Step by Step

::: By Hand and On Foot :::

Category: Art in General (page 4 of 6)


When my niece was small, she loved to stand on the couch and watch the tossing branches of the tree outside, and she’d exclaim “Wind-e-e-e!!!”. She would have a fine time here in Carrion de Los Condes, as the wind is whipping across the plains like a freight train.

I’m at Bar Espana, along with all the card-playing men of the village, taking refuge and a glass of wine. And the wind has given me an idea for another print, so I can’t complain.


The idea is the meseta as a tossing sea, and the wind as great ropes of air that twist above. The print will vary some from this first drawing – it will be darker, in some ways, but I’m also thinking it should be hand-colored to reflect the subtle fierce beauty of the area.

This morning, however, it was calm and sunny, and I took advantage of the fine weather to walk the 6km to Villalcazar de Sirga, the next town up the Camino to the east, and visit Sta. Maria la Blanca.

This dog was furious that I had the nerve to pass by his yard.

Peeved perro

Beautiful scenery along the way.

Half and half

Signs of pilgrims having passed by.

Pilgrim sign

But which way should they go?

Now where?

The church was lovely…

Nave, sta Maria la blanca

And you can see some more photos on my Flickr photo stream, but I was actually more excited by some of the modern stained glass, which gave me an “Aha!” moment and crystallized some of the things I had been thinking about in terms of portraying this lovely countryside.

Now back to my little windy Houston the prairie, to start carving this block.

Come See What’s on the Slab

I continue to be the mad scientist of printmaking, but it’s way too cold to wear nothing but a corset and fishnets, as the title of today’s post might suggest.

After a morning spent carving the Nuestra Sra de Belen block, I went next door to what I refer to as the print lab to continue learning how to use this new setup.

First of all, a bit of my thought process. The things I’m thinking most about (so far) are the living presence of the fields and sky; the Romanesque art and architecture that is all around me; the permanent population of the town alongside the constant stream of pilgrims; and the contrast between modern life and all the medieval-ness that revolves around pilgrimage. So you will see aspects of all these things showing up in the art I produce while I’m here, and even in my experiments. After all, the experiments just might work out ok, eh?

First up today was a bit of playing with grass I picked outside my house. I covered the plate with a solid coat of yellow ochre.

Inked plate

Then I inked up three pieces of grass with purple, laid them on the plate, and trimmed off any stem that reached beyond the edges of the plate.

Inked grass on plate

The World Bazaar shop here in town had cheap spray bottles with adjustable spray – only .75€! – so now I can spray my paper just enough to get it damp.


A bit of careful rubbing and voila! Here is the print on the left, and the plate with the grass and some ink still in place.

Print and plate

The print by itself.

Grass print (untitled)

Next I removed the actual pieces of grass, and placed another damp piece of paper over the ‘ghost’ plate. The resulting print:

ghost print

I found that the test print that I had allowed to dry flat on the table had warped quite a bit.

Warped print

I ran some string across one of the rooms and am drying the prints this way. Let’s hope there’s less warping. One lesson learned: don’t do laundry and make prints on the same day, unless you want to buy more clothes pins. I only had enough pins to hang four prints.

Prints hanging to dry

By the way, cut ends of reeds make a good tool for picking organic bits out of your ink.

New tool

Next, a new plate and a new idea; here I’m thinking of medieval manuscripts and the patterns often found in the background. I’m just messing around here, so not bothering with ruled lines or anything like that. I simply used the edge of a brayer to make the thin lines, and painted the red squares with a paintbrush and the thinner Akua monoprint ink I brought.

Pattern plate

Oops! Here’s a lesson: wipe out the sink after you’ve been moistening sheets of paper. There was a pool of water in the sink, and now a big too-wet spot on the paper.

Too wet paper

But it turned out ok anyway. You can see the lighter spot on the plate (to the right) where the wet paper picked up extra ink.

Pattern print

And here’s a preview of my next project, along with a glimpse of the carved block I mentioned earlier.

Next up

Tomorrow, I’ll be making sketches at the Bar Europa of people watching the US election results come in, practice for taking part in my friend Andrew Purchin’s ‘1000 Artists‘ project. Then I’ll hop on a bus for a couple of days in Leon. I’m looking forward to exploring the Cathedral, the Basilica of San Isidro, and visiting a show of Spanish feminist art at the museum of contemporary art.

Hasta pronto!

A Report from the Field

Greetings from Carrion de Los Condes, Spain! I’ve been here since Wednesday, and I’m feeling pretty settled in. I’ve learned a lot these past few days, from finding my way around town, to figuring out how to stay warm, to the realization that my Spanish is still really really bad. Luckily the people in town are used to pilgrims coming through with various degrees of fractured Spanish, and are very patient and kind.

My original plan for today was to walk over to the next town, Villalcazar de Sirga, to visit the church there, Santa Maria la Blanca – but the weather report forecast a 90 percent chance of rain, so I stayed in to work. Turns out the day wasn’t so bad after all, with just scattered showers, but that’s ok; I have plenty of time to explore, and I got a lot done.

First, I did a pretty thorough preparatory sketch of Nuestra Señora de Belen, a church in town that sits on a high bluff over the Rio Carrion (and is closed for safety reasons, as the bluff beneath it seems to be rapidly collapsing). I would prefer to sketch on location – you see so much more and really learn your subject – but with the rainy weather so far, I have to be content with using photos for reference.


Me at work.

Me at work in the castigation

And I realized I probably didn’t need a computer to use the copy function on the printer that’s here in the house, so was able to not only copy my drawing but also reduce it to the proper size for a block. Here it is transferred and ready to start carving.

Block ready to carve

Later, I went over to the studio and played a bit with the inks and paper I brought. The results aren’t necessarily great art (!) but all in all I’m pleased with today’s efforts.

A view of the workspace.

Art supplies

Today’s experiments. Note how much deeper and richer the colors are on the right, with the paper I dampened (a bit unevenly).


Here’s a quick rundown of the practical things this traveling artist has learned.

1. If you pack a large suitcase with heavy things and many tubes of ink, expect it to get inspected by the TSA. Luckily, they were very gentle with my supplies.

2. If you bring tubes of ink long distances in a suitcase, it really does pay to be obsessive in your packing, like double ziplock bagging them – which I did. So no harm done if your phthalocyanine blue explodes. Except now my hands look like they’ve been painted with woad.

3. Washing up in cold water is, well, cold.

4. I need to pick up some basic things like a dish rack for drying my tools after washing them.

5. The paper – a Japanese paper that’s new to me; I usually use Rives or Stonehenge – absorbs the ink a whole lot more effectively if the paper is damp. But if you try soaking it, it utterly dissolves. Note to self: pick up a spray bottle while you’re at it.

6. My fingerless gloves will be an inky mess by the time I’m done. Good thing I wore my replaceable REI rag gloves and not the beautiful ones Sarah-Hope knit for me.

7. Just one day working with windows open helped dissipate a lot of the nasty old smoke. Yay.

8. The house at 55 degrees feels like a veritable tropical paradise after working in the other house with the aforementioned open windows.

9. This is a whole lotta fun


Les Montgolfiers

Earlier this spring, I signed up for the La Calaca Press International Print Exchange. Print exchanges are a favorite activity among printmakers: you send in x number of prints to the coordinator, and you receive an equal number of prints back. Sometimes there is a theme, or specific size or style requirements. This one: Calacas, or Day of the Dead, interpretation up to the artist.

Well, who can resist a whole exchange of skull-related prints? Not me! And, as often happens, an image immediately popped into my head. I would do a print of a balloon!

For extra fun, I decided to do a reduction print. The clever part was using two different colors in the first run through the press, since the horizon line makes a handy demarcation line. Here’s the print, with the green/blue layer.
First layer, two colors

Today, I finished printing the second pass, being the black layer. Here is my inking station. And yes, that is a phone book. Phone books make the best inking pads. If you have any extra, let me know.
Inking the block

The hard part today was lining up the black layer with the green/blue layer. I had used a template when running the first layer through the press, which would have ensured that the paper and block would line up on the second pass. Alas! I was clumsy, and dropped an inky block smack dab face down onto the template, rendering it unusable until the ink dries. And, procrastinator that I am, there is no such leeway in my timing. The prints are due in Chicago by June 1. So, I used the tried-and-true eyeball and steady hand method to line the layers up.
Lining up the block and paper

Les Montgolfiers

I am calling this print Les Montgolfiers, after the Montgolfier brothers, inventors of the hot air balloon. And, appropriately enough, I have learned that their family business was making paper. Today, the Montgolfier Paper Company is known as Canson, maker of BFK Rives, the paper on which this is printed.

Here are the prints drying in the garage, ready for takeoff!
Les Montgolfiers drying


I’ve taken a bit of a break from work to do the annual Rite of Taxes, but nonetheless progress is being made.

I’ve been slowly making adjustments to my first Moby Dick print, enlarging the figures in Ahab’s boat, taking down some of the texture in Moby Dick’s skin, and adding more highlights to the water. Here’s the latest proof:
Latest proof of Moby Dick

Part of the inspiration for this print is the chapter where Ahab speaks to his crew about his true purpose, the hunting down of Moby Dick, and draws them into his mad passion.

All visible objects, men, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.

I wanted to show Moby Dick as that wall, huge, intimidating, and yet not that malicious agent of evil Ahab believes him to be; rather, he is the blank screen upon which Ahab projects his anger.

And in the meantime, I’ve also charged ahead on my second Moby Dick print: Moby Dick breaching.
Second Moby Dick print

On the second day of the final hunt, the Pequod’s whaleboats see Moby Dick ahead of them:

And thus, through the serene tranquilities of the tropical sea, among waves whose hand-clappings were suspended by exceeding rapture, Moby Dick moved on… But soon the fore part of him rose slowly from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch… and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the great god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight.

The boats wait for Moby Dick to reveal himself again.

…Ahab could discover no sign in the sea. But suddenly as he peered down and down into its depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed two long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up from the undiscoverable bottom. It was Moby Dick’s open mouth and scrolled jaw; his vast, shadowed bulk still blending with the blue of the sea…

It’s difficult to convey the excitement of this chapter by selecting quotes; it’s a fast-paced tour de force of language and action, with words rolling and flashing like the very waves tossed by the breaching whale.

There are two more prints to come in this set. Stay tuned! And in the meantime, I’d suggest you read the book. It is the best. Ever.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2022 Step by Step

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑