Thursday, August 12, 2010

Waterless Litho Luv, AKA, Somebody Hide the Calligraphy Pens Please

So, a few months ago I had about an hour to pop into a workshop at the Dayton Printmakers Co-Op by Sinclair printmaking professor Kevin Harris for a quick lesson on waterless lithography. For those unfamiliar with the process, it goes something like this... you draw on a grained aluminum litho plate, cover the drawing with a thin layer of silicone, wash off the drawing and voila, you are left with a plate which repels rubber based ink anywhere there is silicone. You can also use the process by transferring a Xerox copy to the plate with lacquer thinner or acetate and then going through the same steps. Sounds pretty simple, eh?

It's not that complicated of a process, but of course there are some variables and things that can go wrong and things you can spend a lot of time correcting. Otherwise it would be something different than printmaking. You are supposed to be able to draw with any water based media so I tried about everything I had around the house, from watercolor pencils to some mixture of Akua Kolor ink and modifiers of who knows what kind, to sharpies and gel pens, which are also supposed to work. I spent a lot of time drawing. Note to self: Always do a small test before investing a lot of time drawing! Needless to say, I wasted a few plates and drawings and hours, but I did get to enjoy the drawing part of it. And I got smart and started scanning in my drawings so in case I ruin the one on the plate I can still try the Xerox method, even though I'm resistant to using anything that is a "reproduction." I think I'm afraid that once I go down that road I'll start going through the thousands of photographs that live on this machine and start trying to print those instead of coming up with new things.

Anyway, I discovered that there's something about the way ink flows onto these aluminum plates from a calligraphy pen, those kind you dip into the ink, that's a little bit magical. There's something about the smoothness of it and the way it clings to the surface that's graceful and sexy and it's hard to resist. And it's perfect for drawing tree limbs. There's also a randomness to the prints that I really like. I keep ending up losing some of the fine detail in the silicone process, as this is one of the variables that it's difficult to get just right. You get it on a little to thick or too thin and then you can't wash away the drawing or you wash off too much. But in a way I like that. It gives a neat and tidy drawing a little edginess, or something like that, and the random stuff can happen with in the inking is also pretty appealing to me.

And I get to play with ink. I've been inking them up with a rubber based black VanSon ink and then applying Akua Kolor over the plate. It's a trial and error process, as it's difficult to get the Akua Kolor just the right consistency to adhere to the naturally wants to bead up. Thin layers brushed on and feathered out very gently seem to work best. I can't get any of the softness I like about my woodcuts with the process, and believe me I've tried and failed, but there's something stark and graphic about the end product that I like. And wow, do I enjoy the drawing part.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Art On The Commons, The Morning After

So, Sunday I experienced my first art fair, Art On the Commons in Kettering, Ohio. It's a pretty big deal around here with about 100 artists juried in, 35 of them local, including me. I'm still thinking about it and trying to figure out what I did wrong and what I did right, and if it was worth the time and effort. Today I'm thinking it was definitely worth it now that I've cleaned up the aftermath of my whirlwind preparations pictured above.

One of my biggest mistakes is evident in that photo...the unfinished and experimental prints. A couple of weeks before something like this is not the time to be trying new things and making new prints, but I just couldn't help myself. When I should have been packaging up prints or reprinting things that I know sell well I was trying out some crazy hand inked collagraphs made from plants, carving and printing a big, yet-to-be-completed reduction print and trying to crank out some monotypes using pieces of lino blocks from previous prints. And there were the three reduction prints that still needed the last impression on over half the prints. I was a printmaking machine and I couldn't stop. I guess, in retrospect, that I didn't want to stop. After all, printing is great and I had a good excuse to be doing it. But the result of my actions was not so fun... two solid days and nights of cutting foamcore and mats and framing, printing up business cards and other collateral at the last minute and almost slicing my finger to the point of needing stitches, and packing my car up like a madman while trying not to bleed on any artwork.

I guess I'm a little regretful that I didn't make the most of the time I had to prepare, which left me a little loopy and not at my sharpest the day of the event, but on the other hand I got to spend the better part of my free time the past few weeks making prints. Or at least trying to. What could be better than that?

One of the craziest things I did during the preparations, though, had to be getting out oil paints and spending half a day painting over a canvas I started 10 years ago, especially considering the fact that I never paint. That is almost tied with the twenty or so hours I spent drawing on two litho plates when I don't know how to do lithography, just because once I started drawing with those litho crayons I really liked it and couldn't stop. I did get one good print from one of them before I ruined the plate, but I guess I can't consider it a good print because it's on newsprint. It was a damn fine litho crayon drawing, though.

Either I have ADD or given an excuse to make some art, that's all I'm going to be doing with every second of time I can find. Anyway, back to the point of the post, the art fair. It went well. I didn't make a huge profit but I slightly doubled the money I had into it, so I can't complain even though I had higher expectations. My expectations were so high, in fact, that I won't have to package up or mat or frame anything for a while, and I can focus on just making art. I've got the business part out of the way through the holidays and I won't have to spend any time or money getting ready for ARTtoBUY at DVAC this year, and I probably have enough packaged prints to start trying to spread them around the Miami Valley...and beyond.

The highlight of the whole thing, though, had to be the people. I just wish I hadn't been so tired and had been more engaging, and I wish I would have remembered to bargain with people who came back for a second look. But it was great to see people I hadn't seen for a while who came to see me because they saw my name in the paper. Also great were the moments when people recognized my work from DVAC and the Cannery, and even better were the three times when absolute strangers came up to me and told me they read this blog and talked about specific posts. How cool is that?

Looking back and writing about it and thinking about it, I would definitely do it all again, in a heartbeat. There's no way I would trade in a few days of crazy-busy for the joy of spending July 2010 making prints and trying new things and meeting people interested in how I print and meeting people who recognize my artwork. I guess after all the years I've spent having my hard work attributed to "artist rendering" that I have to say tonight that it's feeling pretty good to be the artist Andrea Starkey.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Celebrating Two Years of Reduction Printmaking, and Smiling

So, exactly two years ago today I started my first reduction print, these hosta leaves. I know it was exactly two years ago today because it was my birthday and I woke up early on a Sunday morning while everyone else in the house slept in and decided I was going to give reduction printmaking a try. I remembered how unhappy I was with the results as I read this blog post where I refer to it as a "FAIL" and how I put all printmaking aside and waited four months before attempting another.

As I was reading all I could do was smile. It isn't a fail, and for a first attempt and considering the materials I used and the fact that I printed this with my hand and the bottom of a glass and had no idea what a baren was, it's not half bad. I think my expectations were just a little high at the time. I look at the details now and I can see the care that went into every cut and I can remember that initial excitement of what it was like to see what each successive layer would look like printed. Even though this was the print that I wanted to cut up into pieces once it was finished and the print that caused me to put printmaking on hold for months, it was also the print that made me fall in love with the process.

I woke up yesterday morning and I discovered that I had sold my first Hosta print, almost exactly two years to the day that I started it. The best part of selling one of these isn't that I sold one or that someone else liked it enough to buy one. The best part is that it made me take a good look at the print again, and at the past couple of years, and realize that something as simple as the joy I get from carving and inking some lines and and transferring them to paper makes me a lucky person.

Well that and the fact that it did help pay for my birthday dinner.