Sunday, February 24, 2019

"The Sea Captain" Linocut Print

As long as I can remember my Dad has had the same lamp sitting on his roll-top desk.  The lamp is from the 70's and the base is a 3 ft model of a sea captain with a beguiling look on his face holding a pipe.  The photos below don't show it but the lamp has a giant manila-colored tube of a lampshade that sits atop the whole thing making it even more clear that this is from an era gone-by (apparently an era where enormous lampshades were necessary). 

When I was considering what to do for my next print I knew I wanted to do a print that had to do with whales or Inuit themes.  I have been obsessed with Inuit art lately and came across a sculpture where someone had carved a face into a whalebone.  I liked the face and it reminded me of my Dad.  At first I thought of putting my Dad's likeness on a whale vertebrae, but then a light bulb went off in my head (shielded by a giant lampshade!)... I should put my Dad's likeness on the lamp that always reminds me of him!  And so it began.

The Sketch

When I first became interested in illustration many years ago I visited a friend who was a professional children's book illustrator.  She was kind enough to let me visit her studio and I will never forget what I learned there.  She had a projector set-up over her desk that allowed her to project images that she could trace.  I never thought that was "allowed." 

Don't get me wrong...I am all for practicing drawing from life.  It is a great skill.  But I firmly believe that when one is trying to do a realistic portrait of a person it is very helpful to use all the resources available to you.  And that might mean taking a photo of your subject and tracing it.

One also learns along the way that when one does trace a photo, you don't really get a very good likeness as you can see below.  It is more to help get things in the exact right places.   

To me the fun part comes when you take the tracing away and add the shading and character.  You have to look back and forth between your reference photo and your sketch, attempting to capture the essence of the person.  It is always a dance between "reality" and what is flowing from within you onto the paper through lines.  Through this "fleshing out" process you add your own style.

It is also important to stand back, take a good look and change things according to how you want them.  For example, I thought his pants were too short so I made them a bit longer. I also wanted the collar on the jacket to be larger so I exaggerated it and made the buttons bigger.

As you can see below I also added the entire background scene.  I didn't like the way the rope wrapped around him on the lamp, but I liked the rope element.  So I changed it up.

Somehow it still felt important to work a whale into the design so I put a whale tail in the moon.  This is a whale-friendly sea captain.

Transferring the Sketch

Once the sketch is done I transfer it to the safety-kut plate by flipping the sketch over and rubbing it with a credit card. You can see the process in the above video and the final result below.


My favorite part of the whole process is carving the plate.  I like to turn my favorite music on and lose myself in the work.  Carving this plate was especially fun because my Dad was looking back at me the whole time.

"Thirst drove me down to the water where I drank the moon's reflection."

Test Print

I don't always do a test print because I am frugal and don't like to waste ink and time and paper towels cleaning up for a single print.  But I had several decisions that I needed to make and really needed to see it printed (and not backwards). 

Below is a video of me inking the plate for the first time.  If there was ever an exciting time in the process, it is at this point.  It is so fun to see the image magically appear as the roller passes by.

On the left below you can see the plate completely clean.  I used vegetable oil to clean the graphite off.  On the right is my test print.


"The wise man lets go of all results,
whether good or bad,
and is focused on the action alone.
Yoga is skill in actions."
-Bhagavad Gita

After making my final adjustments to the plate it is finally time to print.  Below you can see my setup.  Normally for a one-color print I wouldn't use my registration pins (called Ternes-Burton clips).  But this print was so long I was worried about placing my paper down perfectly.  I only gave myself one inch of paper on either side of the block.

Because this print was smaller than I normally print I decided to splurge and upgrade the paper from my usual Stonehenge to Rives BFK.  I knew it might be a hair thicker and maybe toothier, so I decided to pre-wet my paper.  This helps with ink adhesion.  But this also presented a problem using my Ternes-Burton clips.  Would they stay on if I got them wet?  I decided to tape them on using Gorilla Glue tape (serious tape!).  I knew the paper would tear when removing the clips with this tape so I planned on cutting them off when I was finished.  This would require extra paper and meant I had to put the clips at the long end.  Normally it would be better to put them on the sides on such a long print but I didn't have any extra paper on the sides that I could cut off (my print was roughly 11 inches wide and I could get 2 prints out of a 22x30 sheet). 

Long story short, the clips stayed put through wetting.  But I discovered on the first print that the clips no longer lined up because the paper had expanded.  Luckily I adjusted my metal pins and it was fine for the rest of the prints.  The good thing about using the clips was that it did indeed help me get the paper in the right spot.  The bad thing was the print was so long that when I tried to pull the print up to check to see if I had burnished enough and then lay it back down, it did not line up perfectly.  If I had put the clips on the side and used three clips like I normally do, it probably would have worked.

The saddest part was that my upgraded Rives BFK paper was quite toothy and even with TONS of burnishing I had a hard time getting a good print. Below you can see what it looks like if you don't have enough pressure.  You can also see my "fingerprints" where I pressed with my fingers.  NOT IDEAL.

The first night of printing was quite rough because we finally pulled a decent print after 7 prints and then I ran out of ink.  The 6th print probably would have been OK but it slipped and got ink on it.  I actually screamed out loud I was so frustrated.  George (my husband) helps me burnish and I think I scared him. 

After that night I was determined to try and make this process easier so I did TONS of research about the best papers for hand-burnishing.  Through my internet searches I found people recommended Somerset Satin, Zerkall 145, Fabriano Rosapina, and lots of different Japanese papers.  I have always avoided using Japanese papers because I am a sucker for thick, luscious paper, but this process was forcing me to consider my options.

After a trip to Suder's, I came home with my usual Stonehenge, a sheet of Magnani Pescia, and a sheet of Torinoko white.  Plus I knew I had some Mulberry paper I could add to the test.  (I would have bought the other's but no one carried them - except for the Fabriano Rosapina which was too small for this print).

The next night of printing was difficult again.  My prints were coming out too light... not enough pressure (or ink).  My hopes were high for my thin Japanese papers, but no luck.  After about 7 prints we were getting closer to pulling a decent print on the Stonehenge.  But then I tried a new paper that was clearly superior.

And the winner of the paper test was...(drum-roll please!)...Magnani Pescia!

I had been inking the plate so heavily to help with the "lightness" problem that the first print I pulled with the Pescia was a bit too heavy (but the black areas were solid!).  Finally, the second print we pulled of the Pescia was perfect!  The only problem was that I only bought one sheet.  After we printed the Pescia I returned to my Stonehenge and continued to pull some OK prints.  We even tried pulling the rest of the Rives BFK.  The final two prints I ended up peeking under the paper to see if we had achieved a good solid black.  I have ruined prints doing this, but in the end it helped a lot and the last two prints were good because of it.  You just have to be super careful when you do it.

Below is a video of me hand-burnishing and pulling a print.


From the very beginning I had the idea that I might add color to the print.  But I also wanted it to be able to stand alone as a black and white piece.  And I think it works in black and white but I do like the way the color helps to differentiate the smoke and the water shine.  In the close-up you can also see that it helps his eyes and beard stand out.

You can't see it in these photos, but the smoke is iridescent.  My friend Jodi gave me some Daniel Smith iridescent topaz and I painted it over top of the gold.  In my humble opinion, it transformed the smoke from "dirty smoke" to "magical smoke."  She told me there is another color that is just "shimmer" and I might try painting another where the moonlight is iridescent instead of the smoke.

Lessons learned

Every print I do teaches me so much.  From a printmaking standpoint I learned the best paper for hand-burnishing in Cincinnati is Magnani Pescia (although I would still like to try Somerset Satin).  The only bummer is that, as far as I can tell, the largest sheet of Pescia is 22x30.   I also learned you can use Ternes-Burton clips even with wet paper but you have to use strong tape and cut them off.  Plus you have to adjust your pins to accommodate expansion.  I also learned it is worth risking a peek under the paper to find spots that aren't burnished enough.

In addition to the technicalities, printmaking is teaching me deeper lessons. There is something about this process that seems to bring me to my knees every time.  After the first difficult night of printing and my screaming episode, I was determined to do better.  Not only did I want to physically make the process smoother, but I wanted to do better mentally.  The second night of printing I went into it with the understanding that I can only really control one response.  So when the first seven prints didn't go so great for the second night, I rolled with it.  I kept trying things with the understanding that I might not pull a good print the entire night.   And this experience was AMAZING!  I openly accepted what reality presented.  Every time I pulled a print up and it was too light, I accepted it and moved on, determined to try again.  There was no resistance to what reality presented.  I felt truly free.  I felt free of the outcome.  No matter what life gave me that night, it was going to be OK.  And it was.

"You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions’ fruits.

Act for the action’s sake."
-Bhagavad Gita

This print is available for purchase on my website

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Walnut Linocut Print


Every year I tell myself I am not going to print Christmas cards and yet here we are again.  Some years I have lots of different ideas about what I should do for the card, but this year I only had one idea...a walnut.  The idea to do a walnut came to me in early November but I still hadn't really committed myself.  Then, strangely, I was in the basement one day and found a walnut sitting among all the clutter of the gardening shelf.  I picked it up and put it near the window so I could find it in case I ended up using it as my subject later.  I liked how it looked in the sunlight on my green painted shelf so I took its picture.   

I think it was that day that I became enamored with this walnut.  And when the day came to decide if I was going to actually print Christmas cards, I felt I couldn't ignore my smiling, wrinkled friend in the basement.


Usually I begin a print by taking photos of my subject.  As you can see I had a helper that day. 

I ended up really liking the photo below.  It wasn't perfect because I hadn't completely taken the shell down to the midline, but there was something quiet and beautiful about it.  It also reminded me of a perfectly roasted turkey (or maybe I was just hungry).


Below you can see the photo, my sketch, and the drawing transferred to the plate. 

This carving didn't take me long compared to my usual big prints.  I always love how the plate looks before it has ink on it...subtle, yet the design is there in shadows.


When I first had the idea of choosing the walnut as my subject I had one major objection... my idea involved two colors.  I wanted the background and shell to be a dark brown and the meat of the nut to be golden.  And once I get an idea in my head I don't really want it any other way.  For those non-printmakers out there, the idea of doing a two-color print for a Christmas card is absurd because it doubles the time involved.  And when one is printing 130 prints that is no small consideration!

For days my mind fretted over this problem and in the end I came up with three ideas.

  1. The first idea was almost unbearable.  I could treat it properly as a two-color print.  This would have involved cutting the gold nut out, printing the gold, waiting for it to dry and then printing the background color and waiting for it to dry.  This option would have required more time than I had.  In addition it would have involved meticulous alignment and I would have had to tape Ternes-Burton clips to all 130 prints (and I didn't have enough clips).
  2. The second option was to cut the plate into three pieces.  This way I could pull the pieces apart, ink the pieces separately, and then push them back together for printing.  The main advantage being that I could print everything the same day.  The only thing I didn't like about this method was that it would have created a harsh line in the shadow between the nut and the shell.
  3. The third option was to try and carefully ink the gold directly onto the plate without cutting the background away.  This would keep the plate intact, but would be difficult inking.  I ended up buying a 2'' brayer with the thought that I would try this method and it would probably fail.  And then I would move on to Option 2 (cutting the plate).

Below you can see the third option.  I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that hard to brayer the gold on where I wanted it.  I also used a couple of sponges to help.  The only problem was that each print required about 10 minutes to print.  When one is printing 10-20 prints that is not a big deal...but when one is printing 130 prints that is a LOT of time! (about 22 hours)   

I am not opposed to doing something difficult if I love the result.  After printing 30 prints this way I took a good look at the prints.  In my mind I had wanted the gold to pop the nut off the page.  But as it turned out the gold ink soaked into the page and I felt like the nut was competing with the dark background for attention.  At that point I decided to finish the rest using only the dark brown.  I had the thought that I could go back in with gold watercolor if I wanted to give it some bling.  In the photo below you can see the gold prints are on the left.

“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one:
the step you are taking right now.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now


The flat file is one of my favorite places to dry prints.  I like seeing the fruits of my labor all spread out in lovely, repetitious form.  To give you an idea of the scale of the project, the flat file holds about 50 prints.

Eventually I had to move to the drying rack.

One of the problems with using oil-based ink is the drying time.  I even added a cobalt siccative to help in the process (so don't lick these prints!).  In the end I resorted to bringing all the prints upstairs and placing them on the radiators.  This is no small feat with two curious cats wandering the house. 


When I made the decision to print one color I felt assured that I could use my gold watercolor ink to quickly add a touch of gold to each card. However, reality soon taught me otherwise.  When I pulled out my gold watercolor I was disappointed with how it barely had any metallic effect and just looked ochre-colored.  This started me on a VERY long quest to find the perfect gold.

It started when my dear neighbor and friend (and amazing artist) Roy loaned me his gold Winsor and Newton ink to try.  I loved the gold effect, but it was only visible if you turned the card just so in the perfect light.  If you looked at it straight on, you could barely even tell I had added color.  I then stopped by Michael's and bought every gold pen they had.  When I got home I tried some of them with varying success.  I then did some online research and found a website that had compared many gold pens and they recommended the Sakura Pen Touch.  I tried to resist it but couldn't help myself when I called Plaza Art Supply and they said they carried the much coveted Sakura pen.  Of course I ended up coming home with even more options!

Below you can see the different pens and inks and how they turned out.  There may have even been more options but I started to get overwhelmed trying to document it all. 

In the end my favorite was the Uniball Signo gold.  And my ultimate favorite was adding the Kaiser Glitter gold on top of that.  But the process of inking in the gold one time was about 25-30 minutes per card!  So only a handful of people got gold-drawn prints and only my Mom got a gold and glitter card.  In the end I wasn't so sure that the one-color dark brown card wasn't the most elegant of all.


I was feeling a bit antsy waiting for the prints to dry and had the bright idea to stamp the back of the cards with a Nessy Press stamp.  It didn't take me long to carve the stamp, but it is always a challenge to carve letters less than a quarter inch tall.  I am always worried until I stamp it for the first time and it is legible. 

Below you can see about a third of the cards with their stamps drying on the radiator.

I should mention that I failed to document the next step...mailing the prints!  Before I mail the prints I number, title, and sign all the prints on the back.  I try and expedite the mailing process by printing the return and recipient addresses.  I also feel funny that my card has no written message so I print a peppermint "JOY to YOU" sticker for the back.  The whole mailing process can take days.


The VERY final step for me is to photograph the print and add type.  I LOVE playing around with various scenes and decorations.  When I saw the photo below on the screen for the first time I had the thought that all the nuts were crowing around to see the print.

I also played around with adding greenery and having more of a "wreath" feel.

Below you can see the plate cleaned and dried after printing.  I liked the burnt orange color that remained on the plate.


The photo below is the same photo as the first photo in this blog without the crop.  I really loved the crescent of nuts to the right but felt like the focus was on the nuts rather than the print.  I guess it depends what subject you want to focus on ...the print or the holiday scene.  Either way I liked it.  I also have to give a shout out to this awesome video which showed me how to make glitter type. 

As you can see, printing Christmas cards is a long process.  There were times in the process where I would get overwhelmed as I started to think how much further I had to go.  I would be on print number 2 of 130 and think, OMG I can't do this!  But every time I felt that way I had to pull myself  back to the present moment and concentrate on the task at hand.  Somehow, focusing on rolling ink onto the plate, placing the paper down and burnishing was doable.  That lassoing my mind back to the present had to happen over and over again.  By doing the simple task before me I was able to conquer a task that seemed insurmountable.

“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love
- even the most simple action.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

I would like to wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season and a New Year filled with peace, love and joy! 

“Staying present, living in Presence is the best gift anyone can give to those they love.”
— Guy Finley

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stone Basket Weaving Class

“Roselynn appraised Shane as she would an interesting rock, saying nothing.
However, Roselynn was the sort much enamored of rocks.”
― Thomm Quackenbush, We Shadows

I, too, am enamored of rocks and always have been.  And I have a special love of smooth, round stones that fit nicely in the palm of your hand.  I also love packaging.  I still remember that I was blown away over two decades ago when I came across a book called "How to Wrap Five Eggs" .  I love when thought has gone into combining two materials to create something novel and gorgeous.  Maybe that is what drew me to take a basket-weaving class at NC State while in grad school many years ago.   Every so often I would pull out the reed and tinker with it.  I had this idea of making handmade clay beads of Mayan goddesses and working them into a basket (that half finished basket may still live somewhere in my basement!).

It had been quite a while since I thought about all of that reed crammed away in the recesses of my home.  Then about three years ago I saw the work of Deloss Webber on Pinterest and I was stunned by the beauty of his work.  I decided to pull out my old reed and give it a go on my own.  You can see a blog post about it here.  I have also experimented with wild reed from Costa Rica called "mimbre".

After finishing the blogposts I ended up pinning some of my photos on Pinterest and it has been my number one pin.  Since then I have had quite a few people email me about how to make these "basket stones".  I hadn't really intended to teach a class on it, but last month life magically sent me to Point Gratiot, NY where I was literally surrounded by perfect stones for rock wrapping.  That, along with the finishing of my new studio, felt like a sign that it was time to do it. 

So yesterday Anne and Lisa came over to the studio and we had a lovely afternoon of rock wrapping.  Anne is an incredible jeweler, fiber artist, painter, and tribal sculptor (you can see her work here).  And Lisa is an uber-talented illustrative designer, surface designer, and mobile maker (you can see her work here).  These women have talent coming out their ears!  As you can see we had fun unwinding (and winding) together.

The hardest part of stone wrapping is getting it started.  I always wish I had more fingers or hands to keep all the pieces tight.

But eventually, as you slowly work your way up the rock, the reed begins to hold itself in place and you find yourself in a weaving groove.  The squeaky sound of reed being pulled through tight spaces and pulling it snug against the rock is super satisfying.

Below you can see some of our stone weavings.  I love that both Lisa and Anne not only made beautiful pieces, but added their own touches to their work.

I learned a lot from teaching this course, as one always does.  And I hope to teach another class in the new year.  If you are interested you can visit and send me a message on the contact page.

"Even stones have a love, a love that seeks the ground."Meister Eckhart

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Intro to Weaving" with Sarah Harste

Yesterday my friend Jyoti and I took Sarah Harste's Intro to Weaving Class and it was AWESOME!!!  Jyoti called me a couple months ago asking if I wanted to take some sort of weaving class.  At first I was resistant.  Not because I didn't want to do it (because I love weaving), but the usual busy life and reluctance to commit to something far off in the future.  Jyoti sent me Sarah's website and I was amazed by all her class offerings and wanted to take them all!  We narrowed it down to her Intro to Weaving class at Baker-Hunt in October and signed up.

I had never heard of Baker-Hunt Art and Cultural Center before.  It is in Covington, Kentucky and is not even 20 minutes from my house.  They offer a variety of classes that include painting, scultpure, photography, weaving, and yoga.  If you live nearby definitely visit their website.  I was also so impressed with the beautiful old building where our class was held.  The classroom was in a ballroom with detailed parquet flooring.  Below you can see a few interior shots of the building.

When we first entered the ballroom Sarah and a lovely array of yarn greeted us.  She showed us the sample of what we were going to make and told us we could pick out a few different colors.  I was in heaven!  There is not much I enjoy more than thinking about colors and how they might look together.  Oh, the joy of it.  The class was only five minutes in and I was loving it!

Also awaiting us was an empty threaded loom at each of our seats.  Sarah had very kindly threaded the warp for us so that we would be able to finish our project in the allotted 4 hours.

Soon, under Sarah's skillful and patient instructions we were off and weaving. 

Above you can see Jyoti weaving about halfway through her project.  Below is a photo of my weaving when I had just finished the sumac weave section.

And here you can see the finished weaving before I took it off the loom.

I wish I had taken more photos of Sarah helping us.  Below you can see her demonstrating how to take our weavings off the loom.  Sarah is a gifted teacher with an incredible knack for clear instruction and setting people at ease.  She also just has a lovely presence and is someone you immediately want to be friends with. Thank you Sarah for a wonderful experience! 

I also want to thank Jyoti for pushing me to get out of my house and try something new.  I have been a bit hermitish lately and it was such a lovely way to spend a misty, fall day.   

There is something ancient and magical about a bunch of women weaving together.  Words, stories, and yarns are shared as needles go up and down, under and over.  As we slowly weave our creations into being we are strengthening friendships and building community.  We are learning of each others sorrows and joys.  I wish we could experience this more often.

"Women are spinners and weavers; we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern.  Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own hearts and wombs.  It's time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture.  Once we knew the patterns for weaving the world; we can piece them together again.  Women can heal the Wasteland.  We can remake the world.  This is what women do.  This is our work." - Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted