Tag Archive | art

Drypoint

These are strange, scary times, and I have little to say that others aren’t already saying with more thoughtfulness, eloquence, and authority. So I’m not going to wade into those waters. Suffice it to say that I am well, I feel lucky, and I’m currently confined with Isabelle and Olivier.

Back in the early days of the confinement, Isabelle let me make a print from her most recent drypoint plate. Drypoint is the latest printmaking technique she’s picked up (see our earlier adventures in linocut, screenprinting, and Gocco). In drypoint, you carve a design into a plate (Isabelle uses plastic ones), and the ink fills in the grooves. Thus what you carve is what is printed (vs. what you leave uncarved, as in relief printing). Apparently drypoint is etching, but without the acid.

Isabelle carved the plate; I just made a print. This design is called “Springtime frailty” (“Fragilité printanière”). I first smeared black ink onto the plate, filling in all the grooves. Then I used a bit of paper towel to rub away the excess ink.

Next I placed the plate ink-down on the paper.

I cranked the plate through Isabelle’s Cuttlebug, which we were using as an improvised press.

The completed print!

Dangerous Instruments

Last Friday I went to the opening reception of the Stewart Gallery exhibit “Dangerous Instruments.” The Stewart Gallery, run by the Grinnell Area Arts Council, is inside the old Stewart library, now the Grinnell Arts Center, next door to the post office. The Arts Council runs all sorts of interesting activities that would probably be worth checking out. There’s even a pipe band. As in Scottish bagpipes. Am I missing my chance to realize my childhood ambition of learning to play the bagpipes? (Am I also missing my chance to learn to play viola da gamba through the Collegium Musicum?)

I digress.

“Dangerous Instruments” featured the creations of Eric McIntyre, hornist, composer, professor of music, and conductor of the Grinnell College orchestra. He built his musical instruments-cum-works of art from excavated pianos, horn bells, saw blades, axe heads, used munitions, bedpans, pitchforks, a tractor fuel pump, a mailbox, gun barrels, and more. Many of them were beautiful (with a certain rustic-ness) and elegant, and some of them literally had teeth.

A Dangerous Piano

The reception was crowded, and I think there was good representation from the ranks of the college orchestra. Gallery visitors were invited to play many of the instruments (gently), using little metal implements, beaters of various types, or giant washers. I tapped tentatively at a few things myself.

The Schlüsselspiel, one of the more melodious instruments

Around 7:00pm, the artist gave a little talk introducing all of his instruments and explaining how he’d made them. He goes to auctions to buy things like the equipment from an old sawmill. He performed on some of the instruments or demonstrated the kinds of sounds they could make. He seemed really interested in different types of resonances and showing how you could pluck or strum the tines of a pitchfork. He’d made a bow out of an old lightning rod and some bicycle part and used it to bow his “mailbox bass.” Honestly, I was not always particularly taken with the sounds these instruments made; they weren’t very musical to me (though I guess music is in the ear of the beholder). But other instruments had more delightful surprises: suspended wrenches and axe heads make surprisingly sweet bell-like sounds.

He also performed on some of the instruments, playing a Saint-Saëns romance on a horn with a bedpan for a bell and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on a double-belled horn built with the double barrels from an old rifle. He’d composed a piece for horn and these three motorized saw blade-and-bullet casings instruments, each of which made a perpetual tinkling sound.

My Gocco-Printed Business Card

Last week I wrote about screenprinting my cupcake zine, and this week I’m back with another printing post featuring Isabelle‘s artwork and ingenuity–and my first ever business card! Isabelle had wanted to design me an author business card for a while, and earlier this year she’d sketched out some sample art. She also bought a Gocco on eBay. What is a Gocco? It’s a Japanese screenprinting system, compact and very cleverly designed, but they aren’t produced anymore, so the only way to purchase machines and supplies is secondhand, generally online.

Last time, I tried to explain how screenprinting works; the Gocco also uses screenprinting, but the process is a little different than what it was for the cupcake zine. After Isabelle drew the final business card design digitally, she printed it out on paper on her laser printer. The Gocco machine is equipped for burning screens, so there’s no photo emulsion or exposure to sunlight. Instead, you place the printed design on the squishy, sticky printing block, slide a fresh screen into its slot, and place a box containing two flash bulbs on top of the machine. When you press down, the bulbs flash, burning the screen so that ink will pass through the areas corresponding to the printed design and not pass through elsewhere.

Ready to burn the screen

After burning the screen, you apply Gocco ink to the surface of the screen (which is then covered with a transparency so ink doesn’t get everywhere), slide it into its slot, put your paper or cardstock or whatever on the printing block, and press down to print. The stickiness of the block is helpful for keeping paper in place, and the grid on it is helpful for registration.

Printing the blue layer on the back of the card (the box with the flash bulbs is visible in the background, along with Gocco inks in the box)

The business card design was two-color. We first printed the blue layer on the back. Then came registration. The first time we tried printing cards, we printed the black layer on a transparency taped to the printing block to see where the black would print and then positioned a card with the blue layer already printed on it under the transparency to get the right alignment.

Ensuring proper registration of the black layer

The second time we printed, we got a bit smarter and burned the screen such that the cards could always be aligned with the edges of the printing block. This made registration easier.

The black layer included both the front and back of the card, so we printed two cards (one side of each) at a time. One press would print the black layer on top of the blue layer on the back of one card as well as the black text on the front of another card.

The full design

Finishing up production

After printing, Isabelle recycled some glossy cardstock to make a box and covered it with marbled paper bought at the Printers Fair!

Screenprinting the Cupcake Zine

My friend Isabelle is an accomplished self-taught artist and has dabbled in a number of printing techniques. Earlier this year, she acquired screenprinting equipment, and we recently produced a screenprinted version of my latest zine, A Cupcake ATM Misadventure. I am slow to grasp how various forms of printing work, but I’ll try to explain how we (mostly Isabelle) made the screenprinted zine.

First, we had to know how many layers of printing we were doing. We decided on a four-color zine: black for the lines, pink for the cupcake ATM, and pink, blue, and purple for the sprinkles. Isabelle manipulated a scan of the zine in Procreate to create the layers and then printed the layers on transparencies.

Next, we needed to burn the screens. Isabelle painted the screens with a greenish photo emulsion. The transparencies went on top of the treated screens. We covered the screens with cardboard and took them outside into the LA sun. Then we exposed the screens to the sunlight for 45 seconds, covered them again, and took them inside. When exposed to light, the photo emulsion hardens on the screens. The printed design on the transparencies covers up parts of the screen, and the emulsion under those covered parts doesn’t harden. So when you rinse the screen, the unhardened photo emulsion comes off, leaving parts of the screen unplugged. This is where the ink will be able to pass through the screen during printing. Thus the design that was on the transparencies is what will ultimately be printed. 

Once the screens were burned, we were about ready to start printing. But then came the joys of registration! The first color we printed was pink (which Isabelle mixed). With each layer, we had to make sure that we printed on the right place on the paper. So each time, we first printed on a transparency, and then we moved around a piece of paper (or a partially-printed zine) underneath the transparency until everything was correctly aligned (this is registration). Then we taped markers around the correctly positioned paper so we’d know where to place each subsequent sheet for printing that particular layer. The zine only had four colors, but we ended up doing six layers because we hadn’t burned the screens in such a way that all the pink could be printed at once.

As for how the printing itself works, the screen is attached with hinges to a frame. You apply ink to the upper side of the screen and place your sheet of paper underneath the screen. Then you bring the screen down and use a squeegee to scrape the ink across the screen. The ink passes through the part of the screen that isn’t covered with hardened photo emulsion and prints onto the paper below.

The six layers were as follows: two layers of pink to do all the ATMs, a layer of black for all the lines, and one layer each of pink, blue, and purple sprinkles. Here’s what the screenprinted zine looks like!

Partway through printing: the pink and black layers have been done, but the sprinkles remain

Carving and Printmaking

Our university’s international student center has a new artists and writers collective whose meetings Isabelle and I have been attending. At the last meeting, Isabelle taught everyone how to carve stamps out of plastic erasers with X-Acto knives. The erasers are nice and soft. For my first ever stamp design, I eventually decided on a bass clef, and the result wasn’t too bad. It’s like a rustic bass clef.

Two days later, we went to a linocut workshop hosted by the Horn Press, UCLA’s book arts society. Isabelle is quite experienced with linocut, but I had never done it before, and it’s a bit trickier than plastic erasers. We used gouges of various shapes and widths to carve linoleum plates mounted on wood blocks. It took me a while to come up with a design again. I tried thinking of things I used to draw when I was younger that I actually felt turned out well, and I remembered these little birds made of simple shapes for the crown, eye, beak, wings, tail, and feet. I don’t remember what originally inspired those drawings; I think I must’ve seen a brush painting somewhere. Anyway, I set to work with my gouge, and of course I picked a design that required me to carve away most of the plate. But I finished.

First print at the workshop

Later I did some additional cleanup with some of Isabelle’s tools, and I tried printing again.

The Giant Robot Post-It Show

Giant Robot is a store and art gallery in Sawtelle, the traditionally Japanese-American neighborhood on the Westside where I’ve gone to Obon the last couple of years. I’ve been to exhibits at Giant Robot’s gallery before. Every December, they have a post-it show for which dozens of artists (many of whom have exhibited at the gallery or have works available in the store) create art on actual post-it notes. The post-its are then displayed in a wide band around the perimeter of the small gallery; rows and columns are labeled so a given post-it can be pinpointed. The public is invited to view the post-its during a preview event, and then sales begin. People camp out for hours for the chance to buy the post-its they want. Also, there’s now a second drop of post-its on a second weekend.

Isabelle and I caught the end of the preview on the first day of this year’s post-it show, but first, we shared a bowl of Japanese-style dan dan noodles at Killer Noodle. Sawtelle is full of popular restaurants, and Killer Noodle is a relatively new one I had yet to try. Their core concept is two seven-point scales: one for   (the numbing flavor/sensation of Sichuan peppercorn) and one for (spiciness, in this case from cayenne pepper). We got three and three, and it was very tasty, but I’d go for less next time.

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After lunch, we went to the Giant Robot gallery. There were already people parked on the sidewalk, waiting for sales to begin; I couldn’t see how far the line went once it turned the corner. The preview was also packed. We entered a sort of human river that slowly flowed clockwise along the walls. It was hard to take in every post-it, but we spotted a lot that we liked. Here are some of my favorites:

Summer’s End in Minnesota

At the end of my summer, which for the rest of the world is mid-to-late September, I went to Minnesota and brought Isabelle along. We visited the cats at Wild Rumpus in Linden Hills.

We stumbled upon the Highpoint Center for Printmaking on Lake Street and saw the juried print exhibition and Michael Kareken’s black-and-white watercolor monotypes of majestic forests in the Pacific Northwest.

With my brother, we visited Minneapolis’s first cat café, Café Meow! We met a very sweet cat named Oreo.

Photo by Isabelle

We saw Minnehaha Falls in its late summer glory.

We attended the second day of the 29th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention, again at The Landing, and I led 547 Granville.

On our last day, we took a walk in my neighborhood and found this:

Paris

After the conference in Lisbon, I spent most of the last week of June with Isabelle in Paris. I hadn’t been to Paris, or to France, since 2011, when I studied abroad in Grenoble, and it was wonderful to be back. We stayed with Isabelle’s parents in their apartment in the 16e arrondissement. Forthwith, the highlights:

Sunday

With Isabelle’s partner Olivier, we went to visit our old haunts in the Latin Quarter. First we got off at my old metro stop, and I successfully led us to the apartment building on rue des Écoles where my family lived in the fall of 2004 during my father’s first sabbatical. Then we went to Henri IV, the celebrated school where Isabelle did her prépa. (In 2004, we tried to enroll me in Henri IV’s middle school, since I lived in the neighborhood, but they didn’t have room for me.) There was a little book festival happening in the courtyard, so the school was open to the public. We checked out the books and then wandered all over the school.

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The courtyard of Henri IV

We tromped through more of the 5e arrondissement (I was impressed by how many things remained unchanged) and wound up near the Seine. We abandonned the idea of visiting Shakespeare & Co. when we saw the hordes outside and instead got gelato at Amorino and walked along the river down by the water. We had dinner at the Paradis du Fruit and returned to Passy near 10:00pm. We stopped on the bridge in hopes of watching the Eiffel Tower light up, but 10:00pm came, and…nothing! Because it was still day. The evening light in Paris was wonderful; it’s the farthest north I’ve been around the summer solstice in years, and it was glorious.

Eiffel Tower, Passy, 10:00pm

Monday

Isabelle and I walked the promenade plantée and then went to the Canal Saint-Martin, both places that were new to me. Standing on a bridge over the canal, we saw a boat approaching the lock underneath us and decided to watch it go through. There was an automobile bridge that had to move to let the boat pass, but it wasn’t a lift bridge. Instead, the part of the bridge over the canal swung around on a pivot to open a passageway. A trio of shirtless young men were frolicking in the space into which the bridge had to swing, and then one of them took a ride on the moving bridge until a testy voice amplified from somewhere asked him to please get off. While the boat waited in the lock for the water to rise, a duck and her ducklings swam about in agitation.

Canal Saint-Martin

Tuesday

We explored Passy, including the cemetery, where we found the grave of a Georgian prince and princess. We found a stand inside an indoor market that sold pasteís de nata, and they were as tasty as the ones we’d eaten in Lisbon! Then we went to the Maison de Balzac, even though I am Team Zola (Isabelle is Team Balzac). The house Balzac lived in is now a museum. We visited the room with the desk where he wrote something like 18 hours a day, fueled by coffee. Not quite the lifestyle I aspire to. We also pored over the Généalogie des Personnages de la Comédie Humaine. For dinner, we went to a crêperie in the neighborhood.

We found me in the family tree. The red line indicates a lien extraconjugal.

Wednesday

My parents and brother flew into Paris and came to Isabelle’s parents’ apartment for a grand meeting of families and lunch. My family went on to southern France, and Isabelle and I met up with her friend Alice. We walked along the quais and ate shengjianbao.

Shengjianbao!

Then Isabelle and I went on the Louvre, open late on Wednesdays, and wandered through a lot of galleries of European art, eventually getting to Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, before the museum guards started herding us all toward the exits. We sat on the grass outside and watched the full moon rise over the Louvre, then walked to the Pont de la Concorde to catch the Eiffel Tower lighting up at 11:00pm.

Thursday

Isabelle and I went to the 13e arrondissement to visit some more of our old haunts, including Collège Rodin, where I went to middle school in 2004, and her old apartment, kindergarten, and elementary school. We had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and then came back to the 16e to visit the Musée Guimet, the Asian art museum. I felt like we’d barely scratched the surface of the collection before the museum announced they were closing early due to the metro strikes. We ambled over to the terrace of the Musée de l’Homme to share a glace à l’italienne and take in an iconic view of the Eiffel Tower. After stopping to look inside Notre-Dame de Grâce de Passy, the church next to Isabelle’s parents’ place, we went home and helped wrap wontons for dinner.

Detail of a Japanese screen depicting books

On Friday morning, I flew to Toulouse to join my family.

Qing Dynasty Treasures and Boundless Peaks

I am woefully behind on blogging about my adventures, but such is the way of things. In the last month or so, besides diligently writing my dissertation, I’ve returned to the aquarium, enjoyed a 4-hour “study session” at the new cat café in my neighborhood, and spent nearly three weeks in Portugal and France. This post, however, harks back to early May, when I was in Minneapolis with Isabelle for the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. It was my first phonetics conference. We presented posters in the same session, and I met exactly the linguists I wanted to talk to about my somewhat perplexing study (one of them, from the University of Minnesota, lives practically down the road from my parents!). I also got to see a friend and fellow linguistics Ph.D. student I know from Swarthmore.

After our poster session, Isabelle and I had lunch on Eat Street and then walked over to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty. This exhibit was meant to weave objects and artwork from the Qing Dynasty into an immersive, sensory experience drawing on elements of theater. It began with ten minutes of meditation in a dark room. It was almost pitch black, but a vase placed high in one corner was illuminated. A piece by John Cage involving what sounded like pencils being dropped onto a stage played in the background. Several of the exhibit rooms included music, some of it rather strange. One of the rooms, featuring a carved wooden throne, had walls painted red with the image of a rather Western-looking dragon and a soundtrack of screams (possibly not all human?). The whole thing was rather unusual, but I liked the art.

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Look at those bats!

After emerging from the Qing Dynasty exhibit, we stumbled upon another temporary exhibit, Boundless Peaks: Ink Paintings by Minol Araki. Araki was a Japanese painter born in China who studied with Chinese painter Zhang Daqian. I was quite taken with his paintings, especially a monumental one covering several walls depicting mountains and trees.

Long Beach Zine Fest

The first Sunday in August, Isabelle, her partner Olivier, and I went to the Long Beach Zine Fest. If you’re not familiar with zines, they’re typically homemade, self-published booklets assembled from folded paper about…absolutely anything you want. Stories, poetry, art, essays, comics, political manifestos… I first encountered the concept in the book Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, which I read when I was about thirteen, I think. Since then, I’ve come across zines here and there: my friend Miyuki makes them, I saw them for sale at Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis, Miyuki mailed me some zines (by other people) from her collection when she moved, I saw zines at the LA Times Festival of Books… More recently, I’ve read some of the zines of Yumi Sakugawa.

The zine fest was held in the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. When we arrived, we had to decide whether we wanted to sign up for one of the two remaining afternoon workshops. The first, First Language Zine (“a writing and artmaking and zinemaking workshop to explore the power of multiple tongues [and] the languages of our families”), sounded pretty cool, though I interpreted it as being about using your heritage language in your zines and I don’t actually have a heritage language (well, I suppose I sort of have written Chinese). The second was a basics of zinemaking workshop, and all three of us decided to sign up.

We took a look at the Luis Tapia exhibit and then headed into the big room where the zinesters were tabling. There was a lot of ground to cover. We wandered the booths together, took a break for lunch under the bougainvillea at the edge of the back parking lot, and then split up for more browsing.

There was a zine that had caught my eye earlier at Oatmeal Press’s booth. It was entitled “Messy Bits: An Essay on Grief & Queer Friendship.” There’d been nobody at the booth at the time, so after lunch I checked back a couple of times until someone was there. It turned out to be Claire Stringer, the author of the zine, so I bought a copy and asked her to sign it for me! It’s a lovely, lyrical, at times melancholy but also hopeful zine.

The next thing I couldn’t resist was a small, folded-but-not-stapled zine entitled “A Handy Guide to the Things Not to Say and the Reasons Not to Say Them.” #2 is “So, why aren’t you dating someone?” and the answer includes “maybe…they just want to adopt 5 cats and eat pizza.” It’s actual good advice in a cute and funny package, and on the last page there are some suggestions for better questions to ask people.

I arrived at the table of Christina Tran, the zinester who was running (perhaps at that very moment, since she wasn’t at her booth) the First Language Zine workshop. This table had an interactive activity: there were two box-envelopes of cards, one labeled Leave a Note and the other labeled Take a Note. There was also a small zine called “Dear Daughter: A Zine Fest Letter Exchange” that was a compilation of notes from a previous zine fest. I leafed through the compilation and decided to get it. Then I wrote my own note, which the person at Christina’s table photographed before I slipped it into the Take a Note box. I took a note from the middle of the stack for myself. Like all the cards, it was printed with Dear Daughter, and inside the printed speech bubble someone had written, “This, too, shall pass. ♥” I’ll take it. Later, Isabelle and I both read the whole collection of previous Dear Daughter notes, and we agreed the best one was a very long one that began, “For you there will be:” and included “hidden passages in small town libraries,” the loyalty of bookstore cats,” “bridges of words over snow-covered hills,” “enemies redeemed as friends,” and “forever friendships,” among other delightful things.

Isabelle and Olivier had gone to explore the rest of the museum, and I walked through the galleries too. I was happy to see a couple of works by Wifredo Lam, a Cuban artist whose artwork I had first encountered at an exhibit about him and Aimé Césaire in Paris in 2011.

Around 3 o’clock, we went into the art classroom where the workshop was. It was led by Aima Rosa of frijolerx press. We sat at round tables covered in brown paper, and there were markers, pens, and pencils scattered around. Aima Rosa gave a little introduction to zinemaking and answered a few questions. Then she taught us how to make a very simple zine by folding a sheet of paper in half three times and making a single cut. The result is a booklet with eight pages, including the front and back covers. She invited us to make a zine on the theme of self-love. She said there’s plenty of stuff in the world that makes people, especially marginalized people, feel bad about themselves so it’s important to remember to love yourself and think about what you love about yourself.

I decided to give it a try, though I spent a while figuring out what approach to take and then struggled to come up with things to put into my zine. Turns out it’s actually kind of difficult to come up with nice things to say about yourself, whether it’s because you can’t think of things you like about yourself or because it feels self-centered or like bragging or because of any number of other things. In the end, I was happy enough with how my zine turned out, and Isabelle said I should post the whole thing, so here you go. It was fun to make, and I’d like to make more zines someday.

After the workshop, we walked around Long Beach a little bit. We found the mural Yoskay Yamamoto did on the temporary walls surrounding the city hall/library construction site. It was pretty and whimsical, and in the yellow section I found a wug, the adorable bird mascot of linguistics!

A wug!

After admiring the mural, we rode the train back to Los Angeles, reading our newly purchased zines.