Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The effort before the reward

Sands Lake at sunrise, Salida

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I may not like getting up early in the morning, but I do like being up. A few days ago a friend dragged me out for a walk at dawn, and while I might have grumbled about it I definitely appreciated the chance to experience a morning like the one pictured above.

And now I appreciate it even more, because it gives me a nice metaphor for the current state of life in general: I'm not particularly enjoying the lead-up, but I know I'm going to love the result. Ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please... I have an announcement to make!

I'm getting a Big Girl Press! 

I realize this isn't the first time you've watched me get all twitchy about a press. Back in 2011 I brought Elvis (Press-ley), a Richeson baby press, into the studio. Elvis has his moments, but he's no precision machine and he's limited to prints smaller than 9 x 12 inches.

Then there was Presszilla, a lovely chunk of 1940s-vintage proof press. Unfortunately, for all her handsome steel bulk, Presszilla won't do much larger than 9 x 12, either, and she needs some TLC. Sorry to say she's still living in storage... but one of these days....

So I've continued to hand rub 99% of my prints, and found that my physical limits top out around 12 x 18 inches. In fact these days my physical limits are even more limited: I've developed some rather alarming problems with my wrists and it's been clear for some time that I need to do something different. Plus DANGIT, I want to work larger.

I've been half-seriously shopping around for an etching press... doing the Google thing every once in a while to see what turns up... but nothing has come of it. And really... where would I put it? I've been back to working in my "spare" bedroom and things are tight as it is....blah blah blah.

So went the mental conversation, until a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled quite by accident upon a great deal on a great press. In Nevada. There was a lot of hemming and hawing, mostly about minor details like money and space, but finally with the counsel and support of some really good friends I went ahead and said YES!

Of course that was the easy part. Now I have to rearrange my small apartment to accommodate a 30" x 60" (!!!!) etching press, get myself and a friend to Nevada, rent a truck, and haul the thing home.


The rearranging part started yesterday. This is the mess that used to be my living room but will now be the studio. I'm losing a sofa, but gaining a press. I had considered using this space as the studio when I moved in here just six months ago, but I couldn't figure out how to make it all fit (and the sofa wouldn't get through any door other than the front one).


 Once it was clear that the sofa would have to go, moving my "sitting room" and office to the bedroom was a little easier. It looks huge here in this iPhone-generated panorama photo, but the room is just under 10 x 12 feet. You can not imagine the headscratching that went on trying to fit all these darn bookcases in here. I'd like to find some other cushy reading chair for this room (now that I will be sofa-less), but for the most part it's feeling like it will be a nice, cozy space.

 Needless to say, there's not much printing in the forecast for this week or next. The Big Road Trip will begin next Monday, and in the meantime I need to find a home for the sofa and get the studio space prepped for the arrival of.... PRESSTON!

(PS: I almost forgot! I managed to save ALL of the sunset linos! Whew! Dodged that disaster, I did.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heartbreak in the print drawer: A cautionary tale

Ah, yes. June. Do you remember June? I do. Sort of. In June I made a linocut of a sunset -- My first sunset, even. It turned out pretty well and I was happy with it.

The edition of 12 hung on the drying rack for some time, and then I stacked the prints between sheets of glassine and put them away in the drawer. I was a little concerned that although dry to the touch they might not quite be ready for stacking, but I checked them a few days later and everything seemed fine.

So I forgot about them, and the rest of the summer happened.

This week I was moving prints around in drawers and discovered.... tragedy.

I hesitate to reveal this disaster to the entire blogosphere, but my friend Brenda once gave me a mug that says "It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others," so here we go:

While the few prints in the top of the stack were fine, the ones at the bottom suffered from the weight above and the glassine interleaving was STUCK to the prints. More than half of them. Like this:


Say it with me now: Oh S@#$!

I spent a few minutes coming to terms with the fact that I might have lost more than half of the edition, and then tried to oh-so-carefully peel up the glassine.


We can say that word again. After much lip-biting and gentle persuasion, I got to this:


Little bits of glassine were still stuck to the print. Not pretty.

I walked away.

But after I berated myself for a while I had a thought that went something like this:

"Okaaaayyyyy.... wait. I have used oil-based inks. The glassine stuck to these darkest bits because the ink layers are thickest there (and therefore didn't dry at the same rate as the rest of the image). More ink means the paper underneath is probably well-protected from water. I wonder if I can lift these little bits of glassine with a damp towel. Worth a try. Can't make things worse."

And so I tried. And sure enough... with slow, delicate application of damp towel followed by immediate application of dry towel I can, indeed, lift the stuck bits without damaging the print.


It's slow going, and tedious. (I think of art conservators and feel extra respectful.) I don't know that I'll be able to save all of the prints... the bottommost ones are really, really stuck... but I won't lose the entire edition.

I'm really surprised at the extent of "stuckness," since I've never had this problem before. Okay... once before... earlier this year... smaller prints stacked even higher had a few slightly stuck pieces at the bottom... but the glassine pulled away easily and it was no big deal. Not like this.

So. I'm not sure what happened. I suspect a combination of thinner print paper, darker pigment (Did I put black in this last blue? Black can take forever to dry completely.), lots of transparent base, and a wetter-than-usual summer. But who knows? Maybe I should stack prints between newsprint for a while before the glassine. Printmakers... have any of you run across this problem?

I guess I know what I'll be doing in the evenings now that it's getting dark earlier. (sigh) I like to think I'll be able to turn this into a meditative action, but at the moment I'm ruminating rather than meditating.

But hey... I bet I don't make this mistake again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tying up loose ends and being AT loose ends

A better scan of the Paintbrush
linocut. Click to embiggen.
The recently-completed "Paintbrush" linocut is dry enough to scan but not yet dry enough to store, so it remains suspended on my drying rack for a few more days. I've drawn up (mostly) a new piece, but not yet trimmed paper for it. I'm shuffling work around my studio in anticipation of a show change at my local gallery.

You're right. I'm procrastinating.

I'm dragging my feet for a couple of reasons. The first is that I have to be away a couple of days this week and don't want to start something and walk away from it. The second, more troubling, reason is that I'm not completely enamored of my idea.

I'm not completely enamored of ANY of my ideas.

In fact I pretty much hate every idea that enters my head right now.

Yep. I've got the post-success, I'll-never-do-anything-better, who-am-I-trying-to-kid, fraud-syndrome blues. It happens. Maybe not to all artists, but to a lot of us. Accolades and sales can be as mentally stressful as shows that fall flat (and I had one of those this summer, too). Self-doubt always lies in wait, eager to trip me up.

So how do I deal with it? The usual ways, of course: tantrums, moping, chocolate. And this week? Drawing.


Feeding my crankiness has been the inability to get outside to draw from life, but I finally quit whining about it and settled for sifting through my photos. Instead of looking for a great idea I allowed myself to just explore images that offered an opportunity to learn something: challenging postures, interesting textures, unusual points of view. Bad photography becomes good learning tool.


I still don't have a great idea, but I feel better about taking the time to practice my drawing skills and consider my next piece. Moving a pencil around moves my mind around and it reminds me why I do "this art thing" in the first place: to explore, learn, and grow.

So, HUSH, you Nagging Voices and be still, you Monkey Mind. Artist at work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Linocut in Progress: In which I call "uncle"

The problem with accolades and the excitement that goes with them is that eventually one must return to the "real" world and face things like electric bills and uncooperative prints.

Although to be fair, it's probably less that the print is uncooperative than it is that the printmaker has been scattered and disconnected from it. But let's see how it all turned out, shall we?

I did, indeed, try to moderate some of the thin hash marks with wood filler. Minor problems here included the discovery that I didn't HAVE any wood filler and the later discovery that the store I went to only had the kind with some sort of "tintable" grit in it. Oh well... try it, eh?


So here I am, mushing filler into tiny cuts and hoping for the best. I did this twice, lightly sanding away the excess in between coats. Seemed to be holding okay, so I put together another transparent olive-to-dark-green ink blend and rolled up the block.

Paintbrush linocut: Step 11

As we say in the business: Hmmm.

It actually worked, but the olive green ink was SO transparent that it didn't really moderate those hash marks very well. They are less bright, but still obvious. The filler also lifted out of a few lines as I rolled ink over the block, and I suspect a couple of reasons: First, that the hash marks were very thin and second, that I probably didn't do a great job of cleaning oils out of them before applying the wood filler. (Jen, that's for you!)

By now I was more than ready to wrap this this up and move on to something else, so I carved a few more lines into the background and inked up one last time with a green-to-dark green blend. Interestingly, the color appears purple-brown and blue when printed over the existing layers.

"Paintbrush," reduction linocut, 7" x 5",  Step 12
This time the hash marks were toned down better, and I liked the addition of the background suggestion of grasses, so I'm calling this one finished. There's a lot of wet ink glare in this particular shot... once the prints dry some more I'll post a better photo.

Whew! That was a ridiculously protracted image birth, but at least we finally made it. I'm drawing up a new block now... something a little bigger, a little simpler (HA!), and hopefully a little faster. But there's major news brewing in the background that could disrupt things again... stay tuned for the next chapter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back from "Birds in Art" with even more excellent exhibition news!

Opening night crowd at the Birds in Art preview.

Whew! What a fantastic weekend! Once again (for the 39th time, to be precise) the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum staff facilitated a superb weekend of art and artists for this year's "Birds in Art" exhibition.

It's always wonderful to spend time with "the tribe" of wildlife artists, but this year I enjoyed the added surprise of visits to the exhibition by friends I hadn't seen in more than 10 and more than 20 years! So great to reconnect with Jon and Erin and Ella... thanks for coming out.

L to R: Anne Faust, Guy Cohleach, Sherrie York. Hey, that's me! And that's
my piece now permanently in residence at the Woodson Art Museum.

The bonus excitement happened after I left Wisconsin, however. My flight was delayed in Dallas because of a leaking coffee maker (yes, seriously... water everywhere) when I my phone rang with an unfamiliar Wausau, Wisconsin identification. "Great," I thought. "What did I leave behind at the hotel THIS time?"

Wood ducks find a new home at the Woodson Art Museum!

But it wasn't the hotel, it was curator Jane Weinke calling to give me the news that the Woodson Museum will purchase Shower With a Friend for its permanent collection. Wonderful and humbling, as this is my third purchase by the museum, and the second through funds from Project Postcard. My contributions to Project Postcard were shared as distorted blobs here, but I can now show them in their entirety here:


Birds in Art artists donate 4" x 6" images to the project, which are offered to reception-goers for a flat $50 each. The "postcards" are hung together in a "secret" room and buyers can't see them ahead of time. Ticket holders enter the room one at a time and have one minute in which to make their choice. Artist signatures are on the back of postcard so buyers can't be certain whose piece they are getting.

My linocut, Ripples, added to the Woodson collection via Project Postcard in 2011... and to be so honored again this year... well... it's definitely something special.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cool exhibition news!


If I do this right you'll be reading this post on Friday, but I'm typing it in a rush on Wednesday afternoon... ten minutes before I'm supposed to begin the first leg of my journey to Wausau, Wisconsin for the opening of this year's Birds in Art exhibition. My flight isn't until oh-dark-hundred Thursday morning, but I'll stay the night with friends in Colorado Springs and do a little catching up. Assuming I get there in time for dinner!

But I'm delayed a few minutes more because I just received an email from the Society of Animal Artists letting me know "Coot du Jour" will join the 54th Art and the Animal national tour through 2015. That's my COOL du Jour.

Now did I remember to pack my hairbrush?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Step 10? Seriously?

There is no good reason why I should be on step 10 of this linocut already. Nevertheless, here we are.

Still not satisfied with the darkest bits of the flower, I did some more carving and then applied a transparent olive green over the entire block. Really. Olive green.

The result is subtle, but necessary.

Steps 9 and 10 side-by-side. Subtle.

NOW I can walk away from the bloom. But of course that background has gotten extremely problematic. I originally thought it would be interesting to add more hatch marks at each step and build up a subtle texture... but it's flattening out the image rather than adding depth.

There are several options (aside from abandoning the image altogether):

1) Cut a second block that carries only the solid background and overprint. Potential registration headaches there.

2) Decide I can live with it and make more marks. Eh. Maybe. Could just make things worse.

3) Print an opaque color in the background that doesn't contrast with the hatch marks so they will become less noticeable. Okay, but I hate to lose the luminosity that's going on now. And what color would I print? Not that ocher-y thing... the flower would get lost.

.......... aaaaaaaand the thing I think I will try:

4) Filler. Yep. I think I'm going to try mushing some wood filler into the existing marks on the block and see what happens. I've used filler before, and ink doesn't adhere to it in the same way it adheres to the unadulterated linoleum, but I think I'd be happy with toning down the hatch marks instead of completely covering them. If it works, I might be able to get by with just one more color pass. If not... well... cross that flower-covered bridge when I come to it, I guess.

Paintbrush linocut: Step 10

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sketchbook...umm... Tuesday?

The paintbrush linocut remained too tacky to print over the weekend (hopefully today, after I take down a show here in town), so here's a little tidbit from my sketchbook to celebrate heading back to work post-holiday-weekend. (For those of us in places that just HAD a holiday weekend.)


It's called a crested screamer. (Although at the moment it looks rather placid.) Appropriate for back to work? Your call.