50,000 and Counting

This is dedicated to my friend Penny, who I was hiking with when we stumbled upon the first Lady’s Slipper I ever saw.

Thursday was a big day at the herbarium where I work. We, as a group, collected our 50,000th specimen: A Pink Lady’s Slipper. Dr. Jim Matthews, who is the founder of the herbarium, rightly felt it was an occasion for celebration. The reason for the choice of the Lady’s Slipper has to do with it being one of the first specimens Jim collected for the herbarium. We returned to the same site to collect this specimen. As we monitored for when the plants would flower, we discovered that the site now has an abundance of these wonderful plants thanks to the conversations efforts of people like Jim and our county park system. Please note that it is not permissible for individuals to collect such specimens as Lady’s Slipper unless they are associated with a scientific collection. Below are some images of the celebration along with a very short video of the actual collecting of the specimen.

Above – a Pink Lady’s Slipper in the wild. Below – Dr. Matthews getting ready to put the collected specimens in the plant press.

Below – Dr. Matthews signing the back of the herbarium sheet. All who were present that day signed the sheet as part of this celebratory collection event. If you look next to Jim’s hand that is on the table, the first Lady Slipper he collected and mounted for the collection is also part of the celebration.

And how can you have a celebration without a cake??? For more information on the herbarium and the work they do, visit their web page here.

Reduction Linocut Step by Step

Many years ago on a former blog I had a tutorial on how to do a reduction linocut. A reduction linocut, said to have been invented by Pablo Picasso as a means to economizing on linoleum, is when you use only one block to make a color print instead of the traditional one block per color method. The word ‘reduction’ refers to the continued carving away of the block, resulting in a block that is destroyed at the end of the process and, therefore, a truly limited edition of prints. When I was at the Hill School last week, I came across this demo piece I made several years ago and photographed it so I could repeat a tutorial on this blog.

Below is a piece of art linoleum. It is readily available from art stores. Though I do not know where I got this particular piece from, I can say that now I buy all my relief printing supplies from McClain’s

Transfer your design onto the block or draw directly on the block. Keep in mind, the final print will be in reverse of the image of your block.

Below I am showing the first cuts I made, then the block was inked and printed in yellow. The white part showing (which is the paper) is the part that was cut away from the block and the yellow part is what was left. In relief printing, it is what is left on the block (or the raised part) that will print.

Next I will cut away any part that I want to remain yellow and the next color I will print is green. The green inked block is ‘registered’, or lined up with, what was previously printed in yellow and printed on top. So basically, I printed the green inked block on top of the yellow print. I also printed a sample of the block in just green and you can see that more of the paper underneath is exposed in this version and gives an idea of how much was cut away.

I am now going to print the last color, which is black. So I carve away all the parts I want to remain green, ink up the block with black ink, and print the black in on top of the yellow/green image. Here is the result.

And I will also show you what the block looks like just printed in black as well as what is left of the actual linoleum block itself.

Below you will see the whole tutorial that I mounted on a board so it could be displayed during class as a reminder of the steps involved.

So if you want an edition of prints, say 10 in total, it is always a good idea to start with more until you get very good at registering your prints on top of one another. This way, if you misregister and have to discard some prints, you will still have a decent size edition. For as long as I have been printing, I still from time to time misregister prints. It happens. What I love about reduction printing is that it is like solving a logic puzzle. I think it is sort of related to why I like to key plants.

I have used a lot of terms in this tutorial such as registration, drawing transfer, and editioning. But for this post, I wanted to stick with just explaining the basics of reduction block printing. If you have printed before then those terms are probably familiar to you. Actually, here is a post of some basics on block printing. Any questions, feel free to send a comment or contact me.

World Atlas – my new pastime

I have always loved maps, especially very old maps and maps of odd things. Along with all of this is an interest in geography in a very broad sense – from land masses to the types of signs you see different places. So I figured it was about time that I owned a world atlas but I was not about to buy one that I never saw.

Because I have a very limited attention span when it comes to reading pretty much anything, I need to have something with lots of images and concise, easy to grasp text. One day last year I went to my local library to look at atlases to see if there was a particular one that I might want to buy and was greatly disappointed in not only the lack of what they had in quantity as well as quality. So I sort of gave up this idea of owning an atlas until a few weeks ago when I was in the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore. I could not find any atlases but asked their very accommodating staff if they had any. The woman I asked went to a storage area and came back with three atlases of different sizes and scope and I choose The DK Reference World Atlas, 11th edition. An accompanying tag line reads ‘An encyclopedia in an atlas’

True to its description, this atlas has information I never even dreamed could be included in an atlas such maps of the average number of caloric intake per person in the country! I have some images of some of the informational maps below. All this is before you even get to the actual maps of the whole world. This book will give me hours of enjoyment! Not to mention a mini work out every time I go to lift it. Thank you DK publishing for putting out such a great reference book.

Time Capsule

I have been coming to the Hill School as an artist in residence off and on since 2009. It has been a few years since I have been on campus so when I arrived in the classroom, a box (see below) was on the supply table and Mrs. Nelson, the art teacher, suggested I go through it.

Time Capsule

Opening this box was like opening a time capsule. Several years of examples and lesson plans filled this box to the brim. I was really awe struck to see time recorded in such a concrete way. I photographed some examples for below.

Ways to make relief prints
Dry Point on acetate
Foil Print
Stencil and Mask
Step by Step Reduction Linocut

The above are just a few of the examples of the many printing techniques we covered over the years. I am sort of glad to have reacquainted myself with many of these techniques and am happy to have an example of a step by step reduction lino example that I will be able to share in an upcoming post.

‘Beets me!’ Sketches

The title for this post may seem a bit odd but the following pages from my sketchbook all started with stained parchment paper from cooking beets and a few scones. But ‘Scones me’ is not an expression and, therefore, a poor title for this post. Anyway, The richly colored pieces of parchment I could not throw away. I attempted to iron them between sheets of wax paper, sort of like what we did with autumn leaves as kids. But the wax paper would not stick. The result was additional paper stained with marks from the beet stained paper. So I had lots to work with. What I decided to do was to just tear random pieces of paper and arrange them on different pages of my sketchbook. I ended up with nine pages of these papers. Then I went back in over the course of a few days and developed images based on what the shapes made me think of. It looks like there are 3 categories here: hens, maps, and landscapes. So I will group them below according to the resulting categories, rather than the order they are in my sketchbook, which is random.

Ok – the hens first

Hens and hen house
Hen House 2

Next – the maps. I have to wonder if somewhere they were influenced from all the sad news. Possibly hoping for neighboring places that got along well, no conflict.

Friendly Trade Routes
Ship Voyage

And now the landscapes. The last one I don’t think is done yet.

Unfinished Landscape

A Wonderful Gift (and letterboxing too!)

Yesterday I met my friend Alice to go letterboxing, which we do occasionally. As we were getting started, Alice wanted to show me somethings she recently made. One was a book about a park in her neighborhood. When I met Alice, she was working very hard on a committee trying to save the park from bulldozers and they were successful. I was not surprised that they were successful, but I was very surprised and moved when Alice presented me with the book!! It is a very complex double accordion book with windows. To represent the park, Alice used a tree stamp over a gelatin print. It is very lush because the layers are built up and you get a sense of being in the woods. Figures dance among the trees and three tiny birds observe. The book is playful and joyous which is no doubt how people will feel at this park. The text gives a brief overview of the history of the park. I felt so very touched to receive such a special gift. The full book is spread out below and I have a detail underneath. My photos do not do it justice.

Alice’s book on Davidson’s Beaty Park
Detail of Alice’s book on Davidson’s Beaty park

There were a few coincidences about this day. First, the trail we were walking to find some of the boxes is the same trail we walked at the very beginning of the pandemic. It was probably about the same time, maybe almost to the day, that we set out in a very bewildered state of mind. Another coincidence is I seem to remember Alice presenting me with a gift on that day as well – a rubbing that you can see here .

As for our letterboxing experience, we were successful with three of the six boxes we hunted. Our excursion involved some steep hills, lots of wet leaves, and questionable digging around what is called SPORs. In the letterboxing community, we learned that this means Suspicious Pile of Rocks. One box we could not find was supposed to be situated around the base of an ‘interesting tree’. Alice pointed out that all trees are interesting but then, set back a bit from the trail, was a tall Beech tree with limbs springing out that were almost spider like. The base of the tree was buttressed. While looking for the box, a barred owl flew into another near by tree. We decided that the ‘interesting tree’ and the owl spotting more than made up for not finding the box. And if this wasn’t enough, we came across a Little Free Library where I acquired a practically brand new copy of The Bhagavad Gita. And to top it all off delicious falafel! I think it will be a day I remember fondly for a very long time.

Beech Tree with unusual limbs

The Birds

I was going along in my sketchbooks happily drawing funny shaped houses and buildings and out of nowhere, birds crept onto the pages. These are very different from my Dirty Birds series that I did back in 2003/2004 when I was obsessed with, mainly, pigeons but other common urban birds as well. Clicking on any of the four images will open it in a separate window.

The one in the upper left is the first drawing and the one in the lower right is the last. For reasons I do not know, my favorite is the large white bird all by itself with its shadow, probably because of the simplicity of it. Do you have a favorite?

For comparison, here are two from the Dirty Birds series, which are very different from the birds above. To give a sense of scale, these are on full sheets of paper. The one on the bottom, Foraging, would barely fit into my car! I briefly referenced this series of work in another blog post where I was recapping how I ended up in the visual arts.

Pigeons, Mixed Media, Private Collection
Foraging, Mixed Media, Private Collection

The Round Houses

A few weeks ago, I was posting lots of building sketches where the buildings were very elongated rectangles (you can see them here and here). Then I decided to try using one of my brush pens to see if I could change the line. What resulted were buildings that had softer, organic shapes. Here are the results below.

Blue house with tree
Blue buildings at night
Blue houses
Row houses