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 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Chair Reupholstery Project

Three years ago I was driving with my next door neighbor when he yelled at me to "Pull Over!!!"  He had spied a treasure in someone's trash...four almost-matching wood chairs.  We threw them in the back of my truck and felt super lucky to have come upon such cool chairs. 

In the photo below you can see they were stained a nice color.  Normally I am all about keeping the signs of wear and tear, but at the time I thought a coat of paint would help unify them and tidy them up a bit. I decided that I would prime and paint them.  However the weather turned after I primed them and once they were back in the basement they never came back out for more painting.

They then sat in my basement for three years.  I happened to have a couple photos of them because Bubo thought they made a wonderful jungle jim.  He is quite the acrobat and likes to impress us by climbing in precarious places.

If you have been following the blog you know that we just re-finished the basement for my studio.  I had decided to make the bigger room a workspace with a large table and I ordered the Theodora table and bench from World Market.  I figured I could finally dig out the old chairs and would use them around the table.  When the table arrived at our house it sat in the box for a couple months while we waited for our renovation to finish up.  So when I finally opened it I was surprised how yellow it was.  It did not match the floor at all!  Panic!!! I knew I either had to return it or change the color.

So one day my next door neighbor brought over some steel wool and alcohol and I rubbed the table and bench down.  I tried several different stains but ended up using some paint that I had bought for the back door mixed with water.  It worked wonderfully and I was so happy how it looked with the flooring.  Unfortunately, when I dug the chairs out and looked at them I had the sinking feeling that I wanted to strip the primer off.  I tried to ignore the feeling but sometimes you just can't ignore your gut. 

One day I hooked up the orbital sander and thought I would just try it on one chair to see how it went.  George took pity on me and ended up sanding the majority off.  I then took over the sanding where the sander wouldn't reach.  I even dug out my old dremel tool which worked incredibly well in the holes of the back. Above you can see the chairs after sanding the primer off and coating with poly-urethane.  It was a CRAZY amount of work, but they looked really good with the floor.

Luckily we had a short trip after all of the sanding and sealing so when I came home I was ready to move on to the next phase of the project...sewing.

Earlier this year I had taken a trip to Guatemala.  While I was there I visited an incredible store filled with everything under the sun.  But my favorite part of the store was a GIANT bin full of used huipiles.  A huipil is a traditional shirt that often has embroidery specific to the town where it was woven.  I spent a very long time rummaging through the bin and came home with three used huipiles

You can't tell from the photo above, but one of the huipiles I bought was enormous.  I figured I could cut it apart and have enough embroidery to form a patch in the center of each chair.  The sewing part took me WAY longer than I thought it would.  Below you can see that two of the chairs contain the portion of the shirt with the neck hole.  I ended up filling it in with the extra grey from the other panels.  I also ended up buying brown twill tape to seal up the edges.

I ended up having to sand off the old foam from the wood chair bases.  It was green and crumbly and would make a mess every time I touched them.  George helped me pull out lots of old staples and fabric too.

In the end I am so pleased with how the the table and chairs look together and with the flooring and the pop of color from the seats.

One of the final steps of all my projects is to do a final photo shoot.  The weather this week was beautiful so I decided to take the chairs outside.  If anyone had seen me they would have thought I was crazy.  I photographed the chairs all over the backyard.

Afterwards I brought the chairs inside and ended up playing around with photographing the cushions just by themselves. 

Although the project essentially took three years I was so happy to bring new life to these old chairs.  Several times we came close to getting rid of them because they were in the way and I often doubted whether I would ever do anything further with them.  I also have a bad habit of buying fabric and then never using it.  So I was doubly pleased to bring new life to the old huipil.  So I guess the moral of the story is to keep hoarding all the old stuff in your basement because you never know when you might need it!  OK, maybe that is not the best message.

A better message is to find the joy in giving new life to old things.  Yes, that is what I meant to say the first time.  There is something incredibly satisfying about the process.  I intimately know these chairs. I have touched and scrubbed and painted every nook and cranny of these old chairs.  By caring for them in this way I have learned to love them.  That is not to say that we should be materialistic.  Rather we can learn to honor our possessions by giving them a full life span instead of throwing things in the trash as soon as their "newness" wears off.  I can't help but end this velvet chair post with a quote from the Velveteen Rabbit:   

“Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.” ― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit