Origins of a Print, part two
I started yesterday to write about my process of making a print. It's going to be a little while before that particular one is ready to show the final process, so I decided to make pictures of the finished one I pulled some more prints of today. Above is the block on the press itself. The press is a Lin-o-scribe press, that used to be used often in department stores to make weekly sale posters. It will take wood or metal type, but I have a piece of wood cut laid down into it to make it high enough for my thinner pieces of linoleum. I can print a block up to about 12x19" on paper that's 14x24" or so.
The paper is clipped into the edge of it and pulled back over the side (on the far side of the top photo). Then I lay the block on the bed of the press, using an L-shaped piece of cardboard to get it in just the right spot.
Today I was printing the key block, the black one with all the pattern, on top of the green and blue that I had already printed. You have to let the paper dry overnight between each color, and there's a different block carved for each color.
Above I'm peeling the paper off the block after rolling the press (it has a rubber roller to apply pressure) over the print. You can see my notes to myself to put the TOP of the block facing the right direction. Yes, I've printed upside down by mistake before, and I hate wasting paper on a stupid error.
Below is the inking set up. I roll out ink on a sheet of glass and roll it onto the block before putting the block on the press to print. I buy ink I use a lot of in cans (black, white, yellow) and other colors in smaller tubes.
Below you can see the progress of color printing. I printed the blue first, then the green, and finally the black key block. The color blocks are much simpler, just solid areas of color, and therefore faster to carve. The pattern block takes by far the most time. This print was finished some time ago, but I don't print the whole edition at once because the hand rolling is time consuming. I tend to print six or eight at a time, as I need them, until I've hit 100 (or however many I've set for that edition -- they're all signed and numbered). So now I have some more to sell.
The Origins of a Print
I've had a couple of questions lately about my process of making prints, and I always like the excuse to explain a little more about what I do. All of my prints start with a drawing or painting done on site from life. I'm currently working on an image of Shakertown in Kentucky, near my old alma mater Centre College. Above is the watercolor on a double page in my sketch pad that's sitting on my work table while I carve.
From the sketch I do a full sized drawing, which I then trace (above). I flip the tracing paper over (you can see "BACK" written on the drawing in large letters to remind me not to skip that step) and transfer it onto a sheet of linoleum with carbon paper.
I like linoleum instead of wood because it takes curves better instead of tearing, the way wood grain does, and I really like carving curves and spirals. It also prints a smooth, velvety, solid surface. I love some artists' woodblocks which really show the grain and use that pattern as an integral part of the finished piece. Edvard Munch was a master of that. My first series was done in wood, but I really prefer not having to fight the way the wood tears as I go around a corner with my gouges. And I like that I can slice linoleum to whatever size I need it just with a box cutter instead of having to get someone with a table saw to do it for me.
I use a series of gouges to carve the linoleum. They're Japanese tools, mostly u-gouges, along with one v-shaped ones for very fine lines. McClain's printmaking supplies sells some lovely sets, and I got the student grade one, which I've been very happy with. My least favorite part is keeping them sharp, but one kind friend of mine in North Carolina gives me occasional lessons and tunes them up for me, and I'm getting better at it. Slowly.
You can also see in the photo above that reading glasses are a necessary tool for me now that I'm over 40. And a rubber grip mat to hold the block steady while I carve is the other must-have equipment.
Here is my progress so far on the "key" block, the one that will be darkest (usually black in my work) and which holds all the surface pattern. This print will have much simpler red and green blocks that are carved separately and just have large solid sections of color. They print first, with the key block on top of everything else. I'll photograph them as I go along. I carve the pattern one first and make sure I like the direction I'm going in before I move on to the color parts. Stay tuned as I keep working on this one. It takes a few weeks for me to get one fully right (usually with other work interspersed).
This was one of my favorite buildings in Paris. It's overdone and very Baroque, which is not usually my taste, but the form of it is lovely, with its aqua dome, and it's so delightfully playful that I liked it very much. I sat outside and painted it from across the street first. It's on a busy plaza, and I had trouble finding somewhere I could work. Then a bus stopped in front of me for a good ten minutes. I had done everything possible from memory and was just thinking I would need to move when it finally turned on its engine and took off. The trials of sidewalk painting.
I hadn't been inside the Opera until my friend Caroline joined me, but I liked it so much that I went back to paint the day she took the train out to Versailles. I painted from the balcony down into the plaza below.
And halfway through that one the sun got to me, so I took a break and painted the inside lobby before finishing from the balcony.
I also ran across an outside performance walking home one day and stopped to paint that as well. I was amazed at how easily the street musicians move full pianos around the sidewalks of Paris.
It was cloudy a lot while I was in Paris. There were days I'd planned to go to a museum, and if the sun came out suddenly, I would change gears and paint to take advantage of it. And there were certainly days when I walked out hoping to paint something particular and ended up in a museum instead for lack of light. Overall, I found a great balance of seeing art and making my own. I'm happy with the crew of paintings I brought home. There are only a couple I really wanted to do and never quite got the chance to.
One day it was cloudy, and I was planning to go to the Musee d'Orsay, but when I got downtown, it was MISTY instead. Delicate, transporting, mysterious. I spent the morning doing three quick watercolors. I never left the apartment that trip without my art gear, and on this day I was particularly grateful.
Along the Seine
I'm in the process of scanning in the watercolors from my French trip. The scans are much clearer and brighter than the snapshots I posted while I was traveling, so I'll repost the paintings as I get them scanned in.
I loved painting along the Seine. Walking up and down the river and across the bridges was one of my favorite parts of being in Paris. I enjoyed painting from the bridges and along the river. I wish I'd had time to do the fabulous old train station that now houses the Musee d'Orsay, but hopefully another trip will let me do that.
Below is the Grand Palais, which is a lovely birdcage of a building that rises up along the skyline.
This last one was done on the bridge between Ile de la Cite and Ile St. Louis. I loved that spot, which often had musicians busking. This is a quick one, done in a hurry before dinner and trying out my new waterproof ink with the paints. I treated myself to a new Lamy fountain pen to remember the trip and to house a different kind of ink than I normally use while sketching.
It's been nuts since I got home. I had a couple of nights back, and then I left again for a dance weekend with my sisters. I loved spending time with them after being gone for a month.
I hung out with awesome women (that's one of my sisters front and center):
danced to my favorite band with friends (and sisters, though no one got a shot of that):
and got dipped a few times:
Now I'm back to work. I was supposed to be in Cape May this week painting for Cape Resorts Group again, but bad weather cancelled my flight. So I have a little time to do some commissions here, catch up on my sleep, and get up there in the next few weeks more rested and ready to go at full speed. Overall a very good thing.
I head home tomorrow and am busy packing and doing last minute things in the apartment. I will have to post my last day or two of work when I get back, but here is one from my last day here.
This is the garden I like so much behind Notre Dame.
Rodin Museum and the Seine
I had been wanting to go back and paint more in the garden of the Rodin Museum. It's a lovely spot with statues and topiary and a view of the dome of Les Invalides rising above it
I am also just stunned by the power of the bronze Gates of Hell that stand along one edge of the garden. It is amazing to see the whole piece as one, even though many individual sculptures also grew out of the project.
I also continue to be drawn back to the Seine as a subject. Caroline was nice enough to let me bail on a walk one evening and delay dinner a bit to paint this.
I did one more very quick sketch as I was waiting for her at our meeting place, the charming bridge between the Ile de la Cite and Ile St. Louis.
Sketching in the Musee d'Orsay
I also sketched two early Monet landscapes. A delicate, intricate snowscape and the one I fell in love with the most: an early painting of a sycamore tree, which will surprise no one who knows me.
I really loved this museum. It is confusing as heck to navigate, and they need more bathrooms, but the building (an old train station) is amazing, and the collection is too. It took me two different trips to drink it all in.
I adored the collection of Van Goghs and spent time with them both days. His work never fails to move me. I read his letters to his brother in high school or college, and they influenced how I go about my work.
I also loved that they had one of the last little flower paintings of Manet. He painted from his bed the flowers his friends sent him during his final illness. That's how I want to go out. And that whole series is exquisite.
What I sketched, though, were two Cezannes. A stunning, earlyish self portrait and a tiny, absolutely exquisite still life of apples. I have been reminded of my love of still lifes on this trip. I may have to do some when I get back home.
I also sketched two early Monet landscapes: delicate, intricate snowscape, and the early, obscure one I fell unexpectedly in love with --- a sycamore tree, which will surprise no one who knows me.
I also sketched the cafe with the enormous station clock while Caroline and I had lunch in there, and it felt delightfully Hugo Cabret.
My friend Caroline and I had toured the Opera Garnier two days ago, and I was blown away by both the building and the view from its balcony. Yesterday Caroline went to Versailles while I had to take the cat (my reason for being in Paris) to the vet for regular bloodwork.
It was interesting to me to conduct a vet visit purely in French. While my French wasn't pretty, I was proud that I could both understand and answer the neessary questions.
Afterwards I decided to revisit the Opera and paint. It was earlier in the day than before. I started painting off of the balcony but had to take a break from standing up in the full sun. So I went inside to paint the lobby and then finished up the outdoor piece.
I loved painting the aerial view and thought about doing a second one from the top of the nearby department store Galleries Lafayette, but those scenes take an awful lot of concentration for me. I had just done two intricate pieces and decided I couldn't manage a third just then.
So I walked towards home instead, taking a different route, and I came on a lovely cemetary. I did a quick sketch there before heading home for dinner.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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