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Posts Tagged ‘printmaking in Granada’

Friends Nostalgia, Better than Apple Pie

I was thumbing idly through the visitors’ book in the Gallinero the other day and I was touched by many of the observations made by the remarkable people who have stayed here and worked with me in my studio over the past few years. Here are some of their too-kind comments that moved me.

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Phil Clark, Wales

To Maureen and Mike

Thank you so much for a great two weeks learning new techniques. We always enjoy learning and finding new and exciting ways to print. The print studio is a great space to work. Thank you for the great tapas trips and spas.

You are both very kind people and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Diolch yn fawr.

Phil and Hilary, Wales

Jess Klausen, New Zealand

Mike & Maureen,

Thank  you so very much for hosting me these last two weeks. I will never forget your generosity. I have learnt so much about Spain, printmaking and myself. I am honored to be the first New Zealander.

So many doors have been opened for me and I am excited for the future, thanks to you.  So thank you and thank you. I hope to be back.

Jess

.Nevine Sultana, Bangladesh

To Maureen & Mike

I had such a wonderful time at your place. The Gallinero was such a treat and the studio was amazing. Dolly was an extra bonus. I will be missing her so much.

Mike, a big thank you to you for taking so much care of me. Your paella was amazing.

Maureen, a big thank you for all your kindness. I really enjoyed my stay here and look forward to coming back.

Take care.

Nevine from Bangladesh

Carole Pearson

Maureen,

Thank you so much for a wonderful week. I am rested, instructed, filled with creative hope and stuffed with all the goodies you keep bringing me.

And not to forget Mike’s paella–a dream.

Muchas gracias to you both. Adios for now.

Carole

Gina and Ross Miller, Australia

Maureen,

A truly enlightening experience from the first moment you step into the studio. Maureen, like all good teachers, has an ability to instill self-confidence and adapt to your own artistic themes, style and concepts.

Her personal success and experience as an artist are considerable but she willingly shares her vast knowledge and experiences of technical processes and aesthetic values. Our folio production over three days seems equal to weeks of work.

Thank you so much for an inspirational journey.

Saludos,

Gina and Ross Miller, Selby, Victoria, Australia

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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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It was such a beautiful morning yesterday that Mike took his camera and macro lens out in the garden. The red flowers and baby fruit are from our pomegranate tree. Spanish for “pomegranate” is “granada,” by the way. A neighbor gave us a cutting of the blue morning glories on the right many years ago. They came with a warning: “Be careful, they can take over your garden.” They did. The wispy little white flowers are honeysuckle. They form banks in the garden and perfume the atmosphere out there all summer. The yellow star is a zucchini flower. We put zucchini in everything. The two yellow flowers are some sort of squash, which appeared on top of the compost heap. Our lemon tree is called a “limonero lunar” in Spanish. It flowers every month so during most of the year we have both flowers and fruit.  Here’s the pictures.

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P.S. This one’s for cousin Carole.

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Mike ran across a video on the web the other day and he immediately called me to have a look at it. It was an ad for Graydin , a coaching service (with offices in New York and London) that advises high schools around the world on ways of empowering their students. According to their website their service is founded on the premise of “Ask, don’t tell.”

As I sat down at the computer he said, “See what this reminds you of.” This fascinating video lasts less than three minutes but in that time it became clear to me what he was driving at. My reply to him was: “This is what I do.”

The truth is I never thought of myself as a coach, nor my work as coaching. I’ve been a printmaker for more than 30 years and a dozen years ago I began offering summer printmaking courses in my studio. As time went by my workshops turned more and more into mentoring for individual artists. It just seemed to make sense. Being able to give my undivided attention to an artist (whether a student, a beginning artist, or a full professor of art) and to work collaboratively for two straight weeks was so much more productive than a group workshop. We advanced so much faster and farther. And my students really noted–and appreciated–the difference.

So, if you look at the top of this page you’ll find a new subtitle under Printmaking Courses in Spain. It says “One-on-One Coaching for Print Artists.”

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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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Here’s wishing a joyous Winter Solstice and a happy and prosperous New Year to all my people.

I want to make you a little gift. If you follow this link (http://youtu.be/4zNnkAbQ-1Y) it will take you to my Printmaking Tips video (one of my Master Printmaking Courses series) that is posted in a secret place on YouTube that can only be accessed with this link. I hope you find something there that might refine your work a little bit.

Two thousand fifteen has been an excellent year for us. Our good friend Rafa Sánchez, the surgeon whom Mike goes hiking with on most weekends, recommended a new doctor to treat my arthritis. Dr. Salvatierra changed my medication, which immediately reduced pain and swelling in my joints. It was like magic. I feel better than I have in years.

My other special joy for this year has been our grand daughter, Lucía, who has been staying with us for a couple of months during her first pregnancy. It’s a boy, due in February. This will be our third great grandchild, as Lucía’s little sister, Elisa, already has two wonderful children, Gabriel 4 and Julia 2.

I’m starting work on a new commission that proves to be challenging and fascinating. An old friend from California, a musician, composer, musicologist, documentary film maker and record producer, wants a portfolio of etchings based on a suite he composed when he lived in our village for a year back in the early 70s. I think I’m over the first hurdle. I’ve decided on an approach to the images. Wish me luck.

A group of 12 students from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) are coming back this year during their winter break for five days of printmaking in my studio. I love working with young people, and it’s surprising the quantity and quality of work they can turn out. I’ll ask Mike to make some pictures of the workshop and post them here.

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Dolly as a baby. Angelic, isn’t she…

 

Shall I tell you the Dolly saga? Dolly is one of Cuca’s two pups, the one we kept. She’s just over a year old now. The father was a little Jack Russell-type terrier. We should have been forewarned. From early on she constantly tried our patience: hyperactive, chewy, yappy, and if we made her nervous she would take revenge by peeing on our bed. We were always of two minds whether or not to find a good home for her.

Then last month a young woman from the village showed up at our door asking if we had any puppies. She had been promising her two girls (10 and 4) a puppy and had to deliver. As soon as she saw Dolly she was smitten. (As you know, the Devil takes many forms and Dolly is diabolically cute.) As María José walked proudly down the hill with her new puppy on a lead Mike and I exchanged meaningful glances. Had we done it? A week went by. Apparently we had.

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Family portrait lacking just a couple of cats.

Then Dolly started showing up at our house from time to time. I would phone María José and she would come up dutifully and retrieve her. She said her girls were wild about Dolly but she was concerned because they never left her alone. If they weren’t dragging her along on the lead they were hugging her on their laps. No peace for the wicked!

A week later María José showed up with Dolly in tow. Her mother had said that Dolly had to go. She had come into heat and, along with her other shennanigans, was making life at their house impossible.

Dolly’s back, but with a difference. She’s almost perfectly behaved. It’s a miracle. She’s so happy to be in a familiar place with old friends–especially her soul sister, Blacky the cat.

Dolly now comes when we call her, goes where we tell her, hesitates for permission before jumping up on the furniture, hasn’t eaten any shoes, socks or plastic kitchen utensils since she’s been back. She’s discreet and affecionate, a pleasure to have around. In short,  we have never had such an appreciative puppy.

I almost forgot to mention Mike’s latest project, a new site he started in August. It’s called Somos Pineros (We’re from Pinos) and it showcases the photographs he has made in our village since we arrived here, pictures from the end of the sixties till day before yesterday. The text is in Spanish but the images are universal. Here’s the link: http://somospineros.com.

Do take good care of yourselves next year and come and see us when you can. Printmaking is good for you!

 

 

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Mel & Bernice Strawn, Salida, Colorado, USA

Mel and Bernice Strawn are a young couple whose entire lives have been dedicated to art. He taught at universities in Michigan, Colorado and, I think, Chicago. She is a painter and sculptor with a long trajectory of incredibly imaginative and delicate work. When Mel retired from teaching they made their home outside Salida, Colorado, high in the Rockies, where they still live. Mel has the honor of being one of the world’s very first digital artists.

He and B came to the Gallinero and my studio in February of 2011 to work on solarplate prints. Mel had already done some solar work but, tireless researcher that he is, he wanted to delve further. Working with them was a delight and a learning experience for me as Mel questioned and experimented every step of the way, while B did what she is: pure creativity.

We’re still in touch via email and Mel is still experimenting with new solar plates. (The manufacturers should supply him with plates and pay him for  publishing his findings!) Thanks for coming, Mel and B. It was a pleasure to meet and work with you. You’re two wonderful role models for the creative life.

Here’s a longer article on the Strawns from the Colorado Central Magazine.

From the visitors’ book: “My husband, Mel, and I have stepped out of the cold February weather of Colorado to enjoy the sun on the little deck to draw, work on prints and sip a little afternoon wine.  The view across the valley to the south dips to the River Genil  and then up the steep terraced hillside carpeted with green and glowing with blooming almond trees. The Booths have cultivated an exotic garden here which immediately captivated me.  The local nopal, prickly pear cactus clumps, are fascinating and I did several prints based on those forms. In Maureen’s studio you can try out different approaches to printmaking and with her help you can find one that relates to the direction of your art. Maureen and Mike are very generous in their concerns for your comfort and the success of your art goals. We couldn’t have asked for more caring and attentive hosts.

Bernice and Mel Strawn, March 2011

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