Friday, October 24, 2014

Press experiments: Registration, Part 2 - Pins and Tabs

Not being able to print when there's a 450-pound wheedling child in your living room is some unique form of torture, I think. Deciding to try a pin-and-tab registration system is one thing. Having to wait for aforementioned pins and tabs to arrive in the post is another thing entirely.

I had just about settled on carving some single-color images so I could at least play with pressure settings and paper when a happy little parcel arrived with today's mail. Hooray!

About a million years ago I worked in a commercial print shop. I set type and did layout via the paste-up method... yes, I am that old. A good friend of mine was our shop stripper, which doesn't mean what you think it means. The stripper took my pasted-up layouts, shot and processed film negatives of them, and then "stripped them up" for exposure to metal lithographic plates. And guess what? He used pins and tabs just like these to do the job.

There are several references to using pin-and-tab systems on the interwebs, this one by Maurice Fykes III is available as a PDF download on the McClain's website. It's a good explanation, but I didn't particularly like the idea of having to secure my lino to bookboard for the entire printing process, mostly because it seemed like clean-up between each color would be a pain in the neck. I also know of instances where printmakers adhere the pins directly on to their lino. This works really well for bleed prints (image goes over the edge of the paper), but I want to find a way to make prints with nice, clean margins.


Enter Registration Experiment #2. I have a mat with an 8 x 10" opening, the size of my unmounted lino block, to which I have adhered the pins. Like this:

The mat should have been wider so the tabs would fall farther from the top of the block and give me a wider paper margin, but for the purposes of this experiment it will be fine.
Once the pins were stuck to the mat board (with clear shipping tape, nice and strong), I started attaching tabs to paper. This is a little tedious, but not horribly so.

Once I had twelve sheets of paper taped up I was ready to print. I started over with a whole new block and all new paper, just to make things easier on myself.

So imagine, if you will, going back and printing the two steps I showed you the other day all over again. And then imagine my initial dismay when my first attempt to print the second color with this new system FAILED. Ugh! Seriously? Is this not going to work?

But I stayed calm and tried the next sheet. Perfect. And the next one? Perfect. In fact that first sheet was the only one that gave me problems, so I suspect some wretched pilot error on that one. Second color a success, so on to the third!

Great. All of these worked, no problem, so I think I'll give colors 4 and 5 a go tomorrow if I can.

The matboard jig is okay, but I don't think it's a long term solution. The board will wear down and eventually the block won't sit as squarely. I'm used to the feel of particle-board-mounted-lino against pine, but don't really want to continue with the thickness that I've been using for handprinting.

Luckily the carpenter at the local lumber yard is accustomed to my odd requests and will happily let me dig around in his scrap pile until an alternate idea presents itself. There are lots of ways to do this, and I just need to find the one that suits me best.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

First tests on the new press!

FINALLY I got to spend some time mucking around with Presston this afternoon! Presston, if you haven't been following along, is a 30 x 60 Takach etching press, acquired just last week.

Up to this point I've been printing my linocuts entirely by hand-rubbing with a baren and spoon. I've got a reliable system down and I enjoy fairly consistent results. But in the last year I've started to have some rather serious pain in my wrists and neck from all this repetitive motion and pressure, so it was time to do something different. Serendipity brought Presston and I together, and now it's time to get to know each other better.

To be honest, I've been a bit nervous to start. I've only made two small reduction relief prints on an etching press before and I don't really know what I'm doing. What if, after all this effort and expense, I find I can't make it work for me?

But this afternoon I finally quit stalling (and finally got far enough along in an illustration job that I don't feel guilty walking away from it for a bit), and made my first foray into press-assisted print.

Ooooh. Fun.

I was delighted to find it really easy to get the roller calibrated, and even more delighted to find both sides completely synchronous.

I considered starting with a single color print, and that probably would have been smart... but I was more excited to print than carve, so went ahead and jumped on in to a reduction piece. It was a good and not-so-good decision.

The good news is that my very first pull was perfect!  Even ink, correct pressure, beautiful impression. The press bed has a nice grid and guides on it, so I thought I'd just try to tape off some registration marks and eyeball it. Why not? I pulled 20 lovely first colors in pretty short order.

You might be able to see a ghost of the drawing here... something I didn't anticipate but can correct in subsequent prints. I draw my images on the block with a Sharpie permanent marker, and usually when hand-rubbing I have very little transfer of Sharpie to the print. With Presston's firm hand I had lots of transfer, but in the future I think that if I draw the image and sand it down a bit before inking it should help.

Encouraged by this initial success I thought I'd go ahead and try out my seat-of-the-pants registration system.

THIS is going to need more thought.

I pulled 8 prints and only got one in good alignment, so clearly I need a more thoughtful registration method. I have another 12 first color prints on the rack, but I'm undecided about carrying on until I can sort out something a little more efficient. I think I'd like to try a pin system, but I haven't ever used one and don't quite know how to set it up. But I'll figure it out! I'm really excited about the possibilities once I get a new routine in place.

So time out for some more research. This first experiment was with unmounted lino, which I think will eventually be the mainstay. But my hand-rubbing registration jig requires mounted blocks, and I have a goodly pile of them that will need to be used at some point. (Plus I have some large single-color images on mounted blocks that I never finished editioning because I needed to give my wrists a break. Presston will make short order of them once I get a system in place.)

It felt really good to work in my "new" space today... so far the set up seems completely functional. As always, I wish I had more horizontal work space, but one does what one can in the space available. A sign of how much fun I was having? I totally forgot to stop and eat dinner.

Stay tuned for future experiments.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Epic of Presston

Mission accomplished! After an epic journey that despite flawless execution somehow took two days longer than expected, Presston is settled in his new home.

I had intended to take loads of photos, but there are only so many view-out-the-front-of-the-moving-truck shots that one can tolerate. My picture-taking started out well enough:

I so rarely fly west, it was a surprise to find myself over
my own valley. That's Twin Lakes and the Forebay
in the center, and I think the controlled burn at O'Haver Lake
in the background.
And yeah. Snow.

My intrepid companion in adventure and I left Salida at oh-dark-hundred last Monday and drove to Woodland Park to leave my car and catch a ride to the Denver airport. From Denver we took a bare bones flight to Las Vegas ($57!), where we were met by the indomitable Suzanne Hackett-Morgan of the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

Suzanne and the Barbie Jeep drove us to Pahrump, Nevada to pick up a very large rental truck, and then we were off in to the Mohave desert to collect Presston and some other equipment. At this point I think G started to wonder just what he'd agreed to.

The schlepping team: Suzanne, David, Greg, oh SHOOT, 
I forgot his name, Dane, and Richard.

In Beatty Suzanne rounded up some help and we moved Presston, two tables, a cabinet, a drying rack, a hot plate, and other miscellaneous stuff into the truck. This is a far simpler statement than it was an activity. Presston alone weighs over 400 pounds and it was 90 degrees in Beatty... a cooling-off for the locals, but an abrupt return to summer for someone who had just left snowy peaks.

Last light from the Barn, click to embiggen
 But we managed to finish up and to get some other items schlepped out to the Goldwell Barn, just as the last light disappeared from Death Valley.

Suzanne treated us to dinner at the Sourdough Saloon, where we met some local characters and where I found the coolest door latch in a women's restroom in a bar ever. Well, maybe not ever. But certainly in a long time. Not that I spend much time in bars. Or in bathrooms in bars. Oh, nevermind.

We stumbled to bed (from fatigue, not bar offerings), and the next morning saw oh-dark-hundred AGAIN. Gas station coffee and breakfast sandwiches in hand we headed east. It looked like this:

And a little while later, it looked like this:

The good news is that those thin clouds became thicker clouds and we had overcast skies for the next two days of driving. Not so picturesque for photography, but certainly nice and cool for desert travel.

We ended up driving for almost 15 hours on Tuesday, arriving in Albuquerque, New Mexico well after dark and unfortunately also after they closed northbound I-25 for construction. Tired and cranky AND having to find a new route across town in a 16-foot truck? Definitely a trip low point. But we made it, found a place to stay, and were satisfied to only have a 4.5-hour drive the next day.

Wednesday we were in Colorado in time for lunch in Alamosa, and then the final push for home. G and I unloaded the tables and made some decisions about how to set up the living-room-now-studio-space, and then gave up for the day. (I had a plan, but of course it completely changed once we had the actual equipment.) Thursday it rained all day, but we finished sorting equipment and studio, put some items (like a huge drying rack that I can't fit in my space just now) in to storage, and welcomed a cadre of young men from the Salida High School cross-country team to help schlep Presston into place. (The scariest moment for me.)

Definitely NOT the hot, dry Mohave. Headed to Colorado Springs
for the last steps of the journey.
We were not quite finished yet, though. Yesterday (Friday) I had to pick up my car on the way to returning the truck in Colorado Springs and a piece of equipment that we brought with us for Colorado College had to be delivered. And of course I had to go cheer for the cross country team at their District meet in CaƱon City on the way home. I owed them that, at least.

So now it's Saturday, and although there are still some shelves to install and some lighting to sort out, the studio space is looking good. Presston dominates the scene, of course, as he should.

click to embiggen these funky phone-camera panoramas

For me the rest of today will be about post-trip bookkeeping, email triage, and a desperate trip to the grocery store. (And probably a nap.) But from time to time I'll get up and wander to the studio... find a little more dust to clean off of Presston... and start to find my way to a new working method. It's a new era for this printmaker!

OOPS! I almost forgot to mention that Presston made at least part of his journey on the infamous Route 66. The one photo I have from the trip that isn't from the window of the truck! (It's from the gift shop of our stop for Second Breakfast, but hey...)

Monday, October 6, 2014

P*-minus 48 hours and counting! (*Press)

An older field drawing to keep you company.
By the time this posts on Monday morning, my friend G and I will be on our way to the airport and our rendezvous with Presston.

It's a complicated journey: drive to Colorado Springs to leave a vehicle (2 hrs), catch a ride to DIA (2 hrs), fly to Vegas (2 hrs), catch a ride to pick up the rental truck (1  hr), drive another hour to Presston's current location to load up. Hopefully we will sleep like logs and then begin the 1,000-mile drive back to Salida Tuesday morning. We'll unload here, then continue back to Colorado Springs to drop off additional equipment and return the truck. And THEN back to the car and home to settle back in to my space and try to figure out how to work a whole new way!

In theory we'll be back in Salida just about 48 hours after we leave, but it's hard to say. This sort of epic road trip seemed a lot easier 20 years ago. I already want more sleep. But...ooooooh! I'm getting a PRESS!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I'm the Featured Artist at Artsy Shark!

It was nice to wake up this morning to a message from Carolyn over at the Artsy Shark website. I'm today's Featured Artist!

In addition to featuring the work of artists in a wide variety of media, Artsy Shark provides lots of great articles and inspiration about many facets of this crazy ol' art business. Stop on in and check it out!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The effort before the reward

Sands Lake at sunrise, Salida

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I may not like getting up early in the morning, but I do like being up. A few days ago a friend dragged me out for a walk at dawn, and while I might have grumbled about it I definitely appreciated the chance to experience a morning like the one pictured above.

And now I appreciate it even more, because it gives me a nice metaphor for the current state of life in general: I'm not particularly enjoying the lead-up, but I know I'm going to love the result. Ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please... I have an announcement to make!

I'm getting a Big Girl Press! 

I realize this isn't the first time you've watched me get all twitchy about a press. Back in 2011 I brought Elvis (Press-ley), a Richeson baby press, into the studio. Elvis has his moments, but he's no precision machine and he's limited to prints smaller than 9 x 12 inches.

Then there was Presszilla, a lovely chunk of 1940s-vintage proof press. Unfortunately, for all her handsome steel bulk, Presszilla won't do much larger than 9 x 12, either, and she needs some TLC. Sorry to say she's still living in storage... but one of these days....

So I've continued to hand rub 99% of my prints, and found that my physical limits top out around 12 x 18 inches. In fact these days my physical limits are even more limited: I've developed some rather alarming problems with my wrists and it's been clear for some time that I need to do something different. Plus DANGIT, I want to work larger.

I've been half-seriously shopping around for an etching press... doing the Google thing every once in a while to see what turns up... but nothing has come of it. And really... where would I put it? I've been back to working in my "spare" bedroom and things are tight as it is....blah blah blah.

So went the mental conversation, until a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled quite by accident upon a great deal on a great press. In Nevada. There was a lot of hemming and hawing, mostly about minor details like money and space, but finally with the counsel and support of some really good friends I went ahead and said YES!

Of course that was the easy part. Now I have to rearrange my small apartment to accommodate a 30" x 60" (!!!!) etching press, get myself and a friend to Nevada, rent a truck, and haul the thing home.

The rearranging part started yesterday. This is the mess that used to be my living room but will now be the studio. I'm losing a sofa, but gaining a press. I had considered using this space as the studio when I moved in here just six months ago, but I couldn't figure out how to make it all fit (and the sofa wouldn't get through any door other than the front one).

 Once it was clear that the sofa would have to go, moving my "sitting room" and office to the bedroom was a little easier. It looks huge here in this iPhone-generated panorama photo, but the room is just under 10 x 12 feet. You can not imagine the headscratching that went on trying to fit all these darn bookcases in here. I'd like to find some other cushy reading chair for this room (now that I will be sofa-less), but for the most part it's feeling like it will be a nice, cozy space.

 Needless to say, there's not much printing in the forecast for this week or next. The Big Road Trip will begin next Monday, and in the meantime I need to find a home for the sofa and get the studio space prepped for the arrival of.... PRESSTON!

(PS: I almost forgot! I managed to save ALL of the sunset linos! Whew! Dodged that disaster, I did.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heartbreak in the print drawer: A cautionary tale

Ah, yes. June. Do you remember June? I do. Sort of. In June I made a linocut of a sunset -- My first sunset, even. It turned out pretty well and I was happy with it.

The edition of 12 hung on the drying rack for some time, and then I stacked the prints between sheets of glassine and put them away in the drawer. I was a little concerned that although dry to the touch they might not quite be ready for stacking, but I checked them a few days later and everything seemed fine.

So I forgot about them, and the rest of the summer happened.

This week I was moving prints around in drawers and discovered.... tragedy.

I hesitate to reveal this disaster to the entire blogosphere, but my friend Brenda once gave me a mug that says "It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others," so here we go:

While the few prints in the top of the stack were fine, the ones at the bottom suffered from the weight above and the glassine interleaving was STUCK to the prints. More than half of them. Like this:

Say it with me now: Oh S@#$!

I spent a few minutes coming to terms with the fact that I might have lost more than half of the edition, and then tried to oh-so-carefully peel up the glassine.

We can say that word again. After much lip-biting and gentle persuasion, I got to this:

Little bits of glassine were still stuck to the print. Not pretty.

I walked away.

But after I berated myself for a while I had a thought that went something like this:

"Okaaaayyyyy.... wait. I have used oil-based inks. The glassine stuck to these darkest bits because the ink layers are thickest there (and therefore didn't dry at the same rate as the rest of the image). More ink means the paper underneath is probably well-protected from water. I wonder if I can lift these little bits of glassine with a damp towel. Worth a try. Can't make things worse."

And so I tried. And sure enough... with slow, delicate application of damp towel followed by immediate application of dry towel I can, indeed, lift the stuck bits without damaging the print.

It's slow going, and tedious. (I think of art conservators and feel extra respectful.) I don't know that I'll be able to save all of the prints... the bottommost ones are really, really stuck... but I won't lose the entire edition.

I'm really surprised at the extent of "stuckness," since I've never had this problem before. Okay... once before... earlier this year... smaller prints stacked even higher had a few slightly stuck pieces at the bottom... but the glassine pulled away easily and it was no big deal. Not like this.

So. I'm not sure what happened. I suspect a combination of thinner print paper, darker pigment (Did I put black in this last blue? Black can take forever to dry completely.), lots of transparent base, and a wetter-than-usual summer. But who knows? Maybe I should stack prints between newsprint for a while before the glassine. Printmakers... have any of you run across this problem?

I guess I know what I'll be doing in the evenings now that it's getting dark earlier. (sigh) I like to think I'll be able to turn this into a meditative action, but at the moment I'm ruminating rather than meditating.

But hey... I bet I don't make this mistake again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tying up loose ends and being AT loose ends

A better scan of the Paintbrush
linocut. Click to embiggen.
The recently-completed "Paintbrush" linocut is dry enough to scan but not yet dry enough to store, so it remains suspended on my drying rack for a few more days. I've drawn up (mostly) a new piece, but not yet trimmed paper for it. I'm shuffling work around my studio in anticipation of a show change at my local gallery.

You're right. I'm procrastinating.

I'm dragging my feet for a couple of reasons. The first is that I have to be away a couple of days this week and don't want to start something and walk away from it. The second, more troubling, reason is that I'm not completely enamored of my idea.

I'm not completely enamored of ANY of my ideas.

In fact I pretty much hate every idea that enters my head right now.

Yep. I've got the post-success, I'll-never-do-anything-better, who-am-I-trying-to-kid, fraud-syndrome blues. It happens. Maybe not to all artists, but to a lot of us. Accolades and sales can be as mentally stressful as shows that fall flat (and I had one of those this summer, too). Self-doubt always lies in wait, eager to trip me up.

So how do I deal with it? The usual ways, of course: tantrums, moping, chocolate. And this week? Drawing.

Feeding my crankiness has been the inability to get outside to draw from life, but I finally quit whining about it and settled for sifting through my photos. Instead of looking for a great idea I allowed myself to just explore images that offered an opportunity to learn something: challenging postures, interesting textures, unusual points of view. Bad photography becomes good learning tool.

I still don't have a great idea, but I feel better about taking the time to practice my drawing skills and consider my next piece. Moving a pencil around moves my mind around and it reminds me why I do "this art thing" in the first place: to explore, learn, and grow.

So, HUSH, you Nagging Voices and be still, you Monkey Mind. Artist at work.