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.


  1. Lucky I was sitting down before I started reading. Planning, eh?

    Embossing could produce very interesting results. All that playing with subtle shadows and stuff. (Yes, I've got the hang of the terminology.) Looking forward to reading more.

  2. What an exciting project! Those thumbnails hold so many possibilities and I love the circular idea. It will be really interesting to see this project unfolding.

  3. This is a delightful post to read. I like so much your ideas and how you share your process.

    Funny because what often prevents me from going from idea to actual printing is too much plannings and what ifs...my collages flow because I don't plan anything.

    By the way : I made a print drying rack and it works wonders :o)

  4. I'm glad you enjoy the planning process! That's probably why you can work the way you do!

  5. Enjoyed this post, new follower I, and loved the term "scratching"...my poet collaborator calls hers "clustering" and I am learning to use it all. Will be interested in following this project as I love to do collaborations for the exact reason you sort of mention: you feel compelled to try new things! good luck.