Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the "Year in Review" bandwagon

I wasn't going to do this. I am tired of hearing "year in review" news, in general. Then, I figured, I need to remind myself of the cool stuff I managed to accomplish this year. I was feeling pretty low about how much art I accomplished this year. Or rather, felt that I'd not accomplished. Well, considering I was busy traveling around to the Cariboo, Vancouver Island, Washington a couple of times, and working quite a lot, what the heck!

Here are what I created in art this year:

1. Playing with new inks - Crows, 2. Cryptic 3, 3. Truth (after Allward), 4. Justice (after Allward), 5. Returning to the Land, 6. Xocoatl final, 7. Xmas 2008 - Final layer, 8. "Queen Of..." Final, 9. Tulips, 10. Rococo Parrot Tulip, 11. aspen sketch, 12. BHCB male, 13. WETA female - head, 14. WETA female, 15. Sow, 16. Sow extreme closeup!

Not only that, but I did manage to sell some stuff, too! My first three sales on Etsy:

Plus, I got into BIMPE for the first time this year (the first time I applied, I was declined), and sold one of the pieces I'd submitted:

I met so many incredible printmakers and artists this year, both in person and online. I joined Printsy, a Etsy Street Team for printmakers on Etsy. My shop has since lapsed, but I'm working hard to get some new stuff ready to upload for sale, hopefully by the end of this week.

Dave bought me a fabulous Richeson baby press as an early birthday present during my first visit to Daniel Smith in Seattle, then we were lucky enough to discover a Conrad combo press on eBay (thanks, Susan!!) just north of Seattle. I went from owning no presses and hand-burnishing all my prints to owning two presses!

I participated in my first open air art market. And I sold a couple of prints there, too!

I was asked to contribute to my first Paintings by Numbers event for the Federation of Canadian Artists:

And I became a board member for the FCA, too!

So, all in all, a surprisingly productive year. Here's looking to 2009 (which just started here) to be a more productive and art filled year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Work in Progress - Pig

For the last couple of years, we've been going to the local agricultural fairs in the autumn. It's great watching the kids with their animals, plus I take all sorts of heavy equipment (usually heritage tractors) photos. Mom took a few lovely pictures of a sow and her piglets, and this print is from the "extreme closeup" that she took. I think that the print is about 5" square (give or take). Here's the original sketch:

Unfortunately, the following are craptastic photos. I apologize. I'll scan the final when it's dry enough. Our studio only has natural light (great, but insufficient in winter for photography) and overhead fluorescent lights. Everywhere you stand, you cast a shadow over whatever you're working on. Ugh. But I have a great studio, and a great press, so I can't complain too loudly! Anyway, the first layer is a pale pink, second is a light blue. The print is on cream Rising Stonehenge paper, using Daniel Smith water-soluble relief inks.

First layer

Second layer

I am having a lot of fun with the Dremel, and am extremely impressed with the level of detail I can achieve. It sort of feels like I'm cheating, but what the heck!

Fruit Alphabet Exchange Spoiler - Part 3

I have finished the last two colours on the print! They look pretty darned good, but were a little tricky to do simultaneously. Worth the fiddling, though, because now it's done!!

Keeping with the lighter colours that I'd started with printing (rather than the bold ones from the original design), I did a light, spring green and a slightly light orange-red.

Rolling up the two colours was mostly easy, with a few places I had to be very careful where the brayer went on the block. The final little dot of red on the tip of the crown was added by just dipping my fingertip into the rolled out ink on the slab and dabbing it onto the block at the end of the roll up.

The alignment continued to work really well for this print; most of what I printed are worth keeping from an alignment perspective (a nice change from my last exchange print for Four Oceans Press!). You can see on this photo that there's a lot of "noise" on the block: areas which are proud enough to catch the ink from the brayer.

When hand-burnishing, this can be very challenging to avoid and/or clean up. When printing with the block placed first onto the press bed, then the paper on top, the "noise" can get picked up as the press somewhat shoves the paper into the recesses of the block. This technique of placing the paper on the press bed, then the block on top, eliminates the worry of picking up accidental ink from the recessed areas.

So I'm quite pleased overall with the final image:

I took a course on composition this past fall with Lalita Hamill (who is, by the way, a fabulous instructor and very knowledgeable about composition) through the Federation of Canadian Artists. We discussed the use of colour as a design element: a tool to help the viewer's eye be led around an image, or be drawn to a focal area. Red is for areas of focal interest, yellow helps to move the eye around, and blue can be used as a boundary, or rest area for the eye, or as a contrast. Of course, these are huge generalizations, but they're interesting to keep in mind.

I tried to thoughtfully utilize colour in this image. Part of the colour choice was, of course, related to the subject matter: for example, in order to symbolize Quebec with the fleur de lis, the colours really needed to be white and blue. Do you think that the colour use in this piece helps to move your eye around it? What do you find that you look at first? How about the path your eye takes around the piece?

One of my favourite uses of colour in this is the touch of red in the quince; that little hit of warmth, as well as the fact that the only bit of gradient carving occurs there (everywhere else is solid colour block), helps to bring attention to the quince, which is, essentially, the point behind this piece. The queen's direction of gaze also draws an imaginary line to the quince, another device to draw the viewer's eye.

I find this piece quite fun. There's a lot of stuff to keep you interested. All of the symbols that I ended up using for Q were:

Quince (of course!!)
Queue (her braid)
Quercus (oak leaves & acorns)

Did I miss any? I hope the participants in the exchange enjoy the print in their collection as much as I enjoyed developing it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fruit Alphabet Exhange Spoiler - Part 2

I started work on the actual print this week, in between snow shoveling. Dave had a bunch of MDF (medium-density fibreboard) that he said I could use, so I was keen to give it a try. He also bought me a FlexShaft for our Dremel rotary power carving tool. The FlexShaft is an extension of the tool that has a smaller diameter so that its easier to hold. It's also more maneuverable. The Dremel powers the extension piece, so you can carve easily without worrying about bumping the power control while carving, and it's lighter to use so your hands don't get tired quite as fast.

I did a few modifications to my original design. I liked the look of the crown, but then Dave reminded me that oak (Quercus species) starts with Q too, so I changed her crown to be one of oak leaves & acorns. I transferred the image to the MDF block by tracing the image with graphite paper (kind of like old-fashioned carbon paper, but less messy and much finer results). Unfortunately, the transfer wasn't quite strong enough, so I redrew the traced image with a pencil.

Then I revved up the Dremel & Shop-Vac and went to work.

Here it is inked up with the first ink colour:

I wanted to do this print on black paper, but that has its limitations. I find that the ink has to be pretty opaque to layer well. I don't quite have the patience to layer enough ink on for a purely opaque first layer, so the end result was a little grainy:

It actually looks pretty cool - kind of like stone. So, there it sat, drying, while we did more shoveling. And stuffed ourselves with Christmas fixings.

Next layer was the blue. I had originally planned on really bright, intense colours, but I changed my mind when doing the actual print; I figured that intense colours would likely be lost a little against the dark paper and grey background. So I tinted the colours down a bit.

The second layer was blue; I didn't want to remove all the non-blue elements of the block, because I'd need them later. It didn't really matter which colour I did next, but I figured blue was the easiest to create a mask for, as it represented large, solid areas on the print. I took one of the less than brilliantly printed ones and cut out the areas to be blue with an Exacto knife. I flipped the print over and masked the block so that I would only ink the parts exposed by the mask in blue.

Here's the block inked:

I thought I'd try a different registration method (why do I do my experimenting when I have to send the prints out to other printmakers?). I'm not usually very good at dropping the block onto a piece of paper, but this block, because it was thick, was easy to line up against the print and then gently lower down to the paper. Usually, I place the block on the press bed, then lay the paper on top. Using the paper on the press bed first then placing the block on top seems to work really well, at least with the thick MDF blocks. You can see that the design makes it easy for me to align the block with the print; there are carved lines that extend to the edge of the print (and block) which I can align.

Another benefit to laying the block onto the paper is that the paper doesn't get pressed into the block; so if the carving is low enough, but the brayer drops into the carved-out areas and leaves ink, then it doesn't print (yay!). You can see on this image the rough bits that are inked:

yet they didn't print:

I had to set up the block on the press with something to help keep the roller from running off the block or bumping up onto the block. I don't know that it would damage the press, but I can't imagine that it would be good for it.

Once again, the press worked absolutely beautifully. And this time I was using the Faust AquaLine inks, so I can't give any further thoughts about slipping yet. I'll try the DS inks at some point with the MDF to see how it goes. So far, the print is progressing very nicely. I have to wait a couple of days for the inks to dry before the last layer, where I'll try to do the two final colours at the same time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Printmakers from the Web

I was contacted this week by two printmakers via email, and I'd like to share their work with you.

Mila Radišić
Mila Radišić is a self-taught copper engraver from Croatia. Her work is imaginative, dynamic, iconic and, to my North American eyes, has a distinct European flavour. Many of her images are devleoped using a circular mark-making technique, much like pointillism. The result is rich in values yet subtle in contrasts. Mila's imagery reminds me somewhat of Mike Yazzolino's "A Collection of Thoughts and Pictures Based on the Alphabet" (a very esoteric Canadian publication that's now pretty hard to come by, and probably was when my family got it!).

Mila contacted me because she was interested in connecting with other printmakers. As she's self-taught, she'd like to learn more about her technique from others who practice it. Unfortunately, I do not use any method of intaglio printmaking, but I have forwarded some information to her in the hopes that she will be successful in connecting with someone who can help. Her online gallery is very cleverly set up with thumbnails of her works; the viewer's curiosity is immediately piqued by these intriguing windows to her incredible, detailed and creative works. Click on to discover more!

Wallace Koopmans
Wallace Koopmans is a painter, printmaker and photographer from Abbotsford, BC. One of Wallace's recent series is images of local historic landmarks. Wallace's use of his carving tools in mark-making is very distinctive and extremely effective at evoking a sense of place in his work. His interpretation of his subject matter is very graphic (check out "Detour") and deceptively simple; these are all monochromatic works, yet he achieves great depth and perspective using wonderfully dynamic textures and line work (see "Fraser Valley Buddhist Temple").

Two of my favourites are from his recent collection: have a look for "Lunch" and "Cricket" for a couple of very strong pieces. Wallace's work represents a consistent, distinctive style which demonstrates great skill and passion for his chosen printmaking medium (check out his photography, too - you'll see that his great sense of composition isn't just applied to printmaking).

Friday, December 19, 2008


I always love meeting artists that I've met online in person. Last week was the Federation Christmas party, and I met a fellow Wet Canvas artist, Tracey Costescu, who is also a Federation member. She had recently contacted me about painting a watercolour from one of my images that I'd posted onto the Wet Canvas Reference Image Library. The RIL is a great resource for artists; members post photos that they don't mind other people using as reference material for whatever art purposes, for sale or not. The restrictions are that the owner of the photograph retains copyright and ownership to that photograph, and no-one can else claim that the photograph is theirs. What a great place to look for ideas! One of the drawbacks, however, is that a lot of people use the RIL and recognize the photos thereon, and that can sometimes prejudice a jury against the resultant work, but usually only with the really popular images.

Anyway, she's finished her painting and will soon post to her blog the process to arrive the finished product. I've seen it, but you'll just have to check back on Tracey's blog to get the full scoop! Nice job, Tracey, and thanks for sharing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fruit Alphabet Exchange Spoiler - Part 1

I've signed on for the Four Oceans Press Fruit Alphabet Exchange, and selected Q, for quince. I started off being pretty literal with my idea for the print:

It was a bit of a play on the word "quince" ("fifteen" in Spanish; fifteen is a multiple of five, and five is a distinguishing characteristic of plants in the rose family) - there are five stages of the quince in the sketch - seed, flower, early fruit, ripening fruit, rotting fruit, with five seeds in the rotting fruit. The wasp is just to emphasize the concept of decay (plus I thought it would add an element of interest to the design). This image was based on a botanical illustration from the 19th century by Franz Eugene Köhler:

Not bad, but not quite yet what I was wanting. I started looking for other Q things:

QuinceFleur de LisQuilt

(OK, so for those of you wondering "but fleur de lis doesn't start with a Q!", it's the symbol of Quebec, so there!), and came up with this sketch:

Now is the fun part. I started to use just about every image editing software tool loaded onto my computer (obtained via various digital camera, printer and scanner purchases over the years), and figured out what I wanted to do using TechSmith's SnagIt Editor for this:

Printed it, scribbled on it with pencil for this:

Scanned again & made monochrome:

Then I graduated to GIMP for this next one:

And then the final:
It's not that I couldn't have used GIMP from the beginning, but I'm just learning the software and don't have an actual, hold-in-the-hands user manual (...yet! I just pre-ordered the new Beginning GIMP manual from Amazon yesterday and I am anxiously anticipating its arrival hopefully in early January). I was frustrating myself at the beginning of this process with what to do in GIMP, so abandoned it for more tried-and-true software until I ran up against complexities I couldn't handle otherwise. I am excited about learning GIMP, because I've got lots of ideas I'd like to experiment with using the software. So I managed to learn a couple of things doing this little sketch; but it's a very sophisitcated piece of software, so there is a lot more to be discovered!

Now, this is just the working sketch. I still have some tweaks to do, but what do you think?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Spilsbury Medal Show

Tonight was the opening and awards reception for the Spilsbury Medal Show at the Federation of Canadian Artists. I am eligible (first year was last year and I did get accepted with Crossroads), but have done no work this year that's worthy of submission. Well, not entirely true; my print "Returning to the Land" would have been worthy of submission, but as I produced it at Pal Press with Pat's help, it doesn't qualify for a juried Federation show. Printmaking can involve the master printmaker and the artist/printmaker, and still be considered the artist's work, but the Federation has rules against entering work that's not entirely by the hand of the artist, fair enough. Anyway, the Spilsbury show is the annual signature member only show, and the awards are quite prestigious. I have a loooong way to go before I'd ever get an award, but I would definitely like to try to get in again next year; it's a big deal to be accepted.

So here's a little history of Jim Spilsbury, for whom the show was named, and who originally sponsored the prize medals, from my article in the recent Art Avenue (the FCA publication):

Most members of the Federation recognize the name Spilsbury from the eponymous award show, an annual event open only to Signature members. I had no idea whom this show was named after, nor what kind of significance that name held for all British Columbians, especially on the coast. I was intrigued when I recognized the name gracing the spine of a book on my father-in-law’s shelf, so I borrowed the volume to satisfy my curiosity. What a treasure I had uncovered!

Spilsbury’s Coast, by Howard White and Jim Spilsbury, is an account of the incredible life of one of B.C.’s most remarkable pioneers, Aston James Spilsbury (1905 – 2003), 1993 recipient of the Order of British Columbia. Within a single lifetime, Jim Spilsbury was an active participant in the technological revolution of radio communication and aviation transportation on the West Coast of B.C. Due to a fateful lack of aptitude for working on the open ocean, Jim’s career as a merchant mariner was cut short by constant sea- and home-sickness. But while he was aboard the S.S. Melville Dollar, he was introduced to what would become a life-long passion: radio communication. Jim was an innovator in the radio communication industry, plying the waters of the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait to attend to his isolated customer’s needs. He developed, serviced and jury-rigged radios, from the original tubes to radiotelephones, with ingenuity and spare parts, to keep communications open with remote outposts of logging camps and fishing villages to the outside world. His various radio communication enterprises were evolved through the efforts of improving sporadic communication along this rugged coastline. In 1943, Jim bought a seaplane, one of the first on this coast, to improve services for his radio communication business. While no longer in business, Jim’s Queen Charlotte Airlines grew to Canada’s third largest airline in 1955. Spilsbury Communications Ltd. expanded to become recognized internationally and Canada’s largest radio-telephone exporter.

Beyond all of these accomplishments, Jim Spilsbury was a talented storyteller, an enthusiastic teacher, and an accomplished artist, representing his beloved coast in pastels and pen-and-ink. While there has been an annual Signature members’ exhibition held at the Federation for decades, Jim Spilsbury was persuaded to fund the original medals created, through Jeanne Duffey’s suggestion and Stafford Plant’s encouragement, in 1992. The first gold medal winner was Alan Wylie (who has achieved this award now four times, once again this year, since its inception). This annual event represents the culmination of work for each Signature member involved, and the gold medal award is arguably the most prestigious available within the Federation. This year’s show runs from December 9 to 24, and the opening is during our annual Christmas party, on Thursday, December 11 from 4-6 pm in the gallery. Please join us for this spectacular exhibition, showcasing work by some of the best artists in the Federation, and be sure to catch the exciting medal presentation at the opening.

Thanks to FCA historian, Ellen Poole, for her gracious assistance with details regarding the Spilsbury award show.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas print exchange - Wet Canvas

Things I learned this week:

1. Remember not to move the press roller height when press not engaged (it kind of pooches your very carefully aligned pressure). For those of you that use a press all the time, this is obvious; for those of us who are just learning, not so much so, especially when the person operating the press is a bit of a fluffy bunny some times (yours truly).
2. Vinyl ("black linoleum") stretches when it goes through a press (and usually on your last run, when alignment most counts).
3. If anything is going to go wrong, it'll happen when you're working on something with either a deadline, or where the recipients are knowledgeable about your media, or both.

Mom & I did a collaborative print for our Printmakers Only Group Christmas cards, as well as for a Christmas print exchange organized through the Wet Canvas printmakers forum. Mom's image is a reduction of raccoon footprint in snow, mine is of rose hips and snow berries, as a border.

First LayerSecond LayerThird Layer
And it looked great, right up until the last layer. This is what it should have looked like (this one got hand burnished, right at the end when we figured out what the heck was going on):

This is what most of them ended up looking like:

Although this is example (in the main focus of the image) is actually one of the better ones, not the worst, but you can see the examples along the bottom of the image are quite mis-aligned (the brown layer is out of alignment with the red layer). Here's the final batch:

I think that both Mom & I were maligning the Daniel Smith water soluble inks a little too carelessly; both of us had thought that the inks were causing the print to slip, hence the alignment on the layers of my Xocoatl print, and one of her prints, was definitely less than wonderful. As a result (and because we didn't have a lot of time to wait for ink to dry between layers), we used Speedball water soluble inks on this run. I was also thinking that it was my baby press that was causing the difficulties with a racking press bed for both the Xocoatl print and the print I did as a demo at the Delta "Gallery in the Garden" summer art fair (for which I used Faust inks). But as it's happening with the new large press (whose bed most definitely doesn't rack) and both were done using that black vinyl.

Now we're pretty sure that the stretching black vinyl through the press is the root of the problem. I understand about the pressure having to not be ridiculously intense, and it wasn't at the beginning, yet it seemed to get a bit stronger for the last run (even though neither of us touched the pressure adjustment between runs). Maybe the pressure was just a little strong at the end. I will try again another time with the vinyl and less pressure, and see what happens, although I have found that for enough pressure to transfer the ink uniformly and well, that results in enough pressure to stretch the vinyl, if my Xocatl and demo prints were anything to go by. I will have to try some different materials for blocks and see what happens when printed with my three ink types (Daniel Smith, Faust & Speedball) and on the two different presses.

But I do have to say, I loooooove the new press. What a joy to use. I can't wait to start creating some more stuff with it. But maybe not using that vinyl.

I tried a new (for me) registration option: the vinyl was squared into a little matboard frame, cut specifically to fit the block, and attached to the press bed. The card stock was aligned appropriately then traced onto a piece of paper taped underneath that matboard frame. So every time we went to print, we'd align the vinyl block in its little frame, then line up the card stock with the outline on the press bed.

And, if the vinyl hadn't stretched, I think the registration would have worked beautifully. Sigh.

So to those of you whom are receiving these prints, we apologize for the less than ideal alignment of the layers; it wasn't for lack of trying and apparently not from lack of consistency in methodology. At least you'll get the spirit of the print, if not the intention! One of these days, my exchange reduction prints are going to work beautifully, darn it!