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Back for Seventh Successive Year

This group of high-school juniors, from Germany, Russia, the USA and Spain all attend Bremen’s  International Baccalaureate school and study art under Brenda Eubank. This is the seventh (eighth?) successive year that Brenda brings her students to Maureen’s studio to do a printmaking workshop. (Note: Brenda notifies us by email that the first workshop Maureen had with the students from Bremen was in 2011, so this year’s visit was the ninth. Time flies.)

This year, under Maureen’s guidance, they made three collective artists’ books. It sounds complicated and it was but the results gratified everybody.

Have a look at the photographs, below.

(Thanks, Brenda, hope to see you next year.)

 

Photos by Mike Booth and Brenda Eubank
Thanks for Liking, Following and Sharing

 

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Most of the Butterflies Were in My Stomach

Miguel Ángel Castillo phoned the other day asking if I wanted to play a small part of a veteran butterfly activist in his latest film. I said sure. Could they shoot in my studio? Sure. Ever since I worked with Juan Carlos Romera on ¡Bive! seven or eight years ago I have been entranced with movie making. (Juan Carlos also made my printmaking tutorial videos.)

Miguel Ángel is a retired science professor who is full of the kind of creative energy the Spanish call “inquietudes.” He is a butterfly activist with his own mariposarium at home, he makes short films and he takes excellent care of his friends. Asked what got him into film making he says, “I always wanted to try it, and when I did I loved the process. Also it’s an opportunity to be in contact with bright, talented young people. I find that very enriching.” Don’t be tempted to think that his film is one of those boring ecological treatises. It actually has an assassination in it. though it lacks a helicopter.

So, Miguel Ángel and his crew of seven technicians and actors showed up yesterday morning and started running cables and setting up lights and the camera. It was a hot day and it took us till 3:00 p.m. to shoot what was was essentially three scenes, so we were thirsty, worn out and starving when we finished.

Miguel Ángel was right on cue. “Where’s the nearest place to get a nice lunch?” he said. “I’m inviting.” Mike suggested Casa Guillermo, just down the hill in our village. The food is good there and we could sit at the tables on the river’s edge. The meal which lasted from three until five, included a wonderful selection of Andalusian soul food: jamon serrano, pipirrana salad, grilled morcilla and alonganiza, churrasco steak, chicken and ham croquetas, pitchers of beer and assorted soft drinks; one fundamentalist actually drank water, with ice cream and kinky little cylindrical cakes for dessert) lasted from three until five.

One of the best dishes was papas a lo pobre, (“poor man’s potatoes) sliced potatoes with green peppers stewed in quite a lot of olive oil. Jordi, the sound man from Valencia, wrinkling his nose disapprovingly, asked, “What’s that puddle under the potatoes, oil?” “Yes,” I said, handing him a slice of bread. “Here, dip some bread in it,” and I showed him how it was done. Jordi became an instant devotee of papas a lo pobre and an expert olive oil soaker upper. (Don’t try this at home with just any old olive oil. Ideally it should be the silky golden aceite de oliva virgen extra from our village, Pinos Genil.)

The crew had a two-hour drive back to Almería, but Mike and I were home in less than five minutes, stripped off as we were descending the garden stairs, showered in the hose, dried off and hopped into bed, where we stayed for hottest three and a half hours of a 39ºC (102.2F) day. There’s nothing wrong with a day in which you get up from your siesta (just a bit groggy) at 9:00 p.m.

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Here’s the second half of the photographs from the IB Bremen printmaking workshop 2016.

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Brenda Eubank-Ahrens returns to my studio for the fifth (or is it the sixth?) consecutive year with a new group of students from her art class (two of whom were here last year) at the IB School of Bremen, Germany. We both look forward to these visits. It gives so much satisfaction to see young artists blossom in a new setting with new techniques. And the results can be surprising. (You will be able to see the display of their work on Tuesday’s post.)

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Words and pictures by Mike Booth

A couple of times a month I take Maureen to Granada to restock the prints she sells in a couple of gift shops who cater to mainly tourists. While she attends her clients I wait for her in Plaza Nueva, and practice my street photography. Plaza Nueva is one of Spain’s–and the world’s–finest people-watching spots. Yesterday was one of those days.

When she finishes her work we usually go for a drink to one of our favorite bars–Los Diamantes–conveniently located in the square. The bar was full to overflowing but after just a couple minutes’ wait we spotted two seats at one of their long, community-style tables and sat down next to a couple of adolescent Asian girls. They turn out to be from the Philippines. We started chatting to them and “a drink” turned into half a dozen. We never drink that much any more but the moment was right for sipping white wine and laughing. Oh, and eating the Diamantes tapas, some of the finest in the land.

The conversation was like the ones you have with strangers on airplanes, wide ranging and sincere. I ask one of the girls what work she did in Philippines. “Shopping centers,” she said. I couldn’t decide if she was a check-out girl or a window decorator. I opted for the upper road: “Oh, you are an office worker involved in finance or publicity…”

“No,” she replied, “I have teams for all of that. We build shopping centers. I just direct the teams. Suddenly my 19-year-old student on a gap year was a 31-year-old professional.

As I already had my camera out I continued to make pictures in the bar. Here are the results:

Click on the images to open a slide show

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Your first portfolio is a milestone. This is the point where you’ve practiced enough printmaking techniques to make a respectable showing with your first formal project. Your confidence has grown to an almost viable level—along with an equally-heightened case of nerves and apprehension. This is the big time. What subject should you choose? What techniques should you employ for this first effort? If I may offer my advice, choose a subject that is familiar to you, something you love and is close at hand. As for techniques, keep it simple. You’re just starting out. There’s plenty of time to get fancy as you go along.

Shall I tell you about my first portfolio? It was 1978 and my maestro, José García Lomas (Pepe Lomas to his friends), suggested that I might be ready to make my first portfolio of prints. I had been studying with him at the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada for more than two years. Pepe  offered to guide me through process of making the portfolio. What a luxury that was.

He was delighted when I told him I had chosen a nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, by the English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, Edward Lear. This was a poem that, for some reason, I remembered vividly from my childhood. Pepe agreed with me that it offered splendid visual possibilities.

I must confess that the five plates that I created for The Owl and the Pussycat were not precisely simple. I worked on them for six months, pulling untold proof prints. Encouraged all along by my maestro, who wanted to see me show off the techniques he had taught me, techniques that I had practiced every weekday morning for more than two years, I went to work enthusiastically. So the etched zinc plates incorporated line work, aquatint, and soft ground. The Rodríguez-Acosta workshop had a wonderful big aquatint box with paddle bellows and we were still in the age of immortality. I suspect we all breathed a lot more resin than was good for us.

Before I even touched the first plate I did sketches for all five of them. Any comments Pepe made were always limited to technical considerations, as he always scrupulously respected his students’ artistic criteria. I started by varnishing five zinc plates and lightly etching in the basic drawings, then working the plates all up together starting with the aquatint. Though all the plates were different, this approach insured some degree of coherence across the whole portfolio.

We decided on an edition of 50 portfolios and 50 loose sets. Multiply that by five etchings plus a cover illustration and it adds up to 600 prints. Pepe insisted that the whole job be done by Angel and Pepillo, the workshop’s two printing technicians. The artists at the Foundation seldom touched the etching presses. While they did that I went off to find an offset print shop to print the cover text and colophon.

I presented The Owl and the Pussycat along with other work in an exhibition at Granada’s wonderful Palacio de la Madraza, the 14th-century building opposite the cathedral. La Madraza housed Granada’s first university and belongs to the University of Granada today.

This was the most successful portfolio I ever did.

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And What You Can Do About It in Your Own Work

How many artists have come into my studio on the first day proclaming, “No, I’m not interested in solarplate. I’ve done it and I didn’t like the results.” Then I get out some solarplate work that I and other people have done in my studio and the negativism turn to questions. “How did you get those whites? How did you achieve those velvety blacks and the whole range of tones? These are beautiful prints!”

This happens regularly. Why? Because solarplate prints are (apparently) so quick and easy to make. You just scan or photograph an existing image (sketch, watercolor, photograph…), print it on a transparent acetate with a laser printer, sandwich it under glass with a photosensitive polymer plate, and expose it under sunshine or a UV lamp. Wash and dry it, pull a print of it on an etching press and, bingo, you’ve got a solarplate print. Well, almost. What you’ve actually got is a mediocre solarplate print. Given these results most artists never get beyond this point. It’s a shame as solarplates, when prepared with care and criteria, are capable of yielding beautiful work. With them you can either opt for positive intaglio prints using an aquatint screen, or negative relief prints without the screen.

What’s the big secret. There’s no big secret, but there a lot of little ones, and some of the most important have to do with the preparation of the acetate. It’s your all-important original. If you don’t start with a beautiful acetate you’ll never get a beautiful print. Most of the flaws in a typical solarplate print are introduced in the process of scanning. Even if you start out with an image with a proper range of tones–and no watercolor will ever clear this hurdle–the scanning processs will degrade that image. How do you recover it?

The best way is to skip the scanning/photography process altogether and create your image directly on the acetate using an opaque medium such as India ink or etching ink. You can also use lithographic ink and pencils or permanent black felt pens. This will guarantee you black blacks and brilliant whites. You’re already ahead in the game. Then you can add mid-tones to a positive plate by diluting the ink in various degrees. If you’re using Indian ink dilute with water, if it’s etching ink, with turps.

The aquatint screen, exposed first, before the image acetate, enables you to render tones in your solarplate print, similar to aquatint in an acid etching. Negative plates, similar to a woodcut or linocut, require pure blacks to highlight relief. You can use the same exposure time for the aquatint screen no matter what the light source. The area where  you put the black ink will be washed out down to the steel backing leaving the unpainted areas in relief.

If you need to work from a scanned image you will have to adjust contrast in PhotoShop or other image treatment program (or take it on a pen drive to a good photocopy shop and have them do it for you) and then later by hand, working on the acetate.  This means cleaning the whites with a cotton bud with a little alcohol and strengthening the black areas with opaque ink, felt pens or lithographic pencils. (NB: Be sure to use special laser acetates. If you use a normal acetate it will melt inside your printer.)

If you don’t have a vacuum exposure unit–and not many of us do–you may have trouble achieving perfect contact betweeen the plate and the acetate during exposure. This is especially important as the plates get bigger and more expensive, as you don’t want to waste many of them! To avoid this problem I add a layer of 15mm-thick foam rubber in what becomes a six-layer sandwich (from the bottom up: backing board, two felt blankets stuck to the board, a sheet of foam rubber, the plate, the acetate and the heavy-duty glass beveled on the edges). All of this I clamp firmly with six spring-loaded C-clamps.

Achieving proper exposure of a solarplate requires both art and science. People who come to printmaking from photography or science backgrounds usually emphasize the former, painters the latter. Both approaches require extensive testing. The photographers tend to do it more systematically, the painters more intuitively. Whatever your inclination, don’t be tempted to rush the exposure testing process. The success of all your solarplates from here on out will depend upon it. And don’t forget to incude the plate wash times in your tests. They are also a factor in getting quality results.(Note: The best light source for exposing solarplates is the midday sun, so you should probably move to Spain or Arizona.)

Pulling your first print from a properly prepared solarplate is a satisfying experience. If you’ve done everything right the improvement is notable. Your first proof print will not be your bon a tiré, however, and it’s still not too late to retouch your plate with a bit of drypoint. Now you enter into the thousand nuances of choosing and mixing inks and printing your plates, not to mention paper selection. I usually refer to this state as “creative printing.”

But that’s another chapter.

P.S. All of the steps in this process are easier to do than to explain. Come on over and we’ll do them together!

I almost forgot. I have made a video tutorial on this subject, available here.

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