Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day Eve!

Do you remember Valentine's Day when you were a child? Buying a box of cards for your whole class, exchanging them, and coming home with a bunch of heart-shaped greetings? That's the feeling I wanted to convey when I thought about creating a design that I could copy and send out to family and friends. How best to do it? Carve a stamp? Create a painting and then scan and copy it onto cards? No, how about a collagraph! I had good results the first time I tried it which yielded a Celtic Horse.

Looking up collagraph in "An Introduction to Art Techniques (DK Art School)", I read that a collagraph is like a texture stamp, where you build up materials on a base such as sturdy cardboard and then ink up and print. I didn't have a design in mind but started sketching on a piece of thick cardboard that would fit some Strathmore Creative Cards. With a pencil, I marked four corners where the collagraph plate would center on the card but, as it turned out, I didn’t need to do this because I did not use it like a stamp.

Cardboard plate

Once happy with a series of hearts, I traced the design using a squeeze bottle with a fine-tipped stainless steel tip filled with gloss medium. I let it dry overnight.

The next day, I began printing the cards. The only red ink I had on hand was a dried up ink pad, so I experimented dabbing on fluid acrylics with a cosmetic sponge. After using the plate like a stamp, I saw it did not capture any design details so I left the plate right side up and pressed the card into the plate. Using my fingers, a hand baren, and a plastic card, I traced the raised lines into the paper.

The fluid acrylics did not work well because they dried too fast. Adding a little water only smeared the design. Using too much pressure with the baren and plastic card made the card paper stick to the sticky plate when I pulled the card off. After seven prints I tore the cardboard plate. Yikes! This might have happened because I was trying to clean it off after each print and too much water probably weakened the cardboard. Also, I had not sealed the entire cardboard either. But, since I’d used a cheap material—cardboard—I also wasn’t surprised when it did not perform.

Pastelbord plate

So, I rummaged around and found an Ampersand Pastelbord and did the same type of design again, this time reversing the placement of the big and little hearts. Yes, I’d forgotten when designing the plate that the printed image would be reversed. Another day went by waiting for the plate to dry and I decided to try materials better suited. At craft stores I bought a tube of block printing ink as well as a pigment ink pad. As Scotty on Star Trek would say, “the right tool for the right job”!

The new plate and the new supplies were successful. Trying both the ink pad (rubbing the pad over the raised plate) and then the tube ink (squeezing out and dabbing with a sponge), the details came through much better.
Next time, here are other things I plan to try:

Use string instead of gloss medium
Use gesso instead of gloss medium
Use bits textured fabric
Use a larger nozzle, if using gloss medium
Use different card material, such as heavier weight watercolor paper
Use smoother card material instead of the very pebbly paper surface

Ah, well. I wanted that hand-made, imperfect look. And the feeling of getting a special Valentine.

And, I think I got both!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Day!

The Vast Beyond
9” x 12”
acrylic on paper

The past several months have brought so much upheaval and change. Since the Fall and my overseas trip (definitely not a vacation), my situation at work (seven jobs were eliminated, a co-worker died and his position was not replaced, and another co-worker broke her arm, and I volunteered to help out), and my Dad dying last month have all zapped a lot of my energy and enthusiasm.

But today we have a snow day and the city is closed down. Although it might not seem much, compared to the massive blizzards in other states, our city isn’t equipped to handle ice and snow, and its consequences. It’s made me very happy to be home, grateful with a roof over our heads and heat in the house. We had rolling blackouts earlier in the week—twice at home, three times at work—to conserve energy for the whole state and it never really warmed up in our offices. Now I have warm clothes on, including one of my lovely Irish wool sweaters and thick Irish wool socks, and have lots of hot tea. There are art and craft supplies at hand, and I’m grinning and dancing around the house. What a great way to start the weekend!

Stay warm and safe everyone. What projects are you working on?