Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reduce Reuse Reevaluate

© Hannah Phelps
Maine Wave
jigsaw reduction relief, 10" x 12"

Earlier this week, I shared a quote about what a print edition is and we talked about reduction methods automatically limiting an edition because the block gets destroyed in the process.*

When I start printing the very first color, I have to decide how many prints I want to make. Say I choose to print 50 in the first layer. As soon as I carve the block, I can't go back and make more because the block is different. Now I have 50 pieces of paper with my first color on them and I will add layers to them as I go - as many colors as I need until the print is finished and the block is all carved away.

If you are thinking that I automatically have an edition of 50, you are.....


If everything goes perfectly during the printing process, I would have 50. How likely is that?

I have to make enough impressions in the beginning that I can afford to lose some to registration problems, uneven inking, a tiny spot of black in the yellow ink I don't notice before I roll it on the block, or any number of other problems.

Mistakes early in the process - just a few layers into it - become "proofs", or test prints I can play with when I mix new colors. Proofs are useful, but they are not part of the final edition.

Now the edition number is 50 minus the number of prints that became proofs. Say we had 5 mistakes during printing, that would mean we have 45 impressions left. But we still don't have our final edition number.

Those 45 survivors have one more inspection to pass: The Conformity Test. Are they similar enough to make an edition?

They won't be identical - I am not a machine. My prints will all be a tiny bit different and I will always be able to point out the idiosyncrasies. But will you be able to tell? Are the differences kinda charming in some way?

The print above is done now, but I will look at all of the impressions and decide how many prints will be offered in the edition. Soon.

This isn't the only edition issue in my studio right now. What happens when the printing process is more intense and the resulting blocks are as beautiful as the prints?

Stay tuned art fans...

*For a great description of reduction relief, read this by printmaker Sherrie York.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Knowing Our Limits

© Hannah Phelps
Cheers to Art Buyers
2011 Annual Collector Card
relief print, 42/45

It is a good thing we painted outside when we could last week! The weather is back to normal - meaning cold and grey and threatening to be wet.
I have plenty to do inside anyway. I think the print I have been teasing you with is done. But I can't show it to you yet because I have to figure out how many of the prints are good enough to be members of the official edition.

Let's talk about what that means for a minute. I happen to have a handy book that explains a print edition very well:

"The practice of limiting the number of impressions of a print in order to create an artificial rarity for the benefit of the collector is a relatively recent development, dating only from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Often the impressions are signed and numbered by the artist; a number such as 6/20 indicates that the impression was the sixth in an edition of twenty impressions. When the edition is complete the plate or block is often defaced by scratching lines across it; this is known as 'canceling'. In the early days of printmaking editions were not limited: so long as demand continued the plate was used until it wore out."*

There is a lot to talk about here, so we are going to break it up into topics. The first item up for discussion:

Defacing blocks or plates - yikes! 

Remember that the seascape I am working on is a reduction relief, and the block gets ruined during the creation of the prints anyway. All the colors are printed from one block and material is removed for each layer. An artist could keep printing the last layer over and over again, but they can't recreate the whole print unless they start over with a whole new block. The process naturally cancels the edition. I kind of like how neat and tidy that is.

If step one for editioning is limiting the total number of prints, then that gets a check mark - the print edition has been limited by the reduction process. That doesn't mean that all the impressions will make the final cut.....

I will explain why in the next post.

* Goldman, Paul Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolours, Los Angeles:  British Museum Press, 1988, 26.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nice Day

 © Hannah Phelps
On the Shelf
oil on canvas, 6" x 6"

Was I predicting the future when I chose a bright sunny seascape for the March page of the 2012 Calendar?

I am headed out to the coast today for the first plein air painting excursion of the year. I am wondering if I should wear shorts.... It is only March. Even if it is hot enough I won't, just out of principle.

There is a little work to do before I get to the fun part. It will probably take all morning to pack my bag - my tools have drifted apart in the studio during the winter. What do I even bring? How does all that stuff fit in my backpack? Or in my truck?

Luckily, I am meeting another painter, so between the two of us we should remember anything we might really need.

Even better, spending a beautiful, sunny afternoon staring at the sea is actually my job. And my dogs get to join me in "the office."

It is going to be a great day.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Creative Half-life

© Hannah Phelps
relief print in process

Paintings and prints have something similar to a half-life - the closer they get to "done" the less there is to do, but somehow it takes the same amount of time and energy to figure out what that is and do it as in the bigger steps and earlier stages.

Maybe half-life isn't the best term to use, since it is about the destruction of material and I am constructing something, but I think you get the picture.
I can use all the fancy terms and scientific metaphors I want, the print you’ve been following in the past couple of weeks just plain old isn’t done. And it won’t get done until it is done. And that might be tomorrow when I add the “final layer” or it might be next week after I have decided it needs yet another layer.

Just because one print isn’t finished, doesn’t mean I can’t start new ones. 
In fact, it is helpful to work on two at once. While one is drying, I can work on the other one.

The new print, pictured above, has three layers so far. I know it just looks like a yellow square.  That will change soon.

Stay tuned...


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day at the Museum

 How to Wrap Five Waves
artist: John Cederquist
Yesterday, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA with a friend. It was my first time since they added the Art of the Americas wing - now the new home of some of my favorite pieces in the collection, including John Singer Sargeant's and Winslow Homer's paintings. It was exciting to see the brand new galleries and the familiar art and artifacts.

I would love to give a detailed rundown of our day, but the museum is absolutely HUGE now and my friend and I got lost several times trying to see specific things and I have no idea how we ended up anywhere. Of course, there is art all over the place, so while we were wandering around we ran into lots of great stuff to look at anyway.

I think we searched for Paper Zoo for hours before we gave up and decided to leave. At the last second we found it and had just enough energy to enjoy the exhibit of animal related works on paper.

The photo at the top of the post was shot in one of the contemporary galleries. Cool use of Hokusai's Great Wave, huh?


Monday, March 12, 2012

Pressing It In

© Hannah Phelps
block and print on press

For the past week or so, we've been talking about a brand new jigsaw reduction relief. I have told you that I am carving the design into a woodblock and using oil-based inks.

After the ink is rolled onto the wood, how does it end up on the paper? 

There are a few ways to transfer an image onto paper. In Life on the Edge and my white-line woodcuts, I place a piece of paper on the block and rub it with a wooden spoon. This pushes the paper into the ink so it can now sport its own image - the reverse of that on the block.

Hand rubbing is a very traditional method in printmaking and lots of artists use spoons. But I wanted to try something else with this print, so I am running the block through a press.

I love using a press! The extra pressure is embossing some of the shapes in the print. I don’t have a press at home, so for now I can only print at the local art school. I have a regular class each week and there are some open studio hours, so this hasn’t been a problem.

Soon, there should be a photo of the final print! Just a few more layers to go. I think...


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rolling It On

© Hannah Phelps
jigsaw relief print in progress
oil ink on paper

As we discussed in the last post, the print I am working on right now is different from the first jigsaw reduction I did, Life on the Edge. To create the print shown above, I used the wood block you saw earlier. 

Second major change in method between this seascape and the dog print? Instead of using water soluble inks, I am using oil-based inks.

Some artists HATE oil-based anything - the mediums are too messy, the cleanup is too smelly, everything is too toxic, etc.

I happen to love the oils I use for my paintings, so switching to oil-based inks isn’t a big stretch for me. Clean-up is a tiny bit harder, but I don’t mind it. No matter which type of inks (or paint) I use, I tend to get it everywhere  - pallet, rollers, knives, block, face, pants, dogs - and everything has to be ink-free after I finish a layer. Water-based materials clean up easily with soap and water, but that won't work for oils.  The secret is slathering it all with regular old vegetable oil - no stinky solvents needed! Vegetable oil softens the ink enough to wipe off any surface.

There is a little more drying time between layers using oil-based inks, but I've been able to add a layer a week and that is fast enough.  And so far, I love the consistency and the colors.

This print isn't done yet and the "pressure is mounting"... I'll explain in the next post!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cutting It Up

© Hannah Phelps
printmaking block as a jigsaw

As I reported last week, creating Life on the Edge left me wanting to make more jigsaw reduction reliefs.

The two I am working on now are different from Life on the Edge in a few critical ways - for one thing the block is made of wood instead of linoleum.

Wood is harder than linoleum and it has a grain. That makes carving intricate shapes a little trickier. It also means that the grain pattern shows up in the image.

To cut the block into pieces, I used a saw instead of an exacto knife. I had a little less control over the saw than I expected, so I had to adjust some of my shapes as I cut.

While the linoleum blocks reunited seamlessly for printing, I knew that the wood pieces wouldn’t. A little bit of material is lost during cutting - that creates a gap between the shapes and shows up in the image as a white outline.

Hmmmm... a white-line, eh? This could get interesting.

I tried to incorporate that into my composition from the start. I won’t know if it is really ok until I am completely done in a another layer or two.

Want to know more about what is happening with this print? I will talk more about it in my next blog entry!


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dog Gone Museum

©Hannah Phelps
Life on the Edge
jigsaw reduction relief print, 7" x 12"

As I get ready for my solo show at the Washington Printmakers Gallery this summer, I have to juggle some other opportunities also.

One very cool is example is that my brand new print, Life on the Edge, has now been added to the permanent collection of the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in Rochester, NH.

Not only is it AWESOME to have my art in a museum, the print itself was a successful experiment and that makes it doubly exciting. It is a color relief print using just one block, but it was created in an entirely different way than my white-line woodcuts.

For starters, I used linoleum instead of wood. Linoleum is softer than wood, so it is easier to carve and there isn’t a grain to work with or fight against - the carving tool can go in any direction I choose. Specifically, I used “easy-cut” linoleum, which is thick, very squishy and not mounted to any stiff backing. 

That meant that I could cut the entire block into to two pieces with an exacto knife:

easy-cut linoleum block cut into two pieces 

Why would I do that?

I knew that I wanted to use the “reduction” method to create a color print, but I didn’t want to limit the print to just one family of colors. Usually, reduction reliefs are created by printing one color and then carving out the areas on the block that will remain that first color, printing a second color and then carving out more areas. This is repeated until the image is complete. Often, we work from light to dark, so any highlights are carved out first and the really dark shadows or outlines will be printed last.

By cutting the block into two pieces, I could use two colors at once on the same layer - I inked the top piece in green or blue for the water while the dog and rock were inked in yellow or brown. After I applied color to both pieces, I put them back together, placed the paper on top and printed the image. 

photo of print after inking the second layer

I repeated this 6 times for a total of 12 colors.

This was so much fun that I am making more jigsaw reduction reliefs, this time in wood. They are in the very early stages. The light layers don’t show up well in photos, but I will share them with you when they have bulked up a bit.

In the meantime, you can see Life on the Edge at the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts (1 Dover Road, Rochester, NH 03867) at the Grand Opening this Saturday night from 7 pm -9:30 pm!
Or you can have an art collection that is just like a museum’s....
This print is one of twenty-five, so if you find yourself envious of the r.MFA, you can have one of your very own! They are available now at my Etsy store.