Monday, November 18, 2013

A little bit more on printmaking

This week I posted about etching, drypoint, linocut, and woodcut as methods for making durable, quality prints by hand. I also experimented recently with "soft ground" etching, which delighted me by producing a print that looks like a drawing.

"Soft ground" is a softer version of the "hard ground" wax used for etching. When etching with hard ground, one must use a needle to scratch the image into the hard wax. For this technique, one can press a design into the soft ground with a pencil. One transfers the image by drawing on a piece of newsprint placed over the wax-coated metal plate. The wax will stick to the other side of the paper, leaving a duplicate image on the plate, ready to be exposed to the acid.

I lay this little sketch (based on a drawing I made last summer, at the Kenai River) on top of a plate waxed with soft ground. I went over it with a pencil, pressing my marks into the wax.

 When I lifted my drawing off the plate, this image, in wax, appeared on the reverse of my paper:

Wherever the wax stuck to the paper, the plate was exposed. Into the acid bath it went. Then I inked it and ran it through the press with a piece of wet paper. Here is the print:

Now I can make as many of these as I want! Neat, isn't it? 

I like this image a lot, but I liked the soft brown of the wax so much I might print it again using a sepia colored ink. I could also hand color the final print with watercolor to give it the Alaska Landscape finishing touch. Mostly, I want to experiment more with this wonderful, simple way to make prints.

Next post, back to oil painting. I am doing some small pieces (6 x 6, 8 x 8) which will be very affordable, especially if bought unframed. Stay tuned, shoppers.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Little Background on Jack Lambert

I mentioned a few posts ago that my grandfather, Jack Lambert, had attended Art Students League. Some readers found that interesting, so I thought it would be fun to post a few pieces of his work.

These examples are both inscribed to his friend Allen Porter, who met my grandfather in the 1940's, when Allen, as a very young man, worked at the Chicago Sun. My grandfather also worked at the Chicago Sun, as a cartoonist. Later he moved on to the Baltimore Sun, and stayed there until he retired in the 1960's.

Allen became an accomplished designer, and a member of the Chicago Bauhaus community. He found me online and offered me these pieces, which I readily accepted. He has graciously kept in touch and encouraged me in my work.

This image, an original drawing for a cartoon, dates from about 1943, according to Allen. The issue of red-baiting must have been in the news. The pencilled caption on the cartoon is "Let's Ration Red Paint." As you can see, my grandfather packed a lot of energy into an image, just what a cartoonist needs to do. I love the classic, 20th century look of this character, especially the spats!

Allen also sent me this photograph. My grandfather was an innovator, combining photography, sculpture, and cartooning. He used this same technique on two covers for Look Magazine, illustrating the Democratic and Republican convention coverage. On one, painted clay sculptures of donkeys are running across the page, on the other it's elephants. This example evidently was an illustration for the war bond drive. Two of his sons were in Europe, pilots in the Army Air Corps, at the time.

This little guy has spats too.

I am very pleased to have this photo. Many of my grandfather's sculptures were in clay, and used for purposes such as this. Later he used the clay for new pieces, so none of them has survived. He was a funny guy, and a serious artist. When, as I child, I asked him for advice about how I could become an artist he told me just one thing. "Learn to draw."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Some corrections, and more on printmaking

I wrote several things in the last post that were not accurate. First, regarding Japanese woodblock prints, I should have noted that they were not printed on a press. Those prints were hand-rubbed onto the paper.

Second, I said that for my color linocut print "Eden" I printed the dark outlines first, then the color sections. In fact, the colors went through the press first, then the outlines were printed on top.

Third, I talked about putting the "Falling Sword" plate into a dye bath, when I should have said acid bath! Alert printmakers will have caught my mistakes. Did my time dying wool gave me a wooly brain?

Now a note about another way to make prints from a copper plate: drypoint.

Drypoint does not require an acid bath, because the grooves are made on the plate directly with a sharp point. The drypoint grooves have edges, like a furrow, which catch the ink and hold it, giving a deep rich tone to the darks. The effect is softer than etching. You can see the difference in two images I made of the same object.

I began to make an etching of a basket, but I didn't like the first state, so I set the plate aside and started over on a new plate. The print is very small, 3 x 4 inches, so I had not lost much effort. Here are some states of the etched basket.

First state:

A state from the middle of the process:

The last state:

I then went back to the plate of my first, failed attempt and used it to experiment with drypoint. While this version began as an etching, you will see that it ended up with softer, darker qualities.

Looking at these last two images, I wonder, which do you prefer? Because these prints are from two different, plates, I could do an edition of either, both, or neither of them.

Here, by the way, are the two plates. The etched basket:

The drypoint basket:

I would love to hear from you. Which one you think would be best for an edition?

My New/Old Love, Printmaking

Along with drawing and painting the figure, while I was in New York I renewed my familiarity with printmaking.

One frequently sees the term "print" used to refer to a reproduction of a work of art,. These can be posters, or the more expensive "giclees" produced digitally from photographs. In this post, I am discussing the older technology of making a print by hand on a printing press.

The "press" of rollers under pressure transfers the image from a metal plate, a block of carved wood, or other hand-prepared, inked surface into damp or very lightweight paper. The product can last for many centuries. You have probably seen such prints by Rembrandt, or woodblock prints by great Japanese artists of the past.

Printmaking is process-rich and lots of fun! It is thrilling to put a plate through the press and then raise the paper up, seeing the image in its new form. Having just joined a printmaking co -op in Anchorage, I will soon be doing more.

I got into printmaking in college, many years ago. I still have some of those pieces, here is one, a woodblock from about 1968.

Later, I took a class at University of Alaska. This etching titled "Family Portrait" from 1987, commemorates my time living on a boat in Kodiak with my young son, husband, and the dog. If it looks a little grim, well, it was!

The process of etching involves coating a metal plate with wax, cutting through the wax with tools to make the image, bathing the plate in acid to bite away grooves where the metal is exposed, putting ink into the grooves (or tiny dots, as the gray areas on this plate had) and running it through the press with paper. Voila!

At that same period I experimented with multicolor linoleum block printing, with this result, titled "Eden". (Forgive the reflections on the glass, this one was photographed in its frame.) The dark outline was carved and printed first, then each separate color was inked onto a piece of paperboard and dropped into place for a second trip through the press.

Here is a sequence of "states", or increasingly developed images, from my recent studies in New York. This is a simple etching.

State 1 of "Falling Sword":

A state midway along the process, after a few trips back to the acid bath and the press:

The last and seventh state. From here I can continue to develop the image, or print an edition of 20 or so, mat them, and sell them to people who want very affordable original art!

Finally, here is the plate. (The dark spot at upper left is just my shadow, its 's hard to take a photo of such a reflective material.) I love working with copper, it's lovely.

Re: the photos in this post, several are slightly distorted as they were taken quickly with a hand held camera. The corners really are square, despite what you see here. I preferred to get this post out quickly rather than set up the good camera and lens, that's a morning's work all by itself.

I hope this will give you some idea of the process and of the value of a genuine "print" made by hand, by a human printer on a real mechanical press.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Report from New York, Part 2

All my instructors emphasized the importance of values. In this context, value refers to the lightness or darkness of a section of a drawing, painting, or print. Very dark areas are referred to as "low" value, and very light areas as "high" value. To depict anything in a realistic manner, the values must be rendered correctly, which is harder than it sounds. Conceivably, one could work with two, three, or beyond twenty levels of value. We did lots of value studies.

This drawing (18 x 24) was a month-long value study. The model posed for 20 days, 3 hours a day (with breaks), giving me a rare opportunity to develop the drawing. However, I made the mistake of adding the background somewhat late in the process, only to discover that I had to change all the values of the figure, in order for the whole image to make spatial sense. Lesson learned!

The model below was beginning a 4 week pose, but I had to leave at the end of 4 days. I sped up my process, but the drawing (18 x 24) is unfinished. I was struck by the model's dignified bearing, and wanted to do her justice. It would have been very satisfying to show the rich darks of the shadows moving down the figure from the head, through the arm, along the leg, to the feet. Even so, I learned much from this drawing. 

My color studies over the last few years, combined with all that practice on values, helped me greatly on this 2 week figure study. Again, a wonderful model. 

Our figure painting instructor, Dan Thompson, gave me permission to be as colorful with this piece as possible, which was lots of fun. As noted, it is just a study (20 x 24), and my time ran out before I could finish that extended arm and hand.

Next post, a short tutorial on etching.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Report from New York, Art Students League Part 1

I spent the month of October in New York, attending classes at the Art Students League. I was following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Jack Lambert. He attended the Art Students League approximately 100 year ago, then went on to be a well known political cartoonist, as well as a portraitist and sculptor. I had fun picturing him working alongside me in the same studios!

My instructors, Michael Grimaldi for figure drawing, Dan Thompson for figure drawing and painting, and Bill Behnken for printmaking, were all outstanding. I also admire and appreciate the models who pose for ASL classes. They maintain the same position during every class period for up to 4 weeks. Their talent and professionalism are key to the student experience.

Our instructors emphasized the importance of understanding, at great depth, the energy and structure of a living body. In the drawing below, if you look very closely, you will see that I made lines going through the figure, noting the angle of hips, ribcage, head, and feet in relation to the entire figure. (The lines are easier to see if you click on the image to enlarge.) I also found anatomical landmarks, such as the top of the pelvis, and the connection point of the thigh and hip bones. Learning to get these angles and structures right saves a lot of trouble later on! This was a 20 minute pose.

Later in the month we worked with much shorter poses, and I found that practice had brought me some progress. Below is a page from my last week at ASL, four 5-minute poses (the arrows indicate light direction.)

I got to work on the same kind of "starting moves" in Dan Thompson's painting class. In the oil sketches below, I tried to capture the model's gesture and energy, while also noting the physical structures most key to the pose.

On this next one you can see Dan Thompson's visual notes on the right side, helping me to see how to keep the whole figure as open as possible as I worked.

This is not glamorous stuff, but it is very important to the skill and craft of being a painter. If anyone reading this went to an art school where these things were not taught, I know you are jealous reading this! Next post, a little more color, I promise.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Memories of Summer

Here are the last florals of the summer, with the flowers that were most plentiful in my garden, nasturtiums and lobelia (some of my favorites!) The piece below also features a red cup I fell in love with, plus some of my collection of glass bits. 

The piece shown below is a pastel on paper. Colorful, isn't it? Pastel just tempts me to go all out with the color, it is such a lush medium. This piece looks great in a mat, the energy is nicely contained, just the thing to brighten a winter day.

Red Cup with Blossoms and Shards
Oil on Linen Panel
9 x 12

Bed of Nasturtiums
Pastel on Paper
11 x 15

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