Tuesday, February 24, 2009

foam plate-printing: a creative adventure

What stamps like a hand-carved rubber stamp yet is so flat that, if you want, you can run it through a pasta machine? The answer may be sitting in your refrigerator, under that sliced smoked turkey from the deli. (Yum! Save me a slice!)
You may be new to foam-plate printing, or you may have been introduced to it or its cousin (potato-printing) as a child. For me, the doorway to this creative adventure was Annette W. Mitchell’s quick-read book, Foam Is Where the Art Is, which I found and bought on-line.

foam disposable deli trays
scissors to cut off the curved edges, leaving flat sheets of foam
paper towels or rags for finger-cleaning between prints
rubber brayer
a dollar-store plastic cutting board with a somewhat rough surface
Speedball Water Soluble Block Printing Ink in assorted colors
Speedball Water Soluble Ink Extender
a tall stack of scrap papereither a pasta machine or a burnishing tool paper on which to print (sturdy paper like cardstock is ideal)
ballpoint pen
Versa Magic or StazOn ink pad (any other dark color)
a rubber stamp
a Dover book of copyright-free clipart
additional “carving” tools, such as an awl

After cutting off the curved edges of the foam trays, I usually trim the foam plate to a width around 3 inches and a length of roughly 4 inches. This size fits the cover of a greeting card (the traditional size that comes ready-to-use.) Also, it’s the size that will easily pass through the pasta machine, if that’s the tool I plan to use in printmaking.
I’ve created foam-plate designs in 3 ways:
(1.) freehand-drawing directly onto the foam plate.
(2.) making a carbon copy transfer from a Dover book of copyright-free clipart.
(3.) using a rubber stamp (lacking fine detail in its design) with an inkpad containing ink that adheres to any surface Whatever the source of my design, I most often do the “carving” with a ballpoint pen. A pen makes thin lines, which is what I usually want. For a thicker line I use an awl; for really thick, a cocktail stir-stick. To jazz things up, I use all three on one plate -- along with the tongs of a fork or any other tools that leave interesting shapes and textures.
I cover my art table with scrap paper and keep a stack of more scrap paper within reach.
Onto the cutting board, I squeeze small dollops of my chosen colors from tubes of Speedball ink. I often add a little Speedball extender, to give the ink translucency and to keep it moist.
I roll-mix these dollops on the cutting board with my rubber brayer, then continue rolling it back and forth across the board, until I’ve got the right amount of ink coating the roller. When first learning this technique, I experimented with practice prints on scrap paper, to learn what amount of ink on the brayer works best for me.
With my carved foam plate lying face-up on my art table, I roll the inked brayer across the carved design. I use a brayer wide enough to cover the design in one stroke.
Keeping the foam plate face-up, I lightly press my print-paper down onto it. My print paper is usually just a little larger than the foam plate, but small enough to move through the pasta machine.
Next I grab a piece of scrap paper and use it as the “bread” in a “sandwich,” wrapping it around the print paper that’s pressed to the foam plate. This step keeps ink from going places it shouldn’t go!

At this point the sandwich is ready for me to run it through the pasta machine or to use the burnishing tool.I set the pasta machine on its widest setting if my foam plate has come from a deli tray. If using the thinner foam that’s cut from a disposable dinner plate, I either narrow the setting on the pasta machine or add a piece of cardboard to the “sandwich.” As I pass the sandwich through the pasta machine, I use one hand to guide the end that emerges.
If I choose to use a burnishing tool in place of a pasta machine, I keep the sandwich on the art table, securing its position with one hand and using the other hand to run a baren or other burnisher across the sandwich.
Barens and burnishers are available in fine arts supply stores, but I use a homemade baren: I used E6000 to glue together the flat sides of two wooden drawer knobs (from a home improvement store.) This double-knob is a baren on one end and a handle on the other, and the two are interchangeable.
In a pinch, the back of a large serving spoon will do the trick.

The baren printmaking method takes a little longer than the pasta machine method, but either way, the printing is quick and easy.
After the printmaking step, I unwrap the “sandwich,” discard the scrap paper “bread,” and gently peel the print-paper off the foam plate.
Right away, I stick my tools under the faucet to wash them. Speedball blockprinting ink comes off easily with water and paper towels.
Prints dry fast, and are soon ready to be used in collage.

NOTE: Although I used Speedball ink and extender in making prints for the pictured collage (Three Pears), I want to mention the trouble I had in gluing my prints onto the collage. Speedball water-based inks will rehydrate when introduced, however gently, to any kind of moist gluing medium. This happens even after the prints have been sprayed with fixative. So, the next time I do any foam-plate printing, I plan to use acrylic paint and slow-drying gel as my extender. Working this way will require better ventilation than when I was working with the water-based media. But the results won't rehydrate later, when being used with glue in collage-making.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Here by Grace

(My beloved Kitty, a gift of love for 20 years.)

(Puma, here by grace.)
Puma is my six-year-old cat. I brought her home from an animal shelter late last April.
She is here, living the life of Riley, by grace. Although she has moments of being the cat I would most like her to be, the rock-bottom of it is that she carries "baggage" from her five and a half years with two previous owners, not to mention her subsequent time in the animal shelter.
She has done nothing to earn her present good circumstances. Puma is here now because once Kitty was here.
My beloved Kitty died the Saturday after Easter last year, after having been part of my life, and my daughter's, for nearly twenty years.
My daughter and I got Kitty when she was a kitten. We answered an ad from a family giving her away because their young son, who adored her, had developed severe allergies. I'll never forget the look on the little boy's face when he had to say goodbye to Kitty.
Kitty seamlessly became part of our family, a warm and calm presence in a home that I held together. When after many years I realized I could no longer hold it together, she and my daughter and I became a new, smaller family. Later still, Kitty accompanied my daughter and me in forming a new family, at my re-marriage.
I'm sad to say that for many of those years, I took Kitty for granted; having been my daughter's seven-year-old birthday gift, she belonged to my daughter.
Kitty became mine when my daughter left, first for college, then for an apartment where pets weren't welcome. It was then that I began to realize -- but only began to realize -- what a gift Kitty was, in her unfailing affection. Kitty was love, personified. Or if you prefer, feline-ified.
There is no lack of love between my daughter and I, nor any lack in love between my husband and I, so it's hard to explain, even to myself, why Kitty's affectionate nature began to matter so much to me. I only know that it did.
This became painfully evident when suddenly, last Good Friday, she stopped eating. It was the longest week of my life. Because of my daughter's work schedule, she could not come with me and Kitty for that last visit to the vet until the following Saturday morning; and because my daughter and Kitty had grown up together, strongly bonded, there was no question if my taking Kitty to the vet without her.
My husband drove us to the vet, while in the back seat my daughter and I stroked Kitty, lying in her favorite basket.
While the three of us were still in the waiting room, I sensed that Kitty had already passed. This was confirmed when we were taken in to the vet's examining room.
We had a beautiful little funeral in our backyard, complete with prayers from a book my sister had given me, and fresh flowers.
I had known all along Kitty's time was coming; I had never expected to get another cat.
It was a tidal wave: The grief that followed the loss of that sweet loving little pet. I had expected sadness; what I got was quite a bit more than that.
Eventually it was decided I would take in another cat. I knew it would not be possible to replace Kitty; I was proven right.
I've learned to accept Puma for what she is -- to appreciate her intelligence, beauty and manic bursts of playfulness; and to allow her to "train me" as all cats do with their "owners."
I enjoy having her in my life. I treat her very well; she lives like the queen she believes herself to be.
Yet it remains a fact ... just something I'm mulling over, today ... that the good life into which she has been delivered has been won not by anything she herself is, nor by anything she has ever done. It's a free gift. She is here not because of her own goodness, but because of Kitty's. Kitty, who embodied love.
Puma is here by grace. As am I.
What I learned from Kitty: All life is sacred; all love is holy.

My deadlines for the Monmouth Festival of the Arts loom ... but I've caught a head cold.

One of the last things I did before getting sick was to check out a library book -- A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner.

Digging into this novel last night, I unearthed a treasure. Out of respect for copyright, I won't quote any part of it ... but let me say I love the way this passage addresses the subject of artistic freedom.

For anyone else interested in checking out this book, I will say this: The scene I'm citing launches with the first new paragraph on page 174 and glides to a landing with a gentle satisfying sigh at the bottom of page 175.


God bless me!