Category Archives: Review

A State of Reflection

The end of the year as we roll into the new is often used as a moment of reflection. A place where we look back on the bad and good and use that to set goals and intentions for the new year.

WOW! What a year we had. A second of a global pandemic, which is back on the rise in my area with folx still refusing to get vaccinated or to even mask up. MY city attempted to hold a meeting about mask mandates, and because they were too… stupid to lock it down, anti-maskers spoke over them and drove them out for over an hour while city officials figured out how to work Google Meet. Sweet Jeebus.

Anyway, this is what we’re living with here in the States, instead of attempting to wipe out a measly virus we’re fighting over wearing a simple piece of cloth over our faces. I have more to say, but this post isn’t about that, not it’s about reflection.

I spent the last year working on a series of prompts and ideas for the newest volume of Useful Journaling. We’ll see how it comes out. But 2021 saw me using my journal more often than in a few previous years, and making it more of a practice again. But it also saw me wanting to continue with my zine efforts, while floundering on the original premise of Useful Journaling. But now that I’ve taken a year to think and mull on it, I see a new option.

Most frustrating for me, I lost** the original files for Useful Journaling, including my layout file. Annoyingly I thought I’d redundantly backed them up, only now I can’t find all of them. Awesome. For some reason when I updated the OS on my cheap little laptop it corrupted all the attached drives- including the expansion micro SD card. While I thought I’d uploaded the files to Drive AND DropBox, I had not. Bummer. It’s not a hard one to recreate but here I am.

Fortunately, I have original flats of all my old zines, which means I can scan them easily. (JK I just found these in yet another search of Drive. deep sigh of relief.) But A word to the wise, if you think you have backed things up, check and double check to be sure that you have. While I’m not exactly a digital hoarder, it is useful to keep; some of these digital files on hand just in case.

So a few goals for me in the upcoming year-

  • Redundant back ups, for everything I’m currently working on. And double checking to be sure I’m doing this.
  • Consistent photos for the blog and instagram.
  • New issues of Useful Journaling, but different than before.

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Reflection: Mourning and Processing through Art

As an artist and art therapist I’m keenly aware of my own use of art as a tool for processing and working through my emotions. The death of bell hooks has left me deeply saddened. I first read her work in my undergrad, likely introduced to me by my ex. I continued to read her work on and off through out my life. Outlaw Culture was mind blowing.

Honestly if you’ve never read her work, you should pick up anything, but Outlaw Culture is a personal favorite. The final chapter on Love as the Practice of Freedom is fantastic. It is also where I pulled the quote for my print.

I started this with a simple gelli print- stencils in ranges of red on a thick beefy white sheet of cardstock. Initially I attempted a toner resist with other colors but sadly that did not work as I’d hoped. SO I switched up and used a toner transfer technique. The printed paint and paper are note smooth so the toner is rough and uneven. I rather like this look. It quite matches my feelings about her death- sad and a little rough. I had intended to use a golden paint for the base color, but the toner resist, resisted and white print with black lettering

These prints feel a tad too cheerful, or the shades of red with the rays feels cheerful. Perhaps it can be interpreted as hopeful or loving, and fits the tone of the quote: “Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our community from oppression and exploitation are doomed.”

a 3x4 grid of cedar rectangles set into a grid, coated in yellow ink.

I dig printing with found objects.

I decided to explore the concept of processing emotion through art with some of my students. I decided to create a larger print using a slightly different hooks quote. With this print I created a matrix of found cedar blocks printed in bright yellow. The ink used is a rubber based printing ink, rolled on thin. I then printed this with an etching press, though I could have fiddled with the Vandercook and printed it with the machines.

lead type set into a vandercook, ready for printing

IS there anything as pretty as type set and ready for printing?

After the background was printed, I set up the quote in Ultra Bodoni 60pt. I considered going with a found letter but it didn’t fit the poster, nor did it fit the tone of the poster. Ultra Bodoni is a big impressive typeface and it leans a bit cheerful, but then the quote is full of hope.

test print of a bell hooks quote

make ready- note that the base print is off kilter This will go into my stack of stuff for testing other prints

finished print of a bell hooks quote

The color here is *chef’s kiss* perfect. Better in person.

I decided to use a 70s color palette and use brown over the yellow. I also chose to let the printing be a little soft and uneven, it matches the tone of the print and the reasoning for the print- I’m feeling a little soft and uneven.

Over all I really like the combination of the yellow woodgrain printing and the brown letters. It is perfect. I’ll have a few of them available on my ko-fi, after the holidays. It’ll take that long for everything to dry. I made 10 or 11 copies of the print. Which is a very short run, and barely worth turning the Vandercook on.

As a method of running through the last of the ink on the press, I’ve been running a stack of old prints through the machine. It clears out a bit of the ink, which means I’ve got less of it to clear out. Some of these overlay prints and images make lovely prints on their own, case in point- this brown over pale pinks and blues with a blind embossing of the word REFLECT.


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State of the Art: Necessary Tools

I wrote about the idea of paring down my necessary tools for holiday travel on my Ko-fi page. I took with me a sketchbook (always), a selection of recycled trash printmaking plates, a pencil, a sharpie, an etching needle and a craft knife. With this selection of tools I created a few plates to work on when I got back to my studio, and I started to carve them while I was away.

I have written before about how I find limiting the choices of my tools liberating and invigorating.* What I took with me was the barest of supplies, and frankly I could have limited myself further- just the recycled plates and a sharpie, and left the carving and etching for home. The limited choice felt liberating. I wasn’t focusing on capturing the fine details of each image, instead I marked the areas of the plate- add glue here, scratch with sandpaper here, try glue resist here. I focused only on capturing the idea of the image, not the details, knowing I could add details later.

It was invigorating and sparked my creativity in a whole new way.

When I arrived home I continued to etch and carve the plates, adding in glue, and glue resist, and also some tissue. I scratched and sanded other areas. In the end i ended up working on 4 plates on and off in the evening and gathering more mental info for more plates.

I have to wonder about limiting choices for increased creativity, whether one is traveling or not. I am often inclined toward gathering new materials and tools rather than limiting. 99% of the time I’d rather add a tool than eliminate a tool. But, limiting my choices for tools led me to thinking about the tools I would use. When I throw my entire toolbox at a project or a plate sometimes it looks muddy and less the image I imagined. I like to think of these images as motivated by the tools and not my creativity.

Trash printmaking is already a limited technique- one must remove the plate from the trash for it to be a trash printmaking plate. The plate itself is limited when compared to say a sheet of copper or even collagraph plates like museum board. Sure you can glue it to another sheet of card, or add more layers to it with glue or acrylic paint, but there is always an unknown quantity to the trash plate.

I think if you reach a block or hiccup in your creativity that limiting your supplies to the bare basics for a few days might unlock something. Alternatively, add a new supply or technique to your tool box to see if it unlocks your brain. Continue reading

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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Reflection: Organizing Chaos

Organizing chaos might be my new band name. I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last 2 weeks in a print shops that was “put to sleep” at the very start of the pandemic. You really can’t do letterpress via zoom.

Then over the pandemic the space was unused, and like all basement rooms, things filtered in “for now” but ended up staying forever. There there are supplies that I just don’t know what they are exactly. I’m sure if I searched I’d find an answer, but some stuff is unlabeled. If there is one thing I’ve learned, I will label everything I open. I’m thinking about purchasing a massive box of zipper bags just for that purpose, or hell paper bags. I have no idea what the soft rubber sheets* with glue on one side are, but they are cool, and we’ll try to print it!

I found excess project pieces in odd sizes and an entire package of untouched Baltic birch from Mclean’s. If you know, you KNOW that made me SO happy. I also found an assortment of monoprint plates and plastic drypoint plates. Plus loads of inks for monoprinting.

I keep writing “I found,” as if I discovered these supplies on a wild adventure, and in a way I suppose it has been. In part it is a discovery of all the history of all the folx who have run this print shop. While I’m not officially running the shop I am turning it into a space of therapy. Continue reading

State of the Art: Gel Window Clings

You might be wondering why I have a post about gel window clings. Well if you’ve read my blog or visited my instagram, you know I’m interested in printing with trash and weird stuff. I had a moment of genius where I realized that gel window clings are made of similar if not the same stuff as gelli plates.package of gel window clings

You know the things I’m talking about- those dollar store holiday themed window decorations that pop up in offices and classrooms every holiday season. Those gummy decorations that for halloween are shaped like skulls, stars, cats, jack-o-lanterns and other Halloween themed icons. I believe I’ve also seen them for other holidays in offices and other places. It took some searching- they were no longer carried by my local dollar stores or even the pop up Spirit of Halloween near me. Instead I found a set in CVS. Mine cost $4. They have gone up in price. They are also available on Amazon.

Once you have your gel window clings you’ll notice a few things- they are MUCH thinner than even mini and small gelli plates and they are MUCH softer and squishier. This is fine, you’ll need a gentle touch when printing.

I attached mine to an acrylic stamping block, but they can easily adhere to any smooth non-porous surface like plexiglass.gel cling on an acrylic block

Once attached I rolled them up like any gelli plate- dab a bit of paint on, then roll the paint out. I also rolled into onto a slab then rolled it onto the gel cling. Both worked equally as well. star shaped clings on a block

A thin even coat is key to getting a good print. I found that placing the block and gel cling then flipping the paper over and using my hand worked best. After I determined they would print well. I cut my sticker paper to sized and dropped the paper onto the plate, in the usual gelli printing manner. printed stars

I printed white skully images onto sticker paper to make skully stickers. I also did some black cats and loads of stars.

Overall this process was a lot of fun, and really interesting. The prints came out great and makes me wonder about other themed gel clings- I founds summer, ocean, letter, dinosaur, fall, thanksgiving, and christmas sets. The letters pose an interesting option for hiding additional meaning in a print or for creating a printing poetry.

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State of the Art: More Gelatin Printmaking

Fall is upon us, the days are shorter and mornings crisp, which means it’s time for pumpkin spice and more gelatin or gelli printmaking! For ease of writing I’m going to refer to this printing method as gelatin printing throughout this post. I’ve put the supplies I need for a printing session into a small (ish tote) so I can set it up to print away while watching TV. Though often I find myself not watching the TV and just focusing on making prints.

I set a goal to get 10 or so good base prints to work on in additional sessions or methods. 

So this brings up the idea of what IS a GOOD gelatin print, or base print? And are they the same thing?

The short answer is that no they aren’t always the same thing and the long answer is, it varies depending on what you want to use the prints for. So gelatin printing is a form of monoprinting and can absolutely be used to create wonderful images on its own, but if you want to do that, you’ll likely need to use Akua inks for their longer open time or amend acrylic paints for a longer open time with airbrush medium or something to extend their open time. Though I’ve seen a few YouTube videos of artists using layers of acrylic paint to create amazing landscapes with a gelatin/gelli plate.

For me, I have 2 types of gelatin prints- those I want to make more art on with other tools and those that I want as a finished piece on its own.

In both I look for layers of color through stencils and paint manipulation to create texture. YOu can see that in the images below. Each has several layers of stencils built up through the gelatin plate that creates depth and interest.

For sheets that I plan to turn into their own individual pieces of art, I look for specific colors I can use as the background. Colors that pop with texture and layered meaning. In most cases I look for specific colors that I can use to make the final image pop.

For sheets that I plan on using as a backdrop with other media, I look for the same things- layers of color that create interest. I really like to have color opposites over analogous colors. I’m particularly fond of yellow, magenta and orange together with teals and blues over the top. I like these layers behind deeply black and opaque white ink.

I think a GOOD gelatin print session is one where I am able to get a bunch of different colors on a bunch of sheets that create visual interest. A good print is as individual as the printer.

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Review: U.S.A. Gold Pencil

The U.S.A. Gold pencil has changed ownership so much I’ve lost track of ownership, luckily for me RoseArt has their name discreetly slapped on the back of the packages. For awhile I couldn’t find them on shelves at my various big box stores. This year I found this pack of 20 pencils at Staples for $3.99. Pretty pricey if you ask me.

The packaging is as maximalist as they come. A plastic (UGH) bubble glued to a piece of card with some die cutting. The front of this hanger package features a red, white, blue, gold, AND green design. The package is hard to read and the U.S.A. Gold logo is lost in the mishmash of crap on the packaging. There’s a bit of a flag motif, except one stripe is red and the other is blue. Oh, yes, don’t forget the handful of stars.

Jeebus crisco, why not just add a crying eagle, RoseArt?

The flip side of the package? Moar flags and stars.

There are some changes to the 2021 version of this pencil, and frankly… Most kinda are crap.

The pencils look pretty similar to the older version- possibly cedar, gold ferrule with a blue band, jaunty little pink eraser and a slim feeling in the hand.

The changes are a glossier coating, gotta get in that no name microban antimicrobial nonsense to capitalize on covid fears. Never mind the antibacterial properties of wood are well documented, and cedar itself is rot and fungal resistant (though it absolutely will rot.) The claims emblazoned on the USA Gold packaging doesn’t say or even suggest that the pencils will kill covid viruses, but one must assume that harried parents rushing through Some Box Store with a passel of cranky kinds might just toss a package of these into the cart, without investigating the claims, or believing the product will help little Johnny in the fight against covid. Do you really want little Johnny sampling some of that sweet no name microban knockoff as he chews his pencil?So Glossy
Enough on that.

The true crime here is that RoseArt dropped the stellar blue foil imprint, thus further ruining the look of the pencils. We now have a glossy pencil with a GOLD FOIL imprint. GAH.


The cores are dark and smoother than the original Write Dudes pencil. Still I cannot recommend this pencil to you. For so many reasons. The awful maximalist packaging, the glossy “antimicrobial” finish, the GOLD foil imprint, it’s all just so wrong. They ruined a really decent pencil.

In a hilarious twist, RoseArt forgot to update the website for this product… So the website mentioned on their own packaging leads to a dead page. LOL.

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Composition Book Round Up: Part 3 Walmart

I didn’t think I was going to make it into Walmart this year, and frankly I wish I hadn’t. That’s a whole other story. When I did finally make it to Wally World, well, it was nearly empty of school supplies. Generally this Walmart has a lot of stuff left over and has clearance shopping carts full of pencils and other items for 10 cents. Not this year. The school supplies looked as though they had done minimal ordering and what was left the week before school was not a lot.

Mostly they had a great deal of Norwood poly covered composition books. Which I didn’t purchase due to their paper being ideal for pencils, ballpoint, and okay with gel, but abysmal for fountain pen. Plus, that poly cover was against the rules for this year’s round up. I did some searching, and digging and walking into the regular office and stationery section of the store to find the only box of card covered college ruled composition notebooks.

This is less a round up and merely a single review.

Pen + Gear Marbled Composition Notebook

At a mere 50 cents these are on par with the cheapest pricing I found this year. At 100 sheets they are among the fatter composition notebooks. The marbling has a good visual balance of dark to light and the spine tape is perfectly proportioned. The branding is a tad large and not well integrated into the front label area, but not awful. The barcode area on the back is okay as well.

The cover is abysmally thin. The whole book is floppy. This is the first time I’ve wondered if a cover will actually hold up to regular use in a bag. I like a thick card cover but I’m okay with a thin cover IF I think it will hold up. I question this one. It’s that floppy and thin. If it catches on anything in a bag it will fold and crease. This might be a good excuse to get a nice cover for your comp books. Etsy is filled with them.

Inside the 100 sheets are smooth but toothy to the touch, letting me know without even testing this paper will be killer with pencil. And it was. I tested with a few pencils and they all performed really well. This paper feels as good with pencil as the Yoobi paper, if a touch smoother. It takes little effort to get a dark even line, pencil glides over the surface. Ballpoint does great as does gel ink.

Please note the spot of bleed through on the facing page. No good.

Things started to go downhill when I pulled out the fountain pens. Every nib showed some ink spread and the barest hint of feathering. The pens felt good on the page. Flipping the page showed a great deal of bleed on every nib except EF with well behaved inks. This is a composition notebook for pencils, ballpoint, and gel pens. While a fountain pen can be used, you’d be stuck using one side of the page only. Which, admittedly, is how I use a comp book, but I like to be able to use the verso of each page for notes on the facing page. I wish I were able to suggest this as a good comp book, but it just isn’t.

You are much better off looking for other brands at Target or other places. Wally World’s composition notebooks are a bust this year.

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Composition Book Round Up: Part 2 Staples

Staples has often had composition notebooks that were stellar for fountain pens at 50 cents each. In years past you looked for those marked “Made in Brasil.” This year I looked through the stacks and stacks of books and found only “Made in Egypt.” In keeping with my usual purchases I only bought college ruled. This year I also stuck to card covers only. No poly covers. Though the Staples closest to me had many poly covers, they were $1 each. 

Staples has also changed up their branding on their store brand items. Nothing is marked “Staples;” it is now TruRed. Why? Who knows. Personally, I liked Staples branding with the single partially bent staple as an icon. The True Red branding leaves me a bit flat…Though I do like the dual open staples on each side.

Both comp books purchased at Staples are TruRed Brand and feature the same flimsy thin cardstock cover printed with wide blotchy marbling. The covers are too thin for writing out of hand. The taped spine is spot on and perfectly proportioned to the notebook. The covers were available in blue, purple, red, and black. All spine tapes were black.

TruRed Graph Ruled

These cost $1.29 and have 80 sheets of graph paper.

The stitching is wide but tightly done and feels secure. All the paper inside is tight and even in the center is perfectly folded.

The ruling is pale blue and 1/4inch, relatively wide for graph paper and my least favorite graph ruling. It is good for writing and bullet journaling. The paper is what I call “composition book thin” and is probably 15lb. It is smooth to the touch but has decent tooth for pencils. Fountain pens feel good on the surface but you won’t be confusing this with Tomoe River paper. Even wide wet pens don’t quite glide over the surface. They feel good, but not great.

The same, good but not great, goes for the performance of the paper as well. Because the paper is so thin there is plenty of show through, but no bleed through. Even a wide wet brush pen didn’t exhibit much in the way of bleed through. Further, there’s no feathering to be seen and just a bare hint of sheen.

These do not perform as well as a Unison graph from Target and at $1.29 they are a lesser value. But in a pinch you can get them at Staples at $1.29 year round. Well that is if you can find them on the shelf.

TruRed College Ruled

These are regularly $0.99 each and currently on sale for 50 cents. There is a purchase limit of 30 at 50 cents.

These feature the same tight well done binding as the graph paper. A little too widely stitched but satisfactorily done. I’ve purchased Staples branded comps in the past with terrible binding. This year’s offerings seemed to be all very well done. 

These books sport 100 sheets or 200 pages. The pages are roughly 15 pound, which is standard for composition notebooks. The paper feels smooth but not slick and fountain pens feel good on the page. Again they don’t glide but feel pretty nice. The paper doesn’t exhibit any feathering even with the wettest of my pens and brush pens. Though with the brush pen there is a tiny amount of bleed through at the wettest points. The ink shows a tiny amount of sheen.

Pencils feel pretty good on this paper too. It’s toothy but not sandpaper toothy. Points hold up pretty well but the line even from an HB is decently dark.

Overall if you are looking to stock up on a composition notebook this isn’t a bad choice. The paper feels very nice with most of my pens and pencils. It’s got 100 sheets and is stitched well. The major downside is the flimsy cover. Which will stand up relatively well in a bag, it just won’t allow for out of hand writing. I’m not sure you can get much better than this for 50 cents.

Staples seemed to have far fewer offerings than in the past. I wasn’t able to find other brands of comp books on the shelves or in their more decorative sections of back to school supplies. Overall the BTSS section was pretty disappointing and lacked the vigor found in previous years. Though, can anyone be surprised given last year and the questions many might have about this upcoming school year? After all, is BTS back to school or back to school at home? What does back to school even mean this year?

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