Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Pendulum Swings!

I sometimes wonder if I have what it takes to make work full-time, because the process of creating is a bit tricky for me. I need everything to feel right-- I can't come home and dive in if I've had a bad day, or I'm thinking about my bills. My surroundings need to be organized and peaceful. And then, once everything is in place for the show, I have to pull back the curtain and not recite, but invent my lines.

And then I have to trust whatever story those lines tell-- sometimes they are pulled more toward one type of subject matter, or medium, or color palette. Sometimes I don't feel like I have a whole lot to do with what direction I'm headed in-- there's an intuition at work that just takes me there.

Such is the case with the recent prints. I've spent months working almost exclusively on screen prints, only reverting back to woodcuts when I need to pull a handful off the same plates I've been using since last winter. I've reopened and touched up a few new pieces, but haven't made anything new in awhile. Ok, that's not true, I did cut up a plate a few months ago and I hated it. I had been thinking about it for forever, and it seemed just fine when I carved it, and then I pulled the print and I hated it. That doesn't happen very often these days. So I told myself to put it 'behind the couch' as an art teacher once told me and come back to it later. Later turned into the better part of two seasons.

And then, like a spark, it comes back. Its hard to explain how this happens when you work in two mediums exclusively. I did come close to an explanation by way of a blog post by amazingly reflective an articulate fellow Etsy seller Allison Sattinger of Sunny Rising. If you compared art to real-world jobs (ha!) the two types of prints I make would be like working in related jobs in the same field-- say chemistry and physics. Allison's working life, in silversmithing and leather tooling, is more like bouncing between ballet and construction.

Here's an excerpt from her blog that sums up this duality in ways of making perfectly:

I cannot breathe in enough of the scent of leather
nor can I seem to tool enough....
The pendulum which had swung to silver for so many weeks has swung to leather
one field lays fallow while another is seeded and harvested -
that's the way to keep the earth full of nutrients
and the mind blossoming with ideas and activity.

I can relate entirely. So, my pendulum appears to be swinging back toward woodcut prints, which is too bad because I just bought a $40 gallon jug of screen print ink. Today I made a woodcut from start to finish, and I thought I'd give you a little 'making tour'

So first I draw the image on the plate. The plate is the same size as the paper the print will go on, so I decide on a border size first. Then I draw the image in pencil, and again in black sharpie. The black sharpie is great for this because you get lines with about the same weight as your finished product, not too fine in the detail department. Then I cut away all of my line work with a Dremel tool with small sanding attachment. This is where I depart from most relief printers, who use hand tools. The Dremel cuts approximately 99% of the time away from this process-- with the added bonus of not swearing under my breath or cutting my hands. The vibrating does require occasional breaks because your hand will go numb.

All carved away-- the Dremel cuts curves with ease, this would be nearly impossible with hand tools.

Next I make a frame from paper and tape with a hinge on one side. After I ink up the plate I can swing this frame over the print to prevent ink around the edges from touching the paper.

Then I squeeze some ink out of the tube, loosen it up with a palette knife, roll it out with a brayer, and ink up the plate. At this point I can see where I'm going to want to go back in with the Dremel later and touch up some leaves.

Then I put a piece of paper on top, push the ink into the paper with a wooden spoon and voila! Finished product. This is called Bracken Fern :)

Here's a close-up of the wet ink. I use oil-based inks because I think the texture is so must finer and smoother after the drying process is complete. This print will take around 2 days to dry completely, at which time the ink will feel and look almost like suede.

I've been feeling the need to switch my subject matter from one process to the other-- so in addition to seeing woodcut prints with ferns, leaves, stones and other subjects from my screen prints, I am starting to envision screen prints with the nests and rock formations and roots. Hopefully new inspiration with intervene at some point as well.

If you're looking for a more in-depth explanation of how woodcut prints work, I recently posted a PowerPoint tutorial to my web site that you can download or view online. Maybe your pendulum will swing toward woodcut prints too!


Sunny Rising Leather said...

You are amazing! I am honored to be quoted by such
a real talent - thank you :)

Marcy said...

Aww-- thanks Allison! I love love love your work, both metal and leather alike-- and the kind of relationship you have with what you do-- with the materials, process, products, really resonates with me.