Saturday, March 12, 2011

Experiments in Printmaking

Magpie - 4x6 linoleum print - water-based ink on mulberry paper

I've been wanting to try printmaking for a while and this winter our local adult ed school finally offered a beginning linoleum printmaking class so I eagerly signed up. It has been fun to learn another creative activity that is achieved in a completely different way than painting. I have also been surprised by how detailed I could get with my carving. The trick, I learned, is to lightly heat the surface of the linoleum with an iron on the lowest heat setting. Then the linoleum cuts like butter.

Have you ever noticed that when you take a class or workshop, there are certain personalities that are ALWAYS in a class? There's the person who thinks what they have to say is equally as interesting/important as what the instructor has to say and you end up with two teachers, or there's the person who thinks they are better at whatever is being taught than anyone else. My printmaking class was no different. In fact, I could pick out these personalities within the first hour.

The young woman who fit the "thinks they are better" personality went so far as to openly scoff at our instructor and roll her eyes. It was extremely disrespectful. We had our first critique in the third class and everyone was asked to show the best print they had achieved so far (we were all still getting used to how much ink to apply, how deeply to cut our lines, etc., so the print quality of each individual print we made varied wildly.). Our instructor talked about the technique successes and problems with each of our prints and as far as critiques go, it was pretty mild and positive. The young woman who was too good for our class was critiqued second, and got no bad press. Her print came out nicely and her design was strong. However, the three students who followed her got spontaneous oohs and aaahs from the rest of the students for their lovely designs. As each of these prints was presented to the class, I could see this young woman getting more and more fidgety and uncomfortable. I found her rising indignation palpable. She clearly expected that her print would get the best response of anyone's and she didn't seem to take any comfort in the fact that her critique was positive and other people in the class also did not receive responses to their prints from the group. Given her behavior during that critique, I wasn't surprised when she never returned to class.

We were, however, still stuck with the other person who was trying to share the stage with our instructor. Luckily the instruction portion of the class was pretty much over at that point and it was just a matter of us applying the techniques to our pieces and getting individual help. Thankfully our co-instructor then became too busy with her own work to talk much.

The magpie print that I've included here was from our second assignment. We were to create a print with a social commentary. Our instructor had strong leanings and wanted us to voice our opinions as well. However, I am just not a social commentary type of gal. I remember so vividly visiting my grandfather as a child and the fights he and my mother would get into at the dinner table because he was very conservative and she was very liberal. They thrived on this interaction - it was their weird way of bonding - but the rest of us found it very uncomfortable and frankly I was scared by it. How could two people whom I loved so dearly be yelling at each other like this? How could they be saying such nasty things about each other when they were supposed to love one another? How could they be enjoying this? And why were both of them saying that people who thought X or Y were bad when I personally knew people who thought X or Y, but they were good people? It confused me terribly, and I have avoided any type of political or religious discourse ever since. So making a print with a social commentary created a bit of a conundrum for me. I figured I'd start with something I was comfortable with - birds, of course - and then add in some human element (that's supposed to be a cemetery ) and hope that I could somehow bluff my way through the meaning of it. Much to my relief, everyone was too eager to get to the carving and printing part of the exercise to spend time thinking up a profound statement first and so I was off the hook. Once the pressure of having something clever to say was gone, I was rather pleased with how this print came out.

I am really glad I took the class and look forward to experimenting with printmaking more in the future. But now the paintbrushes are calling.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A Productive Hiatus

Hello to all of you out there in Bloggerland. How have you been? I'm not even sure where to begin after a 5 month break from blogging, so I guess I'll just jump right in. Otherwise this post will be indefinitely delayed by the "Oh where do I start?" hand-wringing.

My hiatus from blogging turned into a bit of a hiatus from art. I had a sense during the fall and winter that it was not the time to paint. I needed to take care of my health, reassess my life, and rejuvenate. I felt guilty about not doing any art - I mean, how could I be a Real Artist if I didn't do any art? And didn't I want to get Somewhere with my art and therefore I absolutely had to practice on a regular basis? I was reasonably successful in quieting that guilt and I trusted that even if it went against all the rules I was doing what was best for me.

Last month I was contacted by our local natural history center with an invitation to show my work in their new gallery space. I finally felt ready to come out from under my artistic rock, so I accepted their invitation and put together a show of my bird paintings. As I was preparing for the show, I gathered all of my pieces together for the first time in a while and as I looked at them, I realized that there wasn't anything in the group that reflected who I am right now as an artist. The newest pieces I had were from the 100 Painting Challenge I had done in 2009. This really got under my skin. With just two weeks to go before the show opening, I picked up a paintbrush for the first time in months and whipped out what I now consider one of my most successful pieces to date.

11x 14 - acrylic on paper

When I finished, I sat back and nearly cried for joy. For decades I have been striving to paint like this. Somehow, at last, the exact image I had started with in my brain managed to find its way out of me and onto the paper. And in record time!

The miracles didn't stop there. Even with a last minute broken frame that had to be replaced, I managed to hang my show in plenty of time (and without forgetting anything!). There was a great article in the newspaper about the show that ran the day of the opening, and drove a lot of people to the center. I somehow managed to get off work right on time (which never happens on a Friday) so that I could be at the opening feeling relaxed. And the new painting hung front and center at the show opening and got rave reviews.

That night a local watercolor artist whom I know and whose work I admire stopped in. We were talking shop and I sheepishly admitted to not having picked up a brush in months and how stunned I was at producing the gull painting immediately after such a long hiatus. She didn't seem surprised in the least. "Sometimes things need to gestate," she said, "Sometimes a break is what you need. I've done the same thing myself." and she and I agreed that from now on, we will refer to any similar artistic break as "a productive hiatus".