Category Archives: Reflection

Reflection: The Use of an Art Journal

I’ve been working in a few different journals and pondering the use of art journals as a tool for making art but also mental wellness. My art journals have never been pretty. They have always straddled the line between sketchbook and reflective journal, I like them this way.

I heard the disturbing news of the acquittal at work from a coworker and my first response was, “Well that’s bullshit, not surprising but still bullshit.” I took a few days to mull over it and the horrifying meaning of the verdict.

I could get political here but I won’t I’ll let the art stand on it’s own.

I started with a simple pencil sketch of the shooter and the judge. Simple and loose. I used a few reference photos from newspapers, working up the sketch from several version. I didn’t focus on getting everything exact, just the feeling of the smirk or the condescending air of the images. Finally I looked at them and thought about what those faces represent- a slap on the wrist for people who deal deal to minorities, people like me. It’s a scary thought.

So I doodled pink skulls over those hateful faces.

Why pink? Macho bros don’t like it. I do.

Bright magenta pink.

A process color. Since the process was perverted and polluted. Continue reading

State of the Art: When Weird Stuff Enters

The DayJob studio is now fully functional and all that remains is all the weird little stuff that happens in any studio that holds classes on a daily basis. There will always be consolidating inks and paints, and cataloguing papers and the archive.

I’m not going to lie here, I’m incredibly proud of the work I did with my new friend and letterpress mentor, Mitchel. Together we did an incredible amount of work over the course of a few weeks and made the print shop something that functions for classes.

It has also lit my creative fires.

My imagination for trash printmaking has really taken off. I’ve been sketching and cutting and gluing many plates. I suspect that many will never get printed, either I’m not happy with the image, or the idea just doesn’t work. But you never know until you test it out. With trash printmaking, there isn’t a shortage of printing plates- they only require a bit of work, and there are dozens in nearly every person’s recycling bin.

This has freed my brain to create and create some more. I’m not worries about the expense of copper, zinc, or steel. Instead I’m spray gluing a thin carton to another carton and then sketching my idea with a Sharpie.


I also had some thoughts about working on No Brand Notebooks again. I was able to pick up some inexpensive blocks to test some ideas on, and I liked the pink carving plates more than I expected. I had learned through work and the guy who ran the print shop before the closure, that you can mount the pink stuff and run it through the Vandercook. Again, mind blowing.

Anyway, I’ve carved up a bit of the pink stuff to make covers. I’m considering what inks I want to print them with and when I figure out color schemes I’ll be printing up a bunch of covers for pocket notebooks again. NBN will be going letterpress, but a bit weirdo style.

Another thing- sometimes you are given some weird stuff- I signed up for this weird stuff. The shop was gifted these glass circles from a 50s era etching tool. I don’t know how they worked but they are cool as hell. The circles range from 5mm to 80mm, and then they have a range of thicknesses.

I grabbed a handful of them, in a single thickness-ish, stuck them to a backing, inked and printed them. I struggled a bit with press pressure, linoleum block high was too high, then the height for other blocks was too tight. I ended up crushing the glass on a few of the circles. If i had used a smooth new piece of MDF I don’t think the glass would have cracked. But it did. Anyway, I figured out the pressure and ended up with some fantastic prints. There is just something freeing when you play with weird materials and get something really cool. I’m imagining layering a bit of bright blue over the top of that brilliant red (Charbonnel Cardinal Red). I think the layer of color would be amazing, while the pop of red and blue would be cool.

Anyway, get some weird stuff into your studio and just play with it!

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State of the Art: Discoveries in Viscosity and Resistance

The last few weeks have been packed full of the good stuff, including some trash printmaking discoveries concerning viscosity and resistance in different packaging.

Let’s start with the viscosity and resistance discovery. I started working on a small series of images using coffee bags and packaging. The packaging had ideas of mental health and substances used to treat mental health conditions which also have a history as recreational and medical tools. This stuff fascinates me.

IN these images I wanted to create additional plate tone in the form of brush strokes. I intended to capture these with waterproof outdoor Gorilla glue. What happened was a surprise. The packages from both Neosporin and Band-Aids resisted the Gorilla glue and prevented it from sticking everywhere- in stead it started to bead up. It held better in areas where I brushed more thoroughly.  Once I discovered this effect, I went to great pains to only lay a single brush stroke over areas and let the package and glue do it’s own thing. The effect is magical. It has the look of water beading up on a windshield or water on the beach as it recedes. It’s random and magnificent.*

Testing with other materials has lead to similar results. Coffee bags and foil all respond similarly, though the glue has difficulty with full adhesion with the plastic and will pull away in big sheets of rubbery dried glue if cut into. It does not survive dry point efforts once dried. I’ve got several plates that I hope to print soon to test the effect on these other materials.

Sadly one of my favorite plate types does not produce the effect at all- coffee cups. Though I have not tried all of the coffee cups in my pile.

Other interesting business- I was finally able to take a trip to the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, MA. I was able to do this for work and have a spectacular tour. The MoP is spectacular with many specimens of presses and all sorts of lovely machines. I had a great time touring the place.

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State of the Art: Failing Happily

I set out to work on NaNoWriMo again this year. Last year I failed miserably, this year I’m failing happily.

The print shop is set up and other than a deep clean of the floor and picking up a few final items, it’s ready to go. It was an enormous amount of really good work. Throughout the clean up and wake up I set up and printed a letterpress poster on the Vandercook SP20, and it was awesome. I’m looking forward to printing more stuff on it.

I’ve also tested the etching press with some of my trash prints. It works differently than my mini press and other presses I’ve used. Mainly tightening the roller is tougher than on other presses. I had to pack the press with an assortment of waste paper to get a good impression for trash prints. I suspect I can get the press tighter through a different style of tightening and rolling through the felts. I’m looking forward to teaching trash printmaking to students, in addition to recording some trash printmaking for Ko-Fi or Youtube.

This post is less about he business of my DayJob and more about failing at NaNo. Day one went really well, I plowed through and was over the 1,667 words I needed. Then the next day I found out I had been exposed to covid through work, everyone was sent for a test and then to work from home. Mentally I went back to the summer of 2020 and lost all sense of time. In my rush to go for my test and get out of the building, I forgot the charger for my work laptop.

All in all my WFH only lasted 36 hours.

But the impact on the work place and my mental state has been longer.

I found myself in that same scattered timeless disorganized mental space I found myself in during 2020. I also found myself staring at my work screen for far longer than I should have. This was an issue in 2020 as well. Like in 2020 I dropped the ball and NaNo fell by the wayside.

Most years I’d be mad at the interruption.

Not this year.

A good part of learning more about my own reactions toward the pandemic and WFH has led me to be a little more gentle with myself when I fail at a goal. I also let myself lean into what I need when it comes to this WFH state of mind.

As I’ve failed at writing, I’ve worked on trash printing making. Perhaps, I should start NaNoPriMo? A goal of 30 Trash Prints in November. Ambitious, too much for now.

I’ve worked on 10 trash print plates since the start of November. I haven’t printed the full edition of any of them, I’ve only gotten 3 prints of 8 of the plates so far. The little plates work up quickly but take a lot longer to print. I’ll be testing a few of the plates to see how much of an edition I get with the full sized press VS the mini press. I have a suspicion that the thicker felts cushion the plates and I’ll get more prints from each plate than with the mini press. Which makes me want to work to cushion the mini press more.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the plates. I’m working on a few series using brains and skulls along with various cells or microscopic pictures I’m interested in. One is a covid virus, another yeast cells, a poppy seed, as well as ergot fungus.

Reflection: Falling Back into Pocket Notebooks

When I first started my new job I had won a Instagram giveaway from  Maruman USA for a pair of their lovely Septcouleur notebooks. I still need to review them but I’ll start with the fact that they are lovely. I immediately decided the mustard colored book was my new work notebook. And it’s worked perfectly. It’s perfect for notes in meetings and trainings. It’s also not so big that it feels weird carting it around the building.golden hour image of a Pen Addict by Word Notebooks pocket notebook, well used

So I do a lot of moving around the building. I’m on the 4th floor for part of the week, the basement another part (the print shop lives there) and then the first floor for meetings and a group, then the second floor then the 3rd then… Suffice it to say I’m in and out of studios and floors of the building all day all week.

Another Pocket Notebook

Like I said I’m going up stairs and downstairs a lot. I was really glad that I stuffed a notebook into my back pocket at the start of the job. I intended to fill the Pen Addict X Word Notebooks pocket notebook* for sketches and doodles while I was commuting via the train.

It didn’t take long for me to start making notes about groups, make to do lists, and needs for groups in the pocket notebook. I’m not down to a flow with the system yet, but pocket notebooks are 100% making a post-pandemic comeback in my routine.

I started to make some of my own hand stitched notebooks. These aren’t available for sale, though, I’ll be making some of my own out of my own art at some point, remember all those brains I carved? Yeah on notebook covers. Those pictured are for staff at my new work- I found some dead and overprints, killer. I had to make a hand sewn version of the Dead Prints by that big company- but WOW these are so different and sooooo cool!

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State of the Art: Reviving a Printshop

I’m a lucky perrson. I’m getting to take part in reviving a slumbered printshop. In the shop we’ve got a large etching press, 2 working Vandercook presses (An SP20, be jealous), a small 5×7 card press, 2 baby presses, 8 cases (or more) of lead type, and a case of wooden type. That doesn’t include the various plates made for the presses to produce job specific posters and cards.

The kind of difficult thing about this revival is that the shop was not slumbered properly. The person who had been running the shop had left the company and the printers who had been there to oversee the production had retired. Further, the printshop was left open so folx could grab materials they could use… But also, so it could be used as storage. And I think all of us know what happens in a basement room for storage when people get busy- stuff gets stashed and forgotten.

So there’s a large amount of stuff stashed, but also dead prints, make ready’s,  test prints, and prints that just didn’t make the cut stashed ALL OVER THE PLACE. Not to mention the supplies that are stashed that belong in other studios.

The part that I love about this is that all the stuff left behind shows the history of the place but also gives us great materials to have our students make sketchbooks and pocket notebooks.

I’m ridiculously excited at the prospect of having access to all of this machinery but also to make it available to the other art therapists and all our clients. Continue reading

State of the Art: Return of the Mini Press

Yesterday marks the Return of the Mini Press! As much as getting the press was a pain in the rear, the customer service person who I dealt with was lovely.

Now that I know more about the press, and I’m checking pressure with EVERY plate change, it’s working great. I spent a few hours and inked up a few plates and it was really nice to work on the prints.

I wanted to focus on one print and plate. The inked plate.

The plate is made up of 3 sheets of cardstock cut from a pizza box. I laminated this together with regular old white glue (PVA if ya fancy) and put the whole stack in my book press for a few hours. I then let this dry in my drying rack.

I sketched directly onto the plate with pencils. I went over that with an extra fine Sharpie. This was okay because I knew I’d be sealing the plate. I have found that under pressure and with the use of the Speedball Supergraphic ink, unsealed sharpie lifts onto the print. It makes a halo the color of the Sharpie. Annoying.

After that I cut shapes and peeled the paper back. I etched into the plate with a needle and craft knife. When I was happy with my base image, I went back into the image with a liquid matte medium and sand mix*. I brushed this onto areas I wanted to be deeply dark. I used a q-tip (cotton bud) to move the sandy mix around a bit. Then I wanted to try something fancy, I coated the light area in the sky with that white glue. I knew that with the amount of moisture in the air (it’s been humid AF here) that when I coated the sky area with the acrylic based varnish I use, it would crackle, but be mostly white. I was right. Even if I hadn’t been I had known in advance I wanted that area light. The crackles  were purposeful and look, to me, much like thin branches you see in the sky when you look up through a tree canopy.detail of the crackle sky detail of the crackle sky

A thing that I noticed is that the rough areas of the plate- in the trees and large swatches of dark, it starts to break down. That card from the recycling bin is very absorbent. I’ll start adding a thicker layer in those areas from now on, but I’m going to reapply more varnish over those areas. detail of the cabin

I also need to “wet-pack” my paper. Basically, Spritz down the paper I’ll use for my printing session with clean water, stack them together in a plastic bag, and then print with the resulting soft damp paper. I’ve been printing with dry paper or paper that has been lightly misted just before rolling it through the press. Since I’m cutting quite deeply into my card the paper has to be soft enough to make it into every nook and cranny. small print of a cabin in the woods, small cabin is overshadowed by large trees Mini press, purple and white press Continue reading

State of the Art: Alternative Presses for Printmaking

A few posts back I mentioned my deep dive into YouTube and how it woke my interest in alternative presses for printmaking.

Back in my undergrad years I’d heard about people using a variety of different tools to make prints, top among them the tortilla press! Way back then I attempted to make my own press from scrap wood my Dad had laying around and it was a pretty dismal failure. I know a lot more now than I did then. I probably should have asked my Dad for help in building the little press. After that I built another press with 2 thick slabs of crappy plywood, 4 long bolts, some wingnuts, and a handle. It worked well enough but I soon used it more for pressing notebooks than anything else.

Somewhere along the way I bought the little 5×8 Speedball press. Back then they were a more reasonable $30, currently they run $90! (Though available at most discount art suppliers for around $70!)  Good investment. Though I had initial terrible luck with getting smooth even prints with it. Live and learn, literally. It needs a pusher to even out the pressure from the lid if you are going to print in the upright traditional manner.  The Speedball relief press works on the same idea as a tortilla press- hinged lid and a lever for pressure. That’s all you really need to make a relief print.

Then there’s the Open Press Project, which is a miniature (very tiny) 3D printed press. You can print it yourself for the cost of time and filiments or buy one ready made. They offer them at cost and also at a bit of a profit- a pay what you can offering. Even at the base cost of just materials, it costs well over $100. I’m not sure what it would cost if you were to 3D print it your self. There’s also a proofing press, called the F-Press that you can purchase from the designer. YouTube and instructables are littered with instructions for building your own presses.

Of course there is the good old wooden spoon or rolling pin. If you want an upgrade from a rolling pin, there’s the stainless steel Akua pin press, aka a fancy stainless steel rolling pin.

Or homemade barens? I’ve wrapped a few cardboard rounds in news paper and fabric and secured that with masking tape to burnish the backs of prints. I’ve read about people putting flat head push pins into a block of wood and burnishing with that. Or gluing a fist full of toothpicks into a cardboard tube!

All of these ideas allow you to put pressure onto the back of  the art to get a good relief print. Sometimes they work for intaglio process, sometimes not.

But the idea of a craft embossing press as an etching press? That was new to me.

This led me to looking into other ideas for getting the slightly higher pressure needed for intaglio style printing.

Pasta makers!!! You can feed small thin intaglio sheets and paper with felt through the largest setting of a pasta maker!

Other folks still will print their work by sandwiching their plates between pieces of plywood and running over it with their car a few times! Often printmakers will have an event where they’ll rent a steam roller for a day or two and spend a day making massive 4x8ft prints in parking lots. I’ve never been to one of these events but I’m always interested when I see the resulting images and photos of folx having a ton of fun.

Or what about those cold roll manual laminators? I saw a guy on youtube using one for relief prints, he reported using it for an etching but couldn’t say that it would last. But he’d made over 4000 lino and relief prints on the one inexpensive cold laminator!

If you are old enough you remember “knuckle busters” or the old school credit card imprint tools that were used at check out. You’d get a little carbon copy of your receipt. One person has repurposed a knuckle buster (So called because cashier often ran their knuckles over the store’s info on the bed of the machine, which hurt… a lot!) to print little relief prints.

Learn from my mistake- most of these alternative presses can give you the pressure you need for collagraph and other intaglio style work, but you need to take care with the amount of pressure you apply and adjust it for every material (my big error) you run through it. If you are pressing relief prints you don’t need intaglio pressure! The press roller just needs to exert enough pressure for an even print, and most can do it at a lower pressure than you expect.

Because I had a rather traditional printmaking education I was stuck in the idea that I needed wool felt blankets for printing intaglio style. I’ve since learned that this isn’t the case. Almost any material with little grain or pattern will work. So craft or fun foam, mouse pads, yoga mats (any pattern squishes out of them), cheaper recycled plastic craft felt, neoprene rubber, and a variety of other less natural materials will work. They are also significantly cheaper than traditional wool blankets. With the little craft presses or cold press laminators, you may even need less packing than in a large press. IF the rollers are rubberized then they may give a bit of the cushioning you need to get a decent imprint and adding additional blankets actually decreases the pressure.

Wool blankets are so expensive that a kevlar blanket protector was developed by Keith Howard (1998) in the 90s to protect them! I have distinct memories of fellow students getting worried about getting ink on the blankets and hoping the professor wouldn’t notice. When I first read about using foam and other materials I balked then realized that use of these new materials opens the door for more people to be able to take part in printmaking. Cheaper newer materials opens the door for more people to explore and enjoy printmaking.

Anyway, if you have used anything interesting to make prints, leave a comment and tell me about it!

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State of the Art: Relief Prints

Welp, all good things come to an end, and I managed to overwhelm the mini press and 2 teeth on one of the gears sheered off, one pretty cleanly, the other… is half there. If I can find a gear it’s a pretty straight forward repair. I have an email out to the company to see if I can get a new gear or get the thing repaired but the company has changed names and the support email bounced back. There have been numerous reports online of the company not responding to customer service requests. So not good. If I can’t get help from them, I’ll see if I can get a new gear made for me. Also, lesson learned, check and adjust roller/bead height before attempting to print ANYTHING. While a full sized etching press would have powered through, these little presses can’t do the same, something had to give.

I have owned a Speedball relief press for close to 20 years. I had dismal results with it back when I first tried it and set it aside. Recently I saw it being used on a relief print video and had a “well, duh!” moment. I was using it wrong. The little press needs a pusher felt! Or to be used face side down. Another video led me to using pieces of yoga mat or fun foam as the pusher felt.

And here’s my little mind BLOWN!

Hot damn this thing does great stuff with my little brain print.

So the brain print is part of a series I’m working on, to be revealed soon. But it is also part of my deep dive into recycled stuff as a substrate for my carving.

One of the many things I’ve been wanting to explore is recycled things for printmaking. I’ve tested out a bunch of other stuff from frozen pizza boxes to tetra packs to soda cans. They all work, but this stuff might be the holy grail. Big words I know. It’s a number 5 plastic, which doesn’t recycled well in curbside recycling* so my use of it as a printing substrate is a good second use.

It’s plentiful in my area and I can get enough of it to possibly last a lifetime.

Better yet, it cuts like buttah with my cheapo linocut tools. Oddly my nicer set isn’t fond of it. That said I was able to cut through the block and get this printed pretty quickly. I do need to figure out how to stain the material so I can see what I have cut and haven’t cut, because the white on white is hard to see, even with a bright light. Sharpie slide off the surface and eventually became a fuzzy mess.

I’ve got more to explore in terms of how this went from a quick little scribble in my sketchbook to being applied to the block and how it transformed through the use of the tools and my understanding of them. Really stoked and I’ll share more pics of the process and material.

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State of the Art: Alternative Plates for Printmaking

Of the many things I’ve been exploring in my studio is the idea of alternative plates. This might be why I really like collagraph. Everything about collagraph is the use of alternative plates. Certainly there are some folx that always use plexi plates as their surface but many other artists use built up surfaces of cardboard, cardstock, discarded packaging and other things. Collagraph has led me down the path of looking at other things I can use as plate (surface for etching or working on) to make other sorts of prints, like the intaglio technique of drypoint.

Like lino or wood cuts drypoint involves cutting into the plate. Drypoint is the opposite in that those incised lines are what prints black- ink is forced into the lines, excess is wiped away and then the left behind lines are printed. It feels more like drawing than other methods of printing where the lines removed are what prints.

The difficult part about making prints from recycled materials, especially when using a press, is that the press pressure must be adjusted for every material. I’m finding that some of the recycled materials only give a few decent prints before the pressure of the press warps the materials. I see why so many printmakers will find a material that works and sticks with it.

Since I’m exploring recycled materials I’m finding myself looking at certain things and thinking, “I only have a few of these, but they print so good.” I’m trying to find a few materials that are easily found that I can use regularly and not worry about them running out. It’s not easy.

Things that I like for collagraph- packaging from soda cans, froze foods, and other pulpy brown card. This stuff can be glued together in layers the cut and scored and peeled to gain incredible depth and texture. It also holds enough carborundum or sand to make really amazing texture. Coated with a thick layer of varnish keeps it printing for a decently sized edition. The difficulty is that the packaging varies in thicknesses.

I did a few tests with soda cans mounted to packaging materials. The soda can materials warp as I scribed into the soft metal and then warped even more as I printed. I was able to get 3 good prints but the lines degraded noticeably by the final, 4th print. While this is fine for my ko-fi followers, I’d really like to be able to do an edition of 13* for everything.

Many printmakers like to use plexiglass and other clear sheet plastic. I’m trying to avoid this since I don’t want to make more plastic waste, I’m hoping to find something recycled that I can source regularly and easily.


*Why 13? I like the number.