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?


August 03, 2010

Oregon Trails

The last day of our vacation for this year has come and gone.  Now, the usual melancholy slowly starts to set in: there was so much more I wanted to accomplish but didn't.  I didn't, for example, do one lick of work on anything even remotely related to printmaking.  But then, I knew this wasn't going to be that kind of vacation.  

First, there was the living room renovation.  And after this, because it wouldn't have been much of a vacation if we didn't go on at least a small adventure, we headed down to the Oregon Coast for a taste of sea air.  Yes, we have sea air, lots of it, right here in Vancouver.  But Vancouver's sea air is different.  With Vancouver Island as a barrier between Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean, our coastline is a tamer one by far. 

This means that Vancouverites who want to experience the true ocean, and the raw power of waves full of the momentum picked up on route from Japan, either take a ferry to the west coast of the Island or drive to the Oregon coast.  We've already done the Vancouver Island trip so this time it was Oregon's turn.   

We packed our camp chairs, bathing suits, sunscreen, and dreams of relaxing by the edge of the Pacific somewhere, reading and sketching, and headed south.  We figured on, roughly, a ten hour drive to Depoe Bay, where we were spending the first night, so we endured the drive along the main highway for the first part of the trip, just to get some mileage behind us.  Then, about half way down, we veered off to the scenic route and, within the hour, were rewarded by the first glimpses of the sea: 

Obvious from the above photo, the sun didn't choose to come along with us.  It must have decided to stay behind in BC because within minutes of crossing the border into the States we were engulfed in fog.  And the fog followed us for the rest of the day, changing into clouds and back again, becoming more and more dramatic the further we got into Oregon.  By the time we reached Depoe Bay, at around 6:00, I was wondering how much use I'd be making of the tank tops, summer skirts, and sunscreen I packed.  Suddenly, the fireplace that came with the room, which I initially took for a weird marketing ploy, began to make sense.
As we hauled our stuff into the room the winds whipped around us with full maritime force and it looked like it might rain. We took it in stride.  After all, we're hardened British Columbians, weaned on clouds and rain.  Given it's been cloudy on all but one of our camping vacations, we weren't about to get discouraged no matter how much wind was trying to shove us around.  We just layered up in all of our long-sleeved stuff, I traded my gauzy skirt for long pants, and off we went to explore the hotel's semi-private beach. 

The wind, even stronger at water's edge, howled around us and it was so cold I was sure I could see my breath.  But it was magnificent.  Buoyed on by thoughts of the cozy supper of bread, fruit and cheese and a bottle of Marshal Foch waiting in our room (along with that fireplace), we clambered over rocks, picked sea shells, and soaked in the energy of the place.  It was such a rush to be there, in the nearing dusk and all alone, I doubt a clear blue sky could have added anything.
Day 2.  We drove further south to Newport, a pretty little seaside town of gallery shops and restaurants.  

There, incredibly, the fog lifted and the suddenly the day was warm and felt like summer. The sun even followed us for the rest of the afternoon and on our drive north again, this time to Oceanside, for our second night.  But just as we were beginning to get used to our sun glasses, we turned a corner, got closer to the open sea I guess, and we were back under fog and clouds.  
By the time we found our hotel, perched on it's cliff, the sky was dark and ominous again.  Our room, sans fireplace and much more "rustic" (and I'm being polite here), had a million dollar view.  Here's what we saw from the deck:

And these are pictures from the beach:

Day 3.  We began our return drive back up the coast.  First, a small detour to visit a legendary tree hidden inside a beautiful forest:


And this is the Octopus Tree, so named because it has no central trunk; it's  branches seem to grow right from the ground:

A couple of last looks at the soul-stirring scenery:

Then off to our last tour stop and a total shift in atmosphere: Seaside. Still under hazy cloud, the air was warm and balmy here and the town was teeming with happy vacationers.  This is a shot of a manicured canal section that runs through what seemed to be the main part of town but, really, Seaside's claim to fame is the new mile-long stretch of boardwalk along the ocean.


I didn't take any pictures of that boardwalk, even though we walked a good length of it. For us, the draw was the beach itself.  It wasn't quite warm enough to swim but the temptation to get our toes wet was irresistible:

We walked and walked and the waves washed in over our feet and felt like renewal.  So, while we never got that chance to sit in the sun and read and sketch, we both agreed, on that long haul back, that it really didn't matter.  
And, although I'm feeling a little guilty that I didn't get to any printmaking this time around, I know it's also important to take a break from actually "doing" and feed the soul in other ways.  It's all part of the creative process...