Category Archives: Printmaking

I’m Hearing Voices

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Heee-hoo. Heeee-hooo. That’s the sound of chickadees in my neighborhood repeatedly calling to one another from the treetops. They’ve been so insistent (heeee-hoo) that I decided that they must be trying to tell me something.

Pencil drawing of chickadees

Pertinent chickadees. Pencil drawing from my sketchbook.

I recently posted about looking for inspiration in color palettes of artworks. After I wrote that, I went shopping and had a lot of fun choosing fabrics to use as future book cloth. Even so,  I was still a little “meh” about any real direction. I didn’t want to just fall back on the same cats for imagery.

(I know! I can’t believe I said that. I love cats, but it can’t be all cats all of the time, can it?)

That’s where the chickadees come in. But how to print them? The lamp in my Thermofax machine burned out and, despite calling every rare bulb dealer in the US, I’ve yet to find a replacement. That means no easy way to screen print. (If anyone knows where I might find a replacement lamp for a 3M Secretary with 15 amps, let me know!)

Chickadee drawings, fabric, printed fabric

Upper Left: Fabric for soon-to-be books; Upper Right: The inked version of the drawing above; Lower: Birds printed on fabric using ink jet printer

As a possible alternative, I tried my ink jet printer to print the chickadees on the fabric. This isn’t exactly a new idea for me, I kind of re-remembered it as something I tried once and liked. I’m satisfied with how the birds appear on the cloth, but I’m not certain about how archival this method is, or how durable it will be as a book cover.

Ultimately, I want more complex patterns. And I’m not sure if I would print the whole book cloth cover, or perhaps cut out individual birds and sew them to different cloth, or both. Or, something else entirely.

Heee-hoo. I’m waiting for the chickadees to give me a sign.

 

Finding Inspiration

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I’m gearing up for art fairs, and looking through my current book inventory. Here is a collection of sketchbooks and journals of different sizes and bindings. I have themes other than cats, but I’ve offered images for feline-lovers for awhile. I’m trying to think of some fresher ways to approach the work, including making the whole collection look more cohesive.

Hand made books with cat covers

A selection of cat themed book covers that I created. The fabrics are all hand-dyed and/or screen printed.

On a recent trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, I encountered a few pieces that, while very different stylistically, employ color palettes that are similar.

Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago; Whistler, Balthus, VanGogh

Upper Left: The Artist in His Studio, by James McNeil Whistler; Upper Right: Girl with Cat, by Balthus; Lower Panel: The Parisian Novels (The Yellow Books) detail, by Vincent VanGogh

I love how these artists use the primary colors in muted tones and variation to create a cohesive looks. So, I was thinking I would try to emulate some of these colors in my book covers for spring and summer. I particularly love the gray-blues and gold tones interspersed with pink. I also want some patterns that are more intricate, and  viewable from multiple angles without seeming “upside down.” My current cat designs, for example, only face one way, so I’m thinking of incorporating rotational symmetry, and adding other images and shapes to make them more dynamic. Other possible themes include birds, tea, and geometry.

How do you find inspiration for your art work? What resources to you use? How do you keep your work interesting and fresh? I’d love your feedback!

In the meantime, the books above are still available to a good home. You can check them out here on my Etsy site.

 

 

Nothing But Love

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Nothing But Love

I love Valentine’s Day, not for the commercial expectations for diamonds and romance, but, rather for the idea that there is a day where we are asked to contemplate and appreciate the love we experience, give and receive in our lives in all its forms.

Linocut heart prints with Chocolove

Linocut prints and chocolates waiting for delivery.

To celebrate this year, I carved a simple sentiment out of linoleum and printed multiples to give to friends and family along with a hug and some good chocolate.

Cats with Valentines.

Not all the cats are equally impressed with their Valentine hearts.

I tried to get the cats in the spirit. Bean was slightly tolerant of my heart placement, and Vera was completely disinterested. But, Lucy was enthusiastic, with appreciation for my cause.

Give appreciation to all beings who touch your life. If that involves hearts and chocolate, great! Otherwise, just a nice hug, or a slow blink, will do.

Building A Book

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Building A Book

You may (or may not) have noticed the intermittent, yet ongoing, production from my studio. There was the fabric dyeing day, followed by multiple screen printing sessions using my old thermofax machine to burn screens. Now, I’m finally turning the printed and dyed fabric into blank journals and sketchbooks.

Steps showing sewing on tapes.

Top: The finished cover before the pages are attached. Bottom Left and Right: Shows what the in-process sewing looks like from the inside and the outside of the book.

The books have soft covers that I create by attaching the fabrics to Pellon Fuse-n-Shape, a thick, iron on interfacing that gives the covers some thickness without making them too thick. The binding is a variation of the coptic stitch and sewing over tapes. I like this binding because it leaves the spine exposed, and allows the visible stitches to become part of the aesthetics of the finished book. This binding is also sturdy and allows the book to lie completely flat when opened, a desirable quality when writing or drawing.

Orange Cat Book

Hand-dyed fabric with thermofax screen image, exposed-spine sewing on decorative cotton strips. Book is bound with waxed linen.

I have fun coordinating the cords, threads, and fabrics to individualize every book– no two are identical. Sometimes, I choose contrasting fabrics for the front and back of the book to add visual interest. So far, I have constructed six of these soft cover books and, with each one I complete, I learn a little more about the small things I’d like to finesse.

Cat on table with books

A selection of books, guarded over by the original Attack Cat, Miss Bean.

That’s a Lot of Cats

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Cat Drawing with 100About ten years ago, I decided that I wanted to improve at drawing cats, so I followed some art advice from a teacher. That is, if you want to get really good at drawing something, you must draw it at least 100 times, so I am celebrating my 100th blog post with 100 cats. Okay, it’s maybe not exactly one hundred cats, but it’s A LOT of cats, all of them drawn, or painted, or printed by me over the last 5 or 6 years, almost all from my sketchbooks. Thanks for celebrating with me!Drawings of Cats

Drawings of cats by Carol Parker MittalCollage of cat artWatercolor sketches of catsCat drawings and printsCat drawings from sketchbooksCat drawings

Collage of cat drawings

My Thermofax Machine is SO Mid-century

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Thermofax technology was developed by 3M in the 1950’s as a way to make a copy of a document using heat and carbon. Artists use them today to make stencils for screen printing and tattoo art. This works by inserting a filmy plastic sheet and a toner photocopy together into a feeder slot which grabs the materials and passes them through a heated area causing the toner to “burn” the image into the plastic sheet.  I bought my thermofax for around $300 in 2001, back when eBay was still an auction-only site. Due to their popularity with artists, and the difficulty in locating one, a reconditioned thermofax machine like mine can sell for around $1,000, or more!

Vintage Copy Machine

Classic advertising showing the original use for the Thermofax circa 1960’s. You can see more vintage ads at Adsausage.

Picture of thermofax machine

Top: A beauty shot of my Secretary thermofax. Bottom: Photocopy and resulting screen used for printing.

Making screens and transferring an image is magical. You can easily reproduce the exact image onto almost anything from the same screen. Though, screens do wear down or occasionally tear, they are easy to replace, and you can get awesome results. Once the image is burned into the screen, ink is forced through the stencil leaving the image transferred onto your surface.

Hands screen printing with helicopter image

Left: My friend carefully crafting the multi-colored helicopter t-shirt for his son. Right: Finished helicopters in a row.

Recently, some friends came over for a combination dinner and print-your-own shirt party. (The delicious meal was prepared by my friend, Wendy, who blogs at In Other People’s Kitchens.)  One friend has a toddler who is obsessed with helicopters, so he dedicated his printing time to meticulously making a multi-colored image. Our physics teacher friend and my math teacher husband like nerdy math references, hence the speed of light sign. The rest of us preferred decorative birds, and, of course, the Attack Cat Studio cats, Bean, Vera, and Lucy.

Birds, cats, and speed limit sign

Results from the super-fun dinner party and screen printing night.

I Would Dye For You

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Cotton fabric comes in plenty of solid, consistently dyed colors. Sometimes that’s exactly what I need, and what I expect when I purchase it. However, I appreciate the depth of layers and happenstance that occur when I hand-dye my own cloth.

Pink and purple fabric.

Fabrics dyed using low-water immersion techniques with Pro MX Reactive Dye.

I use the low-water immersion dye method, so you can forget that stinky pot of boiling chemicals steaming up the kitchen. Each piece of cloth is individually wrapped in it’s own packet or soaking in a container, left to absorb just enough dye to saturate the cloth. This allows for some migrating, pocketing, and patterning to occur, allowing for variations in the final surface. Hand-dyed cotton

I dyed 8 half-yards to use as the substrate for printed book covers. While the colors are nice, they are not as intense as I’d hoped. I lost a lot of dye in the wash-out, and it took repeated rinsing to get the water to run clear. I don’t know if the muslin I’m using just doesn’t hold the dye, (I wonder this because I over-dyed an older piece of heavier cotton from my stash and it held the same dye really well,) or there’s an effect from the softened water I used for rinse out, or if there’s something else I’m missing. If you know what I did wrong, please let me know!

In any case, I ended up with completely useable, pretty cloth. It will become more complex when I manipulate it further with printing and sewing.

Fabric drying on a clothesline.

My “drying room.”

I first learned this technique from Lisa Kerpoe at the Southwest School of Art a few years ago.

Here’s what I posted about it then.

You Need A(nother) Kitty

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June is Adopt-A-Cat Month here in the United States. A brilliant and worthy celebration! So, why have I waited so long to celebrate? Lack of direction? Indifference? Too busy? NO! Just wasn’t sure how to properly honor such an awesome event…so, I finally made a work of art to show my support.

According to the ASPCA

“Of the 3.4 million cats entering shelters, approximately 37% are adopted, 41% are euthanized, and less than 5% of cats who came in as strays are returned to their owners.”

I read that statement multiple times… MILLIONS of cats?! more are euthanized than adopted! only 5% returned to owners? Isn’t anybody looking?! We (as an internet culture especially) worship cats on a scale that the Egyptians couldn’t even imagine. And Egyptians took their cats very seriously. Did you know that, “because of widespread cat smuggling in ancient Egypt, the exportation of cats was a crime punishable by death?” Animal Planet  (I got this factoid and others here at Animal Planet.)

Adopting a new kitty, or adding some more to your collection, is the obvious way to celebrate Adopt-A-Cat Month, but if you simply can’t for practical reasons, then there are other ways to help.

  • Volunteer at your local shelter as a cat caretaker, helping in the socialization (this means petting and playing!), care, and well-being of cats until they are adopted.
  • Donate your dollars to cat rescue sites in your area. Many rescue agencies are run by individuals or small groups who personally assume the monetary burden of rescue. During the summer months, they are often saturated with kittens and need additional donations of food, old towels, carriers, cat toys, and cat litter.
  • Some areas sponsor trap, neuter, and release programs to help moderate and maintain feral cat colonies. Before I moved to Michigan, I was the Sunday night feeder for feral cats who lived in parking lots at nearby businesses. I supplied the food, and my husband and I would drive around just after dark every Sunday and leave food for groups of spayed/neutered colonies. Sometimes we would find new cats, or new kittens, which would then get trapped, neutered, and released back into the colony. Captured kittens were often adopted to good families!

While June is the official Adopt-A-Cat month, I think that every month should be Adopt-A-Cat month! I love cats and will advocate for happy, healthy, well cared-for cats with glee and passion. We all need a(nother) kitty!

Adopt-A-Cat

Fabric Collage: cold emersion dyed fabric, with screen, digital, and relief printing. Carol Parker Mittal