Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sweetgum Woodcut - Final Print

When I thought about how this project started I realized the entire idea began from a failed attempt on a different project.  The story began this spring when I was on Facebook and saw there was a call to artists to submit sculpture proposals for the town of Silverton.  I had not done large sculpture in a while so I was surprised that my mind kept going back to the idea of submitting a proposal.  I tried to ignore those thoughts by going on a walk.  While walking through my neighborhood I kept coming across vast amounts of sweetgum balls.  And that is when the idea came to me to weld a giant metal sculpture.

Once I thought of the idea I couldn't stop thinking about how I would do it and the reality of making such a large sculpture.  For days I tried to push the idea out of my head, but I would go to bed thinking about it and wake up thinking about it.  And every day on my walk I would come across sweetgum balls everywhere.

The next day I decided to walk towards Xavier.  I needed a ride to Dayton later that week and thought I might ask the sculpture professor who lives in Dayton for a ride.  When I stopped by his office he wasn't there.  I gave up on the idea because "what was the likelihood that it would work out?" ...and besides I hadn't seen him in years.  As I was passing the last building on campus who did I almost bump into walking out the door?...the sculpture professor who happily offered me a ride to Dayton.  Later that week I rode up to Dayton with him and we talked about various options, materials, sizes, bases, methods, etc. of making the sweetgum sculpture.  He was so encouraging I thought maybe I should actually do it.

When we got to Dayton he dropped me off near his house and my Mom picked me up in her car.  When we got to my Mom's house I was unloading the car when I saw something on the floor.  When I bent over to see what it was, it was a single beautiful sweetgum ball.  In my head I thought, "OK universe!  I get it!  You don't have to keep throwing sweetgums in my path!"  So I submitted my proposal

“Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.”
― Napoleon Hill

As you might guess, I did not receive the commission to make my giant sculpture.  But around the same time I came across another post by Lyell Castonguay about the BIGINK.  The BIGINK is an extraordinary opportunity for printmakers to create a large woodcut that is printed by Lyell on his giant travelling press.  If I wanted to apply to participate, I had to come up with an idea for a giant woodcut fast. And what do you think sprang into my head?  I had had sweetgums floating around my head for months so it was the obvious choice.  I submitted my application and my idea was accepted!

I began the process by making a giant pencil sketch, transferred it to my plate, and then spent the next couple months carving.  You can see the carving process here.  I carved up until the very last minute before we took off to Columbus to participate in the BIGINK.  It was a truly remarkable experience that I highly recommend.  I loved meeting the other artists and working with them to print everyone's woodcuts.  Lyell printed three prints total of each artists' woodcuts and we each got to take two of our own prints home with us.  You can see my post about that day here.

The two prints I brought home from the BIGINK were printed on beautiful Japanese paper.  But I usually like to print on thick paper so I decided I would try to hand burnish six more prints.  I have only hand-burnished my usual safety-kut lino and was a little nervous about how it would go with a woodcut.  Luckily I had some help from two George's.  The George on the left is a Tiger Lily Press intern who not only helped me burnish but also helped me cut my paper down to size.  The George on the right is my husband.  A GIANT thank you to both of them not only for their muscle but also putting up with my crazy attention to detail.  Also a big thank you to my Dad who helped me cut paper and align my registration pins.  So much gratitude and love for these guys.

In the photo above you can see what a difference the paper makes.  On the left was a thin test paper I use to prime the plate and on the right is the thicker Stonehenge paper.  People like to use thinner paper because you can see where you still need to burnish more.  But I do love the feel of thick paper and you can still see through it a little.

It took two days to pull six prints.  I experimented with spending a bit more time on each print than I had in the past.  I found that lifting the paper up to peak underneath to see spots that needed more work was very helpful.  And while the paper is lifted I tried adding more ink to the plate.  You do risk misaligned or blurry images so you have to be very careful not to pull the paper up too far.  But I found it to be very effective at fixing light spots.

Below you can see the final print with my chop signature added in the bottom right hand corner.  (You can see a video of adding a chop here.)

In the following photos I tried to capture a few of the intimate encounters between the pairs of arms nestled in this sweetgum world.

Whenever I start a project I have no idea where it will take me or how long or involved it will be.  I had no idea that submitting a sculpture proposal would end up in a giant sweetgum woodcut.  But I do know that it is important to pay attention when something keeps popping up in my head. And to notice when the universe showers me with sweetgums.  I used to think these things were casual coincidences.  But I am discovering these synchronicities are signposts on the path if I only have eyes and ears to recognize them.  I am slowly learning to have trust in what life is offering me and to rest in the many arms of that mystery.  It doesn't mean that I can rest on my laurels.  It means I listen when I hear the call to pick up a seed pod and put it in my pocket.  And I take action to plant that seed when the time is right.

“What seeds are you planting?”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

If you are interested in purchasing a print, visit my website
Thank you for going on this journey with me!

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