills to learn to take my printing in a whole new direction. I was going to try production one-of-a-kind multi-layer nature-based prints.

Well, I did it. This was a test of many skills and concepts at once:
  • Positive/negative registration
  • Using ghost images in production
  • Borderless plates
  • Multiple, different layers of ink with lots of overlap
  • Wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry transparency
[The studio after completion]

[Two solid images]

[Two ghosts and a solid]

[Three solid images, positive and negative in registration]

[Three ghosts]

I worked late into the night on Wednesday so that these prints, some of them with quite a lot of ink, would be dry in time to travel to Eugene for a technical critique and a workshop with Robert Canaga at Whiteaker Printmakers.

[On the rack]

I appreciate y'all being patient with how long it takes to photograph and list my stuff on Etsy. Eventually, maybe I'll hire that part out so that it can happen faster. The first of these prints will arrive in the Etsy Shop on Monday. As my skill level increases, my prices are going up a little, but don't forget that blog readers always get a discount by using this code: BLOGMAY16.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Musings on my muse, new leaf silhouette series

I have a muse that visits me with clues about where I'm going with my art. I mean this quite literally. I am not in control of the art that I produce. Yes, I can use my rational brain to choose the media and techniques, acquire the tools and materials, and gain the technical skill, but at the end of the day my muse decides what kind of art I'll make. I wrote last week about how there are days when I just have to slog through some routines because there is no inspiration. (You can read that post HERE.) There are other times when the ideas flood so fast that I have to just focus on the few that are most achievable right now. I simply choose the next project from a massive stream of inspiration, letting the others flow to the back of my brain for later.

That's what happened this weekend. I had been thinking about how my geometric printing plates are starting to wear out. The high pressure of the press does round off the hard edges after a few hundred impressions. So I need to design and carve some new plates to continue my color education. I was actively working on some new geometry. (Note that this is not deeply inspired work, it's the sort of drudgery where I'm in control and slogging through math to create interesting shapes.)

The stream of inspiration started with a short hike on Friday. I hike every day and lately one particular leaf silhouette had been grabbing my attention when I walk by. On Friday, I realized that leaf silhouettes meet the technical criteria for CNC carving. With typography it is immediately identifiable if the blocks are not quite level because the shapes change thickness across the block and the type looks weird. Leaf shapes are organic so it wouldn't show if the plates or carving weren't perfect. It would look, well, organic. Here is where the muse whispered, "photograph more leaf silhouettes on your hikes." OK, got it! Thanks, muse!

[Vetch silhouette]

[More leaf silhouettes]

Last week I had been experimenting with ghost prints. In a ghost print, the plate is used to make an image on paper that already has a layer of ink on it. In that impression, the print takes most of the ink off the plate in the areas where it's touching bare paper, but leaves some on the plate in the areas where there is already ink.

[Original print]

Notice in the image above that I caught some of the gloss on the surface, showing you where the ink is thick. In the image below, you can see that those extra glossy areas left more ink on the plate to be printed in the ghost image.

[Ghost print]

[Solid print over ghost]

When I showed the results to my best friend with a degree in printing, I lamented that the ink wasn't sticking to previous layers of ink the way I want it to. He said offhand, "Maybe the ghosting is a feature." My first thought was, "Well, I can't throw away the two impressions that it takes to load a block with the ink to produce the ghost so it can never be used in production."

Then I went away for a camping trip. Yeah, I know. My life is kind of like a camping trip, but it's still nice to get away to other places and see geology and wildflowers that we don't have here. And it's nice to be alone with a friend and away from the frenzy of creation. While hiking on a regular old hill, I was hit with the lightning strike of inspiration for the next print series, and potentially for many series after that. I'll create triptychs. I'll choose different leaf silhouettes, orientations, and ink colors for each set. Each image will have two primary impressions - a full-strength one, a second full strength one with a different silhouette - and finally, a ghost with the silhouette that came from the first two impressions on the other two images in the triptych. If I continue with rainbow rolls, each image will have 3 layers of 2 colors each, for 6 separate colors. With colors blending together through transparency, that will give me over a dozen colors in each image. This will all make more sense next week when I'm able to show you some examples.

To give me a variety of effects I am making two plates from each silhouette - a positive and a negative. I'll either be printing the leaf shapes or the space between the leaves.

[First pairs of plates]

There is way more work than meets the eye to prepare these plates for printing. These four plates are the result of two days of work, and they're not ready to print yet. I need to trim off the outer edges, hand carve and clean up the carved spaces, add another layer of shellac to prevent the carved areas from absorbing ink, let them dry for a day, and then sand them smooth. By the time I see the first results of this inspiration, I will have spent about 60 hours preparing the plates. It's a good thing I trust my muse! That's a lot of time to spend on something I've never done before.

I can't wait to show you some of the results. Next week, I hope.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Discounts For Blog Readers

Last week's blog sale went amazingly well. Y'all bought 7 of the 12 pieces that I posted. I appreciate your support so I want to make sure to treat you well. I will always give my blog readers the first pick of my new work as it comes up for sale.

I also really need to streamline the process. Last week I had a hard time finishing my printing work because I spent so much time online listing and re-listing items for sale. I also spent a lot of time fielding purchase inquiries through Facebook, Instagram, blog comments, and emails. I hope I didn't miss any!

[This week's offerings]

[Item numbers]

This week, instead of listing the individual items for sale on my blog, I'm going to list them directly on Etsy. The listings will go live at 9:00 on Monday. They will list for $12 each plus shipping, but blog readers can get them for 25% off by using a coupon code: BLOGMAY16. (This makes them $9 instead of the $10 that I was asking last week.)

If there is an item that you see in the above image that you think you want, please visit the original blog post HERE and leave me a comment. (These blog posts get referenced and cross-posted all over the place!) I'll still refer you to the Etsy listing on Monday to see closeups and make a final decision, but I will put your name in the listing to prevent others from buying it until you've had a chance to see it.

As always, in person interaction takes precedence. If you show up in my studio you can get whatever pieces you like, even ones that aren't featured here, and never pay for shipping.

I'm excited to see what y'all think of this week's work. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Aubergine Ink

I didn't get much done in the studio today, but I did get the aubergine ink mostly mixed up for tomorrow's printing.

First, I've got a friend who is going through some tough stuff and needed my help. I spent a few hours this morning helping him out. Then, I well and truly intended to mix ink and pull prints for the rest of the day. But I got a phone call from another friend who wanted to swing by for breakfast at the local dive joint. And, as he pulled into my driveway I saw steam pouring from the car. Long story short, he was soon on his way to the mechanic and needed a ride back home.

I decided that if I got only one thing done in the studio it would be to mix up the ink for what has become tomorrow's printing. The goal was aubergine. To get there, I start with a clear, pure violet.

[Violet Iris]

[Slightly blue of violet]

Then, to mute it out, I blended it with the painter's complement, yellow. In the spot where the yellow has smeared, you can see it turning brown. That's right! It's the direction of my goal.

[Violet with a dollop of yellow]

I went a little too far, I think, ending up with more of a maroon. Tomorrow, I'll add some of the magenta and blue back in to bring it back toward violet. That's what I get for being in a hurry.

[Ta-dah! Warm aubergine]

[Maroon Iris]

The great thing about using oil-based inks is that they can sit day after day as long as the air is excluded and there are no drying agents added. Here are my piles after mixing up the big pile. The magenta, blue, and yellow are my source piles. The brown is from yesterday. The big pile is tomorrow's aubergine. I'll lay a sheet of heavy plastic over it, press that down to a thin film of vegetable oil to seal it, and leave it until tomorrow.

[Ink piles]

UPDATE: I did add more violet and now it's perfect!

[My perfect aubergine]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Unembossed Woodblock

After a few weeks of printing my woodblock prints so that they will have consistent embossing, I've gotten quite good at it, but I'm changing gears. Now I want good ink coverage without embossing. Here is why...

[Ink Collecting Edges]

When printing multiple layer of ink, embossing on a lower layer affects how the upper layers transfer ink. The result is that there are edges with too much ink because it's being pushed into the crevice. There are other edges with too little ink because the block couldn't reach the paper or because there was less pressure in the crevice.

Here is the type of embossing that I was going for. In this photo, shot from the back side of the paper, I've lit it from the edge to exaggerate the embossing. You can see that the bullseye patterns also distort the paper into small mounds because of the paper stretching in that particular area.

[Highly Embossed]

After changing the order and type of press blankets, I've achieved a reasonably low amount of embossing while maintaining excellent pressure to transfer the ink. Again, this image is exaggerated. In person, the embossing is barely discernible.

[Barely Embossed]

Here is the result. See? The ink is transferred very well, even without embossing.

[Non-embossed print]

And here's how I did it. I'm sort of solving two problems at once here. The first problem is that the specialized rubber press blankets from Whelan Press are not available since they went out of business. This rubber blanket is vital to printing with this press because the upper roller moves vertically and uses springs for pressure. It can be tricky to get the roller up onto the printing surface under high pressure. The thickness of the blanket helps the roller to get up onto the block.

To solve that problem and to solve the problem of replacing the rubber blanket, I bevelled the edge of a piece of masonite. With a ramp to help the roller climb, I can get away with a thinner rubber blanket.

[Bevelled Masonite]

And, with a retreat center down the road, I have a never-ending source of discarded yoga mats!

[Yoga Mat]

The masonite presses hard against the wood block with no cushioning to push the paper into the spaces between the block relief. With only two layers of blankets to manipulate between prints, I can work much faster and with much better results.

It's one tiny step at a time, but I'm getting the hang of this!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Why The Intense Schedule?

It's funny how many people watch my blog and then talk to me in person about the contents. It's way more personal than typing comments at the bottom of the page. It also means that I need to recap for those of you who are following along remotely...

The big question this week is, "If you're still doing shows with weaving for another year and a half, why the rush to get printmaking out there?"

Well, a year and a half is a short time to get a business profitable, and that's if you have the skill to produce good work, know what the customers want, find the outlets to sell it, and make the sales. I have none of these. So here's roughly how I see it shaking out...

  • Obsessively study and practice printmaking techniques in preparation for my Constellation Studios residency
  • Begin online marketing and sales
Late July-August
  • Residency with Karen Kunc at Constellation Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Study and practice new techniques from the residency
  • Focus on two styles, abstract geometry and landscapes
  • Design and acquire new booth setup
  • Design and implement inventory tracking systems
  • Get some work into a few retail environments before the holidays
  • Mount and frame two boothfuls of work, one in each style
  • Jury photography of work
  • Two booth shots of different styles of work
  • Start applying to next year's shows
And this is all on top of running the weaving business that pays the bills and provides most of the investment money for this new venture. In 2017, I will do more shows than I do now with many of them being shows of printmaking. These shows will provide the vital feedback to guide the development of a marketable style and hone the types of shows that I seek out.

As you can see, this is a very aggressive schedule. With the pedal to the metal, I will barely be ready for next year's show applications. The booth shot is the biggest hurdle. Shows ask for this because they want to see that you have a professional retail presentation and plenty of inventory to carry their show. Anyone with artistic chops can produce close-ups of gorgeous work, but few artists are ready to provide the level of service that a high end show requires. Designing, productizing, and displaying a full booth is an unbelievable amount of work, even after I have the skills and designs ready.

Wish me luck!