Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adventures in Lithography, Part 2

Stone lithography starts with a slab of limestone. Limestone is used because it has both water- and grease-loving properties, which properties are exploited to create the print. You need to grain or grind the stone down to a smooth, flat surface, using carborundum grit and a heavy steel disc with a handle called a levigator. Repeated passes of each grit with water eventually smooth out the stone surface.

Once the stone has been grained, the surface has been opened up and made very receptive to grease, so you have to be very careful not to touch it with your fingers. The image can be drawn or created using greasy materials such as lithographic crayons, liquid tusche, etc. Once the image has been completed, the stone has to be transformed with a chemical reaction which desensitizes the non-printing areas to ink (makes them more water loving) and enhances the image areas which are supposed to accept ink (makes them more oil loving). First, the image is protected with rosin, which helps keep the greasy image from breaking down during the etch. Next, talc is rubbed on to keep the printing area from "blooming" during printing (like what happens to newsprint wrapping your greasy fish & chips). Then an etch solution is mixed up with drops of nitric acid in gum arabic. The proportions are related to the type of stone, type of drawing, amount of etch required, etc. This etch solution is spread evenly over the stone over a three minute period, then the fine gum arabic film is "stretched" across the stone by buffing with tarlatan.

The image area is wiped out with paint thinner, then rubbed up with a very thin film of asphaltum and thinner. The gum film is washed out with water, and then the image is rolled up with a special leather roller & "short" (thick) roll-up ink. The image is proofed to determine whether the etch was successful, then a second etch is prepared, applied, and "stretched". This second etch is rubbed up with the colour of the ink to be printed; if printing with black, asphaltum can be used, and the gum film is washed out.

The stone has to be kept damp using a sponge with water during proofing and printing to keep the etched areas (non-greasy) from scumming up with ink. The print is proofed using newsprint, to get the ink layer up to the right level for printing on the editioning paper. The print is then editioned. Various registration methods can be used: we had a frame set up around the stone with two bars set at mid-point that bars and T-marks were placed. Bars were lightly penciled in at the back of the editioning paper at the mid-point; these were aligned with the registration marks on the frame, to (hopefully!) create a repeatable alignment of paper on the stone.

We first created a print with just brown ink, as that's what I'd had in my mind for the final print. Unfortunately, even though the roll up looked great, the roller used for editioning is a different surface, and apparently the roll up roller pushed the ink into the microscopic layers representing the mid-values. So the brown started to loose the mid-values really fast.

So we tried to do some just black prints using the roll up roller. It's too difficult to completely clean out the leather roller to use any other colour than black; it's scraped to remove the ink. The black prints resurrected the mid-values.

Next, Pat suggested that we do a "double hit"; print another colour ontop of the brown, directly. We chose black using the roll up roller. The colour result, while not obvious in the digital image, is much richer and denser. We ended up doing more brown prints then printed black on top to create the foundation for the edition.

Adventures in Lithography, Part 1

Last year, I was introduced to a guy who is now a great print buddy, Pat Hill, who lives in Mill Bay on Vancouver Island, just north of Victoria. We met through the Printmakers Only Group, and he invited us over to his studio for a visit. He's got a fully stocked stone lithography studio (Pal Press) in his basement, and I arranged a week of tuition with him last spring. There were some interesting interruptions (goats being born and needing some serious attention not the least of which), but I did learn some stuff, and successfully editioned four prints.

I put all four into the Summer Gallery last year at the Federation of Canadian Artists on Granville Island and sold one of each! It was a great event for me, and Pat was very happy that the lithos were so successful.

Dad had a falling down cabin on his property (which has now completed its descent into disintegration). I created a conte drawing of the cabin from a photo Dad took in 1995 a number of years ago; Dad & Judy bought that drawing and it's been hanging above their bed ever since. I really like the image, and wanted to try again, and knew that it would be perfect for a stone lithograph.

This year, I had fewer interruptions, and worked on my own for the first part of the week. I used lithographic crayons entirely. Lithographic crayons are greasy in proportion to the value produced when used on the stone. This is important, because something that makes a black mark doesn't necessarily translate to the same value (darkness) on the print. The best media to use on the stone are those that have proportional grease content to their "blackness". The grease content matters because it impacts the chemical reaction in the stone surface which causes the lithographic print to succeed. Here's the development of the image on the stone (the dimensions of the stone are approximately 18"x25"):

WIP - drawing on the stone

WIP - drawing on the stone

WIP - drawing on the stone

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lessedra 2007

Kinsol II
Kinsol II
Technique: relief print
Media: Speedball water-soluble relief ink on Strathmore Bristol
Dimensions: 4"x3"
Year: 2006

I was one of the many international artists accepted into the Lessedra annual mini print exhibition in 2007. This year, they upped the fee to US$70, and it's a bit steep. Basically, you get a great catalogue at the end of the show, but it's kind of like vanity publishing, I reckon. I don't know that anyone who applies gets turned away, and other printmakers who've entered feel that way too.

That said, entering last year's competition just paid itself off! I had a lovely email from a lady in France who'd seen my Kinsol II print in the catalogue and decided that she really wanted to buy it. I sent her my Etsy link, and the next day she purchased it! Too bad it didn't happen a couple of weeks ago; I didn't bother entering Lessedra this year because with BIMPE & the Ottawa mini print, I just couldn't justify the entry fee. Maybe next year... :)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Protest Loses Punch

Recently, a YouTube video was posted of BC's world-renowned wildlife artist, Robert Bateman, making a political protest against potential oil tanker traffic from Prince Rupert with construction of a proposed pipeline from Alberta. The northern waters off British Columbia contain many ecologically sensitive areas, not to mention some extremely treacherous areas of navigation through narrow and swift-current channels, with dangerous weather conditions often prevailing as the norm rather than the exception.

While I certainly don't disagree with his protest, and absolutely salute his support of this ecologically and economically sensitive and important issue, I find that the protest is somewhat deceptive. Watch the video:

Looking at the video, doesn't that look like an original painting? It's not - and at least the Toronto Star's article and the Times Colonist article both of Friday, March 21, 2008, admit that it's a reproduction (although erroneously labeling it a print). Both articles indicate that this reproduction is probably worth a couple of thousand dollars - for a reproduction that was never created by Bateman's own hand, just a glorified photocopy of it. Oh, but I suppose I digress. That's not really what this rant is about.

So if he's really honest about his protest, that we should "do anything it takes" to prevent this (tanker traffic through these ecologically sensitive areas), then maybe destroying something of actual value to him, as much value as he implies that the delicate and diverse ecology of our Pacific coast has for him, would have more impact. I honestly don't think that slapping some black paint onto a "canvas" with a reproduced image (which, frankly, didn't take any real effort on Bateman's part to create in the first place, whereas on his original paintings he spends hours, days, and weeks creating and developing the images).

And thanks to our own Alison McKenzie of the Printmakers Only Group, made a similar comment in the letters to the editor of the Times Colonist on Saturday, March 22. Kudos, Alison!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Inspiration from Statues

There are two statues flanking the entrance to the Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa, sculpted by Walter S. Allward. To the west is Truth (Veritas) to the east is Justice (Justitia). Veritas - Walter S. Allward Justitia - Walter S. Allward
Neither are particularly typical of the traditional representations of these morals; they're both pretty dark, but especially the one of Justice. I took numerous photos of these statues when we were in Ottawa this autumn, and knew that I wanted to do something with them. I had originally intended to create a reduction cut print for both, but after the first colour, I knew that a monochromatic approach would be much more powerful and representative, to me, of the feeling of those statues.

I decided to use the new "black linoleum" that I picked up from Opus. It really is beautiful to carve. So beautiful, in fact, that I got somewhat carried away. "Truth" was the first one that I carved and before I got going on "Justice", I wanted to proof the image. I managed to patch one of my bad carving choices (it wasn't a mistake in the sense of an "oh crap my tool just slipped") but the other I just have to live with or recarve the image.

Proof - "Truth"

Edition - "Truth"

By carefully trimming the edge of base of the statue and using that edge as a template to cut the top of the plinth, I managed to patch this just fine. This only worked because I was able to carve texture over the seam. It's very helpful to have a woodworker around - Dave gave me the instructions for how to do the patch relatively seamlessly.

Anyway, here are the finished (for now) two prints - although the colours look different digitally, in real life, it's the same ink.

Truth (after Allward)
Truth (after Allward)
Technique: Relief print (using new "black linoleum")
Media: Faust AquaLine water-soluble inks, Masa paper
Dimensions: 11 1/2"x5 1/2"
Year: 2008

Justice (after Allward)
Justice (after Allward)
Technique: Relief print (using new "black linoleum")
Media: Faust AquaLine water-soluble inks, Masa paper
Dimensions: 11 1/2"x5"
Year: 2008

I am very pleased with the results. They're both very powerful images; there is one thing that really bugs me about "Truth" compositionally - can you spot it? But it doesn't make it a bad image, just less strong. I'm really pleased with "Justice"; I think that I managed to successfully capture the feeling of darkness that I got from the actual statue.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Carving Block Material

I was in Opus the other day ordering mat cutting services, and Dave dragged me over to the printmaking section to show me a Breeze Cut "black linoleum" block. One of our Printmakers Only Group members had apparently discussed it at the last meeting (which I wasn't able to make), so I had actually heard of it. It's a very dark grey (much darker than battleship linoleum), and it stinks, although that appears to "vent off" over time if you leave it out in the open. I think it's some kind of vinyl material. It's slightly thinner than unmounted linoleum, and doesn't seem to curl. It is very easy to carve, but kind of hard to see a regular pencil line on (they're very similar in value). The surface is darker than the interior, so you can see the contrast once you've carved it.

I didn't know how it would print, so I carved out a piece and tried it today. Here's the carved block:

Carved block of "Breeze Cut"

and here's the proof:

(it's kind of dark in the photo). This material doesn't deform like Safety Kut, yet is just as easy to carve (and in some respects, more accurate), and is capable of very fine detail with the right tools. It seems to ink up just fine, even though it seems to have surface defects when you look at it before carving. It seems as though you can carve both sides, although I haven't yet, and there seems to be more consistency in quality between pieces than I've had with Safety Kut, but I'll reserve judgment until I try some more. Anyway, it was a really good experiment, and I think I might have to buy more (even despite the stink!).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Great Finds

Creating that Squidoo lens on printmaking artists has led to some amazing conversations and great finds. Plus, I sold my second work from Etsy! Someone fell in love with "Cryptic", so it's now being shipped to Spain. Yay!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Printmaking Artists

For a while, I had a link list on the right-hand panel of my blog showing many printmaking artists that I've discovered on the internet. The list got unmanageable, so I thought I'd add the list to my Squidoo lens "All About Printmaking", which I'd originally created as a "go to" for printmaking arts, techniques, supplies, etc. That got unmanageable pretty quickly, too, so I've now created a brand new Squidoo lens, "Printmaking Artists on the Web". I'll try to add to it on a regular basis, as many of the people listed have links to other printmakers. Plus, more printmakers keep contacting me about the "Print vs. Reproduction" post. So much for the comment someone threw at me a few months ago that "print is dead". Hah!

As a result of discovering all of these printmakers online, I've also found more printmakers' profiles on Flickr & Etsy, so I'm planning on creating two new lenses devoted to printmakers on those sites, too. But that will be sometime in the future; it takes ridiculous amounts of time to set these things up, and I've certainly wasted enough time on the internet the last few days.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Field & FlowersField & Flowers by Katka

This world of the internet is quite amazing. I had a wonderful "play date" with another printmaker that I met through Wet Canvas on Friday; we got together and chatted for at least 3 hours about all sorts of stuff, including art, inspirations, techniques & motivations. Kate's work has a very illustrative quality to it, with Eastern European influences that give it an almost folk-tale feel. She protests that she's really just getting started and doesn't have the same experience as I do; well, she doesn't have the luxury of time that I do (even though I don't use it as I should!). I think her work stands her in good stead, and I'm very excited to see what she continues to produce when time permits.

Through my musings on "slow art", I met another artist and creative person, with whom I had a delightful and fascinating conversation, again about our art and thoughts about creativity. Luckily for me, she fell in love with my "Crossroads" print, which resulted in my very first Etsy sale! The print was shipped off this morning all packaged up to keep it safe during its travels. I hope that it is enjoyed in its new home.

Triad by Heather Assaf

An artist that I met through my response to Genn's "Print vs Reproduction" is an Ottawa-based printmaker who also showed in the inaugural Ottawa School of Art impression:Miniature international print exhibition in 2006. Her work is very dynamic and colourful, predominantly using collagraph and intaglio, in an abstracted and loose manner. She's planning a trip out to Vancouver this spring, so I'm hoping we can connect to do a gallery crawl on Granville Island while she's in town.

In the Shadows (Ptarmigan)
In the Shadows (Ptarmigan) by Sherrie York

Finally, a comment on a recent post lead me to artist Sherrie York in Colorado, who is a brilliant illustrator, watercolourist and printmaker, also in relief. While her watercolours are lovely, her linocuts, to me, really sing. The fluid gestural quality of her lines, the extremely sophisticated and subtle use of colours and shapes, together with her incredible sense of composition create absolute masterpieces of natural history in print art form. She also has a blog, which I'll certainly be keeping a watch on; her field sketches are delightful gems capturing life in its essence, and she posts those, along with her photographs, paintings and prints, regularly. She's giving a field sketch workshop this July in Colorado, that, if I had unlimited funds to travel, I'd be signed up for in a shot. Thanks for contacting me, Sherrie!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Moth Study

I've been entertaining myself by submitting ID requests into the (a great volunteer, mostly expert amateur, resource to identify all sorts of insect and insect-like critters) to find out what insects I've been taking pictures of.

While one of my favourites remains:

Golden Dung Fly

not the least of which reason is the name: golden dung fly (honestly, that says it all); but I also submitted a lovely-patterned moth photo:

Sphinx Moth

which turned out to be a type of Sphinx Moth, and I wanted to do something with it.

Being more interested in the print and the result rather than spending time on the drawing (I'm lazy - that's normally how I work for prints), I traced the photo onto onion skin (very thin, lightweight tracing paper) then rubbed the tracing onto my piece of Safety Kut. Then it was just a matter of carving those delicate little lines.

This first print is just one colour (Faust AquaLine water soluble relief ink, using a lot of transparent base to very little pigmented ink, to get a nice, transparent feel to the print) on natural Kitakata paper, and the image size (for all of them) is about 3 1/5"x 5".


The second print is the same, with a little bit of darker ink rolled onto the body & tips of the wings.


The last print is the darker ink on Thai Chiri Kozo paper which has then been wet-mounted onto grey Rising Stonehenge.


While the photos really don't do the images justice (they flatten the texture and sheen of the papers), they give you at least some idea of what the print looks like. I am particularly happy with the print on the Thai Chiri Kozo - that really helps the moth to hide out on the paper, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

As for mounting, I know I didn't do it exactly right, but it has been done with archival media (nori paste), and it looks pretty good (although I screwed up one, darn it). It would be so much easier to do this with a press, but there ya go.