Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Datura Linocut Print

As many of you know I get much of my inspiration from my walks around my neighborhood.  A few years ago I noticed a very interesting pod growing near my neighbor's driveway.  I went home and looked it up and learned it is the pod of the Datura plant.  Ever since then I have been photographing it year round because the changes in the pod are quite fascinating. I knew I wanted to make a linocut of this plant but had a hard time choosing just one photo.  As you can see below I chose a photo from the spring when the pod is green and spiky.

Below you can see my final sketch.

This project was a big change for me because I decided to use linoleum rather than Safety-Kut.  In the past I have been hand-burnishing my prints because you can't run Safety-Kut through a press because it mushes (for lack of a better term).  But hand-burnishing such large prints has been very hard on my back (plus I have been bugging my husband for help with those). So this time I decided to switch to linoleum and joined Tiger Lily Press to have access to their press.

The project started a bit rough because I had a hard time transferring my drawing to the linoleum.  I tried scanning, printing on a laser printer and ironing the image onto the linoleum with no success.  I also tried a transfer marker but that didn't work either.  In the end I flipped it over and burnished it which barely transferred the graphite enough for me to essentially re-draw the image onto the linoleum.  Next time I will uses Saral transfer paper.

In order to carve the linoleum I had to buy new tools.  I ended up purchasing Flexcut's Deluxe Palm Set and quickly realized I should have bought the Micro Palm Set.  Even after receiving the Micro set I bought a few extra individual smaller v-gouges.  I bought the Flexcut tools because I really like the sliptsrop they sell that allows me to sharpen the tools regularly.  Below you can see a time-lapse video of the carving process.

When I am carving I also like to have a reverse image of my sketch so I can look between my carving and my sketch without having to reverse things in my head.  I scanned the sketch, printed it tiled, and then taped it together.

Above is a close-up of the carving and below is the finished carving before inking.

I decided to hand-burnish a proof at home to check and make sure everything looked OK before going to the press.  To make it easier on me, I used color straight out of the can and printed onto thin rolled paper.  Here is a video of pulling the proof.

The image below shows the plate inked after proofing.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to have the "carve lines" in the negative space around the pod.  Originally I wanted to hedge my bets and print some with the lines and some without.  I researched how to use a mask and contacted one of the most amazing printmakers I know, Vanessa Lubach, about how to do it.  She said she prints the linocut onto a piece of paper or thin card and then cuts out the parts to use as a mask.  She then uses rolled up pieces of masking tape to attach the mask to the plate after inking.  Below you can see my plate masked off (some of the inked lines showed through the mask a bit but didn't print.)  It was one of the few things that actually went smoothly during printing (except I forgot to use the mask a couple times).

After proofing at home I took the plate to Tiger Lily and was excited to finally print using a press.  But using a press has its own set of problems.  I spent three very long days of printing and really struggled to get a good print.  The image kept appearing smudgy.  I tried everything from changing my ink, stripping the plate,sanding the plate, changing the pressure, changing the blankets, changing the direction, using more ink, using less ink, changing the paper, wetting the paper...you name it, I tried it.  I have to give a special thank you to Susan Naylor for helping me print and for endlessly brainstorming about how to fix the problem.  (Susan you are a woman of infinite patience!)  On the third day I got maybe two or three prints that were mildly acceptable but then the smudgy problem came back.

After a while I started to question whether I could even pull a good print from this plate.  In order to make myself feel better I ended up bringing it home and hand-burnishing five or six prints.  I felt lucky just to have some good prints.  I am still determined to figure out how to pull a good print using the press and I think one more day of tinkering might get me there. 

But for now, at least I have some good prints and can proceed with building myself a website where they will be available for puchase.  If you can't wait until then and would like to buy a print now you can contact me at nessydesigns@gmail.com.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 
 -Maya Angelou

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ligularia Sketch & Pattern

This year I bought a plant I had never seen before called Ligularia dentata.  I bought the plant for its beautiful foliage.  The stems and underside of the leaves are a gorgeous red/purple and the shape of the leaves are like lily pads.  I planted it next to my mill stone fountain and it looks perfect there...giving the area a pond/bog feel.  The plant loves water and will wilt in the middle of the day when it is in mid-day sun.  But it usually springs right back in the evening...especially if you water it daily.

I was super excited because in mid-July these strange-looking leaf pods sprouted up that were very distinct from the other foliage.  As you can see in the sketch above there was a main pod that held both a fly-trap-looking leaf and another pod of yellow flower buds.  It is really very stunning.  Every day I would examine the progress when I watered and at the end of July I was rewarded with bountiful, yellow, daisy-like blooms.

I have been meaning to sketch this plant for a while and I thought instead of using my usual black pen that I would try colored pens.  In the end I thought maybe I shouldn't have used pens at all...but it is always good to try different things.  And some times if I am not satisfied with a drawing it is fun to try and find a way to like it better.  So in that spirit after I finished scanning it I decided to play with the image even more.  I cropped the image two different ways and then experimented with rotating the image.

After I looked at all the options I chose my favorite one shown below.

Then I took that pattern and again made repeats of it to create a wallpaper.

I don't know what I will do with this but you never know when Ligularia wallpaper might come in handy! (Oooh, maybe as a the interior lining of a home-made book!...or wrapping paper!...or maybe a cell phone cover!...the possibilities are endless!)

“This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now.
And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
― Alan W. Watts

Friday, August 26, 2016

Finding Stillness and Joy in the Garden

Lately when I am gardening I have had to wear long pants and sleeves and a mosquito net over my head.  This, combined with the VERY high temperatures has made me hot and sweaty and in a bit of a hurry to finish the job and get the heck back inside.  But every so often I am so struck by the beauty I have to tear off my mosquito net, run into the house and return with camera in hand.  Such was the case with the Japanese anemone above.  The light was hitting the blooms just right and even though there was a slight breeze, the anemone and I shared a moment of quiet stillness as I held my breath and took the photo.

And later in the week I found a joy so irresistible in my succulent garden I had to scurry in the house again looking for the camera.  I planted a new kind of sedum this year called Purple Emperor (above) that has dark purple leaves.  I can imagine this plant as an emperor wearing a lovely dusty color cloak and what a stunning surprise when the pink lining was revealed!   OK, maybe the heat was going to my head...but the colors of this sedum are particularly ravishing.

And right next to the emperor lives an unidentified succulent that finally produced these jubilant white blooms.  I have been curious for weeks what was going to come out of these long stalks that shot up about a month ago.

Below is another kind of Japanese anemone that lives in my backyard and has spread rapidly.  I don't have the heart to control it because I love the flowers so much.  They are also very nice cut flowers.

I think this post has been a bit rambling but I feel a little rusty since I took a break from the blog this summer.  It wasn't a planned break...but life just got busy and had other plans for me.  As I worked on the photos tonight and struggled with writing this post it felt good to be back doing my "thing."  And I thank those out there who noticed and bugged me to get back to it (Frank!).

"The forest and I was all there was. In the deep still silence I could feel the Earth's beating heart."
-Author unknown

Monday, August 15, 2016

House Sketch

I have a neighbor who has a birthday very close to mine and every year we like to go to lunch and exchange a little gift.  This year I decided to give her a sketch of her house. 

¡Feliz cumpleaƱos amiga querida!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

You're Joking!


This project has been a long time in the making so I am very excited to announce the publication of You're Joking: Animal Jokes for Children.  The idea for this book began because my sister-in-law, May Farnsworth, and her 5-year-old daughter love to tell each other jokes.  They began playing a game where her daughter would tell her the name of an animal and May would come up with a joke.  When they went to the bookstore to look for books with jokes they could only find books full of text with no illustrations.  That is when May contacted me with the idea to make our own illustrated joke book.

I began work on the book about five years ago.  The illustration process probably took me a little over one year, fitting it in between my freelance work.  To me, the most interesting part of making these illustrations was seeing how my simple sketches could be worked into full color finished work.  Here are a few examples.

Skunk Sketches

Skunk outlined in Illustrator

Skunk shading in Photoshop

As you can see I start with a very simple sketch which I scan and bring into Illustrator.  Once in Illustrator I trace my sketch to outline all of the forms.  Then each leg, arm, head, nose, ear, etc. is brought into Photoshop in a different layer where I do the shading to complete the final illustration.  It is a tedious process but I love the soft, subtle shading you can do in Photoshop.

Pig Sketch

Pig sketch outlined in Illustrator

Shaded version done in Photoshop

The final book includes 30 pages of illustrated jokes and a "Did You Know" section with fun facts about each animal in the book. You're Joking features everything from hungry jellyfish to fancy flies to playful armadillos.  This book is perfect for the young reader interested in telling jokes and learning puns, and/or the budding biologist (not to mention those who just love beautifully illustrated books).  

The book is now available at Amazon.com or Black Rose Publications.  I would greatly appreciate any help in spreading the word about our new book.  Also, if you feel so inclined, please leave a review on Amazon.

If I have any words of wisdom out there for someone who wants to write, publish, or illustrate their own children's book, it is to "BE TENACIOUS".  Keep working at it, keep sending it out, and above all...make it happen in some way, shape or form. (Oh, and also try and have "pun" while your at it!)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


The other day George asked if I wanted to taste the kohlrabi we got from our farm share.  Of course, my first answer was "no" and I would have continued going on about my business... but I turned around and saw him holding the most incredibly fantastic object.  This purple beauty had quite a rotund, purple body with bizarre thin arms that reached upwards creating a "cage" of sorts and ending in leafy greens.  I was so struck by it that we immediately took it outside and photographed it against the fence.  And by a stroke of luck the light at that moment was magical and streamed over the fence to illuminate this mythical vegetable.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”― W.B. Yeats

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Withrow High School Sketch

Last Friday Christina and I sketched Withrow High School.  When I first moved to Cincinnati I couldn't believe the architecture of the high schools.  They look like college campuses!  I have always wanted to sketch this one particularly because of the awesome bridge. 

As we were sketching a man walked up who worked in the alumni office.  He offered to give us a tour and we took him up on it after we were done.  He took us into the fantastic auditorium which had been refurbished.  You can see Christina's photo of it here.  He also took us into the old library which had incredibly tall ceilings and ornate plasterwork.  There were also lots of other people's sketches of the building and it was fun to see all the different styles.  You can see Christina's sketch here.

"Observation is at its core an expression of love..."  -Takashi Hiraide

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Industrial Fan Planter

Two weekends ago I went to the Springfield Antique Extravaganza and could not resist buying this industrial fan cover that had been turned into a planter.  I love the idea of a really wide, flat planter.  I was going to wait to take a photo of it in a couple weeks after the plants had grown in more but we had a slight setback.  The day after I hung the planter I watered it really well with the hose and then went to the front yard to water.  When I returned to the backyard, there was my planter on the ground with all the plants spilled around it.  Apparently the hook we used was not strong enough and had given way.  But after a trip to the hardware store we are back in business, although a bit stunted. 

Buy planter or make your own with the face of an old fan and chains.

Buy coco liner from a roll and cut a circle that fits the face of the fan.

Fill lined planter with dirt.

Plant flowers being mindful of where the chains will pull up.

Hang with VERY strong chain!

Sometimes projects like these take a little work but I can't tell you how much I love seeing the planter every time I pull in the driveway.  There is something so enchanting about the way it "floats" and turns with the breeze.  Hopefully soon we will have big, healthy flowers and potato vines hanging over the edge (and no more mishaps!)

It is now the end of July and I wanted to post an updated photo of the planter which has grown like crazy! I think the potato vine was quite happy living there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Leatherleaf Mahonia

My front flower bed has been taken over by Soloman's seal which makes it virtually impossible to walk in or weed that bed.  In the corner of this bed lives a Mahonia plant that I hardly ever notice because it is next to a dogwood and hidden by all sorts of treachery.  But a couple weeks ago I decided to try and clear some of the incredibly prolific Soloman's seal and this is what I found.

I have always loved the beautiful soft green-blue berries on this plant but I never noticed the striking orange color of the leaves.  The contrast between both color and texture of berries and leaves is a feast for the eyes.

And the red stems are also interesting.  Their shape in the above photo reminds me of a thin, red, furry spider.  And in case you thought this plant couldn't get any more showy, check out the deep blue-purple color the berries will become in a month. 

But beauty often comes with a price and, although the plant is beautiful, I just realized it is considered invasive.  I know for sure this plant is a Mahonia, but there is Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia bealeiM. aquifolium is native but M. bealei is from China.  My suspicion is this is the invasive one. If anyone out there can confirm this leave me a comment. 

Before I realized this plant is banned in several states I had already chosen this quote because this song popped in my head when I saw these photos...so I am going to leave you with it anyway.

"Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go, "Aah, aah, aah"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe."
-Katy Perry

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wabi-sabi Peony

I love peonies at all stages of their life cycle.  George was asking me why my top two photos (above and below) were photos of a peony when it was past its prime.  I thought about it and it comes back to the idea of wabi-sabi.  It is easy to appreciate a flower when it is in full bloom.  Everything is perky, erect, saturated and striving toward the sun.  But after that, the stamens relax, the colors fade, and the inner parts, once hidden by all the fanfare, are revealed.  And if you keep watching you realize these inner parts are quite spectacular and hide the plant's most precious cargo.  I don't believe there could be a more beautiful metaphor for our lives than that.

But to be fair...all the stages are beautiful and I wanted an excuse to post all my favorite peony photos from this year. So here are a few more, including an amazing, gigantic, yellow Itoh peony my mom bought me last year plus a few of the old standards.

As I was looking around for wabi-sabi quotes I found this one by Amy Krouse Rosenthal that I thought captured the moment perfectly:

"I was noticing how more and more I was feeling both happy (acutally, content) and sad at the same time.  Happiness always seemed to be tinged with sadness, and strangely, vice versa.  I started asking around if anyone knew a word that meant happy and sad at the same time.  ...It is feeling content, peaceful, hyper-aware of loss, in awe, perfectly, gently happy/sad.  What is the word?"