Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bokashi Pulp Painting



Pulp painting and stencils are becoming contributors to how I make images, particularly the artist book I've been working on for the past few years, Future Tense (which is almost finished!) While making the final sheet of handmade paper for the book, I used a technique I called bokashi pulp painting.

Bokashi is a actually a term for a technique in moku hanga, known in the US sometimes as Japanese woodblock printmaking. It means a gradation of color. In homage to this technique, I have appropriated this term for a similar effect.

To achieve this effect, pulp paint is suspended in a vat of water. I don't use any formation aid for this, and I'm not sure that it would actually be helpful. The mold - without the deckle, is then dipped at a angle so that the pulp paint slides up the mold. The mold is not fully immersed, some sections remain above the surface of the water. You can see the pulp collected on the mold above.


Being pulp paint, the fibers collected in a bokashi pull are to fine to have their own integrity as paper, so they must be couched on top of base sheet - see above. Please note that the base sheet was pulled previously to pulling the bokashi pull.

It's difficult to see in the photo above, but the light blue transitions just barely, having slightly more pulp at the bottom of the paper. Also notable is the soft, watery edge of the pulp midway up the paper.

(I can't take credit for inventing this technique - back when I was TA'ing Papermaking at UArts, I remember one of my students, Danae, coming up with it, and just falling in love. So if she ever reads this - thank you!)

To contrast this delicacy, part of the print has a hard edge stencil. Below, the mold with the stencil on, and the remaining pulp after carefully peeling the stencil off.


For stencil sheets, I use foam sheets like these. Some artists use dendril or a thin vinyl material, I prefer the sturdiness of these. They also hold up great for re-use.

Below, the stencil couched on top of the bokashi pull.


The imagery didn't stop there - I continue to print on these paper. Here, after three layers of ink - two more to go! (Soooo close to finishing this book!)








Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lucy Lippard at Mills



Sorry for such a crappy phone photo, but it was a dark auditorium. In case you didn't get it from the title of this post, I saw Lucy Lippard speak at Mills College last week. She was there to promote her new book, Undermining, and her talk gave a synopsis of the book.

In truth, as much as I admire her, I felt her talk was fairly cursory, and basically covered the same ideas that those such as myself - who fit into center of the Venn diagram of artists, environmental issues, and activists - have debated and explored and focused on for the past ten years. However, I am still thinking about her talk, so I guess it stayed with me.

I took some notes, although she read her talk at a fairly quick pace and I didn't always get everything. Much of what she said that I found interesting was when she quoted someone else, and I didn't always catch who was the source.

What I came away with:

1) Her new book, which she describes as "an extended essay with parallel narratives," focuses on the gravel pit as a metaphor as an antithesis of the city, the lowest level of the landscape, and an example of what humans are doing to the planet.

2) Pueblo Indians farm with gravel mulch to preserve water. (Just thought this fact was cool).

3) On the global margins, emptiness and negative space are more important.

4) "All art is agriculture, not industry" - Carl Andre. Artists like him focused on absence and the dematerialized rather than object.

5) Land Art for Lippard is now, as she stated, "in the rear view mirror." Now she has turned her focus to things like Land Use and Land Appropriation, and the longer she lives in the West, the more she is drawn to the peripherals, the sideshows.

6) Earthworks take their power from distance - from cities, people, and are often instruments for seeing rather than being seen.

7) Remember that places like Trinity and the Nevada Test Sites were the original Ground Zeros.

8) She discussed how photography can be a form of activism by documenting destruction and degradation, and debated when photographers capture images of such, does the beauty they create allow people to look longer at such destruction, or does it hinder the cause by making it beautiful?

9) EcoArt is a response to the destructive tendencies of Land Art, and coincidentally, has more women involved than Land Art did.

10) "It is easier to conceive of the end of the world than the end of capitalism" - didn't get who said this, but it's sooooo true.

11) "Art may not change the world, but it can be a worthy ally to those trying." - Lippard

12) "The Activist is the artist's ashes, artists rise from the ashes of obsolete art."

13) "An artist who is not an activist is a dead artist." - Ai Wei Wei, although Lippard doesn't agree that all artists are activists. Yet she feels that in this global age, everyone needs to be activist of some sort.

14) Lippard has never been to Burning Man, although she's been told that the Rainbow Gatherings are really where it's at. (But hasn't been to one of those either).

15) When asked by a student if this was a call to arms, and if so, what should be done, her response was, "I'm 78 years old. I shouldn't be telling artists what to do. You've got to rise up and do your own."

16) Social ecology and the importance of the local are necessary involvements for artists and activists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why printmaking?



What drew me to printmaking was my passion for mark making. The four main traditions – relief, lithography, serigraphy, and intaglio – offer exponentially more methods to make marks than I can by simple drawing. As someone who frequently mixes processes in the same image, I chose the process best for making the mark I want.

As I grew, printmaking became more a meditation and a narrative to me. At the impetus, the process – carving wood, rolling up stones or blocks, scraping and burnishing plates, grinding stones, pulling screens physically and fully absorbs me in the present. The repetition of the multiple is also a part of this.

Printmaking engages my narrative content – the subject matter becomes intertwined with the story of the processes engaged, so much that I am often unable to say which was the original inspiration for how the piece came about.

At times, students and administrators ask me why printmaking should continue to be included in curricula. Unlike more commonly recognized art forms such as painting or drawing, printmaking engages a student in a directed process. By engaging in this process, a student observes how they think and learn. By its very nature, printmaking engages metacognition.

As printmaking often takes place in a community setting, i.e., the shared space of a printshop, social interaction is a natural part of the learning process. Often, as educators, we forget that humans are social animals, and that communal engagement enhances learning. In my experience, I have witnessed numerous students make great conceptual leaps due to peer interaction in the printshop.

Since movable type was invented in China, printmaking has an interrelationship with history of communication and the exchange of ideas. When this inheritance is united with metacognition, the study of printmaking reveals insights into the human condition.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Roadworks 2014



A belated post on the San Francisco Center for the Book's Roadworks Event! For those who may be unfamiliar, this is their annual event in which they invite a few select artists to make 3'x 3' linoleum block prints. These prints are then printed by steamroller at their public event, using the street itself as a press bed, and later sold to support the center.

I met my husband at a similar event, so it's was a pretty nostalgic day for me. This year, the center used a vintage steamroller that actually ran off of coal.

I'm always impressed by how organized the event is - teams of orange-shirt clad volunteers are divided into "clean hands" and "inky hands," so one team lays down and collects the block, while a another lays down the paper and pulls the print.


The event is also a street fair, with artists and organizations peddling their wares, and opportunities for people to try their hand at art activities, such as block carving, or papermaking! Papermaking was offered by the Mobile Mill, and it was my first time seeing it in action.



I was particularly impressed with the organization of the mill - storage for molds and deckles and pellon built right into the beater table. Although part of me questions the carbon footprint of a traveling workshop in this day and age, I think it's still pretty exciting, and anything that spreads the papermaking gospel has merit.

If you want to support the San Francisco Center for the Book by purchasing one of the prints, please visit here. You can also explore their website of which offers all sorts of classes, exhibitions and events.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Drawing/Errors




For the next nine months, I'm teaching drawing. Drawing with a little color theory and basic painting thrown in. Back to basics, which, considering I began art school in 1995 (almost twenty years ago!) is waaaay back for me.

It's wonderful. I have a group of students who all want to be there. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoy convincing teaching students who don't like art, don't think they are good at it, don't want to be there, turning them onto art as something enjoyable, expressive, necessary. But it is nice change to have students who want to dive in fully. Yesterday, a student pulled out a drawing she did on the first day, and the drawing she had done that morning - and was astounded by home much she had grown in just four full days of work.

I'm getting to draw too. Actually, considering how so much of my drawing in the past few years has been purpose-driven - for a print, for a project - I was a little nervous at first. It's been a while since I've had time to just draw for no intention but drawing. And at first, I kept remembering some of my teachers who liked to show off, to show how "good" they were, how "perfectly" they could draw, how much cred they had.

And then I remembered teachers who taught the technical skills, but also made sure to teach the gestalt, the passion, the magic of drawing. One distinct memory is of being in a life drawing class with the professor linked above, and being shown sketches by Pontormo in which he had erased and redrew figures, adjusting them till everything felt complete. And I thought about this in comparison to the teachers who showed off.

The teachers who showed me the mistakes taught me to see drawing as a journey, an adventure, an experience that enabled growth and insight.

I'm also familiar with the story that many art school survivors tell - that the study of art can drain the passion for it. This happens for many reasons - sometimes for teachers who are closeminded or threatened by the questions and new ideas that students present, that feel that Art fits a certain definition that a student doesn't fill. Sometimes its because a student encounters the rigor, demands and sacrifices of what the academic study of art requires and chooses a different path. So a midst teaching a technical grounding, I'm simultaneously trying to build gestalt, passion and awareness of their own growth.

For instance, I remember in Basic Drawing with Frida Fehrenbacher, spending two extremely focused hours drawing cross contours of objects. When we had about forty minutes left of our three hour class, she told us to put these drawings away and to take out a new piece of paper. And then she engaged us in scribbling, erasing, and loosening up. I remember how energizing the experience was, gifting us with a balance and also insight into drawing as a place. The memory of this moment has stayed with me; and it is something I incorporate into my teaching now.

Next week, I'm taking my students to the Cantor. By taking them there, of course I want them to be inspired and to develop understanding of some great works of art. But I also want them to understand that by choosing to study art, these works are their inheritance. Not just theirs, of course, really all humanity (which is why they belong in museums, particularly museums with free admission like the Cantor). More than that, I want them to consider that by choosing to be an artist, a person says that yes, sometimes the world sucks, but they believe that that is not the default model of humanity. That by learning to draw, they are embarking on a path to making the world better.