Category Archives: Reflection

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.

State of the Art: Printmaking Play

I’ve been deep in art play mode lately. I apologize for the lack of pen posts and overwhelm of printmaking play posts. I do have a review partially completed for a great pen that I should be posting soon.

Printmaking has been a passion of mine for a long time but lack of a press and interest in other art making has taken up much of my time over the last few years.  I think that the last time I posted here about printmaking was when my friend Jane and I made gelatin plates over ten years ago! (Just writing about them makes me want to make more gelatin plates!)

I’ve been testing out how different materials collagraph- what they look like and how they stand up. I also purchased a pot of Speedball SuperGraphic Black and a tube of their fabric ink in brown.  The SG Black is taking forever to dry, but it’s also been incredibly humid and cold here. The fabric ink started to set up as I rolled it out. But both inks look great- on paper and fabric!

With collagraphs building the plate is just one part of making the image, inking is the second part, but the most important is wiping. In this final last part of the process, like etching, the printmaker controls how much of the ink is left on un etched areas of the plate and how much wiping will occur, also, if any texture is left in that ink. Changing one aspect of the wipe can almost completely change the image!

The fun little mini press aka embossing tool that I purchased allows me to play around not only with lino, wood, and collagraphic prints but etchings too! ‘

Many people make etchings into aseptic packaging- soy milk packages and the like. Any plastic lined multi-layered item will work. I managed to get my hands on an assortment of old advertising items- mini white boards with old calendars, decks with missing cards, and old advertising posters. All of these things have a plastic layer over cardstock and work great for mini etchings.

I did a few tests of prints and use of different materials for etchings and I’m really pleased with how they came out. This of course leads me to more ideas for the process.

State of the Art: Updates

I have made slow but steady progress on my studio space. Each night I peck away at it a bit more. This is of course complicated by the fact that this is also planting season. I only have so much time and I have to split that between all of my things.

I have removed almost all the paper scraps. For years I’ve saved all my bookbinding and other paper scraps in boxes to recycle. I would get a box full, seal it up, and put it into the recycle bin. It turns out that this is a big no no in curbside recycling for a number of reasons- no sealed boxes or bags in recycling and no shredded paper. It turns out that shredded paper and scraps get blown around the facility and make a mess. They don’t want them.

I have a couple of options for my paper scraps- make paper or compost.

For now I’m choosing compost. It’s not the most ideal but I also need a great deal of brown/carbon for my compost bin anyway. I also do not have the time to make paper right now. I might at some point also try making some papier-mâché clay out of my scraps but for now compost it is.

I have added to my organizational tools. As part of the office clean out at my job, a lot of things have been designated as trash that have plenty of life in them. One such thing was an old taboret. The wheels were a bit loose and it is one of those stick together versions you get from Michael’s, that said, they were a lot of money new, and I can repair this one. I also snagged a pen and pencil rack and a few other organizers.

State of the Art: Printmaking and Cleaning

I’m not going to lie, the state of the art is a mess of printmaking and cleaning my studio. Also my workplace office and a lot of the facility. I’ve had to sort through the art studio at work and decide what was trash, what could be sent off, and what would be sent to another program.

Let me tell you, that was not fun.

Of course I spent a fair amount of time staring at my work computer waiting for the system to save and load things. Our computers are old and internet slow. Go figure. While I sat there I decided to try some collagraph prints with left over office supplies- old folders and glue sticks, and beaten up craft knives.

I love collagraphs. They are very versatile and there are options for relief work but also intaglio style incised lines. Another fun aspect is that you can really get the plates to be quite painterly. The resulting prints have a wide range of tones. I’m still figuring out the right mix of ink and additives for a good wipe but also a good range of tones. I’ve ruined a few plates already, but if you want to get your hands on some of my prints, check out my Ko-Fi page, I’ll be listing them there soon. I also plan on putting together a package for Ko-Fi subscribers, after 3 months of subs of $5 or more, I’ll send a little package of prints. It’ll be a fun little surprise.

As an aside, I really want to get into using some of the waterproof when dry inks like Akua, but I really don’t trust myself to use those inks in my kitchen… Our old kitchen table had some pretty intense teal streaks. Because I want to work my little press out a lot, I’m cleaning my at home studio out. It’s a mess. When I headed off to grad school I had the school studios to work in, so more often than not, I’d grab materials, go to school, then dump them when I was done with the class. When I worked at the place after graduation, I was mostly focused on writing, so I didn’t do as much art that required a studio… So it sat. Then I started to work where I have been for the last two and a half years, where I had an office and an art studio. Why work at home when I have year round access to a well set up art studio and can leave my supplies in the office?

So yeah, my studio looks like an art store threw up in there, and it isn’t at all good. It’s awful. I’m moving supplies around, deep cleaning, and I’m eventually going to store everything in organized manners. I got down to the rug (that’s going!) in a 4x4ft corner. I’m working my way out. I took out a bag of trash and another of paper recycling.

With my possible free time next week, I hope to make more progress, I’d like to clear out one end, so I then have a spot to sort out supplies and decide what is trash, what I need to pass on, and what I need to store. And most importantly, HOW I’m going to store this stuff.

When I’m done with this massive chore, I’m going to treat myself with a range of nontoxic oil based water-soluble inks.

State of the Art: When Shit Falls Apart

I started a pogo-print-a-day project back in October 2020, and looking back that was not the world’s greatest time to start a project. But I was hopeful.

I can’t write about much of the falling apart here, but things got stressful. I will not go into the impact of covid and the, then impending holiday season. But many of my projects fell apart in late November. I did win Nanowrimo, but that was followed by December.

December was intolerably stressful. I reached my original goal of 50 photos, then… stopped taking them. Writing got more difficult and tapered off to nothing. I maintained the blog until about January, which many of you remember that in past years I’ve taken off. This year I took most of February off too.

Behind the scenes I was gathering more materials for reviews and testing them, but not writing reviews. I’m now writing up those reviews and getting them posted.

I finally finished Useful Journaling 1.3 (The Every Thing, Every Where issue.) I’m now working on 1.4 and what I’m calling series 2. Series 2 is going to be different, more in depth and longer than series 1. I’m excited.

Slowly but surely, I’m getting back to my usual posting and art based activities.

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