Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unexpected perspective

Well, here's something you haven't seen in a while...

Illustration-in-progress. Hey, where's my printing stuff?

I'm in full-on paint mode for contract work this week, which feels a little odd. It's been a while since I've had any "brush" to share on Brush and Baren, because it's been weeks since I've had paints on the table and a brush in my hand. A couple of months ago, in the midst of another illustration project, I experienced an astounding revelation:

I quite dislike brushes.

Actually, the word I chose at the time was significantly stronger than "dislike," but since I really do need cooperation from this particular tool at the moment, it seems prudent to call a truce.

My path to image-making has been anything but a straight line (ahem). I didn't set out to be an artist, I set out to be a teacher. Little moments along the way– a nudge here, a pat on the back there– encouraged me to pick up a pencil, then a brush, then etching tools. Even clay and stone. But art was something I would teach, not something I would do full time. Shows you what I knew.

It's interesting to look back and see how a hundred little "insignificant" actions and conversations led me to where I am now. Twenty years ago I started painting because there were learning opportunities available and I took advantage of them... first in oils, then in watercolor. I met other artists– painters all– and hung around with them. I wanted to be them. But while I think of myself as a reasonably competent painter I have never been a comfortable painter. If I want to make a mark I don't automatically reach for a brush. I reach for a pencil. Or a gouge.

It's only in the last 2 or 3 years that I've realized it's okay not to be a painter. I've never been terribly comfortable with calling myself an artist, either (too much baggage attached to the term), but I answer to printmaker as readily as my own name.

Some projects still call for paint, of course, and for some endeavors only a brush will do. It's a nice diversion once in a while, but it's also a helpful reminder of who I really am. I'm a printmaker, and whenever I doubt it all I have to do is pick up a brush to put everything back in perspective.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prints, books, and a definition of insanity

Implements of obsessive compulsion.
Oh, YOU know the Albert Einstein quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." I'm still working on the aforementioned not-fit-for-public-consumption print, and it's getting worse rather than better. I should probably just bag the whole thing, but I have been programmed by decades of "we learn better from our mistakes" propaganda. No doubt I'll carry on to the bitter end, hoping some insight will come of it.

When I'm in this sort of printing quagmire I'm never quite certain if looking at the work of other people is inspirational or depressing. My feed reader, oblivious to my mental state, keeps throwing the posts of (currently) productive printmaker/bloggers in my path and of course I look at them. Will I be inspired or chagrined? Or perhaps both?

If my feed reader doesn't provide enough torment, then I take a gander at my long list of bookmarked artist websites. Last week I popped in to see what Ian Phillips was up to, and darned if it didn't end up costing me confidence (briefly) AND cash.

Ian has published a book of his reduction linocuts. Oy vey! I had to have it. Drawing the Line arrived yesterday and it's a thing of beauty. (You can preview the book either on Ian's website or in the Blurb bookstore.)

The DM and I harbor a strong desire to visit Wales, and Ian's work only deepens that desire. His ability to imbue the Welsh landscape with mystery, richness, and drama using a limited palette and bold design I find completely engaging. And humbling. Here I am, noodling away at all this crazy detail, and Ian's graceful and graphic line says it all. Thank you, Mr. Phillips, for sharing your work in way that I can obsess over at my leisure.

The good news is that Drawing the Line scores as inspiration, renewing my desire to get out and scour my own landscape for its reduction-printable essence. Thanks for that, too, Ian. I have to get back to work.

Monday, April 18, 2011

With apologies to Mr. Keillor...

It's been a quiet week in the print studio.

Well, not really... but what printing has been done has not been fit for public consumption. I seem to be having one of those distracted, printing-for-the-sake-of-doing-something-but-heart-isn't-in-it periods. It happens.

There's hope on the horizon, though. May 7th is the 5th Annual International Print Day in May! (And why not?) I've torn down some paper and I'm drawing up a new block in anticipation. One way or another I'll be printing that day... I hope to see some of you all printing, too!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Who moved my trail markers?

I've often said that I'm the sort of person for whom loop trails were invented. Without them I might never make it back home.

I'm the person on an out-and-back trail who says, "Let's just see what's around the next corner, and then I'll be ready to turn back." But of course around the next corner is another intriguing corner, and another, and another... and I always feel like I missed something when I'm obliged to turn around and cover my own footprints to get back where I started.

It might be why I've worked with reduction prints for so long. At least I know when I start that I will follow a path to its end, after which I'll be able to start again on a new path.

I think if you embiggen this one you'll be able to see the white-on-white.
Sort of.

But with this piece I keep finding another corner to turn, and I keep wandering farther and farther from the trailhead. From home base. From completion. And from the sort of simple "essence" that is the point of a collaboration based on haiku, for goodness sake.

The idea started as two blocks: one printed white and the other printed over it in black. A short loop trail. But a few steps down that trail I saw another corner to turn: "What if I added mica to the white?" And another: "What if I embossed a footprint there?" And then, "What if I made a third block and printed color?" Which, of course, led to many more "what if" corners: dozens of iterations of color. Which lead to the next corner: "What if I made a FOURTH block?"

"Ever So A Round," the final chapter. For now.

It's not a problem, really, except that it could go on indefinitely and I have a very finite amount of time for this project. Yesterday I realized that the whole idea would be better if I a) printed everything in a different order and b) carved yet another block. Or if all the steps after the white were done as a reduction block. (ahem)

But I really do have to get back to the trailhead and plunge down a different path this week, so I think this is the finished piece. Unless I pick one of the others that's also hanging on the rack, since they're all a bit different. (Can you say "Edition Variable"?)

It's been a great learning process, and it may represent the first staggering steps toward a new body of work. But don't be surprised if the next print you see is a nice, straightforward reduction block. There's still lots to see on a loop trail, and one usually arrives home in time for supper.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Educational, that's what the last couple of days have been! I've been working on my print for the Salida Regional Library's upcoming exhibition, "Haiku: Capturing the Essence," and it's been a different process for me in several ways.

1) I'm collaborating with poet Eduardo Rey Brummel, who has written an evocative and epic multi-stanza haiku. It's not often (read: almost never) that I work from someone else's words unless it's an illustration project. Art and illustration are completely different beasts for me, partly because most of my illustration work is in paint rather than relief prints, but also because my illustrations most often accompany educational text rather than poetry. They're darn literal.

For this project I'm trying to take a different tack, trying to break out of a straightforward landscape view. And I'm trying for subtle. (That "essence" thing in the exhibition title.) I struggle with subtle.

2) New technique! Elvis Press-ley is playing a role in this piece, although parts are still done by hand.

3) New materials! New papers. Mica powder.

4) Multiple blocks. This is the part that's making everything so complicated. Well, maybe not complicated... the blocks themselves are quite simple. But instead of being obliged to move steadily forward from one step to the next as I am in a reduction print, I have the luxury of printing elements lots of different ways until I find something I like. So of course I can't stop dinking around with all the pieces.

Here's where we are so far.

Eduardo's poem employs "sparkly" language: Words like shimmer and glisten. I like the imagery, but since I'm aiming for something more like a whisper than a shout, rhinestones and a tube of glitter glue are out of the question. The solution turned out to be mica powder, which I got from McClain's.

In this image, shot at a weird angle so you can see what's happening, I printed a tracery of branches in white ink on white paper... then sprinkled mica dust onto the wet ink. (Just like glitter onto glue in the days before they premixed them.) It's subtle (hooray!) and changes according to the angle of view. I have no idea if it's going to show well under glass, but hey... it's worth a try.

Second step was a block of blended color. This shape is, I hope, suggesting a waterway– an image also present in Eduardo's poem. I really like that some of the mica-embellished white branches show through. It becomes less obvious in the next step... and part of me was tempted to stop at this point. It's an effect worth keeping in mind for future projects.

No more suggestion here. The waterway and its surrounding vegetation are defined. This step took me FOREVER to figure out. I originally printed it black, but that seemed too contrasty. (Subtle, Sherrie! Subtle.) I kept lightening the gray... then tried a brown, and a blue, and ultimately ended up with a blend that goes from light gray to a gray-green.

Naturally, my camera doesn't manage subtle very well, either. Here's a closer look at the slightly debossed footprint barely visible in the lower right corner of the landscape. (No, really... it's there. Look harder.) Another image from Eduardo's poem.

I'm feeling okay about the piece so far, although it still feels like something is missing. There's a lot of circularity to the poem, but in my early sketches for this piece a blatant big circle seemed... well... blatant. The good news is that I have a ridiculous number of experimental pieces to keep playing with until I decide. Or the deadline arrives. Whichever comes first.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So what now?

There's often a bit of a lull after I finish a long and complex print, while I try to decide what image to tackle next. But this week there's no time to dawdle... I've got exhibition deadlines!

As a result, Elvis Press-ley and I were up late last night... and back at it first thing this morning. I'm still working through some of the ideas I have for the poetry/visual art collaboration project with haiku writer Eduardo Rey Brummel– experimenting with paper, ink, mica dust (!), embossing... Whoo-ee, am I making a MESS!  But I think I finally have a plan and all the pieces to make it happen. (I think.)

I had originally imagined this piece would be a "one-out," a monotype of sorts, since it's vastly different from my usual approach. But now that I've spent so much time experimenting and creating blocks and such, it seems like editioning is a good idea. We'll see if it turns out to be something that I can make multiples of.

For now, however, I need a little break, so it's off to find some shoes and take a walk to the post office or something. Stay tuned... it could get very strange around here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Splashing to the finish

Alrighty then! The only thing more satisfying than almost-complete prints on the drying rack is complete prints on the drying rack.

It's funny how often I think an image looks pretty good, and then I add one more color and I wonder why I thought the previous step looked complete. It's also funny (in a warped sort of way) how often "one more color" leads to "okay, one MORE color."

Color 10

One last dark just below the duck and the piece is finished. Doesn't have a title yet, though....

11th and final color, linocut, 12 x 9 inches
Click to embiggen

I learned a lot through the process of this particular piece, and I'm already chomping at the bit to tackle some more complex water images. (Wendy, I'm starting to understand your compulsion! ;-) But first I need to get moving on the piece for the haiku project. My efforts so far have been very experimental... it's time for some focus!

Friday, April 1, 2011

This print is looking just ducky!

Blame it on the wind, I guess. I'm still flopping about all over the place, restless as the air outside.

But it's the wind that kept me inside on an otherwise stellar day, so I guess I can thank it for the fine progress achieved on the current reduction linocut. Well, that... and the fact that three of the four colors I put down today involved very tiny sections.

Having learned my lesson (sort of) from complications caused previously by sloppy inking, I decided that the colors immediately following last week's blue would be inked using stencils. Good plan!

Hmm. Did you know there was a critter in this piece? I bet not. But a little light gray shape gave away most of the surprise immediately. (Color 6)

Next up: Little green shape. Very little green shape. Registration! Eek! (Color 7)

We're now on color #8... a sort of russet... So far, so good! (At this point I'm hollering at the DM from my studio: "I'm making duckies! I'm making duckies!" He is alternately laughing and rolling his eyes.)

I was going to wait to print color #9, but I was on a roll (printmaking pun not intended) and really wanted the satisfaction of a dark color to end the day. It's not the last pass, but we're getting very close now.

Unfortunately the camera isn't picking up the color very well under studio lights. The dark brown isn't as orange as it looks here.. in fact it has a fair amount of blue in it. (Nor does it have the weird shadow that appears in the detail shot below.) Darn digital cameras, anyway.

I haven't yet decided if I have one or two more colors to go. Mostly the final dark will define some details in the duck, but I'm not sure if I want a few subtle shapes in the upper right corner. It needs a little time to dry now, so I've got a day or two to make those decisions.

I'm really pleased that I went ahead with one more color today... it's hugely satisfying to look up at the drying rack and see an almost-finished new piece.

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...