Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, April 20, 2018


Not to belabor this test tiles theme...
it takes a while for an old dog to learn new tricks!
One last post on testing,
one last post on block printing.

In my experimenting with block prints I revisited one of the first ones I cut: a baby airstream.  I was (sorta) satisfied with this piece UNTIL I entered "testing...testing" mode and began to actively consider early pieces as "trial runs."  I still loved the image but knew I could do better.  So, I decided this was a "test tile" and vowed to try again employing the things I now had learned.

I revisited my original image and enlarged it while also giving it a border which I felt added to the design.  You see it on the tracing paper which I flipped to imprint onto the rubber block.  I decided that the "white spaces," the place where the rubber is removed, should be slightly more interesting than a deep cut that leaves no impression.  So I made my cuts to resemble a sun in one corner and imply a tree in another.  I knew if I hated these additions I could remove them later.

Now that the block is cut it is time to ink it up.  Can you see the sun and the tree suggestions?

I press the paper on top of the block and smooth it with my finger tips so that the ink adheres.

Time to carefully pull back the paper for the result.

Not too shabby!  I like it.

Testing with another paper:

Very nice.  And this is where I will rest and go over it with a close eye to see if any lines need to be removed or if any other papers should be tested.  I'm anxious to try this on fabric as well.

Happy trails to you!  I think the "test tiles" proved their worth.  This has some exciting possibilities.  And all from a couple pieces of rubber and the patience to rework until satisfaction is reached.  I think "test tile" will be my new buzz word for a bit longer. Thanks Maggie, the lessons was much needed.  So if at first you don't succeed....


Friday, April 13, 2018

Block Prints Require Testing?!

Ever since I met Andy Farkas, learned about his
craft and (swoon) acquired one of his prints, I have been
anxious to try printmaking.  Of course I dream of starting at the top
 but for once I decided to start at the lowest
 possible level of dabbling: the rubber block print.

Remember when I showed you how easy it was to craft a print out of the styrofoam tray under your fruits?  The next step is to carve from a rubber pad or a piece of linoleum.  So having had success with styrofoam I knew it was but a few short steps to Farkas-quality, right?

The top two carvings are done on small rubber-ish pads and then glued to a piece of wood to make them easier to handle.  The bottom pink pad is uncarved, look for these at Michael's or any art supply store.  The carving on the bottom right was done on linoleum, a much harder surface to carve but still easier than wood, plexiglass or metal.

Now remember my haunting lesson on test tiles?  Well, there needs to be an entire chapter on test tiles in the world of block prints....but I didn't take that class, did not read that book so I learned that lesson the hard way: experience.

These are the tools used for carving.  One was inexpensively acquired at a craft store, one was a bit nicer and bought at an art supply store and the fancy one on top was inherited (with a sharpening stone) when a friend weeded out her notions.  

Draw out a design and move it to tracing paper so that you can see how it fits on the block.  Remember that what you carve will be reversed when printed so you can flip it over if you want a different orientation.  Transfer to the block either with tracing paper or, on the rubber, going over the design with a very soft pencil and then rubbing that mark onto the accepting surface of the rubber.

Now the fun of carving.  Slow and patient.  It's almost meditative.  Two very important things to remember: you can't easily put back something you cut off AND your design will very likely change slightly as you carve away.  Spend some time thinking about what will show up as ink and what will show as paper.  You can see very faint lines in my paper drawing reminding me what to cut out.

Water soluble printers ink is used and I use a foam tray to roll it out on.  With a brayer (a rubber roller) ink the design.  You may upend the block to print or place the paper on top of it.  I tested both.

This makes it easy for me to use my fingers (or a clean brayer) to press down and be certain that the ink has made contact with the paper in every spot.  Then the paper is peeled back for the reveal:

oh yuck....not a very smooth print but something I have learned is not unexpected with a first run.

So that is just one reason "test tiles" become important...I can see that either I did not ink up enough or I missed the smoothing part.  So above is another test.  On the L I put the paper on top of the carving, on the R I turned the carving onto the paper.  Hard to see the difference on this photo but there is some change.  Notice anything else?  

I don't like my blank parts...they are too smoothly carved out and leave no tell-tale lines which would be more interesting especially around the stars.  I dug too deep in my judgement.  And?  look closely.

Where the mountain intersects the moon is a triangle that missed being carved out!  And ditto for the mountain edge on the far left.  How many prints did I make before I noticed this?  Luckily I can go back and re-carve between prints.

Thank goodness I "tested."  Another interesting test is varying the paper used to print on.  Some are so stiff they don't meet my needs at all, others too flimsy to last.  Finding the right paper is crucial and  one should save that for the last test so that you do not use up all "the good stuff" on bombs.

different papers, note the clean brayer in photo

Like Goldilocks and the three bears, this one is "just right." I made a mental note that I prefer the "white space" to be more interesting in future blocks but otherwise this printed well on the paper I used.  

So I'm like a reformed addict: test! test! my friends...and test again!  no, this is not the end of the story.  For someone who hates "do overs" it is ironic that my word "festina lente" implies a bit of slowness as one gathers steam.  When I explained Maggie's test tile approach (last weeks blog) to a friend, she summed it up nicely: "She goes slow so she can go fast."  Yes! Onward.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Learning About Test Tiles

There are many benefits to having test tiles for glazes. It allows you to test combinations of glazes easily and inexpensively, and serves as a permanent reminder of what a glaze looked like on a certain clay. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you forget very quickly.       How to make test tiles
I am not a potter, but I have the pleasure of hanging out with quite a few of them.  Now put two or more in room and inevitably you will hear the words "test tiles" bandied about.  If you don't wish to read the link above, they are quite simply prototypes for finding out how glazes will look on a finished piece.  They are the necessary research done prior to making a huge batch of "yucks."  Time, patience and note taking are required.
I got a free and much needed lesson in testing this week thanks to one of those distinguished potters.  I had a whim to make ceramic knobs for my kitchen, each one original and special and in a color palate I could only dream of, never mind buy.  My kind neighbor Maggie Black was eager to help me and after giving me a few tips left me to my own devices.

I had a ball rolling out the clay, cutting up shapes and then stamping them with pre-selected designs.  Perfection was not an issue because frankly I did not know enough to realize what goofs might stymie me later on.

It was actually a lot like making cookies.  They needed to be more or less the same depth and size (I knew they would shrink a skoosh) and I wanted the designs to be sorta related (lots of leaves).

Maggie popped them in the kiln and summoned me to come add the color.  Turquoise and yellow I announced.  It was then she burst my eager bubble and suggested, no, insisted, that I do some "test tiles."  Dread.  Time down the drain I began to think but she was slightly more accomplished in this endeavor than I!

So I dipped and cleaned and kept my selection to about 3 or 4 different memory is short.  And tried double dips, matt and shiny and did my best to hide my disappointment that this little project would be prolonged another week. 

So you can guess my next chapter, right?  Herewith the test tiles and it is no surprise than some of them are just butt-ugly.  You can be sure I was thanking Miss Maggie profusely from preventing me from sacrificing all my previous work in one impatient move.  

I played with these results, made notes, passed them by the other kitchen resident and made some decisions on how to proceed.  A long careful painting session, a few more random experiments (but not on the preselected, designated knobs) and we were back to the cooker, um, kiln.

This is the oven where the magic happens...and where surprises come out even with the best of testing.  It is always like Christmas to be present when a potter opens the kiln, frankly I don't know how they manage to wait for it to cool.  I'd need patience pills.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy.  Here are my beauties...and my continued thanks to Maggie for saying those dreaded words "test tiles."  Aren't these absolutely beautiful?

Time to get out the E6000 glue and attach the hardware.  This go round I was able to stumble across the hardware already made for projects like this (as opposed to roaming the hardware stores and creating my own from random pieces).  The base and screws can be found at D Lawless Hardware, and if you cannot cut your own knobs they also have bisqued pulls ready to paint and fire.  

So completely unique!  And I have enough finished pieces to make magnets.  And enough knob bases to do another stopping me now, unless I have to make more test tiles.  

Joking aside: those words and Maggie's insistence on using them have come back around and around this week haunting me into becoming a believer.  Stay tuned.  It's not only in ceramics that one needs to employ "test tiles."


Friday, March 30, 2018

Shibori is the Japanese word for a variety of ways 
of embellishing textiles by shaping cloth and 
securing it before dyeing. The word 
comes from the verb root shiboru, 
"to wring, squeeze, press."

Dye pots call...truly they become addictive once you start playing around in them.  You may remember my previous blog on the art of "shibori" - the Japanese method of sewing and bunching, or folding and clamping fabric prior to dying.  Usually done in indigo, shibori produces a wonderful pattern of design using the white of the cloth and the blue of the dye.

we had a lot of fun experimenting
and even threw some folds into the red dye pot

these were just a few of my more authentic shibori pieces 
before they dried

Well, the urge is calling to drag out those dye pots and have another go at it.  It's just so addictive to unwrap the pieces and see what was produced.  But I promised myself to use up some of the fabric I had on hand before making more.  So I settled in to make this happen.

Most of my pieces this time were extra large bandana size so of course placemats came to mind.

The short cut method would be to back them with a pre-quilted fabric and sew the edges for stability.

Aren't they nice?  I used the extra bandanas for napkins.  I think this will make a lovely, and very original table setting.

Plus I can now forge ahead with my folding and clamping for the next day of dye.  I think I will try (with apologies to traditional shibori) some bright turquoise and hot orange this next go round.  And maybe even some colored cloth in addition to the white.  Now I just have to come up with some more ways to use the fabric!  Guess I could get a jump start on Christmas gifts?!

Please try this at home, or contact me and we will do a class.  It's not difficult and the designs are really amazing.  T-shirts, onesies, table runners....what else can we drape and dip??


Friday, March 23, 2018

An Abstract Challenge

It was at the Brandywine Museum of Art
that I saw interesting hocus-pocus done
on some of N.C. Wyeth's work.  To show how he saved canvas
by painting on top of a finished piece they used
 an ultra-violet light or x-ray photo to strip away the top piece.
I was fascinated.

As I left the studio today, exhausted, I thought it might be fun to reveal the under-layers of a recently completed abstract piece.  As you know, I struggle with abstract...especially when it is totally
non-representational.  If you ever gaze at an abstract and think "my five year old could do that," I beg you: have him do it!  Hang it on the wall and enjoy is not an easy task.

This is a huge, for me, canvas: 3 feet high by 4 feet wide, with an inch or more of depth on the sides.  It is "couch size."  I could literally feel what I wanted, I knew the emotion, I just did not know how to make it happen.

Here it is, hopefully complete:

36 x 48, oil, Flow

Calm and almost soothing, it does present the possibility of being different things to different viewers, and I like the 3 tiny orange marks, almost not visible but interesting enough to notice.

So let's magically peel back the layers of paint and look below the surface.  Here is what it looked like the week prior:

the randomness of tonal patches and the color grey still bothered me, and I couldn't really justify any reason for so much orange (headed nowhere) ; still, the above was an improvement in progress over the prior iteration below:

there is a huge light glare on this photo but you can see where the orange came from, I was trying to draw a map of parts I liked and did not like, after trying unsuccessfully to make the darks more cohesive; truly at this stage I was one step away from trashing the whole experiment.
Compare it to the layer of paint below this one:

What is jarring about this, to me, is that there is only light and middle tones that are convincing enough to be a transition and I think the tentativeness to the shape looks very, well...tentative.  It was time to get more serious about real estate for darks and midtones.

OK, notice here that when I started out I had the canvas reversed.  I had placed the lighter side of the canvas on the left and had lots of (harsh) yellow in it as well as a lot of grey.  Wasn't working for me.
And you can see that before I painted them out and drew a "map" I had some squiggles of orange already cropping out ...

this is a layer beneath the one above, lighter but the dark hatch marks left me jittery, like a painting on too much caffeine.  This layer is actually where most of the interesting texture came from, and that texture does add some exciting light play in the final version.  But this beginning is a long way from my finished piece shown at the top.

Why do I share this?  It would be much smarter to work silently on this abstract puzzle and then share my successes once they begin to happen.  But I think that the general public fails to give credit to the difficulty of non-representational art.  You do not have to like it but you should know that it does not "just happen."  And, I share because I think many of us expect all our first (and second and third) attempts to turn out satisfactorily.  Ain't gonna happen and this is just proof of that.

So go struggle.  Cause something to evolve.  Change it up and push your envelop.  
I learned enough with this piece to justify all the paint it took.  Perhaps the next will unfold more promptly.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Choosing Vagueness

A painting requires a little mystery,
some vagueness, some fantasy....
Edgar Degas

Yes, that's a repeat seems to resonate with me these days.  I'm liking my paintings unfinished  or at least more unfinished than I am accustomed.  I'm not sure why...perhaps I like the vagueness or perhaps I am afraid of ruining them with too much forced detail.  But it seems like I want to quit earlier than before.

Here's an example.

On the Marrakech theme: Hiking in the Atlas Mountains was an especially memorable day for many reasons.  One of which was this man shepherding his goats.  He barely moved but his eyes were everywhere and he cautiously watched me as I approached.  I paused to get my breath, survey the goats (who were prancing over the steep mountainside) and I screwed up my courage to indicate via pantomime my question about taking his photo.  He barely nodded.  I clicked.  And we went back to our business.  It was with fond memories I approached this depiction.

roughed in

defining the shadows

calling it done

And I'm going to leave it there.  Perhaps the background could have been even more unfinished.  And by "finished" I mean the "addition of detailed definition."  It is the tendency of many painters to paint every leaf on every tree.  Lately I have been thinking about which trees to indicate and which ones to leave out altogether.  

I will be exploring this "unfinished business" more thoroughly in the weeks ahead.  Maybe I should call it less finished as opposed to more unfinished??  Degas had it correct with "a little mystery, some vagueness..."

Do you like it all spelled out in a painting or do you prefer filling in the details yourself?