Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Look Again Project

I've been struggling to complete an interesting project but life's unavoidable roadblocks have made it impossible to finish on time. I feel really guilty about this and have been attempting to just go ahead and see if I can at least finish my piece; even if I won't make the deadline.

The Boston Printmakers' BP and The Art Complex Museum ACM have collaborated on an exhibition called "Look Again".  Forty-two prints from AMC's collection were singled out and members from the Boston Printmakers were challenged to create response pieces. Prints

I selected a print by Kenneth Kerslake entitled "Sense of Place". This 1977 photoetching caught my attention not only because of the interesting composition but the title really resonated with me.

What is it about a particular place; how does one capture its essence? And, if you had to choose between two very distinct environments, both of which you love, would you be able to? These were the questions that came to mind when I saw Kerslake's print.

Two environments I call home have distinct characteristics that I adore. One is a very private, nest like sanctuary: alive with wildlife, the sent of the earth surrounding you as it responds to the seasons with glorious transformations.  The other is incredibly beautiful with its sense of infinite space: open horizon, the smell of salt in the air and the awe inspiring power of the waves providing an endless soundtrack both day and night. When I’m home in the woods, I’m thinking about the water. When I’m at the shore, I’m thinking about the woods.

I wanted to make sure that I wasn't tempted to just create a straightforward version of Kerslake's photoetching. In fact, one of my first attempts felt a little too similar to the inspiration piece so I decided to scrap it all together and work in a different manner.

Conundrum; woods or water?
Monotypes forced me to work more spontaneously and helped me to focus on the idea of "place" rather than the photoetching process; hoping to achieve a different similarity between Kerslake's print and mine.  Adding collaged prints to the monotypes and building up layers seemed like a good way to let the work evolve and embrace the unexpected. Two house shapes, one with water and one with woods, were cut out and inserted into their opposite environments to illustrate my conundrum.  “Woods or Water?” speaks to this dilemma of a choice between the two.

I'm stepping back for a bit to consider if I need to add anything else before I put this piece to rest.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Remembering Keith Howard and Saying Goodby

This past week we lost a great printmaking pioneer, a compelling inventive spirit and an all round great guy – Keith Howard. Gone before his time, Keith was an enthusiastic and dynamic teacher; always thinking outside the box and freely sharing his knowledge with others. His impact on less toxic printmaking practices is immeasurable. Keith managed to radically shift long established materials and processes to innovative and ecologically sound techniques; effectively helping to move printmaking into the twenty-first century.
He was an enthusiastic and dynamic teacher; always thinking outside the box and freely sharing his knowledge with others. His impact on printmaking is immeasurable - See more at:
He was an enthusiastic and dynamic teacher; always thinking outside the box and freely sharing his knowledge with others. His impact on printmaking is immeasurable and he will be greatly missed. I will always be grateful that I had an opportunity to learn from him first-hand. - See more at: advocate for non-toxic printmaking, his work with non-toxic materials and processes dramatically changed printmaking and modernized it for the twenty-first century. Keith delivered hundreds of workshops and seminars worldwide, headed Printmaking and Research at Rochester Institute of Technology, and was considered a leading authority in the field. I occasionally bumped into him a various printmaking events and to my surprise, he always remembered me and would take a moment to chat.
Keith Howard (1950-2015)

Keith Howard had a profound influence on my personal printmaking practice and through me, he indirectly influenced thousands of my students; as I passed on the knowledge and experiences that I had acquired first hand through Keith, back to my students in my newly redesigned non-toxic classroom.

My “awakening” began in the summer of 1995. It was the end of the school year and I had stumbled upon an announcement for a “Master Printmakers Summer Workshop" at Fairview College in Peace River, Alberta Canada. I remember being intrigued, but, since I'd never flown alone, I asked myself, 'am I nuts to want to travel this far by myself?' This internal conversation followed up with,  “the school will never approve the funding for this.” So I put the workshop notice on the back burner for a few days but quickly found that I couldn't shake the idea of attending this workshop.
I finally approached my curriculum director about funding and was told that the school would cover the cost of the workshop if I would cover travel expenses. Great! My husband encouraged
me to "go for it" and made my travel arrangements. I was on my way.

Getting to the workshop was an adventure in itself. Flying from Hartford to Denver, onto Edmonton, then on to Alberta; each
plane decreasing in size. A bit disconcerting for someone not fond of flying; especially that really small plane to Peace River! But boy was it was worth it!

The workshop was everything I had hoped and more. The class consisted of a small group of really dedicated printmakers, eager to learn about this new process. Elizabeth Dove, who went on to become Keith’s research assistant and the inventor of the “Dove Aquatint Screen” was also one of the workshop participants; a great group of artists soaking up the unbelievably high energy in Keith’s workshop, as he shared his latest discoveries, with a sense of humor and excitement delivered in his distinctive Aussie accent.

"Fragile Slumber" My first Intaglio-type print.

We would start our days early in the morning and most of us would work late into the night, experimenting with the new materials and the day’s latest process. I for one was always fooled into thinking it wasn’t as late as it seemed to be because - hey - it was still really light outside. That is until I found myself walking back to the hotel and realized it was 11:30 at night!

"Bathtub Virgins" included in "Non-Toxic Intaglio Printmaking"

This was a heady time, early on in the whole non-toxic movement; a time of great discoveries happening every day as printmakers explored these new materials and processes. We would learn the basics from Keith and then see how far we could push the process. The photopolymer film we were using in this workshop, a predecessor to today’s ImagOn, was made by Dupont and called Riston. So many possibilities for printmaking: the range of mark making, the ease and speed with which intaglio plates and images could be made at less cost than that of traditional materials, and best of all, without the need to be exposed to hazardous acids and solvents. This contemporary approach to printmaking really did open up a whole new world of printmaking possibilities. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and begin converting my classroom to a non-toxic studio and sharing this new information with my students.

Around this time, Keith was in the process of writing his second book, Non-Toxic Intaglio Printmaking, in which he would compile all his latest information about his new “intaglio-type” processes. I looked forward to it’s release with anticipation and when my copy finally arrived a year or so later, I was surprised and thrilled to find that Keith had used one of my prints,
from the 1995 workshop, in the book.

As I look back, that workshop of ’95 will always be one of my most memorable experiences. As I boarded that tiny plane from Peace River (with my newly purchased roll of Riston film), for the first leg of my trip back home, I knew that my printmaking practice had been profoundly changed.

I learned so much from Keith, got to work alongside some wonderful printmakers and came away with a whole new outlook about printmaking. 

Thank you Keith Howard. Rest in peace mate.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Interruptions & disruption

Often during the beginning stages of any piece, as I wait for the work to tell me what it is about and what I am thinking, there is a real struggle, but at a certain moment, I "know".  I know exactly what the piece is about and exactly what needs to happen to finish it. However, I feel as though I've lost all connection with this particular piece due to the numerous interruptions and disruptions; the latest of which was an emergency gall bladder surgery just this past Tuesday. 

Yesterday, even though I was supposed to be resting, I couldn't resist proofing my wax collagraph plate. Using soft toothbrushes, I inked it up using Akua intaglio inks and then wiped the surface. The textures looked great. I positioned all the segments and ran them through  the press. However, because I was in a hurry and didn't take the time to soak the paper, it ended up sticking to the plate. I don't think this would have been an issue if the paper had been damp.

I managed to peel the paper away from the plate and as you can see the paper tore in some areas; mainly where the plate was the thickest and the most pressure was exerted. The bottom line is I should have waited a couple of days, when I had more energy, before working with the plates.

When I get an idea I like to stick with it and follow through in a reasonable amount of time.   If I'm honest, I know when something is not working and even though I may like parts of it and the piece isn't resonating or I feel detached and don't yet know what it's trying to tell me, my best course of action is to let go.  I'm thinking I need to set this idea aside for the time being or change direction entirely and forge ahead with some destructive / constructive play; possibly turning what I have into a book.  We'll see.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The allure of the collagraph.

I have always loved collagraphs. It was one of the first printmaking techniques that I had taught myself when I first began my printmaking journey over 45 years ago. (Did I just actually type that unbelievable number??!!)

Anyway, what drew me to the process was the tactile nature of constructing the plate, experimenting with various surfaces, papers and adhesives, as well as the challenge of seeing how far you could push an idea or image. I also love the mystery; not quite knowing how the finished plate would print or what fantastic unexpected textures would reveal themselves as you pulled that first proof.

Manipulation (collagraph)

Thanks to the internet, it was not long ago that I received an email from a couple in Tacoma, Washington. It read:

Ms Leary,
We've looked for you in the past, without success. We have had, for decades, the dyptich mentioned in the subject line.  On the back of the lower section is a note to a Dr. Gordy, dated October 17, 1983.  I do not recall how we came to own this work, but it still hangs in a place of prominence in our house.  Just thought you might be amused to learn where a piece from over 30 years ago wound up.  The print we have is 4/8.
If on the odd chance that this is not one of yours -- well, there's a mystery for you!
C & A
Tacoma  WA

It was wonderful to receive this note and I really appreciated this couple taking the time to seek me out, take a photo of the print and then drop me a line. Uplifting to know that one of my pieces had migrated out west and was being enjoyed by its owners.

"Manipulation" was one of the first prints where I experimented with incorporating thread into the work.  The plates for the diptych were built up on four ply matte board because I wanted to cut out the figure and hand to print them separately over a colored background plate. Details were built up with gesso, torn paper and acrylic medium. I was really pleased with the final results and a little amazed how much detail I was able to achieve.

That email came to mind this morning as I played around with constructing a collagraph that would hopefully be printed in conjunction with photopolymer plates. Back in the day, when I was heavy into collagraphs, one of the things I had experimented with was using melted wax to build up surface textures and loved the serendipitous discoveries. I decided to revisit that process and was pleasantly surprised to find a drawer full of encaustic supplies.

Since artists are notorious "pack rats",  its easy to forget what treasures may be hidden in the studio. It wasn't long before I had assembled various tools and mark making implements and fired up my hotplate.

An old metal tray that was a "find" from my in-law's basement (which I knew would come in handy one day) was called into service as a palette. It wasn't long before the plate was well under way.

The textures are built up on matte board because I wanted a shaped plate. I found a sheet of galvanized metal that I used on the hot plate to support the matte board as I worked. My granite work counter top provided the perfect work surface and any wax the was splashed about was easily scraped away with a razor blade.

This is what I have so far. I have no idea if it will print as I hope but again, that is part of the allure of the collagraph.

Now that our boiler is fixed (AMEN!) I'll put this aside for a few days as I accompany my husband to D.C. so I can take in a few museums.

I'll be looking forward to getting back to my studio to see how these plates print.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Proofing in the cold.

Our boiler died last night; right before we were heading up to bed! Waking to no heat in the house and single digit temps outside, my morning began with helping my husband prep our old basement wood stove. Long dormant from our days of heating the house with wood, new stovepipe needed to be installed and "junk" removed from around the stove; not to mention a trip to the woodpile after shoveling a path. Thank God we never got rid of the stove!

Our main goal was to get some source of heat in the house until the boiler can be repaired. And, with tomorrows predicted snow/ice event, we may not be able to get out to the parts store. All I can say is lately, there's never a dull moment!

Bundling up and getting a little warmth from a small portable heater, I did manage to proof the plates I made yesterday. My original goal was to get this done today so I could figure out what to do next as I try and pull everything together into one cohesive piece. It's a little difficult to focus with all the drama of no heat but hopefully all will work out. Just keep on, keepin' on.