December 20, 2010

Visions of Sugarplums?

No, I'm not printing, or sketching, or, let's be honest, even thinking about it much these days.  I'm swept up in a whirlwind of pre-Christmas preparations and, although we're once again doing our best to avoid the commercial frenzy and we're not running around shopping, there are still many things to be done.  

My idea of the ideal Christmas doesn't change much from year to year. For me it's all about creating an atmosphere of sanctuary: music, family, some special food treats to share.  And it's also about celebrating tradition. It's much too easy these days to get caught up with modern toys and conveniences and I won't, and can't, pretend I don't like all the new technology available to me: my iPod, my computer, my Blackberry. But it's also important to me to step back from these modern things, and turn my hands to some type of timeworn ritual that goes back further than I can remember.

Christmas baking is like that.  I tell myself each year I'm not going to bake anymore.  All those cookies are fattening, making them is time consuming, I could be doing other things. And yet each year, at the last minute usually, I break down again and tie on my apron, turn on the CD of old Czech Christmas folk carols, and get busy.  The music sends me back to the days when my mother and I stood side by side baking, listening to the carols (and singing along), turning to recipes older than either one of us.   

This year, my mother's forgotten how to bake.  She sits on the couch watching TV, only vaguely aware Christmas is almost here.  This year it was Nora and I who stood side by side and baked to the sound of Czech folk carols which she, of course, didn't understand a word of but it didn't matter.  It's all about the ritual.  About honouring that ritual and about bringing it forward to bloom into something new.

I think we did pretty well too.  Here's some of the cookies we made:

  Bear Paws in the making...
and Bear Paws finished
Butter Cookies with Home Made Jam 
 Little Moors 
 Coconut Puffs 

Anyway, whatever your tradition for this time of year is, I wish you and yours a splendid, peaceful, and holy Christmas (whatever your idea of "holy" may be).  Thanks for dropping in to visit. 

December 12, 2010

It's Beginning to Feel a Little Like Christmas

So here we are, less than two weeks before Christmas, and I'm trying to summon up some kind of positive "Christmassy" emotion.  Each year it seems to get harder. Today I played carols and Nora and I baked Christmas cookies and that helped. 

Before that, Roland and I went out into the pouring rain and bought our tree for this year: a little potted fir, barely four feet tall and on the sparse side, but it's alive and that feels right somehow.  Plus it's better for the environment. 

I also finished up some cards so I guess I need to get it together and send them out, before it's too late. 

They're very simple, I carved the image out of a piece of Staedtler mastercarve a couple of weeks ago after I talked myself into making them.  I wasn't going to bother with it this year, I didn't feel inspired to it really.  But I also knew that, after years of sending out hand-made cards, I'd never feel right about going back to store bought ones.  Oh the motivating power of guilt... 

December 05, 2010

Closing Up 2010

It maybe just a little premature, with three weeks left to go before this old year is done, but I'm already, in a few odd ways, starting to roll up the carpets and close the shutters.  Figuratively speaking.  First, I finished the last print of this year.  I'm calling it Coquihalla Autumn, in honour of the Coquihalla Highway and the surrounding scenery we drove through a couple of months ago.

This is how the print looked last week, with a new layer of green:

This week I added the last three colours, in a mad race to completion before I turn to Christmas baking and card making and all the rest of the pre-Christmas mayhem.  

On the glass:

On the block:

On the print:

Coquihalla Autumn
8 x 9.5 inches
Rising Stonehenge paper & Daniel Smith water soluble inks
But, along with finishing the print, this Friday I closed the door on another project. Tomorrow morning, in my non-printmaking life, I start a brand new job.  After almost four years, three of which were spent at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics unit, I say so long to the RCMP and the boys (and girls) in red serge.  Eight months in the regular police environment(i.e. non-Olympic safety-focused) made me realize I'm not cut out for routine police work. I'm heading downtown to the Department of Justice, to a less crime-centric environment and the butterflies are beginning to stir inside my stomach already. 
A good way to end the year I think. 

November 21, 2010

To Print or Not to Print...

Last night I faced one of those tough little decisions life sometimes tosses at us.  The ones where we have to choose between doing something we know we should do and doing what we want to do instead.  My choice: to print the next colour of the print (so I could do an extra colour today and get ahead a bit), or not to print, sit and read my book, and push the completion of this print that much closer to Christmas which, really, isn't all that far away.  One look at the image below will clear up any doubts on how that one ended. 

As I've mentioned before, my normal routine, dictated by all the other stuff going on, is to carve on Saturday nights and print on Sundays.  But this week things got shuffled around because I'm contributing my Sand Dollar print to the annual Malaspina members' show and, between framing it and taking it over to the gallery, I wasn't sure I'd have the time to print today.  So I planned to print last night and worked to get the block ready early.  I had it all mapped out: pull a colour last night, deliver my print to the gallery early today, and possibly even print another layer this afternoon thereby gaining a week and moving ahead nicely.     

Then last night rolled around and suddenly the thought of hauling all my printmaking paraphernalia to the kitchen, and getting it all set up for printing, held zero appeal.  I got tired just imagining it.  Probably because, having spent the day helping R shovel snow (yup, first snow fall of the year here), and doing housework and three loads of laundry, and the week's grocery shopping, I was ready to crawl into a corner with my book and a cup of coffee.  I just didn't feel like printing.  And, although sometimes I push myself to work when I'm not totally into it and then get into the flow of it and get lots accomplished, last night didn't have that type of vibe. 

So, sporting the new layer added today, the print doesn't look much different from the way it did last time because the colour I added in isn't doesn't offer much contrast to the previous one. 

On the other hand, there's all that much more anticipation for the next one which will, most definitely, change things up. 

November 11, 2010

Printmaking Memory Games

Last month, for our Canadian Thanksgiving, R and I drove to Kelowna ("the gateway to BC's interior") to visit with R's family.  On the way back, driving through spectacular landscape, I got the inspiration for my next print.  We didn't have the camera, we were too preoccupied with other things when we left home to even think of it, and then suddenly there we were, winding our way through a veritable autumn tapestry: gold-leafed birches, grassy rolling slopes, dark pines.  All I could do was to try and burn the images into my memory until I got home and sketched them out. 

And, I made those sketches almost as soon as we got home.  Except I don't have a photographic memory.  Far from it actually, so I remembered the colours and shapes but lost the details and my sketches totally reflected this.  Yet, oddly, I liked what I'd drawn.  I decided to go with it, base the next print on it anyway, and keep the image very stylized.  I reworked my initial thumbnails a little more and came up with a very simple larger drawing. 

The colours are totally off, I'm limited by my selection of markers, but it gives me a good idea of the layout and that's really all I need. 

I printed three colours so far; I even managed to do two on the same day:

The first three colours look like this: 

I used a strip of cellophane to mask the area in the middle of the block after I inked it.  As you can see from the photo below, the mask allowed for some sloppiness in inking the block past the area I was printing.  The cellophane stuck nicely to the ink on the block and made a great barrier between ink and paper.

So far, so good.  I'm using Daniel Smith water-soluble inks and Rising Stonehenge paper for this one. 

October 31, 2010

Sand Dollar Print Finished

Tonight I feel as if I'm writing this post in a war zone.  The air outside is thick with smoke and the sound of all the fireworks, one minor explosion on the heels of another for the last couple of hours, has sent the dog cowering into the darkest corner below my work desk.  Halloween.  The little kids have all come and gone and now the rowdies are out. Lots of them tonight even though it's raining.  A good night to be indoors.  

I've now finished the last two colours of my Sand Dollar print and have, mentally anyway, moved onto the next project already.  I've read about other artists suffering from creative block but, so far anyway, this isn't something I've yet gone through.  For me, it's the opposite.  The amount of time I have for printmaking is well outweighed by the volume of ideas for all the prints I want to make.  Generally, by the time I'm nearing the end of one print, my mind is already racing with ideas for the next one.  I guess that's a good thing except that sometime it seems as if I'll never have enough time to do everything I still want to do.  

Anyway, here is the second to last stage:

And here's the print with the last colour added in:
Sand Dollar - 8" x 9.5"
I had to restrain myself from not adding in a stronger darker colour still, that's usually the norm for me, but I really wanted to keep the tones muted this time.  So far, I'm not regretting the decision to stop here. 


October 22, 2010

When Art Becomes Mental

This is what you might call a post between posts because I don't have any pictures to show and I haven't made any progress on the print.  But I've been doing some thinking, for a while now, about what art is and what role artists should have in society and I've decided to throw the topic out into the unknown to see if anyone will offer up some opinions.  

It sort of started with a book on art theory called, appropriately enough, Art Theory, A Very Short Introduction, by Cynthia Freeland.  I picked it up at a university book store I stopped in about a month ago.  In the author's own words it's "a book about what art is, what it means, and why we value it" and it looks at the various social and cultural influences on art now, and through history.  

Wasting no time, the very first chapter addresses the work of a number of contemporary artists who, for various reasons, use blood, urine, semen...well you get the produce their artwork.  Not surprisingly, their work has caused no small controversy and thereby gained notoriety and thereby, what else, a place in the galleries.  It's "important" work.  Yet when I read about it, I couldn't help asking the cliche question: is it art?  Which of course leads to the other age-old question: what is art?  In my view, and it might be a simplistic one, art is the expression of something within the artist's soul... a way of looking at the world or at something he/she has such a strong internal feeling for, that it absolutely has to be expressed externally. 

That said, I'd better point out that I recognize that great art doesn't have to be beautiful or even necessarily easy to look at. Many artists have used their medium in powerful ways to depict and focus on brutalities and horrors in hopes of affecting some kind of social change.  So my instinctive distaste at the idea of someone using feces as a medium is not based on a concept that art has to conform to some aesthetic ideal.  Yet I  have a hard time seeing such "artwork" as anything but an attempt at shock for shock's sake.  And I find that much of contemporary "serious" art is, at least in part, like that.  

An article in some art magazine I read last year was captioned "15 Artists Whose Work You HAVE to Know", or something like that.  There was a short blurb about each of the 15.  Without exception, the work of every single one of them was, in my eyes, dreadful.  It was all mostly stark black and white, jagged lines and scribbles, and no seeming balance, harmony, flow, or anything else that might lead me look at the work again. It seemed fake.

My father is an abstract artist who had, as I was growing up, many sculptors and painters as friends. I went to my first modern art opening when I was 12.  Point being, I love good abstract art. But I wouldn't hang the work of the 15 people showcased in that magazine article on my walls if they paid me to do it.  And I can't help wondering: have we, as a society, become so complacent in our approach to art that we have to be jarred out this complacency through shock?  Through a visual defibrillator?  

It seems to me that "body fluid art" or an installation of dead rabbits hanging from trees and decomposing, or a canvas depicting nothing but visual noise, is much too cerebral to come from the soul. It's the work of someone thinking up a method for making a statement rather than making that statement as a response to some internal feeling or conviction.

I'm also listening to Alan Watts and, in particular, his Out of Your Mind recordings.  Among the other though-provoking stuff he talks about, he poses the question: is the role of the artist to critique, or to reveal?  The recordings were made during the 60's so around the time of the pop culture art movement.  I get the impression he didn't much care for it, though I guess that's neither here nor there.  The question is still an interesting one.  Should artists critique or should they reveal?  

I actually think it's possible to do both, that an art work can reveal something soul-stirring about the human condition or the world itself and still critique issues that need be brought to light.  I can think of a couple of examples of printmakers who do just that.  But, if I could only choose one of the two, I'd go for the second one.  Show me something new, or something old in a new light.  Surely there's more growth inherent in a revelation than there is in a criticism?  At least that's my take on it.  

What's yours?

October 17, 2010

Sand Dollar Print: Back at It

Sometimes the two separate halves of my life, the creative one and the non-creative working one, flow together nicely and there's balance.  And then again sometimes they don't and I feel like I'm living in two worlds that are miles apart. The last couple of weeks were an example of the "sometimes not" scenario as, between a weekend out of town, a three-day course for work, and all the other regular stuff that sucks up time, the days whizzed by with no room for printmaking.  

It sure is tough to pick up a block left untouched for a couple of weeks and begin carving it again, just as if there were no interruption.  It always seems to take so much more thinking just to figure out what the next step will be.

I'm still not wholly on top of things and it was almost looking like I might not get to print even today but, somehow, I managed to catch up and added the fourth colour after all. With that, the sand dollar part of the print is done. I teetered and tottered between leaving the print be after the last time and going forward as per original idea.  The temptation to call it done definitely was there, made all that much stronger when I realized I wasn't the only one liking the subtlety after colour three.  But, in the end... 

At this point, the top and bottom areas of the print are much stronger than I want them to end up and will need to be lightened.  I considered masking them off for today's printing but finally chose not to go that route; I specifically want the lighter colours to go over this darker one.   

October 03, 2010

Sand Dollar Print: Stage Three

One of the things I love about relief printmaking is the lovely sculptural quality of the block as it's carved and shaped.  I guess it could be argued that, since the whole point of the process is the print itself, the actual block is secondary. But sometimes the patterns and textures that emerge in the block as I'm carving it are so aesthetically appealing, I wish I could save the block and turn it into a separate art piece.  

Like the block for this latest print.  I've reached a stage where it's so very interesting just on its own.  All those textures!  

And here's how the print looks with the latest colour in:

It's beginning to look like something now...

September 26, 2010

The Darker Side of Art

Sometimes, the world of art has it's shadows.  Last night, for movie night, R and I watched The Counterfeiters.  Set in a German concentration camp in the last few years of WWII, the film tells the story of a group of prisoners involved in the "largest forgery operation of all time". The men, printmakers and artists in their pre-concentration camp lives, were forced to make fake passports, birth certificates, and money: British pounds and American dollars. 

The story came to light less than ten years ago, when one of the survivors of the operation decided to write a book about his time in the camp, in answer to a flood of neo-Nazi "holocaust denial" propaganda.  He traveled around Europe, collected his evidence and wrote the book.  

It was a sad and deep film and it really got me thinking about how fortunate most of us living in the "western world" really are.  We don't have to grapple with the tough choices faced by the men in that Nazi printing shop. There's no one holding a gun to our heads as we create our art, as it suits us and according to the level of drive within us.  Sure, we have our dark days where we question the quality and meaning and worth of the work we create.  But that's minor stuff.  In general, life is good.  

Yet what if, as it happened to the artists in the film, our sane world unexpectedly went sideways and the only outlet for our talent would be as the means to an end we know is morally wrong?  Could it be anything but soul-destroying to know your creativity is being used for the propagation of evil?  It isn't a new story; artists living under political oppression still face such issues even while I take my own freedom for granted.  It's so easy to forget just how lucky I am to have that freedom and sometimes it's good to have a dark sad film to serve as a reminder. 


I continued work on my next print today which, as you may remember, is based on the sand dollar photo below. 

I printed the first colour last week but there wasn't much to it so I held off on posting it.  Below are the first and second colours:

I'm printing onto BFK Rives heavy weight and began with the Georgian oil paint and printmaking medium combo I rediscovered during my ink experiment.  So far, the only draw-back is that, in N's words, our kitchen smells like pumpkin.  Judging by the inflection in her voice, I don't think she likes it.  It's true the paints have a distinctly different smell from my normal Daniel Smith inks which wasn't as noticeable during the experiment because I only used this mixture for four prints.  Now there's twelve of them so it's much more potent.  Funny, I don't remember that from before.  On the other hand, it is pumpkin season right?

September 12, 2010

Ink Test: Final

The final phase of this test, a dark brown layer (not very visible in the top one of the three images below), played out true to the preceding ones.  Meaning there were no problems with the ink, not at the beginning and not now, at the end.  The three finished prints look like this (the print size is 5" x 7"):

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

Daniel Smith (oil relief ink):

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium:

Even now, with all three done, I can't honestly say which I like better:  the more translucent version or the stronger, opaque one.  There's something to be said for both and my re-discovery of oil paints as a printing medium is definitely one of the pluses that emerged from this exercise.  

That said, what about the ink issues that led me to this test to begin with?  Well, I'm guessing it's pretty safe to say that, since I encountered none of those same issues throughout the testing, the ink is not the problem.  And, if it's not the ink, then the only other variable is the paper.  Both of the two prints I was unhappy with were printed on machine-made Japanase Masa paper.  I'd only used it for one-colour prints and watercolour work before, but specifically chose it for the folksy florals because I thought the fibers would be well-suited to them and would give the impression of linen.  

But I didn't have any Masa left so I didn't use it for my ink test and, instead, chose some remnants of BFK Rives, my absolute favourite paper to work with. Given my results with these test prints, it's pretty obvious the Masa is not as well suited to multi-colour reductions as the Rives is.  Or maybe it's just not as well suited to reductions done with the heavier DS inks.  Maybe, if I'd used the lighter-weight oil paint/printmaking medium mix on the Masa it might have behaved differently.  Hmmm, something to test in the future I suppose.  For now, I took advantage of a sale Daniel Smith was having and ordered some more Rives. It should get here just in time for me to start on my sand dollar print next week. 

September 06, 2010

Ink Test Part III: Home Stretch

A combination of long weekend and benign work schedule has blessed me with enough time to really get ahead with my experiment.  I printed colour three yesterday.  I'm beginning to suspect this is one of those Murphy's law situations.  You know, like when your car is making a freaky noise it's not supposed to make but then stops making it as soon as whoever you've asked to check it out takes it for a drive?  Or when the computer at work keeps going insane and doing weird things but then stops the minute the IT guy sits down in front of it? 

This is what's happening with this test because here I am, colour three down, and there are no issues.  None.  No uneven coverage, no areas where the ink looks thicker than elsewhere, nothing.  Of course, this is really a good thing because I don't have to abandon the ink I've become used to.  But it's also one of those head-scratching things I really want to figure out.  Actually, I'm beginning to have some ideas on what may have been the problem with the last two prints I did but I won't get into that until I have this print finished, next week.  I figure I'll know for sure then, maybe.

For now, onto the results for colour three.  The interesting thing is how even slight changes in the colours of earlier layers can affect those added on top.  This time I was pretty successful in getting a close colour match in all three inks and, thought the print results may make it hard to believe, the third colour for all three variations was a blood red/maroon very similar to this:

Yet, despite my careful colour mixing, the three prints turned out hugely different from each other. 

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

My ink was maroon on the inking plate and maroon on the block.  But here, added over the preceding two colours it looks brown.  Plus, the petals now look less gold and more ochre than they did before. 

Daniel Smith (oil relief ink)

Here, the orange first layer obviously affects the third and, though still not as maroon as the ink was on the inking plate, it's definitely redder when printed and clearly redder than in my first version.

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium

And a totally different result here.  In this case the ink mixture's inherent translucent nature factors in but, again, the end colour in the print is more brown than red.  

Very cool.  Normally, when I do my reductions, I just play around with my inks and take test prints until I get the colour I'm after.  It usually works pretty well although there were a couple of times I struggled to get just the right colour.  But I know there's a science behind it all, I learned colour theory in university, years ago.  This was a nice refresher course and great to see the differences, side by side.  I'm totally psyched for next weekend now.  

September 03, 2010

Ink Test Part II

Second colour down on my test print and all is well.  In fact I'm loving the results even though they aren't necessarily what I expected.  Getting right to it, here's how colour two is shaping up.

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

I rolled out my ink very thinly, inked the block in as thin a layer as I could getaway with, and it turned out well.  Nice even coverage and, so far, still OK.


Daniel Smith (oil relief ink)

This was my first surprise of the day.  Although the traditional relief ink has a slightly velvetier texture and rolls out a little more smoothly (as I already noticed with colour one), the end result is virtually indistinguishable from the one printed with water-soluble ink.  I'm not sure why, but I was expecting to see a noticeable difference and there really isn't any.  Apart from the slight variation in colour, both inks produced an identical layer: same opacity, same eggshell sheen. 

Of course, if I really think about this, it makes sense.  Even though one ink is water-soluble and the other isn't, they're both oil based so they likely have similar compositions. 

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium

As with colour one, the most significant differences in the inks were obvious here.  And no, I don't mean the colour.  That's just because I didn't have enough blue, unfortunately, so mixing a green comparable to the others wasn't an option.  I had to settle for using the olive green included in my set of oil paints and, even though I added what blue I had left, it didn't alter the hue much.  

Anyway, the main difference with this oil paint/modifier mixture was the degree of coverage.  This "ink" is significantly less opaque, both on the inking plate and, really noticeable now in layer two, on the print itself. It's slightly trickier to work with, I had to work harder to roll out an even layer, but it actually turned out fine on the print itself. 

As I've said, I have used this mixture for a number of prints in the past. But this was several years ago and I forgot what working with them was like.  So now, the big surprise is how much I like the result. I'm not sure if the above close-up shows it well but this ink mixture has some of the translucent quality of watercolour.  That could have it's advantages, particularly if used along with the stronger DS inks.  

Yes, you can add transparent medium to the Dan Smith inks and I use it on a regular basis.  But the texture of the DS transparent medium is more rubbery somehow and, even though it does give the DS inks a certain transparency, the end product is not the same as here.  This ink mixture is oil based yet has an appearance similar to the water-based inks used in Moku Hanga.  It's softer.

I suspect that in a reduction of several layers I'd have to bring in the DS ink for those final colours because this mixture wouldn't cover as well.  But I'm very curious about combining the two mediums in the same print now.    

The final surprise of the day was with the clean-up.  The last time I used traditional oil inks I used paint thinner.  This time I decided to try oil and, what do you know, it worked.  I had some Mineral oil on hand so I used it to wipe both inking plate and brayer and it did a fantastic job.  No terrible smell, no dry finger tips.  A bit of soap and water after that and everything is good to go for next time.  

August 30, 2010

Battle of the Inks

 "In the field of opportunity it's plowing time again,
there ain't no way of knowing
where these seeds will rise or when...."
                                                        (Neil Young) 
I'm conducting an experiment.  I've become dissatisfied with my trusted Daniel Smith water soluble relief ink.  I've used this ink almost exclusively for several years now and, although it's most definitely a quality ink and has been excellent to work with for most of my scenic reductions (where the many ink layers printed over each other produce an interesting almost "painterly" effect), this is not what I want in the graphic florals I'm playing with now.  

Maybe I'm being overly critical.  Or maybe my expectations are unrealistic. But what if I really am using the wrong type of ink for what I want to achieve?  Whatever the reason, in my last two prints the ink frustrated the hell out of me.  Specifically, while the first layer of each print was lovely and smooth, as the colours built up, even though I applied the ink in very light layers, the coverage became less consistent.  It was patchy in some areas and too thick in others and I couldn't get the clean crisp lines I want. 

I once met a local printmaker who used a letter press and rubber-based inks to create prints with crisp lines and colours so rich they glowed.  I don't have a letter press and I'm not sure if rubber-based inks are the answer for me but I still want to get as close to that printmaker's results as I can.  So, even though the block for my sand dollar print is ready to go, I've decided to hold off and try figure out some of my ink issues first. 

I still have a set of Daniel Smith traditional oil relief inks, originally abandoned because clean-up is more trouble than it is with the water-soluble ones, and I also have a set of Georgian oil paints and a tube of Georgian printmaking medium (meant to turn oil paints into a medium suitable to printmaking).  I want to see exactly how the three compare.  I've done up a small design for a simple four-colour reduction and am testing all three inks in an edition of four prints for eachI began yesterday.

Keeping in mind that my irritations never surfaced in printing the first colour, I got off to a great start.  The hardest thing was getting the tops off the tubes of ink and oil paint that's been sitting around, albeit wrapped well in plastic and Tupperware, for a few years now. Once I managed to do that, and thank God for that old metal nutcracker hiding at the bottom of the utensil drawer (saved me from using my teeth!) the next hardest was mixing up the same colour in three different mediums.  Pretty clear from the pictures below how that one went.  Other than that, no real issues.  Still, some slight differences emerged even at this natal stage.

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

I started with this ink simply because it's easier to go from a water clean up ink to a more traditional oil ink.  As I already said, no issues here.  The ink rolled out in a nice even layer and covered well.

Daniel Smith (oil relief ink)

No, the colour's not quite the same.  A bit too much red.  That's what I get for leaving ink sitting around for so long that it positively gushes forth once the cap is off.  Beyond this, this ink behaved much like its water soluble cousin but with a slight difference:  while I always ink up my block by rolling out very thin layers of ink over each other until the whole thing is evenly covered, this ink seemed to roll out just a little more smoothly and with just a little less effort. 

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium

One of the things that became clear to me very early on is that good printmaking ink is not the easiest thing to come by.  Not in Canada anyway. Even in a city the size of Vancouver, boasting several good art supply stores, getting professional grade printmaking ink locally is impossible. Speedball dominates the store shelves and the good stuff is only available from the States usually for what can be a hefty shipping fee.  So, before I decided to go that route, a locally available medium that promised to make oil paint suitable for printmaking held a lot of appeal.  Oil paints are everywhere, come in a plethora of colours, and are reasonably inexpensive.  

I picked up a tube of the medium and I did a number of simple prints using  modified oil paints.  It worked ok, was better than Speedball,  but curiosity still nagged.  So much so that I finally took advantage of a trip we made to Seattle, visited a Daniel Smith store, got some of their ink and that's been the end of that story until now.  Oil paints forgotten.  Now, since I'm going to the trouble of experimenting, it's worth including them in my side-by-side comparison.

Anyway, given this was the oddest of the three mediums I'm testing, I wasn't surprised to find differences between it and the other two.  First, the consistency of the oil paint/medium mixture was much less viscous.  And, whereas both DS inks completely covered the glass inking-up plate (i.e. they were opaque) this mixture was slipperier and significantly more transparent so I thought I may have mixed it wrong and wasn't expecting much coverage.  Surprisingly, once printed, the colour came through well enough.  The real "tell" will come in the next layers but, for now, so far so good.  

Next weekend, part two. 

August 09, 2010

Wealth With Half a Dollar...

When I was growing up, a regular part of my summer vacations, after we came to Canada, were the trips of discovery my parents and I took together.  Each year, for eight years or so, we packed up the car with camping gear and headed off for two or three weeks, each year to a different part of the States or Canada.  We spent the days driving, stopping randomly at worthy points of interest, and spent each night in a different place.
Over a series of successive summers we covered the deep south, the East Coast, the mid-west, the west coast, and northern BC up to Alaska.  Throughout those years, we picked up a lot of memories and a lot of random souvenirs:  an Aunt Jemima dinner bell from Louisiana, a small Navajo mat from a Stuckey's (of all places) in Texas, a turquoise and silver ring from New Mexico. 

Clearly, judging from the plethora of gift shops in most tourist places, most travelers have the urge to pick up little mementos of the trips they take, things that will, in future years when the traveling is done, bring back the sense of the place they came from.  Even now, all grown up, I still fall prey to the souvenir urge.  I still want to bring back that special "something" from our excursions although, these days, it's rare those special somethings come from any store. 

For example, these are my souvenirs from our trip to the Oregon coast:

  1. Two large mussel shells from the beach at Depoe Bay (the photo doesn't do full justice to the beautiful blue glints inside)
  2. A speckled palm-friendly rock from the beach at Oceanside
  3. The fragment of a sand dollar from the beach at Seaside
The sand dollar is my favourite.  First of all because of all the others scattered around on the sand, this one was the only one that had, still, kept it's darker gray colouring.  All the others had already faded out and the markings were harder to see.  Second, because of the markings. They're like tree branches or arteries or something and really appeal to me.  

In fact, I'm totally fascinated by the thing. Such a small thing, yet the intricacy of design is amazing!

I want to try to capture it so I've done a couple of sketches:
in pen,

 and in pencil crayon.

But the true test will be whether or not I can, successfully, turn it into a relief print.  Is it even possible to accurately transfer that fantastic texture to relief without having to make the print a giant one?  
I should really be working on the block I have ready from a couple of months ago, another floral.  But I wasn't happy at all with the way my last one turned out so here I am, turning my attention to something that might prove even more frustrating.  Then again, maybe not.  That's always the gamble and the pull, isn't it?