Saturday, February 28, 2009

Print Preview: Log Slices

I'm back in the saddle and I've been thinking about the best way to make this log print from my sketch book all day-- it originally started as a pile of logs, but I just couldn't wrap my mind around how that might be conducive to the method I use. So I decided to focus on one little log slice and I'm loving how it turned out-- I think turning this idea of many logs into one was really smart.

This is the first screen in the print. I'll go in with a orangier brown next and screen it on top of the center (which will pull the tree rings back a little and let the bark come forward and then I may or may not put a barely there blue around the edges. Once its wrapped around the frame the log will take up most of the composition all but a few tiny corners around the edge exposed.

I'm also going to intentionally off-set register the other screens this time, so I'm really excited to see how it all turns out. More to come!

Monday, February 23, 2009

measure once, cut twice

Already a snafu! My coworkers in the Art Dept. will tell you that this is how I start all major projects-- spilled paint, a wrong cut, painting an entire chalkboard upside down-- the list goes on and on and on.

I carelessly measured the fabric for this first edition, and now I'm discovering that I didn't make the cuts large enough to wrap around the frame. I'm off by TWO inches on one side! How I didn't notice this is beyond me.

On the upside, the prints themselves turned out quite nice-- in trying to turn lemons into lemonade I framed up one and turned another into a quick pencil pouch and they look lovely either way. Even if I don't use them I'm only out $12 in fabric, a little ink, and around 3 hours of my time.

I'm struggling this time with how many supplies to acquire at a time. This fall I bought supplies in many waves because I was never quite that confident that I would sell enough to make the cost back. This is especially true with fabric-- I don't know how many collective hours of my life I spent in the cutting line these last few months. Even last week I only bought three yards, half of which I already used on this 'oops' edition. Tonight I've decided that my new motto is GO BIG OR GO HOME. I'm buying 6 yards next time because I will obviously use them. I think making a big supplies investment will encourage me to get going!

Since I have nothing to show for my evening I'll leave you with this Handmade Portrait on Etsy that melted my heart. Etsy puts out these little documentaries featuring their artists from time to time, and this one might just be my favorite, though I absolutely love what SunnyRising has to say about the nature of sharing processes with others in her portrait, and also when WoodMouse discusses the benefits to open-ended toys in hers.

This one is particularly sweet though-- maybe because I find it really easy to imagine my third chapter years this way-- though I'd probably have to find a way to get around the raising my own chickens part. I had an incident on my uncle's farm involving one very nasty chicken at the impressionable age of 5 and I have never been able to get past it, but that's another story for another day.

Today's story is about Robin and Kathy Tucker of Wood Mosaics.

Favorite Things: Secondhand Picture Map Puzzle

I found this Picture Map Puzzle of the United States several months ago and did a happy dance of glee right then and there. It reminds me of textbook thematic maps in elementary school-- the type that would illustrate agricultural or industrial data in social studies texts.

This isn't a superb shot, but the detail is incredible and varied about this country we all share. It sits in a shelf above my kitchen sink and the amazing illustration inspires me on a daily basis.

It also helps me to remember the Alamo!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Etsy Updates

I've done a little housekeeping on Etsy this morning, adding some new images to previous listings and reducing my shipping rates (yay!)

I finally put together all of my shipping costs (packaging/time/postal rates etc) and felt like it was possible to lower them, especially on subsequent items purchased. I've been trying to streamline my shipping process, which is a little difficult because I love making packages look pretty and also try to ship with reused materials as much as possible. If it were up to my boyfriend I'd stick it in the free Priority mail box and get it over with (he doesn't really care for my ever rotating cardboard "collection") but I try to reuse as much as possible to that end.

Speaking of reusing, I'm trying out listing some canvas panels unframed for $3 a pop. If you sew then these panels would be awesome and really unique for a wide variety of projects, or you can just frame them yourself and save a little cost. These are the last puppies at the pound so to speak, so they're not perfect, but would still make really interesting objects. I can't wait to see what comes from them!

Other than that I'm just putting together images to apply for some spring and summer shows. I'm going to throw together some dinner and start my first new screen print!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Process Post: Time to go Shopping!

I have the next three days off and will be holing myself up in the apartment making screen prints. The snow is back in SE Michigan (boo) which will make a pajamas and coffee lifestyle much more appealing during my off days.

I have enough materials to get started, but will be ordering again from Dick Blick this weekend to take advantage of the 5.95 shipping deal they haphazardly host every so often. So it seems appropriate to discuss the next stage after ideas: materials acquisition. But! In order to talk about the materials needed to make screen prints, its important to shed some light on exactly what screen printing is, so that's what I'll try to do below and talk about materials in one big convoluted post with lots of non-sequiturs. Ready?

The basic premise of screen printing is stenciling. Remember in the 80's and 90's when stenciling was all the rage and people bought those plastic stencils and tappy brushes and stenciled country kitchen borders everywhere?

(I'm having mauve flashbacks!)

Here's an example of a pretty awesome and refreshing stenciling job in case you're interested in seeing this process work in a more modern way:

(mm... tone on tone goodness. Unfortunately, I've had this photo saved on my computer for eons and have no idea where it came from-- maybe Design Sponge?)

Martha is leading the charge in bringing stenciling back to home decor in a hip way (another story for another day) but I use this example to illustrate the idea that screen printing is really just making a rather complicated stencil-- the methods involved are much more precise though. Instead of the spotty tapped-on look, screen printing results in a smooth, graphic application of ink and can be printed many times with consistent results.

Side note: Here's a Crafter post on freezer paper stencils if you'd like to get your hands on this method without a lot of start up costs.

Obviously, I could talk about stenciling on walls all day, but I'm a renter and doing so makes me sad, so I'll leave it at that!

The most obvious tool you need to stencil is some kind of plate or buffer where paint can be pushed through the exposed areas to create the image. In screen printing this tool is the actual screen frame-- a wood frame with thin mesh stretched tight across the back. Some people make these, some people buy them. I've done both, and am ambivalent about which is better. My DIY spirit says 'make it!' but the cost differential isn't huge. You can get a decent sized screen for under $20.

(from dick blick)

The mesh stretched across creates a sort of blank canvas of tiny open pixels. If you've ever examined a screen door or window closely you notice that there are tiny little negative spaces created between the criss-crossing strands of wire. In the screen frame mesh these spaces are very small, so when ink is pushed through some and not others the results are very precise.

If you printed off the screen right out of the box, you'd get a flat even coat of ink across your surface because all of those spaces in the mesh are open. You create an image by controlling those open spaces. You control the open spaces by blocking parts of the screen so that the ink can't get through.

There are many methods for blocking the mesh in the spaces you don't want printed, and they range from very simple with little investment to very complex with lots of light bulbs and chemicals and fancy machines that burn your image into a screen coating.

I use a very simple method because I don't have the setup for the the other stuff, and I don't like using all of the harsh chemicals to clean the screen afterward. I also like the method I use because it forces me to create simple images. I have a tendency to push an image 'too far'-- the reason why I was, in my own opinion, never that great a painter. If I have direct control over the image I don't know when to leave well enough alone!

Rather than burning an image I've drawn onto a screen, or using drawing fluid to apply it directly to the screen, I use a method where I cut my image out of a film that is applied to the screen. Cutting forces me to think in simple terms. Its a restriction that helps me.

Which leads me to the next supply item: clear Contact paper. I capitalize the Contact because Contact brand works the best. As tempting as it may be to pick up a roll on your next trip to Target (they carry some other knock-off brand) don't do it! You can find it in the housewares section of most department or hardware stores and it looks like this:
(look for the brand Contact! I swear they're not paying me!)

You cut your image out, stick the paper onto the back of your screen and viola! The mesh is open in your image. This will make more sense when I post about the actual process.

You'll need something to print on. I use canvas for the most part because its sturdy, looks great and stretches nicely. You can find canvas on the bolt (also known as duck cloth) at any fabric store for around $8 a yard. I'm not a big JoAnn's fan but I always buy a bunch there when they mail me a 50% off coupon. Do not buy it in the fine arts section at an art supplies store: they charge way more for virtually the same thing.

You can screen print on anything you can get your screen under. Tote bags, t-shirts, furniture, wood, paper-- the possibilities are endless. The ink will do different things depending on what you're printing on. Canvas is great because the ink actually seeps into the thick fabric-- if you print on paper it just sits on top of the surface.

Here's a chunk of my banner-- you can see how the ink reacts to the canvas and pools a little in the valleys created by the weave. I feel like this method provides an extra layer of texture and softness that isn't there when you print on paper.

So next you'll need ink. I have a fun and inexpensive shortcut here, too. You can buy little jars for ink for $5-10 a pop, but I feel like the color is too strong and abrasive. I buy what's called an extender base (a clear fluid with a snot-like consistency) and then tint it with acrylic paint. You can pick up a big ol quart of Speedball Extender Base for around $12.

So you'll need paint too if you go this route. Here's quite possibly the only instance I've ever encountered where craft paint works better. Its more fluid and mixes into the extender with greater ease.

You'll also need:

- a squeegee (like the window washing kind-- Target has an awesome one with a clear handle and black rubber)
- spatulas
- little plastic containers (save your yogurt cups!)

Next time I'll cover the first part of the printing process!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Process Post: Idea Time!

Writing out my process for pulling ideas together has been difficult, but really helpful. This stage is definitely the most organized I'll ever be in working through a group of prints.

So I feel like I've got a decent handle on what comes next. Perhaps the most important lesson I took from printing in my undergrad was not to try to say too much with my work. Coincidentally, I didn't learn this message until after I finished the degree. You should see my final pieces about women authors, yikes! I actually sewed a real spoon onto a canvas and modge podged rocks into the pocket of a handmade apron for a piece about Virginia Woolfe. It was bad.

These days, I try not to fill work with grand, sweeping meanings but with simple truths. Sometimes I try to think of it like a poem, where writing a beautiful line about the unnoticed detail carries more weight than the tired cliche. Anyway, I might need to pull in the reigns a bit more on this group-- there's certainly a lot going on in it.

Oh, I also want to say this about the idea stage: I am a firm proponent of idea freedom! Many artists try to bottle up their ideas into tight little copyright bottles as if they were handed to them by God himself. The idea that artists have these original visual epiphanies is a myth. Everything builds on what's come before. With that in mind, I think pulling from others is not only ok, but kind of necessary. There is, however, a big difference between a copy and an original-- it should be taken and then made your own-- made better or different or put together with something new and interesting.

I'm going to put these in steps for the sake of saving a little type:

1) I thought about the work I had made before. In previous work I focused completely on simple natural images-- some stylized to meet a graphic aesthetic, others more subtle and organic. I've decided to keep going in that direction, but to pull toward the more subtle from now on.

2) Find new meanings. So once I figure out the general direction, I try to find a few new ways to approach the images I will be pulling together. Its like a game-- once you know what the category is going to be, it becomes a lot easier to find items that fit within it.

My first focus is in going from macro to micro. I'm going to pull out far enough to depict a topographic map of Yellowstone Nat'l Park and then zoom in, one print after another, until I'm at the cellular level. This difference won't be a super big deal-- I won't sell them all as a set that can line up from one to the other or anything, but I'd like see what happens when I pull in slowly, and its help me explore some images that I would otherwise leave be.

The other way I'm going to broaden my scope is to commit a few works to exploring how humans and nature interact. How we study it, consume it, collect it, etc. Again, not to display together, but because its helped me better find images.

3) Impose limits.
These have the potential to be all over the place visually because of the ways I'm building on what I've done before, so in order to keep them under the same umbrella I'm committing to a few aesthetic choices:

1) Softer colors-- lots of white ink
2) Using more screens in each piece for a less graphic, more gradual effect
3) Organic, not harsh line work
4) Using natural, unbleached canvas.

4) Play Pictionary with yourself.
Next I start making lists. I filled a few pages in my sketchbook with random words: agate, brush, prarie, driftwood, stone wall, etc. Anything that fell into the range of my broad categories above. I went back and starred the ones that seemed interesting and circled any I had a personal connection with or was really excited about.

Then I turned those into some rapid thumbnail sketches, and decided that I liked where they were going or didn't. Some I scrap, some I think about and come back to, some I love and keep. I also think about prints I've made in the past, and if revisiting any of those ideas will fit in nicely with the sketches that are coming up.

So here's that list organized by each print type and size, going from micro to macro. I try to assign another word at this point to better describe them.

8x8" screen prints: leaf zoom, honeycomb, overlapping iris, circling fern, vintage wheat, driftwood collection, log pile, water table, rural british landscape.

4x16" screen print diptych: river stones(micro) and a rooted redwood tree (macro)
These will sell separate or together for a deal-- I'm really excited about this one!

Woodcuts: plant cells, stones, fleming creek, braided root, nest, Yellowstone map.

5) Render images several times.
Then I sketch it out a little more-- usually I add color to make sure they're all kind of working together. The color is in no way accurate, but gives me more information than pencil alone. I make small sketches because I think drawing is kind of boring and I like seeing everything on a page together.

So I make tiny ones that don't take long-- these are in a little 5x8" book.

On the left are some of the square screenprint ideas-- on the right is the diptych. They're kind of doodley at this point-- the printing process is great because I lose a lot of control over what they look like-- the end results won't be nearly as bubbly. They'll look nothing like this at the end, but its a start!

I'm going to start with screen prints this time because I feel like those came together a little more naturally than the woodcut prints during this process. Working back and forth allows me to put some ideas 'behind the couch' as an art teacher once said to me. She was a big fan of things working out in their time-- without being forced. So am I.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A very slight shop update

I spent tonight tweaking my shop banner a bit-- I think my photoshop skills are slightly improved since I last made it, and wanted it saved as a .png so its a little less fuzzy

I'd throw up a before and after for comparison, but I just realized that I don't have a before anymore! I bought a new computer this week and its either hidden in some super secret folder from my old files or the banner on etsy was my only copy!

Anyway, here's the new banner:

The back image has changed to a plant cell diagram, the text color is a little lighter than it was before, and I filled the little tree with a different woodgrain and refined it a bit. Just for fun (and because I was curious about this font) I made an entirely new banner as well:

I love how this turned out-- the font is really unique and the distressed look came together nicely. It just doesn't seem to match up with what I'm trying to do though-- there's something about it that doesn't do it for me-- too old fashioned maybe. I'll actually save this one though (what a concept!) and maybe pull it out in the future. It might work nicely with this group of prints I'm stringing together right now.

Speaking of new prints, I've started some sketches for this new series of prints and made a lot of choices already about which direction I'll be going in. One of my goals with this blog was to share the total process of screen and woodcut prints from idea inception to matting and framing, so look for the first post of that series in the next few days. Instead of working print by print, I'll be carrying this new work through each step at the same time and making much larger editions than before, so it'll be a journey worth documenting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

There is Only Make (literally)

No sooner did I write about my incredible first issue of Craft magazine than the O'Reilly publication closed their print shop and threw in the towel. Craft is also folding-- or, as they call it to soften the blow: ceasing to exist in print.

Current subscribers like myself will now be getting the rest of our subscriptions filled with Craft's parent publication Make, which seems to look a bit like the musty old collection of Post-war Popular Science magazines that my grandparents kept in their basement when I was a kid.

By that I mean to say: boring and involving lots of tubes and wires.

If only Dwell weren't so damn bougy-- looks like I'll be ingesting strictly an online inspiration diet from now on. I'm pretty sure print is dying.

Monday, February 9, 2009

On My Nests

An Etsy shopper recently inquired about the wall that I photograph prints on, so I thought I'd show you the whole thing in all of its glory. This is the left living room wall in our 'nest'-- where most of my Etsy photos are taken:

I have a spot on here (currently occupied with a honeycomb print) for rotating 8x8 screenprints for photos. Of the other prints-- some of the prints are mine, some were made by others-- around half of them are rotated and replaced with some frequency.

Of what's always up: the photo is of my grandparents woods. The long topographic looking bit is embroidery on dyed cotton made last year-- I have a wood plate drawn out that will return me to maps (where some of my fine art work from college is from) to print in the next few weeks. The teal map of the world is mounted on foam board above the lamp and was recently acquired for $1 at an Ann Arbor thrift store. At night the lamp light hits it and it looks amazing.

The cabinet below was another thrift find-- hand carved mid-century mod for $14 at our local Salvation Army. After finding it I literally RAN to the front of the store to get a cart to fetch it. Its really hard to find that sort of thing around here-- it was my lucky day!

The gorgeous danish modern chair belonged to my boyfriend's parents-- the joints fit together so well it feels like it was carved away from a single piece of wood and sanded for years. I wish you could see the legs-- they're so nicely done and the lines have such a clean organic feel.

We have an huge south facing window just on the other side of the plants that actually raises the temp. of our apartment on sunny days. We get a lot of light of this place on even the bleakest Michigan winter days, so I'm thankful for that.

As for the actual nests that birds live in, I am working on some new ones. My woodcut editions of the Robin's Nest (all in all-- around 200 prints!) are sold out, and I am done with them! I stuck this little nest on a chalkboard at work last week, and might be adapting it for screen prints:

Maybe a new woodcut too. I am starting to apply for Spring/Summer shows, and would like, for the most part, to kind of launch everything all at the same time, with a similar feeling and aesthetic. I'm trying to figure out exactly what that is right now-- I do know it's going to be more subtle than the work I've been making for the most part.

After June I will be turning my focus to finding a teaching job and, in all likilhood, leaving the mitten-- so I want this set to all work together and carry me through that time.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Q: What's for Dinner? A: Mexican Layer Awesomeness!

(bonus: its pretty!)

I really don't have any excuses not to keep fresh produce in the house at all times, but I hate when we can't eat it in time and I have to pitch it! At least once a week I try to make something that uses up all of these fresh ingredients and some leftovers-- this morning we had loaded omelets and tonight I dumped another half of our refrigerator contents into this recipe.

Basically its a burrito with layers of filling in between each of 4 tortillas. Here's what I used for each layer-- this would be delicious with whatever's sitting in your fridge though!

1) fat free refried beans
2) browned and seasoned ground turkey
3) more refried beans and a cream cheese/canned green chilies spread (just add 2oz cream cheese and a splash of milk to 1/2 can of chilies, microwave until warm and blend-- its like a jalapeno popper spread)
4) spanish rice: leftover brown rice, roasted corn, dried red pepper flakes, and a tiny splash of tomato chutney or tomato paste (heated together in a pan first)

I layered these between flour tortillas in a pie pan and baked the whole thing at 350 for about 25 minutes with tin foil on top. Then I removed the tin foil and allowed the top tortilla to crisp up. I took it out and added some sweet red bell pepper slices and green onions and then served it up with romaine and spring greens on top. This would also be really easy to make vegetarian-- we have delicious soy chorizo at the store that I might throw in next time!

(it was so tasty and I have no wasted produce guilt!)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Custom Orders

shh.. its past my bedtime! I had to squeeze in a quick post about two recent orders though.

The first print was created for Jason Rozen of Grinding Tapes Recording Co. Jason originally ordered a single Honeycomb print and then we worked together to create an entire grouping of Honeycomb prints, the larger one with a zoomed in feel that proportionally works out perfectly when hung next to two smaller prints.

It was a challenge creating this larger print-- fitting together images on two different screens was quite the exercise for my often neglected left-brain, but it came out just lovely despite an evening filled with expletives! The larger print is 17x17" and is also stretched (tight as a drum!) onto a custom made frame. The canvas in larger pieces can dent much more easily than the 8x8"s I usually sell, so stretching it as tight as it can go and using lots of staples is much more important.

I also recently finished a project for my dear friends Adam and Joel. They have these adorable matching yellow kayaks, so we thought it would be cute if I appliqued them onto "Someday the Waves"

I embroidered in a hearty brown split stitch onto hand-dyed 'safety yellow' cotton and then used fabric bonder to apply them to the canvas. I'm so glad I used the thinner cotton-- I love how you can see the ghost of the waves underneath! I also fell back in love with embroidery a little bit while working on these prints-- maybe it'll show up in the shop again sometime soon!

I found myself out and out pining for a summer day on the river as I worked on these-- Michigan winters are torture! This week its been exceptionally nasty frostbite-through-gloves kind of cold.

All right, to bed!