Thursday, February 24, 2011

Now, where was I?

I'm having a most peculiar morning. Good. But peculiar.

Monday night I came down with the nastiest flu bug I've had in years. (Why oh why do these things always strike in the middle of the night?) I knew I was sick, but it wasn't until this morning when I felt well enough to come in to the studio and make my way through the piles of accumulated stuff that I realized how out of it I was. It feels like I've been away for weeks.

I was even a little surprised to see that I had started a new lino last weekend. Hm. That's a nice yellow rectangle. I wonder what it's for.

It's good to be up and about again... and not just for the amusement of rediscovering what I was doing less than a week ago. Tomorrow I'm headed across the state to the town of Lamar, where I'll teach a field sketching workshop at the High Plains Snow Goose Festival on Saturday. Two days ago it seemed unlikely that I'd make it, but optimism is running high now. (Can you say "thank goodness I did most of the prep work before I got sick"?)

On the way back from Lamar I'll stop in Colorado Springs to take down the show at the Ruth Holley Library and in Manitou Springs to freshen up the work on display at the Green Horse Gallery. By golly, that sounds like a road trip to me!

In the meantime, there's a pile of email to answer and an intriguing box from McClain's to open. Not to mention a lovely "your press has been shipped" message to relish. Now I just have to figure out where I'm going to put it until we get a table built.

So, it's back to reconnecting with the current trajectory of my life, interspersed with some sofa-and-tea interludes. Have a great weekend, everyone... expect print and press and festival updates next week!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Change in the air

It's raining. In February. At night at 7,000 feet in the Rockies. And I saw bluebirds today. Cinnamon teal on Monday. I heard a rumor there have been tree swallows already, downriver in Pueblo. The season is changing, alright. Ready or not. (Ready. Definitely.)

A few other things are changing around here, too. Lino experiments are underway. Never-used-before supplies are en route from the supplier.

And I ordered a press.

Just a "baby" press*, mind you. A little tiny thing that will fit on a tabletop and make small prints. But it's a huge step for me. I print by baren and spoon and grunting, and I'm quite proud of that.

Who knows WHAT will happen now.

(*Yes, we've been through a lot of baby-pressing jokes over on Facebook. You're welcome to chime in now if you missed the earlier frackas.)

It's put me in a peculiar state of mind, knowing that this little thing will be arriving on my doorstep in a few weeks. There are the usual misgivings that come with an outlay of significant dollars, of course, but I can't say that I'm experiencing buyer's remorse. If I had space for it, I'd have been thinking hard about a bigger press. It's more of a creative panic than a financial one.

If you could peer inside my head right now (and trust me, it's not pretty in there under the best of circumstances) you would see my thoughts bouncing up and down like an espresso-laden 5-year-old on a new bed:

"Ooh! It will make blind embossing so much easier! I'll be able to combine techniques. Printing will go faster. Ooh! If I learn solarplate I'll be able to do etching again (my first printmaking obsession, tabled 25 years ago for lack of facilities). Ooh! More transparent inks! Ooh! More layers! Ooh! Chine collé! Ooh!"

And then I bounce myself right off the bed and hit the floor. Hard.

"Oh, geez. I won't know what I'm doing. I'll make ugly messes and waste materials. I won't have any ideas for new imagery. I won't recognize a good idea from a bad one. With all these new possibilities I'll discover that I'm actually no good at printmaking. Blah blah blah."

These sorts of mental gymnastics come and go for all of us, of course, but for some reason mine were magnified by the imminent arrival of a chunk of steel.  I am reminded of grade school and that fateful day when we "graduated" from pencils to ball point pens. Pencils became the tool of math class, where you could still use an eraser, too. All other subjects were suddenly burdened with careful mark making, considered penmanship, and no crossing out. Sure, I knew how to write. But did I know how to write with a PEN?

Sure. I know how to print. A little. But do I know how to print with a press?

Thankfully, the excited voices are generally louder than the nervous ones, and by the time the thing gets here I'll be impatient to get on with this new phase, whatever it turns out to be. In the meantime, I carry on as I always have... by hand. I printed a few experiments this evening for the haiku project: some white-on-white and white-on-cream for potential backgrounds. Yesterday I did the initial drawing for a new 9x12 reduction block, I'm hoping to get the first color printed tomorrow.

Of course, the DM will be playing a brunch gig at the Salida Café tomorrow morning, so his Number One Fan will have a scone in her hand before she picks up a baren. She will pass on the espresso, though. She's twitchy enough already.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Planning for printmaking

Believe it or not, planning does happen here from time to time, and right now that's where my printmaking energy is going. Honest-to-goodness planning. Or at least conceptualizing. Please try not to faint.

I think I mentioned that I'm collaborating with a local poet for a haiku exhibition at the Salida Regional Library. Most of the time when I'm responding to text it's an illustration project that calls for something more literal than interpretive. It's refreshing to start with poetry and think abstractly for a change.

The "haiku of haiku" that I'm interpreting is a seventeen-stanza long piece, with lots of imagery that sparkles and glistens. My first inclination is to work in shades of white (does that make sense to you?) with some embossing and maybe even some reflective mica flakes added to the ink. None of which I've done before, all of which will probably be wretchedly difficult to show on camera as the work progresses.

Given that I don't know how much I'll be able to share as this piece develops, I thought it might be interesting (or at least amusing) to share my version of what choreographer Twyla Tharp calls the scratching phase.

For me the first step was to identify some of the root imagery of the text: trees or branches, flowing water, footprints, leaves, and the sparkling/glistening aspect of all of them. The title and the structure of the poem are also circular. I expect these ideas to evolve as I work on the piece, but it's a start.

The funny little set of six squares on the top right is a flipbook idea. What, am I nuts?

With these broad ideas in mind I started making some sketches... just simple line drawings to work out a possible structure. (And yes, this month I'm counting them as part of the 100 Thumbnails project.)

The embossing idea really intrigues me, but since I've never done embossing by hand (long ago I did some with a press) I did a couple of little experiments. No point in getting too excited about the idea if I can't make it work, eh? I used a block from a previous print as the "mold" and tried 3 or 4 different papers. I liked the results of two papers (Hosho and Stonehenge), so the initial experiment was deemed a success.

I'm also thinking about the symbols that will be part of this piece: a tree, a river, footprints. I try to remember to bring my camera along on walks so I can "collect" shapes when I don't have time to draw.

And, of course, I make some more sketches. I'm also going through my paper drawers, thinking about surfaces and textures.

It feels like the next steps will be narrowing down the "symbols" and starting to think about the color palette. I'm feeling fairly confident that I want everything to be quite subtle with lots of spare white space (a departure from my usual approach, for sure!), but the imagery is also seasonal, so I think some color would probably not be amiss.

So that's where I am... scratching. Playing with ideas, collecting possibilities, and manipulating materials. Don't tell anyone, but planning can be fun.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reduction printing: It's about what remains

Eight colors. I know I said seven, but you know that I know that I sound like a broken record*, so from here on out I will try to refrain from making too many predictions about total colors in a linocut. I'll mention my approximate goal when I start, but as I can no longer remember the last time I met a target, I'll just stop bringing it up. Deal?

(*Wait. Does anyone even get this simile anymore?)

The preceding warm green color added some interest to the background shape, but I still wasn't satisfied. It needed another intermediate step, so I carved a bit more out of the two "suggested" trees and started in with a third one. I didn't want a flat color, since that's was what was making me so crazy about the background shape, so I added a whole bunch of blue to the leftover green ink scraps and then rolled it up as a color-to-transparent blend. Like this:

Maybe if you click to embiggen it might be a little easier to see??

Unfortunately it's still something that my camera can't seem to record.. at least not under studio light conditions. And since it was -12 F this morning I did NOT go outside to try a daylight shot. (I draw the line at some kinds of suffering for my craft.) You'll have to settle for this fuzzy detail photo and try to imagine what it looks like in real life.

Satisfied with the background at last, I turned my attention to the final dark. A straightforward printing, but a good bit of carving to do. Not much material to leave on the block. Hmmm.

It's always a bit risky to have the last color involve minimal printing surface, for several reasons. Thin lines over the built-up layers of ink can be difficult to print, registration gets delicate, and without much inked surface to "grip" the paper chances of slippage increase about a gazillion-fold. (That's a scientific calculation, I swear.)

But I carved away, anyway.

It was at this point that the phrase "what remains" started rattling around in my head. I'm not convinced that it's the title for this particular piece. But I do feel certain it will turn up somewhere down the line.

ANYWAY... Carving complete, the last color went down with far less headache than I expected. I'm feeling fairly confident that when I finally sort dry prints I'll have an edition of 10 or 11 (from a start of 12).

I think I mentioned at the start of this reduction print that it was a color reworking of an image I did maybe 4 years ago in a single color. I made a point not to look at that piece while I was working on this one... I was curious to see how my sense of it might change. While I still like the concept of this image in black and white, I think the drawing and carving in this new color piece are a marker of how my skills have grown.

I do like the slightly "compacted" proportions of the black and white version. I drew the scene a little narrower and exaggerated some of the curves more than in the new version. The single color version is also smaller... 8"x6" as opposed to 12"x9".

With this piece completed it feels like the next steps for me are going to be a bit more experimental. I have a collaborative project in the wings that seems to be asking for something white-on-white with some blind embossing. I've not tried embossing by hand before... so we'll see how it goes.

But in the Now for Something Completely Different category, my brother started his first blog last week, showcasing his renewed interest in photography. I think he's off to a good start, so if you have a chance pop on over to Steve's Photo Blog and show him some blog love maybe he'll keep it up!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Printmaking as headache cure?

After an efficient morning of errand-running I cleared off my work space, as promised. I carved a bit. Noticed a headache. Got up and wandered around. Took some sinus meds. Carved some more. Noticed headache intensifying. Sat down to read. Got back up. Whined about headache to DM. Drank some tea.

Yeah, I think I'm fighting something sinus-y. After the pace of the last few weeks it's hardly surprising. Could just be the ongoing brittle-dry air and our brief-but-intense bout of outrageously cold weather. Or it could be Something I Don't Have Time For and Don't Want to Think About.

At any rate, I finally decided to at least mix some ink and see what happened. Attention to the block HAD to be better than attention to my head.

Last time on "Snow Shadows: The Next Generation." Snore.
After the last (green) pass on this linocut I was feeling pretty wishy-washy. That big dark shape was just B-O-R-I-N-G. Something needed to be done.

After some more mental waffling about whether the next color should be darker or lighter, I finally settled on darker and grayer. I wanted to suggest some background pines without going overboard.

Does that look different to you?
How about now?

It's subtle, but I think it made that annoying green shape a little more interesting. (Poor photos again, but trust me. It's better.) Just one more color to go now. Maybe. Maybe not.

The headache is still here, but it doesn't matter as much anymore. I've got a rack full of damp prints, which is always a cure for what ails me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Um... what just happened?

I am (somewhat uncharacteristically) at a loss for words. Or at least I'm unable to succinctly describe the last week. It's been quite the ride.

A warm weekend sketch from the F Street Bridge. 
65 degrees on Saturday! 75 degrees colder on Monday.
Someone must have finally figured out that we were getting more than our share of good weather. Things cooled off considerably on Sunday, and by Monday (when we were headed to Colorado Springs to shuffle around exhibitions) it was downright cold. And snowy. And windy. Sub-zero temps before windchill. Tuesday's drive home via the canyon was a slow one.

But we arrived without mishap, which is more than I can say for a friend who was traveling from Denver to Salida at about the same time. He was swiped by a hit-and-run semi-truck near Kenosha Pass. I'm happy to say he's fine, but his vehicle? Not so much.

It felt good to be home.

Wednesday morning, however, things went really crazy. Art Biz Coach Alyson Stanfield featured the story of the "Art Underfoot" video in her weekly e-newsletter and I was suddenly, fabulously, overwhelmed with kind and supportive and wonderful messages from many directions. Thanks Alyson, and thanks to everyone who took the time to comment here or send me an email. I'm trying to catch up with you all individually, but it's a long list!

Of course, it didn't stop there. The story was picked up by Katherine Tyrell at Art of the Landscape and Making a Mark. If you don't know Katherine's blogs I encourage you to check them out. She does an amazing job of keeping up with what's going on with art in the UK and beyond and she facilitates all sorts of connections between artists and art enthusiasts. Katherine's post was subsequently picked up at The #printmaking Daily.

New reader Robin, of Miss Robin's Art Class did a lovely feature about my work and the video got a shout in the Colorado Art Ranch newsletter. Oh. My.

By yesterday it was crunch time for a client project, though, and I ended up spending 10 straight hours chained to the drawing table. Ooph. Not my favorite way to work. Since I am easily distracted by clutter I usually try to keep things tidy, but by mid-day it looked as though someone had dumped the paper recycling bin across all three tables in here.

Wait. Is that paint on the table? What's up with that?

But now it's Friday night, and although one doesn't usually equate Fridays with a fresh start it is also the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit. A new rabbit hasn't hopped to my print jig recently so I'll have to share an older one with you. I think the lead character in this image has something to say about my present state of mind.

I'm back to that snowy linocut this weekend. Hurrah! (As soon as I clear off my workspace.)

Linocut in Progress: (Lucky 13th) Final Step

 I am off next week to head up the Arts & Birding session at Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine , so I have been feeling the pressure to w...