One of the limitations to printmaking in a home studio is the high cost of a printing press. There are quite a few options for printing by hand, from Japanese style barens to rolling pins to spoons! Those all work well in certain situations, and for acetone transfers they’re essential, a press just won’t work. But for many monotypes and collagraphs, a press can really speed up the process...if you can afford one!
About a year ago I came across a device called a cold mount laminator (there are electric hot laminators too), designed to adhere photographic prints or other artwork to backing boards of various types. I wanted to try it for adhering sanded pastel paper to foam core before starting a painting, since it’s really tricky to mount a finished pastel to a backing board during framing, without being able to touch the surface or flip the painting over. I found a company in Washington State called Pacific Mount, which specializes in this kind of mounting and sells all the products you need: adhesives, boards of all sizes, and laminating machines. When I saw their 25” laminator, it struck me that it was extremely similar in form to a printing press for etching or intaglio: two opposing drums with a crank that rolls your plate and paper between them. It has two knobs to adjust the pressure, and enough space for a flat bed to support the work, plus some cushioning material. The company was great about answering my questions (“Um, no, we haven’t heard of anyone using it this way, but give it a try!”), and the laminator is very affordable—especially compared to a “real” press which can run thousands of dollars. So I was excited to give it a spin. And it worked! Really well!
The body of the laminator is metal, so it’s fairly heavy. The bed folds up for storage or transport, and I use a very small bungee to hold it closed when not in use. The drums are rubber, and while the pressure knobs are plastic, the rest of the threaded pressure adjustment is metal, and the whole thing feels robust. Monotype doesn’t require the same level of pressure that intaglio does, since you’re not trying to push dampened paper into incised areas of the plate. All the texture that you create is on the surface of the plate, and can only be printed once or maybe twice (the ghost print) before the ink is used up. So I’ve found the pressure of the rubber drums to be quite adequate. I’ve fastened the laminator down to a piece of birch-faced plywood, which can in turn be clamped onto my work table so it doesn’t slide during a print. And I do think that a larger diameter crank handle would be easier to use, and allow me to crank with one hand while guiding my paper through the bed with the other, so I’m looking for a way to modify or replace the handle.
A “real” press has a heavy metal bed that rolls back and forth between the drums to support a plate and paper, and several specialized felt blankets to cushion the work and spread the pressure evenly. I’ve had good results using a piece of 3/16” foam core as a bed, and I’ve also used a sheet of plexiglas and masonite—all are fine. The traditional combination of blankets is a thin sizing catcher next to the paper, a thick cushion blanket, and a thin pusher blanket on top. These blankets can add up to a thickness of 3/4 inch, which is the largest space that the laminator can have between the drums. So I’ve left out the thick cushion blanket, and use only two blankets: the catcher is a very thin pressed all-wool felt that I purchased from a specialty printmaking supply shop, and the pusher blanket is a thicker wool felt that I got at a local fabric store. (I’ll link to all the materials at the end of this article.) The important quality of the blankets is that they’re natural wool, which withstands the repeated pressure better than synthetic felt, and that the blanket that’s closest to the paper does not have a weave that could transfer texture to the paper under pressure. Back in school, I was always taught that the blankets are not washable, and any student who got ink on them would be drawn and quartered and then have to buy replacement blankets and a round of drinks for the entire art department. Now I suspect that if you got water miscible ink, like Akua, on the blankets, they could in fact be gently washed and laid flat to dry. But it’s a good idea to put a few sheets of newsprint under your plate and on top of your paper as you run it through the press, just to catch any stray ink and spare your blankets.
There are a few things that are good to remember. First, if you’re new to printmaking, remember that the image on your plate will be reversed horizontally on your paper. That hardly matters unless you have text in your image! Second, protect the drums on your press—in this case, they’re rubber and could be damaged. If you’re trying collagraph and adding texture that stands up above the surface of your plate, for example putting an inked leaf or vine on the plate, I recommend reinforcing the blankets with a piece of foam core laid on top. The foam can deform on one side while staying smooth on the other, sparing any indentation on the upper rubber drum. Third, wipe everything down, including your hands, before you lay your paper on the plate and put your work on the press. Stray ink on the borders of your image is just disappointing.
Printmaking is a very malleable process, that rewards you for experimentation and for thinking through your process before you start. Peeling the paper away from the plate is like opening presents on Christmas...anticipation, some trepidation, sometimes glee and sometimes disappointment. When it works, the texture of a print is totally unique to the medium. Some parts of the monotype process are uncontrollable, which is actually great if you’re looking for a way to loosen up your work! Prints can be run through the press multiple times with different colors, disparate methods can be combined for a single print, and prints can be overpainted with watercolor, acrylic, pastel, ink or many other mediums. If you haven’t tried it yet, I hope you’ll give it a shot! I’m by no means an expert printmaker, but if you have questions please leave them below, and I’ll try my best to answer.
Pacific Mount: www.pacificmount.com/products/laminators-and-accessories
They have 25” and 39” laminators!
Etching blankets: www.takachpress.com/access/blankets
Lately it seems that I've been taking the quick and easy way to share what I've been up to, via Instagram. That's great, but then I realized that my own blog was feeling left out of the fun. So I'll try to be better about posting here where things can be archived!
I've been playing around with monotype printmaking quite a bit lately. I took intaglio printmaking in college, and because of that I'm able to identify different types of prints when I see them in museums--but without an etching press and all the trappings of a proper print studio at home, intaglio is not really very accessible. Monotype and collograph, on the other hand, are more flexible for the home studio and don't require a printing press capable of a lot of pressure (and even small tabletop printing presses are rather expensive). They can be printed by hand with a baren, print frog, rolling pin, or even a spoon! I'll share images of some great products that I've found to make printing easier, and affordable.
Last fall I was lucky enough to take a workshop with Dawn Emerson, whose book Pastel Innovations is a wonderful resource and inspiration for using pastels in new and exciting ways. (Click on the title to go to the book's entry on Amazon.) I highly recommend it!! Usually, in a workshop, you don't do much good work. You're too busy learning and trying things, stretching, struggling and not having time to finish anything. You might get a few pieces done, and maybe one you're not planning to toss in the trash when you get home. But at Dawn's workshop, the room was full to bursting with great work! It was fast, loose, a little messy, expressive, creative and fun! We all went home ready to roll up our sleeves and make messes in our own studios...aaaand then the holidays hit, the cold set in, there were precious few hours of daylight to do anything at all, and we just wanted to sleep. Well, I did anyway. But now that I'm crawling out from under my winter blanket, I've pulled out the messy creative stuff again. :-)
Super fun stuff, no? While I do believe in the value of drawing, planning a painting, thumbnails and notans, etc., it's so freeing to occasionally just mess around and see what happens! Monotype printmaking is a great way to get an image to start with, whether you keep working in ink or add pastel, paint, wax, or whatever else on top. I'm kind of on a roll with this stuff, so I'll post more as soon as I can!
The Miss Laura Louise is framed, packed and ready to travel to Cape Cod! Framing always takes me longer than I think it will; this year I have a Logan point driver, which is so much easier and faster than pushing points with a hand tool. Still, with a new baby, it's hard to find the stretch of time needed to work with glass and sharp things in the studio! The munchkin comes with me to the studio on some days, when I'm painting or working on the computer. I use non toxic spike lavender and walnut oils when oil painting, and I have an air filter near the easel when I paint with pastels, but some days are just not good for babies in the studio.
Anyway, fellow FPO artist Christine Chisholm has kindly offered to ferry my painting to Cape Cod next weekend, since I'll be away at my (20th!) college reunion. Thanks, Chris! For Pastels Only on Cape Cod opens June 14, with a reception June 18. For more info, check out the website of the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod. http://www.pastelpainterssocietyofcapecod.com/
I'm delighted to have my pastel painting, The Miss Laura Louise, juried into this year's For Pastels Only show, run by the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod! The show will run June 14 to July 10 at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. This is a great show every year, at a terrific venue, organized by incredibly friendly and supportive artists. Thanks so much to Juror Tom Christopher for the honor of including my work!
I grew up around boats, and the water, in New Jersey and Maine. Sailboats, motor boats, dinghys, kayaks, sunfish, all of that. Oddly, I haven't painted them much. Dunno why. I've also spent 26+ years working with horses, and I haven't painted them much either. Time to work on both subjects! So anyway, here's an attempt at a lovely boat I saw in Delaware last fall--a fishing boat with a glorious hull color! I think I have a few more touch ups to do on this painting, but I have to be careful not to overdo it. The more details I add, the more precise I try to get, the more accurate I have to be...and big chunky pastels are not great at small fussy details!
It's been a long while since my last post! Oops. Life happened. My 2016 resolutions list includes having a more regular posting schedule, but it's going to be an eventful year, so we'll see! Anyway, I wanted to share a cool studio idea for those of you who have lots of art supplies and are looking for a way to organize them.
Pastel artists tend to accrue large supplies of pastel sticks, because though we can blend and layer colors, we can't really mix our own. (Well, actually, we CAN--but to do it we have to collect pastel dust, mix it with water and mold it into new sticks, which is not something you do often!) As my collection of pastels has grown, I've graduated from boxes to trays, made my own foam palette insert for a pochade box (which I still use for travel), and converted an old kitchen drawer cabinet to pastel storage. But finally, all those luscious colors just wouldn't fit, and I spent several hours researching studio storage boxes and palettes. There are some wonderful boxes made by Dakota Art and Heilman, sturdy and well designed...but they're pricey!
Cleaning out our barn and organizing tools and hardware gave me an idea for studio storage: a rolling tool chest! Luckily for me, my family was looking for Christmas presents AND we have a Harbor Freight store nearby! So thanks to my mom and my uncle, I landed this beauty:
As you can see, it has a top compartment and four drawers, each lined with a sheet of foam. There's a large shelf beneath the drawers, and casters--I love casters!
The top compartment is deep enough for my tempered glass palette, which I keep inside a Masterson stay-wet palette box. So this tray will function as the top surface of my taboret.
My next step was to create a tray and dividers, using cardboard and hot glue, and lining the tray with a foam sheet. I used the foam that came with the tool chest, but you could also use the rolls of drawer liner foam or rubber that you can get at Harbor Freight or Bed, Bath and Beyond. Once the dividers were ready, it was time to sort pastels....
This is the first time I've seen all my pastels arranged together, and it was eye opening! I didn't realize I had so many yellows and greens, or that my darks and violets were sparse. But I think I'm done with purchasing sets at this point, and will fill in the gaps with individual sticks or small single color assortments.
I used the farthest right division of my palette for neutrals--earth tones and grays--but I kept my set of Maggie Price grays by Terry Ludwig in their foam lined box in a separate drawer. There are two reasons for this: first is that they're by far the softest pastels I have, they break easily and rub off on anything that touches them. If I kept them in the drawer with everything else I think they would make a big mess. Also, they're organized really well in their box, by hue and value, which is quite useful. I find them a bit tricky to use, since I would like to use them about halfway through a painting, but they're so soft that it's hard to layer anything on top of them. Anyway, they get to live alone for now, but you can see that the small drawer makes it easy to access them when needed.
Here's the item listing at Harbor Freight, with a link. They actually have a lot of similar cart, table top and cabinet options, and they usually have coupons and discounts available. With a coupon, this cart came in under $100. That's more affordable than most taborets and storage options that are marketed for artists, and a lot less expensive than the specialty studio pastel storage trays! (If you have the budget for the fancy ones, don't let me interrupt your shopping! Give my regards to Dakota and Heilman, and tell them I'll be in touch when I sell my first $1000 painting!) It took about an hour and a half, with my husband's help, and a socket wrench set, to put together. It's quite sturdy, and you can see there's plenty of space for more art supplies! Even another entire large drawer, in case my pastel collection continues to grow....
Happy New Art Year!
Today Jim and I are driving to Old Lyme, CT, to drop off a pastel painting that's been accepted into the Connecticut Pastel Society's Purely Pastel juried members' show. It's a long drive--more than two hours--glad Jim's at the wheel!
CPS is a really cool organization, and some great painters will be showing their work! The show will be held at the Lyme Art Association in Old Lyme. I'll post their show postcard when I get one, for those of you who might be close enough to drop in and see it.
I'm really honored to have this portrait of my niece, Summer (yup, she looks like her name!), juried into this show.
Two days after meeting Tony Allain at the PPSCC show in South Yarmouth, I had the privilege of watching him paint! I drove down to Meriden, CT for a three hour demo hosted by the Connecticut Pastel Society, where he was teaching workshops this past week.
Usually, a demo consists of a room full of people watching an artist, who narrates his/her process while doing a painting. In this case, it was a room full of people watching with rapt attention while the artist did FIVE paintings!! And apparently, Tony was taking it easy--I heard rumors of 11 paintings in one demo at IAPS!
Tony was funny and generous, and amazing to watch--his color choices were rich and spectacular, and his mark making was fast, loose and expressive. As always when I'm watching a really great artist, I'm struck by how much knowledge lies behind each stroke. People often have the impression that artists are emotive creatives (they are) who channel inspiration (they do) in some magical way (nope, not magic). In fact, there's a tremendous amount of disciplined practice, keenly trained observation and a lot of knowledge of the natural world--science!--behind each painting.
I was delighted to be able to watch this master painter at work. Thank you for all your energy and generous sharing, Tony!
Tony has generously given his demo paintings to the Connecticut Pastel Society, to be auctioned later this summer.
Well, I've had a whirlwind of art awesomeness since I posted last! Last Saturday was the reception for the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod's show, For Pastels Only. I'd driven down the previous weekend to deliver my painting, Silo, and met a few fellow artists at the drop off. So this time Jim and I drove down for a party, and my mom met us there as well. Well, those folks on the Cape can sure throw a party! Check it out:
I'd been notified a few days before the reception that I was going to receive an award for my painting--but not which award! I sat around for about half an hour after the phone call just staring off into space with a stupid look on my face. I've been chasing after this art thing for so long, in so many different ways, with so little result, that I was having a hard time taking it in (I'm not just talking about pastel here, but also film, photography, oils, drawing, and teaching). So we went down to the reception, just figuring it would be a fun afternoon and evening--and I was armed with my new business cards to give out. Jim and I had lunch in West Yarmouth, and then some great ice cream, and then arrived at the show. We met lots of super talented artists, and spent a long time wandering the gallery, looking at all the terrific work. Really, it was great quality art, across the board. And art appears to actually be POPULAR out on the Cape--there were about 300 people at the reception! No joke, it was orders of magnitude more crowded than any art reception I've ever attended.
Liz Haywood-Sullivan, president of IAPS, was there, fresh from the stellar success of the IAPS convention in Albuquerque. I had the great privilege of taking a workshop with Liz last October, and then an art business seminar this past February as well. I learned so much from her, on both occasions!
The guest of honor for the evening was the very talented artist and Judge of Awards, Tony Allain, from the UK. Tony had also been at the IAPS convention, and is now doing a bit of a teaching tour of the US. He taught last week on the Cape, and this week in Connecticut for CPS. Anyway, he judged the PPSCC show and was there to give out the awards. There were more than 20 awards to give out, and as he worked his way up to the top three, and I didn't hear my name called, things started to get surreal. Maybe there had been some kind of mistake? But then he announced the #2 award, and called my name! I thought I was going to hit the floor, hard. Everyone was so nice, and so supportive! A little later in the evening, I turned around and saw Liz and Tony standing in front of my painting, discussing it, looking all serious and appreciative--I think my eyes bugged out of my head. (You saw that, didn't you, Liz?) I was totally star struck, standing there with two top pastel artists, as though I actually belonged there. What a night!
So many thanks to everyone at PPSCC for the opportunity and honor: Joan Dromey, Ed Chesnovitch and Donna Rossetti-Bailey (and a host of other folks organizing the event), Marla Baggetta and Tony Allain for being generous jurors, and all the terrific artists and art admirers!
Congratulations to Deborah Quinn-Munson for winning Best in Show for her painting, Outdoor Cafe; and to Ed Chesnovitch for the Award of Honor for his painting, Meander!
More to come...that was just the beginning....
When we last left the studio pics, we had walls...now we have painted walls.
The walls are Benjamin Moore's Silver Chain, which is a pretty neutral gray. We used this color in our most recent repainting of NOA Gallery's two main rooms, and absolutely every painting we've ever hung against it looks great with the color. It's bright and airy looking without being blinding or throwing off your color perception--very important for painting!
I also painted the floor, which was tons of fun! The base color is BM's Graphite, and then I spatter painted with Artichoke (green) and Silver Chain (which looks nearly white against the nearly black). I then finished the floor with two coats of MinWax oil based poly in high gloss, which deepened the colors and hopefully will be easy to maintain. The floor reflects some light upward, without adding a distracting color cast.
The painting didn't stop there--next up was a huge double cupboard that's been in the barn forever.
So with the painting finished, Jim was able to start the electrical wiring (so handy to have an engineer in the family). Art studio lighting is kind of a big deal, and we did a lot of research. We think we came up with a pretty good solution--stay tuned!
Alexia Rosoff Wilber
News and notes about art.