It was the summer of 2004 that I took the printmaking class that changed me. I went into the Mass Art class taught by Annie Silverman an inactive printmaker that had been into lithography in art school but didn't have many prospects of printing in that medium post-graduation. I left that class obsessed with woodblock printmaking and saving up for a still expensive but totally doable printing press designed for relief, intaglio, collagraph, monotypes and pretty much every printmaking type except for the stone lithography I studied at school. Nearly ten years of carving and printing these blocks of wood and I don't miss lithography much at all. These years of printing has led to a lot of carved images and I have my favorites. The advantages of wood for carving is that it is durable, keeps for nearly forever and is easy to store. Woodblock printing is still my favorite method of making art and it is the one that I always come back to.
It may look pretty but it is trash and my storage is not unlimited. And I am supposed to be into minimalism. Sometimes I hate having to throw out some of the trash that I end up in my studio. Not because I am super committed to recycling but some of it is rather beautiful and I get attached. Whenever I print I put a piece or two of newsprint behind my inked woodblock to catch any excess around the edges of the print paper. Then I save it and let it dry and use it when I print again. Dozens of these sheets going at a time. I can easily use them twenty times before they start to break down. By then they are a rainbow of color and and a variety of images. Accidentally arranged. Sometimes they can be quite beautiful. But on newsprint? I've tried to recreate the same effect on good paper with less than magical results. So I save the newsprint for awhile. Photograph them and try to use them as wrapping paper whenever I can. But sometimes they just have to get tossed. And it hurts, but what else am I supposed to do?
Time to fill up my sketchbook. It has been 75% complete for months now and neglected. Not sure why I stopped the habit of drawing everyday but now is a great time to start again and finish it by drawing every morning this vacation week when there is nowhere to be for hours. Nothing is more important to an artistic life than keeping an active sketchbook. And drawing in the sunlight with a cup of coffee and some refrigerator oatmeal is a pretty awesome way to start the day. Healthy, easy and productive. Awesome!
Busy day today with no time spent in my studio. Plus February "vacation" is next week. Yay! So disappointed but there is always a chance tonight. It's a absolute mess outside and I'm happy to stay put tonight and get some work done. Staying warm with a cup of hot tea and drawing sounds like the perfect way to spend this snowy winter night. I don't think I will ever be in love with winter. But the winter blues are skipping me this year and that is good enough for me.
Creativity is chaotic. That's a fact. Another fact is that for me it is impossible to work in a chaotic environment. Especially a small one. So I need to spend a fair amount of time making sure that my space stays organized and I know where everything I need is and periodically sort and purge my supplies.
Big changes are in the work for next fall when my littlest goes off to preschool four full days a week. But this month she is starting preschool four mornings a week and that is the perfect amount of change for right now. So lucky to have the rest of this winter and spring to ease into everything. And four mornings is just enough for me to give myself the gift of work. Morning meetings with myself contained within my daily Morning Pages, followed by walking both kids to school together. Then I have about an hour to run any errands or get a coffee or do some laundry before I start my core hours in the studio with my printmaking apron on at ten and work until lunchtime at noon. Then it is time to pick the littlest one up at school. Two hours four days a week is sounding pretty fabulous after six years of cobbling time together and never having enough time to tackle the big projects.
After the holidays made a mess of my little studio I took some time to clean and clear it out a bit and focus on work. I got rid of a few broken tools and some old drawing assignments from my freshman art school days and suddenly I can breath again. I'm ready to work. Everyday. When I finish carving the block that I am currently working on and print from it it will either go in a drawer or a stack. I stack the larger blocks and put the midsize to small ones in a drawer. Then I can print from them whenever I want for years to come. But I will need to restock my paper supply first. That is always fun!
What are you procrastinating right now? I am the master of procrastination. Sometimes I will clean my whole apartment just to avoid writing an email. Currently I am procrastinating carving. My latest carving got started well enough and I am committed to the design (good thing since there is no going back on it at this point) and had grand plans to carve out one design every evening and I would be done in a month. It's been a month and I am not even half done. I got distracted making Rainbow Loom bracelets with my daughters, making Perler Bead Christmas Ornaments, watching Twin Peaks on Netflix with my husband and generally just enjoying life outside of my studio. Oh and I let the mess beast creep in and take over my tiny studio and once that happens doing work there is pretty much impossible. Anybody else procrastinating anything and how do you like to procrastinate?
This is a question I ask myself a lot as I get back to writing and blogging. After all I am not a writer I am a visual artist. That is the script that I formed for myself long ago and it can be hard to break out of that mold even when doing so is so obviously the right choice. By nature I am insecure about my words. Rather shy and reserved by nature I prefer to let my art speak for me. But writing my morning pages every morning (except once) these past two months and blogging on a regular basis has been changing me. And changing my art as well. It creates feedback with myself and causes me to consider things that I wouldn't necessarily consider if I wasn't forced to write all the time. Seven hundred and fifty words for my Morning Pages every morning is a lot of page filling. But I do it and stuff comes out and I learn how to write while doing it. Blogging is a lot. Instead of just going on with my busy life with my family and making art whenever I can I am forcing myself to stop and think about what I'm doing, why and what's next. I blog because it is changing me and I like it.
I am a relief printmaker and my material of choice to carve is wood. I've carved linoleum, potatoes in grade school, rubber and tiny erasers for stamps. But I always come back to carving blocks of wood. There is so much to love about the material. It is strong and durable and easy to take care of so I can buy in bulk and store them flat in a drawer if they are smaller or their sides in a corner if they are larger. I can print from a carved block for many years. Wood is a fun surface to carve and I like seeing how the personality of the block shows up when printed. That lovely wood-grain pattern is oh so nice.
From a blank surface of wood with endless possibilities to a carved and ready to print woodblock that can be printed from for years. A good design can last for years carved on a block of wood so it is worth it for me to take the time to get the design right and carve it with plenty of care and attention. I pour over reference books and my own sketchbook brainstorming for a woodblock design. Once I have one picked out and ready to go the first thing I do is stain the woodblock with some sort of light watercolor. Just enough to change the color of the surface then when I start carving I will be able to see my marks. Then I draw or transfer an image onto the block and seal it was varnish. Once that dries I am ready to carve. Mostly I use Japanese and Western carving tools designed for wood but I also use nails, scratch art tools, wire brushes and power tools to make marks in the surface of the wood. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to sixty hours depending on the size of the block and the amount of detail in the carving. This one was a moderately sized block with a good amount of detail that kept me engaged for about a week working an hour or two a day. Then I give it a final varnish before it is ready to print.
For the past year or two I have been on a slow journey with minimalism. My free time is very limited so it can be difficult to have big purges but I do what I can whenever I have a free moment along the way. Just getting rid of a few items a week on a regular basis can make a huge difference over time. Then I spend less time cleaning and organizing and more time working and having fun with my family. Our main focus with minimalism is to not accumulate more items without careful consideration. Slowing down the consumption and going without has made a big difference. For our family it is all about finding what each member likes best and uses most and focusing on those items and getting rid of and avoiding the rest.
This philosophy of finding out what I enjoy working with as an artist and getting rid of the extra can be challenging to implement. Living a life of minimalism as an artist offers some special challenges. It is all too easy to collect and hoard various art supplies and justify it saying that it could be just what I need for some later project so I have to keep it around. My small studio starts to fill up with junk rather quickly and then when I need to do work I find it challenging. Now I purge supplies and donate them to my daughter's school on a regular basis. I figure they can put the random art supplies that I have collected over the years to better use than I can. And I still have plenty of materials to draw inspiration from and use in various projects, but without the clutter. Messy does not work very well in a small space.
Sewing machine I am looking at you and giving you the stink eye.
I work in a small space in the 950 square foot urban apartment that I share with my husband and two young children. There are advantages and disadvantages to being an artist who works from home. One advantage is that I'm always close to work-particularly of note when my 2 year old naps for a few hours (most) afternoons. The big disadvantage seems to be missing out on interacting with artists who aren't 6 or 2 years old. This may or may not actually be a disadvantage.
I'm going to spend some time sharing how I setup my studio to keep its' contents both well organized and safe from children. I'll try and share some tips that I learned along the way too.