My antique nipping press has been reeeaaal squeaky lately—it squeals every time I turn the handle, and it’s been bugging me for a while. So I decided to take it apart in hopes that I could oil and clean the moving parts.
Turns out it was filled with grime and rust, which isn’t surprising given how old it is. It looks as though it was repainted at least once during its life, but I can’t tell how long ago—luckily the outside paint has held, so the only rust is on the enclosed pieces.
Now to get it cleaned up and reassembled!
I’m a creature of habit. I will use the same product for literally years, even if it doesn’t work particularly well, just because I hate change. (Hello, 9 year old Converse sneakers I wear to work every day!)
So I’ve used the same brands of ink forever. I still use the same two pots of Akua Intaglio ink that I bought before I graduated two years ago. But I’m on the market for something new.
Akua is great stuff, but it doesn’t work very well on the lighter papers I like to print on–my last batch of prints on kitakata and mulberry have turned out all greasy, with oil stains that leach out from the ink onto the paper. Caligo’s safe wash oils have been a little bit better, with the added addition of being easier to clean up than other oils (or even Akua’s soy-based ink). And Speedball, though I do use it occasionally, is just… not what I’m looking for. The colors don’t mix well at all, and half the time it dries before I can get it off the block and onto the paper. It works great for teaching art classes or for when I need a really quick drying ink, but for the most part, it just lacks the richness and depth of color I need.
That said, I’ve been reading a lot about Gamblin lately. I’ve never heard a bad thing about this brand, and they have an oil based relief ink I’ve been curious about for a while.
And oh hey, McClain’s Printmaking Supply, the best printmaking supply company ever, was offering free samples of a Gamblin ink recently! It’s a limited edition grey that they apparently make every year with the Pacific Northwest College of Art, which I secretly still long to get my MFA from someday. Here’s the McClain’s description of their Gamblin Watershed Grey ink:
PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) in Portland, Oregon worked with Gamblin to create a limited edition recycled ink. The mix of recycled pigments is different every year, so Watershed Grey is always unique and never repeated. When it’s gone, it’s gone until the next year’s batch so order soon. This year’s Watershed Grey is a very dark grey.
Guess who was lucky enough to score a sample of this year’s Watershed Grey.
McClain’s doesn’t skimp on their sample sizes, this is a good 4oz of ink. I couldn’t manage to get a decent picture of the ink color in the pot (it just comes out looking black) but I’ll post a photo once I’ve gotten to print with it. Very excited to try it out.
For the past few months I’ve been working on a new embroidered piece. Here are some progress photos!
Step one: initial sketch.
Step two: make a photocopy of that sketch and trace it onto some fabric using carbon paper.
Step three: stick it in an embroidery hoop and get sewing.
At this point most of the outlining is done, but I still need to get the shading finished.
A few days ago I made a post about my collection of vintage printing blocks, with a teaser about a new project I used them for.
It’s probably pretty self-explanatory–I used them as embroidery patterns. By taking them through my Challenge proof press with carbon paper, I printed them on unbleached linen, then embroidered the images.
Printmaking and embroidery are two mediums I don’t often get to combine. Somehow using antique printing blocks as a base for a similarly antiquated medium like embroidery seems kind of right.
And right now, they’re all available for sale at the Corvallis Art Center’s Art Shop!
On the shelf above my workbench there’s a box.
It’s an eclectic mix of images that I’ve hand picked for one reason or another. These are a few of my favorites:
This one is a simplified line etching of a traditional platen press–the kind of printing press used for traditional letterpress printing.
As a Pacific Northwest native, I do love trees.
By far my strangest cut is this one–it’s about 3″ across, and was presumably used for creating dental records. Can you even imagine something as mundane as dental records being hand printed?
But this one is my favorite. Surrounded by intricate images of elk and horses and trees and other oddities, this pointing hand is the jewel of my collection. It looks like metal but it’s not–this is my only wood etched type cut, carved from a single piece of wood rather than from lead (or lead mounted on a wood base).
The hand itself is probably recognizable–this design, called a manicule, has become popular in modern graphic design. They were originally used to draw attention to important text in documents and books dating back to the 12th century, a common form of marginalia on some of the earliest letterpress printed materials.
Given its history and delicate line quality, it’s hard not to love. I mean look at the individual carved lines–so much information in such sparse, elegant detail. This is what you think of when you think traditional woodcut design.
In the spirit of my New Year’s resolution, I finally finished the muscle study I started way back in October. The original sketch for this stemmed from some neck issues I’d been having, which got me thinking in terms of muscles–a departure from my usual focus on skeletal structure, but just as interesting.
I’m still trying to decide how this will be displayed–either in the hoop, as shown here, or stretched around a wooden frame.
I’ve been both praised and criticized for showing embroidery in the hoop. Personally I don’t think there’s a problem with displaying it in a way that reflects the utilitarian tradition of the medium. That’s half the reason I do it: to connect the artwork to its roots. An embroidery hoop is a simple, elegant item, rife with history, and used in the right context, it can add another layer of meaning to the work it holds. Why shy away from that?
Love it or hate it, you have to admit that it’s visually striking to see a piece hanging like this: the raw edge of the fabric, the wrinkles, the shape of the whole thing. I’ll probably clean this up a bit before it’s shown anywhere, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I prefer it this way, loose threads and all.
In retrospect, 2014 was not my most prolific year.
What little work I did turn out was some of my best — my skull studies, Pacific Northwest alphabet book, and various other small projects. I was even lucky enough to be featured in Mixed Media Art Magazine. But full time employment leaves little time for personal projects, and this year my creative efforts flagged considerably in favor of lazier and less fulfilling pursuits. I imagine I’m not the first person to fall victim to creative malaise, but that’s no excuse.
I’m planning for 2015 to be better. I’ve got some vague project ideas, some even vaguer goals, and bunch of sharpened pencils, so I’m good to go. Here’s to a fresh year.
Unfortunately my giant mountain woodcut is on hold right now, because my neck is sort of jacked up and sore and I’m a huge sissy who doesn’t feel like coming home from work and carving. So while I wait for my next chiropractor appointment I’ve started a new project that doesn’t require quite so much physical effort.
This week I discovered the library’s medical anatomy section–I spent most of Sunday sketching from a pocket version of Gray’s Anatomy and my own copy of Human Anatomy: A Visual History from the Renaissance to the Digital Age. Awesome book.
My intent is to embroider this sketch first in black, then to lay in some color in the most dense areas of muscle. Usually muscular anatomy doesn’t interest me as much as skeletal–bones are just so more more solid and strong, where muscles flex and lack a lot of definition. But the issues I’ve been having with my neck and back have made me more interested in the way muscles fit together and work, which is what prompted this project.
My usual embroidery setup has a new component, this awesome clip on light I bought from work. It’s meant for a music stand, with two flexible lights, one for each side. It’s absolutely amazing for embroidery–the two lights can be positioned to fully light whatever I’m working on, which is invaluable given that I usually sew in my dimly lit living room. Anyone who sews or cross stitches should consider getting a light like this–Mighty Bright Duet2 LED Music Light.
The theme the past couple of weeks has been mountains! Mainly because of the beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest. This is a phone picture from a recent camping trip in the Opal Creek wilderness, and I have a lot more fairly similar pictures from places in and around the Willamette Valley. Having looked at these views (and bad cell phone pictures of them) most of my life, I decided I needed to learn to draw mountains and trees–a more daunting task than it sounds, trust me. First I did a smaller woodcut, about 3″ x 5″, shown here. But even with my micro Flexcut tools, which are seriously the most awesome woodcarving tools ever made, I can’t get much detail or texture in such a small block.So I decided to try a bigger block.
This is a roughly 2′ x 3′ hunk of plywood that’s been hanging around my studio for about four years. I don’t remember where the hell it came from, or what I originally intended to do with it, but it’s relatively unwarped and has a pretty sweet grain, so I’m guess I’m going to carve it. This is way bigger than I usually work, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s worth noting that this block won’t actually fit in my cylinder press–I’ll have to print it by hand with a baren when it’s finished, but that’s okay. I never expected to actually own a printing press, so I made sure to learn how to hand press before I graduated from school, thinking that would be my only option in the future.
Here’s the finished drawing. The foreground/background differentiation doesn’t look great, but I’m hoping I can smooth some of that out with the carving, making it a little more gradated. Unfortunately the carving process has been slow, in part due to a strained neck muscle and partly because of my dedicated studio cat, Rosie. Apparently my woodblock is a really good place to sit.
But fall weather is the best for printmaking in my opinion (and the best weather for anything else, period) so here’s hoping I’m able to get some serious carving in this week.