Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Etching Press - Session 5

Experimented with some more monoprints on the etching press. This time I inked the plexi-glass plate and carefully place a piece of either newsprint or rice paper over the ink. Then, using either a soft pencil or the rounded tip of the handle of a paint brush, I very quickly drew a line image on the paper. Once the drawing was done, I lifted the paper from the plate and the result was an inked line, with the drawing now in reverse. To conserve paper, I tried the same process also with two pieces of paper -- one next to the inked plate and a second piece on top of that. The drawing was executed on the top paper, with the transfer of inked lines going to the paper against the plate. The drawings done with the brush handle were the most fun and challenging because I couldn't see the lines as I "drew" them and could only guess at where one line left off and another might begin. Here are a few samples of the monoprints I ended up with:

 I made several prints of cats in various poses. The intent was not to create the perfect line drawing of a cat, but rather to have fun with the quick line. The smudges seen on this print (at Right) and the others here are the result of using newsprint that had been wrinkled or buckled when it had been used as a protective layer between the press' pusher blanket and the inked plate with the dampened paper laid over it. The "used" newsprint touched the inked plate in places and picked up some ink in addition to the lines I was drawing. Both cat monoprints shown in this post were done with the handle of a paintbrush instead of a pencil.
 In this second example I'd grabbed a piece of newsprint that had been used in the printing process the day I was experimenting with embossing. Two embossed circles are visible in the lower right near the cat's tail. I like the randomness of the lines, smudges and the embossing.
The next photo shows a close-up from this print. I include it here so readers can see what kind of line I was getting on the newsprint. The line is darker at its edges.
The next few photos show:
1.) The line print done in the same manner as the cats (also with newsprint that had been used previously.)
2.) A print pulled from running the plate and rice paper through the press after the line print was taken.
3.) A detail from the print shown in the second photo.



Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Etching Press - Session 4

Today I took some time to create a few monoprints. A couple days ago I did some research and reading and concluded that what I'm creating are monoprints and not monotypes. I'll explain the definitions of the two terms in another posting later.
The imagery I worked up for today's press work were mostly grouse. I intended to try some loons as well, but got carried away with exploring the feather effects on the grouse. It was very entertaining, plus I discovered some more ways to make marks in the oil paint that I've been substituting for printing ink. Also, on the way to the studio, I stopped by our local glass shop and purchased an 11 by 14 inch piece of plexi-glass to use as my printing plate instead of the 8 by 10 inch paper-thin acetate that I'd used before.
Here is one of the grouse monoprints from this printing session:

This is printed on the same kind of Japanese paper that I used in the earlier printing sessions. Using a rubber brayer,I rolled out the paint  in an irregular rectangle shape. Then I wiped away the "air" (negative space) around the bird, leaving bits of the rectangle's edge to serve as a kind of border or "frame" for the bird. Rolling a coat of inck onto the plate and then removing areas from it to create the image is a reductive process/print. Had I started with an empty plate and then brushed the grouse on  that would have been an additive process/print. I used a cotton rag to remove the white areas; if I removed too much, I simply painted it back in using a bristle brush. The sharp white lins were created using the edge of a small scrap of matboard
The final image measures about 8 by 6 inches.
Well, as I'm writing this, it's very close to turning into tomorrow. And Coast to Coast is on with some lively discussion about the State of the Union address. I think I'll make some hot tea and sit a little closer to the radio for a bit.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Studio Front Door

When I started this blog site in December 2008, I posted a photo of my studio building -- scroll down the right-hand column to see it.
Whenever someone asked me where my studio was located, I'd describe it as a large blue building immediately north of Highland Park Elementary School. The studio is on the corner of 7th Avenue and Hilger - or so one would think. But 7th Avenue bends slightly at Hilger and at that point 7th Avenue magically becomes 1st Street for the distance of all of a half a city block or less to where it "T"s with the truck bypass street. I was unaware of that little "detail" until one time I'd given driving directions as: "follow the truck bypass, then turn on 7th Avenue." My visitors promptly became lost! After that I always referenced the school and the fact that my studio is large, blue and sitting in full view on the corner. And somehow lots of people managed to drive right by and miss it. A vacant lot, it seemed, would be more visible. (I must admit though, most of the time I'm okay with this "hiding in plain sight"; I get more art done when no one stops in.)

I decided to give the studio front door a fresh coat of paint in 2009. It was autumn, which meant that while I painted, dozens of red and black Box Elder Bugs plopped into the paint can. No surprise. Twice a year (spring and autumn) their population explodes. Harmless -- Box Elder Bugs can't bite or sting -- they're regarded as a nuisance because there are so many.

Picking wriggling lumps out of the paint, it occurred to me that everyone has a box elder bug story to tell. I don't know if that's the reason I decided to paint a very large Box Elder Bug on my studio door but in hindsight is makes perfect sense. My bug is complete with it's shadow in the proper relationship to the actual direction of the sunlight on the door.
Now, when people ask for directions, I simply say "a Box Elder Bug is on the door." And there is instant recognition of my studio and location. I don't even mention the school anymore.
Just the big Box Elder Bug.

What kinds of insects signal the changing seasons where you live?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Etching Press - Session 3

A couple days ago I had some fun creating monotypes (monoprints) using my etching press. I followed that session with one creating embossings. I used a variety of objects to run through the press, among them some coins, paperclips, buttons, a flat bicycle wrench and some patterns I cut out and built up with scrap matboard. The results were mixed and it took several runs with each new object to determine the correct pressure setting on the press. 
Here is a sample of a "domino" pattern I created using strips of matboard and nickles on heavy watercolor paper which had been soaked in a tray of water for at least 30 minutes before running through the press. I shot the photograph at an angle so the light would show up the embossing:

In this close-up photo you can see that Jefferson's head and some of the lettering on the nickles are visible in the embossing:

If any of my blog readers have done embossing with a press, please feel free to comment on your experience with the process. What is the most unusual object you've embossed and what kind of paper did you use?

Recent listing on my Etsy Shop

Here's a recent listing on my Etsy Shop: Poppenga Art Studio.

This is a small oil painting titled "Rain On The Flat." It measures 4 inches high by 8 inches wide.
I simplified the land/sky-scape, distilling it to two competing sky areas - dark and light - and a narrow strip of tan to indicate the land. I enjoy this particular theme and have painted several variations of it in addition to this one.
As for how are things going via Etsy, well, there are no sales yet, but plenty of visitors. Google Analytics shows I've had visitors from 39 states plus the District of Columbia. And visitors from around the world, including cities in the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Australia, India, Pakistan, Israel, Greece, Poland, France, Portugal, Brazil, Russia and Belgium, just to name a few. Wow. As of today, I have 36 works of art listed for sale at my Etsy Shop, Poppenga Art Studio.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Full Moon Setting over Prairie

The early morning drive to the school at Geraldine, Montana rewarded me with this fantastic westward view of the setting full moon. Wow!
The camera doesn't do this any justice. It may not look like it in this photo, but there is a deep barrow ditch immediately off the edge of the paved road so there was no place to pull over safely. I made a quick stop, hop out, snap the photo from the drive lane. Given more time (and a safer place to pull over) I would have tried some different settings on the camera. But I think this photo conveys the overall mood of the scene. The distant lights are the tiny community of Coffee Creek. The mountains (starting at the left) are the Highwood and to the far right is Square Butte.
What a nice way to start the day!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Etching Press - Session 2

This afternoon I created embossed designs on heavy watercolor paper with the press. The results were very good, but I'll have to figure out a way to photograph the work so it shows up. The scanner doesn't do very well when it's "seeing" just white paper with indentations in it.

The paper I used is some that I've had stored away for a long time. It is Arches watercolor paper and I'm guessing it is probably 300lb weight cold-press. This paper is heavy enough to take some real serious pressure under the press, but at the end of the session I wondered if a lighter weight and less textured paper might give even better results (and possibly with less pressure under the press.) The paper soaked in a tray of water for at least an hour before I used it.

I used scraps of mat-board (standard thickness) to make the raised areas of the designs. This works well enough but, as the printing process gradually compresses the mat-board pieces, there is a limit to the number of top quality embossings any one design can produce. In addition to the mat-board, I used some pennies.

There are plenty of other materials that can be used for the embossing - lots of other materials. And not only for embossing, but printing too. When I prepared dinner this evening, I noticed the styro-foam tray the pork steaks were packaged in has an interesting pattern on the bottom. Hmm. Maybe that tray can be inked and printed. I opened a jar of sauerkraut and thought, hmm, maybe the lid can be used for embossing. And on and on. So many potential objects - I will be counting them instead of sheep when I go to bed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Etching Press - Session 1

This afternoon I dug out the Japanese rice paper I had squirreled away. Located the brayer, grabbed a tube of burnt umber oil paint, a generous pile of cotton swabs (Q-Tips), a bristle brush, and a clean cotton rag.
Then I taped a piece of acetate to a scrap of white matboard to serve as the "printing plate" for a session of experimenting with subtractive technique making several monotypes (or monoprints, which is what I believe they technically are called -- I'll delve more into that in another post later.)

This small print (Left) is the second one I pulled. The first one was too light. I decided it was not enough paint on the plate, so I really gobbed it on for this one. I think the thicker layer of paint is good up to a point. Too thick and it will "squish" under the press and all the linear marks and texture would be lost.
Print size is about 7 x 5 3/4 inches.

I used the cotton swabs in the dark passages. It didn't take much of a pass through the paint to completely filled a swab, so I used a lot more of them than I thought I would. In the detail photo (Below), you can see the cotton swab strokes cutting across the brushstrokes. I like the way that looks; it reminds me of some passages in the monotypes done by William Blake (1757-1827).

 I was trying to get a sense of a storm cloud bearing down on the land, maybe even crushing (Detail above). I got some surprises with the cotton swabs--those that were "frayed" left more interesting "starting" and "stopping" marks.

This next print (Above) scanned  as if it were brownish -- which it should be, as I used burnt umber. Print size is about 4 x 8 inches.
 This print (detail at Right) was the result of partially cleaning the plate with mineral spirits and then deciding I liked what remained after the first wipe of the rag. So I went from there and invented something of a prairie landscape with patches of snow in it, some sagebrush and distant mountains or hills. I used both ends of the brush (bristle and handle tip) along with cotton swabs. The texture of the paper is very evident in this print. I need to think about how to take advantage of the paper texture.

This print (Left) started with a REALLY thick, tacky layer of paint on the plate. I didn't think it would work very well, and the only reason it worked at all was because I was aggressive with the used of the rag. I think I wasted a bit of paint on this one.
I should mention here that the clean edges around the first two prints are the result of taping off the image area before rolling out the paint and creating the image. The tape has to be peeled off before running the plate under the press and it was sorta messy, so I decided not to continue taping the plate off for each print.

I like the random edge made by the brayer better than the clean edge left by the tape.
The detail (Right) shows the amount of detail I was able to achieve on such a small format using just the swabs and rag.
Print size is about 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches.

 This next print is even smaller than the others. It is about 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches. The ridge appearance was left not by a brush but by the rag. It must have been the way I held it, because I went through another several prints trying to duplicated that and it didn't quite repeat in this way. I think it has an appearance that is almost like wood grain. I used the handle of the brush to make some of the contour lines.

The detail (Right) shows areas where the paint itself is suggestive of form with no real "help" from me. I like that!

And what's a studio without a fruit still-life? So here's mine for the day -- an invented pear.

 I like this print. I like everything about it. I suppose when I  look at it again tomorrow, I'll find all kinds of things in it that  I don't like. But for now it's of interest. I especially like the irregular border edge of the image. It makes the taped-off "perfect" edge seem boring. I tried a little yellow ochre in this print. I wasn't happy with how that color printed; it's too dull compared to the result I'd envisioned. Next time I'll try a cadmium yellow or even a lemon yellow.
Print size is about 9 x 6 inches.

The detail (Above) shows what I achieved with the stem. I was really surprised by the printed image versus what I saw on the plate.

 This detail (Right) shows the upper left corner of the pear print. I was very excited to see how the layers of paint retained their own individual characteristics, texture and shape. I must have the press pressure about right for the amount of paint I was rolling onto the plate by the time I got to this particular print. Hmm. I see that the thinnest (most transparent) layer of paint is what the scanner saw as brownish and the progressively thicker (more opaque) layers it saw as somewhat blackish.

This (Below) is the last print of the session. I don't think it is necessarily the best of the session. Just the last. By this time I was becoming more comfortable with the speed at which I needed to be creating the images so that the paint would be fluid enough to transfer with the printing press.

 I applied a thicker layer of paint onto the plate for this image and then tried to realize the image as quickly as possible. The result was  more of a dark/light contrast rather than any real subtle shifts from dark to light or vice versa. I'm not sure I like the resulting print quality of this manner as well as the earlier ones. Print size is about 8 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches.

The detail (Right) shows strong decisive directional strokes or passes with brush and rag. I didn't use the cotton swabs on this print.
Another detail (Right.) I really tried to build form with just two or three values. Actually, only two values; the middle tones are the result of paint film left behind by the rag. If I wiped out too much, I simply added more paint with the brush.

All in all, the printing session was productive, not only in numbers of monotypes printed, but also in what I discovered in the process.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

High Prairie in Winter

Thursday's sunrise was spectacular. I was driving west to the town of Geyser and the Surprise Creek Hutterite Colony, but when I caught a glimpse of the light show in the eastern sky I decided it was worth pulling over and taking a decent photo (instead of one of my "point the camera and shoot" without looking in the viewfinder to see what I've got.) This photo was taken just a mile or less west of Lewistown. The pinks in the clouds spilled across the sky and could be seen even if you were looking southwest.
Below is another photo taken on the same drive, in the vicinity of Windham (a tiny town just off the main road.) The view in the photo is to the south, southwest and is about 35 miles west of Lewistown. By this point the morning pinks are either gone or fading fast, but the lighting is still very interesting. The mountains are part of the Little Belt Mountains, one of many isolated mountain ranges on the high prairie of this part of Montana.

 By the time I arrived at the Surprise Creek Colony for the morning's art session, the storm clouds that had been bunching up on the western horizon over the Rocky Mountain Front were beginning to spill across the prairie and snag on the isolated mountain ranges. This next photo shows the Colony as I approach, driving south from the main road. I'll have to post another photo sometime that shows this view in nicer weather, as it is a very picturesque setting. The mountains are foothills of the Belts.

The drive home to Lewistown that day provided some beautiful sky views too. Here (below) is a hint of what views were seen on the 75 mile trip back to Lewistown at the end of the day. The view is southwest of the main road as I was heading east.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Printing Press Arrived!

It's here! The Blick 999 Model II Etching Press from Dick Blick Art Supplies! I'm familiar with a variety of printmaking processes and have long wanted to return to using a press.

So here it is.
It arrived safely in a very sturdy wood crate that is suppose to be kept for return shipping should I ever need any warranty work done on the press.
I'll find a spot in the studio's back storage room for the crate, along with the eight wood screws that held it together during shipment.
The truck driver who delivered it wheeled it into the studio on a handcart. Drivers are not suppose to deliver shipments beyond a place of business' front door or loading dock, so I feel very fortunate that he did bring it into the studio, even though just barely inside the door. I managed to shove the crate onto one of the small area rugs you see in the photo and then drag it to the other end of the studio where I wanted to set the press up.

So, here it is all set up and ready to "test drive"!
As you can see, it has three handles to turn the rollers with. I checked it out and found I can turn the press rollers with just the touch of a finger!
This press can take prints up to 17 inches by 35 inches. Plenty big for what I want to do.
There was a metal tubular stand available for purchase for this press, but for the cost of it, I figure I can use this old (and very sturdy) desk. The desk is big enough that I have plenty of room for inking wood/linoleum blocks or plates.

High Prairie in Winter

Looking at the snow photo I posted on January 8th, I thought it might be interesting to contrast that with what my drive back from Winifred was like on January 3rd, just five days earlier. This photo was taken as I was heading south back to Lewistown after a day teaching art to about 60 students at the public school in Winifred. The road was a lot better on the drive back from than it was on the way to Winifred in the morning just ahead of the sunrise. I couldn't take any photos in the morning, as I needed both hands on the steering wheel. During the day, a warm chinook wind blew and cleared some of the roadway. In the morning, I was dodging snow drifts. So this was the perfect ending to the day----or at least as perfect as a high prairie winter day can end!
The mountains visible on the horizon to the left are the Judith and the ones to the right are the North Moccasin. The mountains that appear blue and very low on the horizon just to the right of the Judith Mountains are the Big Snowy. The highest point in the Big Snowy is 8,681 feet (it's named GreatHouse Peak.) They look so unassuming in this photo. Lewistown is just north of the Big Snowy, so you can see that I have a bit of a drive ahead of me yet when I took this photo.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Last snow fall was pretty

Relatively warm temperatures lingered here the past few days. Okay, so it only seemed warm because of the sunshine and blue skies, but the psychological effect was real..  Part of the "warmth" of the last snow fall was in it's moisture content and the fact that it arrived without the usual wind which added up to snow that was able to cling to every branch and twig it landed on. Here is a photo of Spring Creek at one of the access locations along it's journey through Lewistown.. This is near Garfield Elementary School and is a favorite location for youths in summer as it is deep enough here to jump in from the short concrete wall that parallels the street where stream and street cross paths.

Etsy Shop update

I've got 32 artworks listed now at PoppenaArtStudio, my online store at Etsy. My primary goal is, of course, to sell art. But my first objective is to get my shop listings up to at least 60 and probably settle at around 75. That will put my monthly cost for listings at a manageable amount if it were to turn out that I make no sales.
Since being on Etsy, I've had fun with the free Google Analytics that comes with the shop. Google Analytics shows, via a map and text reports, where my shop visitors are coming from  -- country and city! That's pretty cool. So far I've had visitors from 32 states in the USA and from 20 different nations around the world. And what's really cool is that a percentage of my visitors are categorized as returning visitors.
Here's my most recent listed item as of today, January 8th. It's a 4 by 4 inch oil painting titled, "Road to Square Butte":

Monday, January 3, 2011

Long Holidays . . . and time to think

Well, another year passes. Another year begins. Something about windows and one is never closed but that another is then opened. So it is with the calendar. And here it is already the THIRD day of January! I'll be writing my art goals and some objectives over the next couple days and share some or all of them here.

One goal is to do a better job marketing my studio work. I seem to be able to land at least one sizeable public art commission every year or two and that certainly helps the annual income bottom line. But the studio work is important to me as an artist, so I produce quite a number of such works each year. Translation: Lots of dollars tied up in mats, glass and frames. I need to market this work more aggressively so one goal is to make art sales online. Even before the new year began, I accomplished the first objective towards that goal: I opened an Etsy online store at:   I've already got enough art my Etsy at this point to spill over into a page two of listings. There are more objectives to achieve in order to realize the sales goal, but getting the store online was a significant start.

With Etsy there's also a free tracking service called Google Analytics. It lets me see that my Etsy store visitors are coming from all around the world. Google Analytics also generates various reports that can help me analyze the data collected. A filter on one of the reports shows which page a visitor entered on (Google calls it a "landing page") and how many pages each visitor visited (at Etsy "pages" are each listed painting.) If a visitor lands and then leaves without checking out another painting, that translates into a 100% bounce rate. In the marketing world, you want a low bounce rate. Right now, I'd be thrilled with an overall bounce rate of 50% (half the visitors land/leave and half of them stay to look at more paintings.

An interesting trend I've noticed already with the help of Google Analytics is that in the USA the two states sending the most visitors are New York and California. New York is ahead with twice as many visitors and a significant difference beyond just numbers: New York visitors linger and look at more paintings (pages). California visitors land and leave. Don't know yet what that could mean, but it is curious.
As for other goals and objectives, I'll sprinkle a few more thoughts at this blog as I find time to.