Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Tandem

I live in Northeastern Wisconsin, in the southern Fox River valley.  It's a great place to live - close to everything, relatively safe, all four seasons represented - and LOTS of printmakers.  :)

If you're into the history of printmaking, Wisconsin is a fantastic place to start!  The University of Wisconsin has one of the best printmaking facilities in the nation, which began shortly after WWII (1946).  At that point, hardly anyone was making prints.  But it only took one professor, Alfred Sessler, to change all that.  Since then, the printmaking department at the "UW" reads like a "who's who" of notable printmakers: Warrington Colescott, William Weege and Raymond Gloeckler are just a few of the names you'll hear over and over.

But I didn't know any of this when, on a cold March day last year, my sister Jen and I visited the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison.

We were on one of our "sister days", where we take a whole day and explore one part of the city.  We always have a GREAT time, and Jen always picks such neat places to visit!  When we visit Madison, we usually take just one neighborhood - Atwood Avenue, Williamson ("Willy") Street, Monroe Street - but on this day, we began on the UW campus (of which the Chazen is a part) for the  incredible "1934: A New Deal for Artists" exhibit.  (Side note: if you're in Madison and would like to visit the Chazen, you can thank some very generous donors for making this amazing art museum FREE to the public!)

That particular exhibit was everything I hoped it would be, but then we ventured into other areas of the museum.  One part of the museum showcased prints by Judy Pfaff.  I was instantly mesmerized!!!  I read the tag to these prints and it happened to say "Courtesy of Tandem Press".  At this point, I assumed that Tandem was a publishing house, and I mentioned to Jen, "I have to find the book that was published by this "Tandem!"

But she said to me, "I think Tandem is an actual working press. In fact, I think I've been there!  Should we go and check it out?"

So, after a lovely break at this awesome coffee shop, Indie Coffee, we made the 3-mile drive to an unassuming warehouse.  When we walked in, a lovely woman with a delightful Irish brogue came up to us and asked if we'd ever been here before.  Jen said she had, but that this was my first time.  I thought that would be the end of it, and that she'd let us on our merry way, but she asked if we'd like a tour.  WOULD WE?!  But being the polite, unimposing women we are, we asked many times first if it would really be okay, since we could clearly see that they were hard at work.

So this lovely lady says, "NONSENSE! That's why we're here!"

Okay!!  So she calls over to one of the workers and says, "These ladies would like a tour."  To which he replies, "Of course!  Come on in!"

At this point, I think Jen and I were both wondering what was going on - I mean, everyone's so nice!  How could they not be totally annoyed that these two people, who just wandered in off the street, are ruining their concentration and work flow?  Well, if they were annoyed, they sure didn't show it!!  The gentleman introduced himself as Andy Rubin, one of the master printmakers at Tandem, and that he'd been there essentially since it opened.  He'd come from L.A., at a place called Gemini Press.  (It's a good thing that I didn't know about any of these people when we were at Tandem last March, because I would've been star-struck.  I've come to learn since that these folks are essentially rock stars of the print world.)

So we got went on the tour, which was EXHILARATING.  It was, for me, a seminal experience.  And I knew it, even then.

We were just about to leave, when I finally saw it - Judy Pfaff's "Year of the Dog #8".  How I could've missed it before, I have NO idea - it's roughly 3 feet by 8 feet!!  Mr. Rubin explained to us that she created this work using woodcuts and stencils.  At this point I had NO idea how any of that would be created, but I knew that I wanted to learn more about how to do it.  I don't think any one piece has ever captured my imagination like this piece had.  And to think that she came all the way from her studio out east JUST to do prints at Tandem, in little old Madison, Wisconsin?  It started to dawn on me that Tandem was Mecca for well-known artists wanting to learn printmaking.

We left when the tour was over, and that nice lady with the Irish accent asked it we'd like to be on the mailing list.  YES!!  So we signed up and left.  As we were getting into the car, the woman called out to us:  "Oh!  I forgot to give you a brochure of our upcoming print sale!"  Which I thought was way over and above what she had to do, considering I thought she was an administrative assistant.

When we were at the Chazen, I had picked up a book called "Tandem Press:  25 Years of Printmaking" because we were headed there and it looked interesting.  When I came home and began reading it, my stomach sank - that lovely Irish lady who was so kind and thoughtful turned out to be none other than Paula McCarthy Panczenko, Executive Director of Tandem.  Talk about a shock!!  She was unlike any other executive director of a non-profit I'd ever met.  Even more coincidental - her husband, Russell Panczenko, is the Director of the Chazen.  I would find out later that he's on the board of the MOWA, where I am a docent. SMALL world!  :D

Ms. Panczenko herself has been quoted as saying that Tandem Press is her obsession and that "people see things here that change their lives." (Progressive Printmakers: Wisconsin Artists and the Print Renaissance, p. 194.)  This is true for me.  That one "sister day" last March set in motion a change in my own artwork and eventually, a change in medium.  I continue to be inspired by that trip, and I'm SO glad the Chazen and Tandem exist!

P.S.  I HIGHLY recommend the aforementioned Progressive Printmakers book, even if you don't live in Wisconsin, or even the U.S.!  It's a great resource for printmaking history.  :D

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Coloring my Prints

I have a question for my fellow artists - do you ever feel melancholy at the end of a project?  You're going along, completely enjoying the process, however long that takes (SO nice to not have a strict deadline), and when you find yourself in the final stages of it, you don't want it to end?

That's how I feel with this "Birches" block! :)

I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed working on this particular project!  It's the first edition that I've created specifically for printing on my new S.C.O.P.E. press.  It's the first project where I printed all 10 prints of the edition at once.  And it's the first edition that I've colored!

Oh....the COLORING!! I've been having a BLAST with the coloring!  I hand colored this edition, and so far I have two colorways - the "Birches in Spring"":

And "Birches in Winter".   

For the "Spring" print, I used various shades of green/chartreuse watercolor on watercolor paper, but also collaged tiny bits of real birch bark on some of the trunks!  :)  For the "Winter" print, I just used straight-from-the-pan blue-gray watercolor on block printing paper.  I like them both, because they're so different.  I attempted an "Autumn" print, but it just looked like the forest was on fire.  :D

At some point, I WILL attempt a reductive print.  Honest!  I just have to face my fears, is all.  :)

I can't wait to start my new block!!  I may try a woodcut next.  Stay tuned!  :D

Monday, January 20, 2014

Printing Birches

In my last post, about the meditative properties of carving, I was working on a block which would eventually become a grove of birch trees.  I'm happy to report that it's finished!

Even more exciting - yesterday was Print Day! :D

Because I'm so new at this - or maybe you veteran printmakers feel this way, too - I just marvel at the S-L-O-W process.  I'm used to working on a project, from start to finish, in about 4 hours.  With printmaking, one really must remember to be mindful of every step and to be patient.  I must admit, it's taking some getting used to - but I LOVE it.

Here is the palette I chose for my block - I was surprised by how much the brown blended in with the other colors!

Rolling the ink on the block....

Setting up the block on the press....

VOILA!!  Birch prints!!

I decided to make this an edition of 10.  Here are two of the prints, but I printed the block on all sorts of backgrounds - Gampi tissue, an old business letter, rice paper, etc.  

I'm letting the prints dry today, but tomorrow begins Phase III - coloring and final touches!!  Stay tuned!  :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Meditative Practice of Carving

Remember those old Westerns, where some old-timer would be sittin' on the front stoop, whittlin' a piece of wood, with a piece of wheat stickin' outta his mouth?  I remember wondering why on earth anyone would do this!  Seemed like a pretty big waste of time to me (as if watching countless sitcoms during the '70s was time well spent).

Well, 35 years later, I'm happy to report that I finally get it.  :)

I began carving just last February out of sheer necessity - I had to make a set of stamps to be replicated for a mixed media class I was teaching, so I grabbed some Speedy Carve™ and got to work, knowing nothing about technique or tools.  The stamps turned out okay, but I carved too deep in many spots and the original stamps became pretty weak.  I'm glad I have them in bulk, or they'd be gone forever! Here's one of those original stamps I made:

Even without the benefit of knowledge or even any skill, I was HOOKED.  I began looking into battleship grey linoleum, which led me to wood (I still carve both).  It was also at this point where I began voraciously reading any book I could get my hands on that would teach me proper carving techniques.  And last November, I took my first woodcut class with the super-talented Angie Zimmerman at Sheboygan Visual Arts (read all about that fantastic experience here).

With a little more knowledge and practice under my belt, I began to relax a little and really enjoy the rhythm of carving.  For you hand-carvers out there, you know what I'm talking about.  :)  You just enter a zone.  And once you're in it, you find yourself whiling away hours doing something you enjoy immensely. My routine is to plug in my tablet into my stereo system, find the Miles Davis channel on Pandora, turn on my Ott-Lite™ (that I got for SUPER cheap thanks to my friend Janel!), and get to work.

Here's a piece I'm currently working on - I'm using my micro gouges, as it only measures 4" X 5" and there are some tiny spaces to carve (my favorite!).  Can you guess what it'll become?  :)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Taking the Plunge for The Print Exchange 2014!!

WOWIE!  In my inbox yesterday, I came across an e-mail from Art House Co-op, who runs The Sketchbook Project.  Many of you may be familiar with this project, but did you know that every year they also do a PRINT exchange?!

Because prints weren't even on my radar until about March of last year, I never noticed this awesome challenge before!!  But this year, I'm going to do it.

Here's the gist of it - you create an edition of 12 prints.  Ten are exchanged with other artists who also signed up for the project (the first 500 to sign up get to play).  The other 2 are archived/exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Library!  Here's the Flickr gallery of the prints from last year.  There is a cost of $50 (plus $8 shipping) but the way I look at it, I'm getting 10 original works of art for that 58 bucks!  That's only $5.80 per print!

I'm really excited - and a little terrified - about this project.  This year, the theme is "Let this be a Sign".  I already have some ideas floating around about what I'm going to do, so I need to get those on paper and spend a day or two ruminating.  :)

What do you say, printmakers?  Want to do this with me?  I think you should.  :)  Oh, and if you do want to try it, the promo code for the discount at checkout is CRAFTSTERBUDDIES.  It'll save you around $11!  :D

Let me know in the comments (or on my Facebook page) if you're going to try this!  I'd love to hear from you!  :D

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My New Press!!

Something happened a little over a month ago, and I still can't believe that I'm one of a small group of folks who got in on the ground floor!  This is going to revolutionize how I create from now on.....


When I saw our delightful mail carrier backing his truck up in our driveway on that dreary, rainy Tuesday, I knew that the moment had arrived.  The box was so big and unwieldy that it took both of us to get it into my kitchen.  I had to take a photo the moment I opened the box, just for posterity:

There she is - the S.C.O.P.E. Revolutionary Pack.  Isn't she a beaut?  :D  The package arrived on December 3, but I was so busy that week I wasn't able to experiment until a couple of days later!  

In case you're wondering, the S.C.O.P.E. anagram stands for "Self Contained Outdoor Printing Equipment". It is, quite literally, a backpack printing press - you can see its creator, Jesse McAfee, wearing the press himself!  Yes, this press is HANDMADE in Kansas City.  I love that.  :D

I haven't carried it like that yet, but it also has a regular handle on the top so you can carry it like a briefcase. It only weighs 30 pounds!!

And it prints like a DREAM.  I have indeed taken it out to two separate gallery walks now (more on those in a later post!), and people are fascinated by it.  At one of the gallery walks, a student who's a printmaking major was so intrigued that he said he was going to contact the company himself.

Oh!  And I should probably tell you that the company is Craft and Concept, who are based out of The Print Factory in Kansas City (both Kansas AND Missouri).  I can't tell you how seriously cool it is to talk to the guy (Jesse) who is building your press for you.  When does that ever happen anymore?!?!  

You saw in my previous post that it's got front and center status in my newly redesigned studio, and you also saw the tiny linocut of Yours Truly (which is now the icon of my Facebook page for What a Relief) that I printed on it.  I'm in the middle of another project that incorporates vintage letterpress images, all printed on the press.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am with it!!  Thank you, Jesse - you've made a fantastic product and I hope more people check it out!  :D 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy 2014!!

Ah, the promise of a new year!  A fresh start, a chance to try new things, an excuse to make new types of art....  :D

HOORAY for all that!  I am particularly excited about the new year, because it is my impetus to get both feet wet in my (fairly) newfound obsession (and the whole reason for this blog) - PRINTMAKING.  :)

Yes, I know that my blog is already two months old (and thanks to my post three weeks ago, I have a lot of new followers!  Hi there!), but now that the holidays are over I can begin my new chapter in earnest.  And I thought I'd create a tiny lino for the occasion.

That's me!  :D  Oh my heavens, did I have a BLAST creating this little guy, which only measures 2X2"!  I took a photo, cropped it, and played with it in Photoshop until it looked the way I wanted it to.  Then I traced it using some Saral transfer paper, and carved it using micro tools! I 'm going to have MUY, MUY fun with this technique.  :)

So now that you know what I look like, I want to show you my new studio, which I reconfigured from a collage studio to make printmaking the primary focus.

The middle of my studio - notice that my
S.C.O.P.E backpack press has the spotlight!

Here's the studio from the back - the cabinet
on the left was built for me by my wonderful
dad in-law, and so was the book press, using
the blueprint from
Arnold Grummer's "Trash to Treasure Papermaking" book!  :)

Here's my desk, which now has stations for carving, inking,
and collage - and inspiration from some of my favorite artists!  :)

I feel ready to take on this amazing medium!  I don't quite know yet where the year will take me, but I'm so excited to learn, discover, and create, with the help of my printmaking friends!  Here's to a very fruitful 2014!  :D