On Second Thought

Stickworks

Today I was walking around the campus of Davidson College and came upon the large scale stick installation I participated in creating over the winter.  As I walked through the sculpture I thought: Gee how much has changed in the world since those few months ago.  No sooner did that thought cross my mind did this other thought follow:  No it hasn’t.  And then I thought again:  Yes it has.  Ok, enough of the merry-go-round. I will explain.

Highly contagious disease is nothing new to a good part of the world, nor are Pandemics.  It is our good fortune that we have really not had to deal much with them. So it is not new, it is only new to us.  Racial injustice is also nothing new, many of us have just been blind to it.

So what is new then?

Lately, I have taken a great interest in Buddhism.  One of the principles of Buddhism is that suffering is part of life.  This sounds like a really depressing concept until you dig deeper and understand that suffering also leads to compassion.  And more compassion, in the long run, leads to less suffering.

One of my favorite definitions of compassion is from theologian Marcus Borg who equates (and I am paraphrasing) compassion with a deep, gut level connection with others.  This is the kind of feeling that once experienced, is hard to ignore.

It is easy to become complacent again once we are all healthy, back to work, and the news is only telling us things we don’t mind hearing.  But once we feel compassion, it is hard to look away and feel ok about it.  Feeling compassion is to be truly human. It is a good feeling. So maybe that is what is new.

Just saying

Many large companies are making public statement condemning racism.  My hope is that these companies who are large retailers will start with their own company culture and tell their employees to stop targeting black and brown people by following them around their stores.  Just saying.

Reduction Block Printing Step by Step

Cabin
Cabin in the Woods, Edition 8, Color Reduction Block Print

Making a reduction block print is a way to print in color without using multiple blocks.  The drawback of using this method is that since you are destroying the block in the process of making the print, your edition is not only truly limited but you may not get as many finished prints as you planned if the color does not register correctly each time you go to print.  Below are the step by step instruction for how I mad the print above.

For this piece, I decided there would be no white color at all. That is important because, like in transparent watercolor, white in block printing is not an applied color but is simply the color of the paper left untouched by ink (or in the case of watercolor, by paint)The best example of this is to see my post on printing a basic block print.    The first color on this print is a  very light gray, therefore, the entire block was inked up with the gray that I mixed. There is no drawing on the block at this point because I am only interested in printing a solid color. The photo below shows the piece of linoleum and the resulting layer of gray ink on paper.

solid color block first color

The next color I want to print is a pale yellow.  But I do not want to cover up the gray I just printed. At this point, I need to get my drawing onto the block so I know where to carve.  You can draw directly on the block or transfer a drawing.  The trunk of the trees, the cabin, the smoke and some branches will remain gray so those parts of the linoleum need to be carved away.  I have inked the block up with the yellow ink I mixed so you can see the cuts better (left) and the resulting print is on the right.   Because these first colors are so pale, they do not translate well in a photo at this stage.

 

 

The next color I want to print is green.  First I need to make sure that my drawing has not been obliterated when cleaning the ink off the block and, if so,  I need to address that first and redraw those lines.  The next thing to do is to cut away the part I want to remain yellow so they will not be covered up by the green ink. Below  you can see the inked block (right) and the resulting print (left). Now that darker colors are being added, the contrast makes it easier to see how the print is developing.

second cuts inked and printed third color

 

The last color I am adding to this print is a dark gray. So I will carve away* everything that I want to remain green so the dark gray does not cover it up.  I ink up the remaining parts of the block with the dark gray ink and pull the print.  The inked block is pictured to the right below and the resulting print is on the left.

last cuts inked and printed fourth color

 

I do want to make a note of something unusual here. Above I put an asterisk (*) after I wrote that I carved away everything I wanted to remain green.  If you look at the block above very closely,  the foreground is still there.  I choose to leave this so my block would not be “floppy”.  Because where the dark gray was being applied was so far away from this foreground area, it was not difficult to ink that part of the block and avoid this uncarved foreground area.  Generally, I would not leave anything uncarved but in this case, having some linoleum remaining at the bottom of the block  gave some stability to the block when I printed it.

Linoleum Block Printing: How is an image made and transferred?

Linoleum and woodblock printing are forms of Relief printmaking, which mean that the image is printed from a raised surface.  This is very different from other forms of printmaking such as Intaglio (etching, engraving, drypoint), Serigraphs and Lithographs.

plain linoleum
Plain piece of linoleum made specifically for relief printing

Relief printmaking is the oldest form of printmaking, whether it be making a rubbing from a gravestone (also known as frottage), or from a cut block of wood. Linoleum is a material that became popular for relief prints in the 20th century. Linoleum was invented in the mid to later 1800s as a product for floor covering.   Now, there is linoleum specifically made for the purpose of relief printing and is free from the flaws that commercial linoleum had.   I have mainly used linoleum but I am starting to develop a liking for wood.

So what exactly does it mean to print an image from a raised surface.  Above you can see a plain piece of linoleum, nothing has been drawn or cut out yet. Below you see a piece of linoleum that has been cut.  What has been removed is the part of the block that will not pick up ink that is being rolled on top. Assuming that the paper the block is being printed on is white, that is the color that those cut away parts will be in the final print.

cat tails cut block
A piece of linoleum that has been carved. The parts that have been carved away will not pick up any ink

Below you can see the block after ink has been rolled on top using a tool called a Brayer.  Relief ink is thick but also creamy, sort of like the consistency of butter that has been left out of the refrigerator for a bit. The ink is rolled out on a glass slab and then rolled onto the linoleum block. It is very easy now to see what has been carved away. Lulu, my cat, was supervising this particular application of ink but appears to have fallen asleep.

cat tails inked block
A piece of carved linoleum with ink applied

And here is what the print looks like after the ink has been transferred onto paper. I use a printing press but it is possible to transfer the ink to paper but hand rubbing with a tool called a Baren, or even a large spoon.  I prefer a press because it prints the image evenly.

Cat Tails
Finished artwork after it was printed

The writing on the margin of the print is the title (center), my signature (right) and information about the print on the left.  In this case, this print is an “open” edition, meaning that it can be printed a number of times until the block disintegrates. Generally,  if a piece of linoleum is stored correctly, the image can be printed approximately 50 times  Some artist like to number their prints.  I do not unless it is truly limited due to the method of making the artwork (this is called a reduction block and I will talk about this in the future).   Relief prints are all original works of art because the block is inked up and printed each time the image is transferred. It is almost impossible to make them exactly alike although with enough practice inking and printing you can get pretty close. Still, each one is an original. I mark my open edition prints like this:   1/Imp    That means it is one unique impression.   The idea of numbering prints at all came to be in the 20th century. Rembrandt, Durer and other artists did not number their prints.  You can see more of my bock prints by clicking here.

Food, Culture, and Assumptions

Book open flat
Assumptions, 2020, Artist book, Ink & paper 7.5″ x 10.5″ open

Since I have mainly lived in the same geographic area for most of my life, the cultural encounters I had with food tended to be more influenced by late 19th and early 20th century European immigrants from many countries.

Upon moving to the South, I realized that since the population was historically different, many of the foods I grew up with were not widely available. An example of this is a recent conversation I had with a local life long resident who told me she had never heard of a zucchini until she went to college. Oddly, it was something her father said to me a few years ago that prompted the artist book featured in this post.

The book is titled Assumptions, and it is about what we presume to be the foods that are part of other people’s lives. If you ever saw My Cousin Vinny, you are well aware of the scene in the restaurant where the main characters are confronted with grits for the first time.  The question that my local friend posed to me one day was “How do you cook your okra?”.     “Huh??” was my response.  It was only shortly before I moved that I ever even saw okra at my local vegetable stand up North.  My understanding of it was an ingredient you put in gumbo and that was pretty much it.

I have since become quite acquainted with okra, not only as a vegetable prepared different ways but also as a plant because I spent three summers harvesting lots of okra.  I can add onto my knowledge of okra these facts and observations: that by the time you get to the end of the row picking it, more has grown at the beginning of the row. You could probably spend several hours a day picking and repicking the same row of okra (assuming you have lots of plants).  You should always wear long sleeves when picking okra and gloves or your skin will be very irritated.  Okra is part of the hibiscus family so even it you don’t like the fruit, it is a lovely and vigorous plant.

It is no accident that Okra is not included in the graphics of this book as it was something quite absent from my former life.  For the curious I will tell you that the vegetables pictured are green beans and the diminished base of a bunch of celery  (two vegetables that seem to be part of many cultures)   And for the record, zucchini is now plentiful where I currently live.  How do you cook your Okra??

Assumptions: Book Front (left), Book Open (right)

Featured Guest Artist: Michelle Soslau

These oil paintings are from Michelle Soslau’s Bag Lady series. I was very moved by these images and thought they should be shared.

 

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Enter a captionMichelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

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Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

When Your Artwork Finds You Again

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Every once in awhile, I hear from former customers regarding work they purchased and it is always lots of fun to hear how they have lived with the work through the years.  I had such an experience last week when a customer from the early 1990s contacted me to ask if the piece he purchased could be used for a virtual art exhibition.  He then explained that he and his wife run an art and cultural center in an under served community in Nicosia, Cyprus.  The piece they own is called By Night and they want to feature it as a homage to healthcare workers in their community.

This was very meaningful to me on a variety of levels.  First, that the piece is being used to honor such an important sector of the population.  In addition, artists often wonder if what they do has any long term benefit.  Also, in this case, the idea that something I made in 1993 has not only been enjoyed all these years but has managed to make its home in Cyprus, where it has been displayed off and on and viewed by the local community.

I have thought of this piece and other similar ones recently because I have considered returning to work in this method, as it is very similar to many of the artist books I currently make. At that time, instead of making prints to be viewed as prints, I made them to be cut up and used as collage elements because I mainly worked in the medium of collage.  So the idea that this piece showed up to me at this time, is somewhat of a nudge to possibly work like that again.  

Though I have posted the piece above, I would encourage you to check out the organization’s Facebook page to see other works and events they have featured. It is a great way to “travel” while we are all home.   Check out:  Kuruçeşme Projekt.
https://www.facebook.com/kurucesmeprojekt/

Redoing an Unsuccessful Print

A few posts back I wrote about a print I felt was unsuccessful. I had some wonderful feedback and decided to redo the print.  The first thing I did was change the position of the girl. So unfortunately for the idea of a new working title she is no longer holding a “broken golf club” as per my friend Julie. Sorry Julie!   Many people commented they liked the sky.  I liked the sky too but I needed to adjust the color. My friend Claudia offered that she liked how the girl sort of blended with the background and also suggested I make the head a bit smaller. I did initially make the head smaller but then decided to give her hair a bit more volume which, in combination with the change in position, makes her appear at a three quarter pose which I liked more. The print is also 6 x 8 rectangle rather than a long thin rectangle.

So here is the final piece

Big Dreams
Big Dreams, 2020, Reduction Linocut. Ed. 9 Image: 6″ x 8″

And here is the original

A Poor print
Girl with a Broken Golf Club, First attempt, 3″ x 8″

What was a bonus with redoing this print was the the key block is very good and can be printed on its own and hand colored. A key block is the last color printed (generally black) and gives definition to the image.   Here is the key block and a printed image of the block.

Big Dreams and plate
Carved key block and printed image

Notice the image is reversed from the block. They is how block prints are. I used to tell my student that if they were going to write anything on their blocks, they had better figure out how to write it backwards!

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys: An Old Family Remedy

Coming home from our socially distant walk yesterday and reflecting on the current crisis in the world, my husband mentioned that when he was a little kid and didn’t feel well he would draw pictures of armies to fight the sickness.  I was immediately reminded of a similar scenario in my home where my sister would illustrate her tale of the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.  She would get pencil and paper, sit down beside me and told the story as follows:

Here you are sick with lots of bad guys outnumbering a small number of good guys.

sick

 

Then you take some medicine and the it knocks some of the bad guys out and more good guys enter the scene. (When she crossed out the bad guys, she made a noise like BOOM, BAM).

Medicine

 

Now you get some rest and a few more bad guys die off and a few more good guys join in.

Rest

 

Now you get some tea and/or soup and even more bad guys go away and more good guys enter the picture. 

Soup

 

Now you are all better. The bad guys are all killed off and shrinking in size and the good guys are numerous and large.   The good guys prevail!

better

As we all take precautions, may your Good Guys always outnumber your bad guys!

Bedtime Story ~ Completed Artist Book

Bedtime story full
Bedtime Story, 2020, Artist Book, Open view measuring 18′ x 16.5″

A week or two ago I had written about the process of making an artist book using my piece Bedtime Story picture above.  The piece is now complete with the exception of a slipcase which I am in no hurry to make at the moment.

As mentioned before, the inspiration for this piece was a documentary I watched on paper folding as well as participating in my grandson’s bedtime routine.  What I did not mention in that post was my longtime fascination depicting people of different ethnic and racial groups together.  This manifested itself with multicolored circles that represented faces; this was one of those personal symbols that showed up in my work off and on over time. So the various color papers used above are my current way of representing the tradition of bedtime routines throughout the many cultures of the world. It also struck me after this piece was put together that the people also resemble houses, another long time symbol in my work. Hmmmm….

A slide show of the entire piece is shown below.

This piece is dedicated to my grandson ‘Oti’

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Bedtime Story, 2020, Artist Book