Monday, December 30, 2013

The Latest

Well, it's been a long silence has it not?  This was a busy year.  Then again, they usually are.  I'm glad my life is full of things to keep me occupied. I don't think I'll ever find myself in the corner of an empty room lamenting a lack of inspiration.  If anything, I will lament not having enough time to get everything I want to get done.  I am notorious for having too many irons in the fire.

Take my latest success. Here we have a type cabinet I purchased at least 6 years ago.  It is common to find type cabinet drawers in antique/junk stores across the country.  It is uncommon to find the original cabinet in which those drawers were kept.  I have only 15 drawers for this cabinet because the gentleman I had purchased it from had procured dustless drawers for a cabinet that was designed for flat drawers.  Dustless type drawers were an innovation for type drawers in that there was a lip on the draws that supposedly kept dust from collecting in the drawers.  Subsequently, the cabinets were built with spacers to accommodate such.  Traditional cabinets, like mine, were not.  Putting dustless drawers in a traditional cabinet meant skipping drawer spaces in order for the drawers to move properly.  What a pain.  I often wonder if the "dustless" innovation was worth it because any printmaker will tell you it's a dirty affair and a working letterpress shop is going to inevitably get dirty.

When I first got it, I took all the drawers out and cleaned the cabinet and gave it a murphy's oil soap bath.  My brother-in-law, who is a cabinet maker, was kind enough to take each drawer and cut off the "dustless" lip.  You can see the fresh cut on the photo below.  Then, I had to move out of McGuffey Art Center and everything languished for years in my house.  By chance last year, I found some brass drawer pulls at Lowe's on clearance for $1.50 each.  Yesterday, the bug bit me and I set about installing the drawer pulls and now my type cabinet is ready to receive the type that is sitting in boxes in need of sorting. That's going to be a big undertaking but maybe my momentum will carry me through . . . 

The James River Artisan Festival went better than expected.  I'll have to put together a post on that but later.  That whole month of September felt like a total crunch.  The James River Artisan Festival had to go off without a hitch.  At the same time, Garrett and I were to do a repeat performance at the Virginia Folklife Showcase.  And, at the same time, Frank Riccio and I were working on a book project together that culminated in an edition of popup books called Poison Sisters.  Needless to say, I was burnt out and I needed a little room to breath.

It was time for a project on something I wanted to enjoy.  A friend and I share a mutual love of old horror movies and golden age cinema actors.  We decided to do an art trade and she wanted a portrait of Rondo Hatton.  I've been meaning to do something like this for a while.  I took a fair amount of in progress pictures and am hoping to make a more in depth post about this later

In a herculean effort, Frank Riccio and I gave birth to an edition of books we call Poison Sisters.  It features a dreamlike series of pop-ups about the poison sisters Belladonna and Datura.  We used illustrations from each of us.  Frank has a technique for getting a beautiful painterly looking texture on paper with the vandercook.  It worked great and gave a really rich feel to match our japanese silk binding cloth and italian marbled paper.  We rolled out the dog for this one.

There were many stages to this design.  It was a tremendous project that I am still floored that we finished on time.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to make a festival poster . . .

Once upon a time, John Bittner from Scottsville came up with the idea that Scottsville should have a local art festival.  Lana Lambert said, "Hey, that sounds like a good idea!  How can I help?"  We set about coordinating the first James River Arts Council Artisan Festival and I am in charge of designing and making the posters to advertise the whole affair.  What is a printmaker to do?  Well, here's what I did:

First, we commence with the begging of the husband to sit and pose with his manly man hands.  Since we are focusing on the hand-made for this event and since Scottsville has a lot of ceramicists, I thought a pair of hands shaping a pot would work well. 

I sketched and took photographs to record how the light fell and roughed out the general focus of the poster.  It became apparent to me that even though I set boundary lines for where the poster would be my sketching was still running over the lines.  I decided to sketch the rest of the design on another sheet of paper and add the hands sketch in later.  After all was completed, I packed up my drawing and headed to my favorite local print shop.  I was going to have them copy the sketch and invert the image so it would be a mirror image.  Even though I painstakingly crafted the text within the image by hand, if I traced it as is and carved it out it would still print backwards. Alas! They were closed! My deadline is closing in!  What is a girl to do?!!

Well, it's by no means pretty but you can scan in a large piece on a normal flat bed scanner and piece it all together in photoshop.  The problem with this is that some visual distortion can occur.  But, you know the old motto ". . . make it do or do without."  

I also don't own a lightbox.  It's amazing what two stacks of books, a piece of plexi-glass, and your swing arm lamp can do.  I scanned my image in and printed the whole off in 8"x10" sections.  Then, I lined them up on my makeshift lightbox.  Remember, there's that visual distortion that occurs.  Yeah, it's a pain but that's where the extrapolation from incomplete data skills come in handy.

Once everything is taped down atop some graphite paper, get to town tracing to your linoleum!

After you've gone mad retracing, it's time to go blind carving!  Yippee!

Now, grab yourself some particle board to mount your linoleum carving to and get to cranking on that Vandercook.  I have to say that I was a bit over the whole project by the time I was done carving the block.  I had planned multiple blocks and the time just ran out for that.  I was a little crest fallen at having to pare back.  But when it printed off, my mood changed.  Wow!  I didn't expect it to look so cool!  I can't take all the credit.  Garrett Queen helped me with what we printers call "make ready" and made sure my colors didn't look horrible and my type lined up right.

 Here's a shot of the poster next to the type form that is locked up on the press.  I hand set the type and tore all the paper for the run a few nights in advance.  Even so, there is still some proofing to make sure all the type will print okay as old type tends to show wear and damage.

Once things start rolling, it's like magic to see all your beautiful posters lining up in the tray.

Soon, these will be going up around town!  Come on down to Scottsville and see what other craftsmanship can be found here in the Piedmont!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Spring Hydrangea

I love green flowers.  It's crazy how much I love green flowers.  I fell in love with the Lime Light Hydrangea when it first came out.  I'm feeling kind of guilty because I bought one and I'm betting the effect was achieved by genetic modification.  Still, I love its strong showing every year.  I love its burst of flowers every year.  They come in as a beautiful spring green and then burst open in a show of pale green flowers that bleach out to a flock of white petals.  Later in the year, they stain pink.  I was inspired to do sketches and take pictures of last year's specimen.  The flower in this painting does not exist.  Technical drawing bores the holy hell out of me.  I sketch and use photo references to get a gist but then move on to create textures and patterns of my own.  I'll walk you through my process:

I start with a rough sketch.  I've made notes at the bottom for myself.   The Lime Light Hydrangea sends out shoots each spring which turn into branches for the foliage each year.  At the end of each branch is a flower.  This is the reason why you prune Hydrangeas in the fall.  Prune them in the spring and you prune off all the potential flower buds.  

I sketched a specimen and used my photos to create the branch/skeleton structure.  The notes read: Main Stem = tri (3 secondary stems extend from the main branch as it grows) Secondary = bi (the secondary stem then sends out two stems away from itself as it grows) tertiary = alternating (the subsequent tertiary stems then branch out in an alternating pattern to grow flower buds).  This complexity boils down to the simple pattern of Fibonacci numbers.  Nature follows this pattern again and again.

Here is where the fun begins.  In following the Fibonacci pattern and allowing it to break every once and again, you can accurately create a realistic composition.  This is what I thought about while I drew in stems and flowers.  Watching my drawing grow, and spire, and divide ever upwards, I couldn't help but think about galaxies and the big bang.  As our universe sprouted and grew ever outwards, we continue to expand and develop, branching and rising.

After my sketch was complete, It was time to begin the painting process.  This was a great excuse to employ my favorite color: Yellow Green!!!!  I began by washing over the entire composition with a yellow green that was heavy on the yellow.  I used primarily a mixture of Sennelier watercolors.  I used Phthalo Green Light, Cadmium Yellow Light, and Sap Green.

I scanned the first image but as the paper distorted, I abandoned it for my camera.  The next layer was to be a slightly greener wash of yellow green to make the flowers begin to contrast and bring a little depth.

I wanted to begin mapping out the areas of shadow and it was about here that I stopped documenting and just spent time painting.  It is only so often you can interrupt your flow of work for documentation before it becomes detrimental to your process.

I love the shades of green that are featured in this piece but the piece would not have had a rich feel to it  if I had just stayed within that range of color.  Variety truly is the spice of life.  I created shadows from my light green pallet by mixing in a little Walnut Ink from local ink and paint makers Belly of the Flea. I was surprised as how accommodating and easy to work with the ink was.  It was best friends with my Sennelier paints and I liked the results.

I employed Ultramarine Deep and Walnut Ink to create the initial wash for the dark background that you can see on the right of the image above.  I think the color on the right was 3 washes of paint.  I mixed Walnut Ink and Payne's Gray to make the final color of the dark background.  The shade on the left represents 2 washes of the Walnut and Payne's Gray mix.  It was nice and thick compared with the thin washes that were done previously.  The end result is a deep velvety black that carries depth not normally found in a prefabricated black.  It's a shame my photographs and scans don't really show that. 

This was a fun piece to work on and an exercise in anticipation for spring!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Journal Memory Book

I'm going to be teaching a book class at Creative Framing & The Art Box in Crozet, VA.  We'll be doing a photo album of sorts I call a Journal Memory Book.  Ten 4 x 6 inch photographs will be mounted inside the book with a translucent interleaving.  The interleaving will hold a written account and hovers above the mounted photographs.  The result is a sleek and stylish presentation that still retains the title of handmade.  The added bonus is the handwritten accounts that accompany the photographs.  It will be an object to treasure for years to come and benefit future generations who will wonder,"Who are these people" and "What is that place?" and "What are they doing?"

I chose octopus paper for my book.  I don't know why I love those squiggly wigglies so much!  Ah, cephalopod love!  My photographs are from my undergraduate years at the Corcoran College of Art and design.  Art school is a colorful experience so the bright paper seemed appropriate.  My school's colors are also chartreuse and wine, so my inner papers and binding ribbon are a nod to that.

The writing floats above my photos and my book opens nicely.  There are no ring binders to contend with or screw posts to fiddle around.

It is also designed to rest flat and not bow under the thickness of the added photos.  It has room so that the photographic emulsion is not constantly mashed against the translucent interleaving.

It's even pretty when it's hanging out on the table!

Though the book has a horizontal orientation, I have put vertical oriented photographs in it as well.

Check out Creative Framing & The Art Box Crozet for more information on the class!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Invoking the Auspicious

There is no better sigil of affirmation that the Red Velvet Ant.  She's not really an ant at all but the female of a species of wasp.  They are large and can reach up to an inch and a half long.  Beautifully cloaked in scarlet and black they scurry along in the brush looking for food and nesting areas.  They are also called Cow Killers because they inflict such a crippling sting.  They are not usually aggressive, preferring to scurry away but dislike being handled.  Red Velvet Ants are useful in that they are parasitic to ground wasps and bees.  They naturally keep Yellow Jackets and ground Hornets in check. I value them for their appearance is a portent of good things to come.
Thus, I was inspired to do a study of one of my favorite insects.

I wanted to try out some new paper that I got made by St. Armand.  I love the natural color and rough texture.  I started out with a rough sketch.

Next, I added a background of twigs, pebbles, and pine needles for her to scurry over.

When Daniel Smith came out with Watercolor Ground I laughed and called it a cheap trick.  Well, crow is delicious at this point in my life because I ended up using some.  I filled in the areas that were to be red.  (I'm a cheap trick, so sue me.)

I skipped getting a shot of the pen and ink in process.  I used Higgins Calligraphy waterproof black ink with a crow quill and calligraphy nib to render the black.  I have my friend Amanda Smith to thank for the use of her ruling pen.  I have to get myself one of those.  They are fun!  I do have to say that the Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground and the Higgins waterproof ink did not like each other.  The watercolor ground would open the ink back up and create gray backwashes.  When I drew over the watercolor ground, the ink would bleed into it.  I got it to cooperate in the long run by erring on the side of subtlety.

Lastly, the moment of true occurred when I broke out my watercolors.  At first the watercolor ground was irritating because I wasn't used to how it reached.  After I got used to it's drying time and characteristics, things became easier.  I noted that color was much easier to wick and staining was nonexistent with this product.  I had to create and push around several layers in order to get what I wanted.  After I was satisfied with the underpainting, I applied hairlike texture with a tiny rigger.  Now she looks like she could skitter off the paper.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A visit from a dragon delayed

In the quiet of the first day of 2013, a small dragon snuffled its way onto my desk whispered that I had forgotten all about him.  I totally denied that accusation and tried to explain that my knives were dull, I have been really busy, and I need to be working on the upcoming pieces I'm going to display in the spring.  Little 2012 dragon was hearing none of that.  So, I got out my protesting knives and got to work on freeing him a little more.

I completed one side and called it quits because I REALLY should sharpen my knives before I cause more damage that is necessary.  BUT, at least one side is done and that is half the battle before I can print and fulfill my 2012 obligation.  
The year of the dragon was a good but rigorous year.  I asked for prosperity and the dragon said, "You sure you can handle that?"  I said I could and holy hell it was a ride.  I got into graphic design classes and learned many things that I had lacked before.  I received an apprenticeship grant for the state of Virginia.  I got a new job.  I made new friends.  I completed woodblock illustrations for what I consider my first "book."  It all came at once and thus my New Years card for the 2012 exchange was put on the back burner.  As the snake slithers in I'm going to spend a little time with my dragon and hopefully soon he'll be one his way to everyone in the mail!

In other news, speaking of abused tools, I'm finally replacing my watercolor brushes.  I have had some of these since grade school.  (OMG!) They've served me well and so I will be donating the old ones to an elementary school for craft projects.  I've been needing a good wash brush for a while and fell in love with the new line of Snap! brushes at the Art Box.  They're economical but surprisingly have a good in-hand weight and the synthetic bristles are smooth and responsive.

Poor old camel hair wash brush has been rode hard and put up wet.  To be sure, there will be more paintings in my future!