Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Saint John Arts Centre - September 2017 residency

On September 1st I arrived in Saint John, NB, at the Saint John Arts Centre for a month long residency in their printmaking studio. Little did I know that day that this would be one of the most exciting months of my career to date.

But first, I was late. Despite arriving after 5pm, Andrew Kierstead, the director, was patiently waiting for me at SJAC and welcomed me immediately into the art centre. We unloaded the car and he gave me the keys and a tour of the centre. Monday was Labour Day and the centre was closed, yet I was made to feel welcome immediately and able to settle into the space and start working over the weekend. Andrew had also connected me with Signe Gurholt, the unofficial art and culture ambassador of Saint John (or that's how I like to think of her) and I was able to call her beautiful house my home for the month, which just added to the amazing experience.

Travel and Set up

I am so lucky that Julie let me store all my stuff at her place so when I came back from my trip to South Africa I was able to sort it all out and pack for my month in Saint John. Life is complicated, thank goodness for amazing people like Julie and Peter to help along the way! 

The first week at the arts centre was filled with set up, cutting paper, mixing inks, unpacking my two exhibitions, hanging the two shows and attending the opening. To see all about the two exhibitions please click here. But as soon as the opening was finished I jumped right into editioning. 

Past blocks are unpacked and ready to be used for a very big project during week 4.

Paper cutting party for one.

My favourite part about starting a new block... chop chop chopping large areas to create the initial shape.

This one is carved and ready to be printed with the first colour layer. 

Oh but wait, let me take care of groceries first at the Saint John city market. The place was wild with Canada 150 decorations and, of course, tourists.

Now I know what I forgot in my preparations... to mix ink!

So, thinking about colour in printmaking is very different, in my experience, than when you paint or draw. I find it takes a specific kind of mindset. I take 2-4 hours before any major project to mix myself a palette specifically for that project. It minimizes future decision making. Even if one of the colours isn't quite right, I will modify it slightly by adding other colours from my palette or adding more transparency right before printing. It also minimizes preparation time on the day of printing.

My Hanco Palette.

My Akua palette. I am trying to move away from the waxpaper/cellophane packaging and instead use reusable containers. So far it worked well.

The 13 New Tiny Prints

Starting a new project in a new space immediately can be a bit overwhelming, but while I was in South Africa I had carved 13 new tiny blocks. I knew editioning these would take maximum of two days and I would feel very comfortable with moving on to the larger project from there. 

I went through several proofing stages, testing out different spot rolling combinations on them. 

Once I figured it out I inked up all 13 blocks at a time and printed them together in one fell swoop. 

Tiny prints... YEAY!

The editions are coming together. Before they get signed I weed out any of the imperfect prints.

I filled up two shelves on the drying rack. Unfortunately, I won't have time to sort them, sign them and inventory them until January with all that traveling between October and December.

Oh hello. That's my show.. in the newspaper... COOL! To read more about it click here.

Two 22x22 reduction linocuts

Some final preparations on the paper for the large blocks. I attached strips of heavy construction paper to the edge of each piece of 27x27 inch paper to help with registration. The last time I printed a reduction this size I had horrendous registration problems. The trouble is with reductive printing, you can't go back and print more since you carve away from from the same block with each layer. This residency gave me the focus and the time to troubleshoot before getting started and minimize all these issues right from the beginning. It made a huge difference.

Carving the first layer, the main shape for the second block. 

Colour layer number one is ready to go. The press was just about the exact right size for paper size I wanted to work with. See my new foamcore registration jig? It worked beautifully and was worth all the hassle creating it.

Layer one printed on the delicate Baika paper. 

Layer one for the second lino is also ready to go. 

BOOOM! Bold colours, I am trying to be brave. 

The Saint John Arts Centre acquired this drying rack not long before I arrived. I was so grateful for it! It works beautifully and was just the right size for my prints.

At each stage of carving I hang one of the prints up to check back and look at it while carving more. 

After a good round of printing... Delicious ginger beer and dinner with new friends at Lemongrass. YUM! Their ginger chicken makes you forget all the hard work you have done. 

I figured I may as well continue the bright colour scheme. 

New Studio mug! It's beautifully wonky! 

My babies are coming along, each layer adding more detail.

At one point CBC Radio NB stopped by to interview me for their Information Morning Saint John show. You can listen to it here.

With this red ink I decided I wanted it toned down a bit, so I added some of the green I mixed at the beginning of the project.

I held an artist talk on Wednesday September 20th and am glad to report that it went very well.
Afterwards I went for a stroll around Saint John. 

I came down here almost daily to grab a cup of tea from the Feel Good Store and to then consume that cup of tea at Good Fibrations (Fibre and textile store) across the street. The lovely ladies who work there sort of took me under their wing and made sure that I would come visit them and therefore leave the studio every once in a while. I enjoyed their company so much that it became a daily ritual.

Layer three printed.

These intricate layers made it clear that I was not going to be able to finish either of these two prints during this residency. I had given myself only two weeks of printing time for these two and had definitely underestimated the many hours it would take to carve each layer as well as the restrictions of ink drying time. A few rainy days in Saint John and by the time I pulled layer 4 on each of the prints the ink was too wet to continue. The one thing that I forgot to bring home from my trip to South Africa was my little container of 3-way dryer. And by the time I realized it, it was already too late. 

I am very excited about the state that both of the prints are in, and am looking forward to finishing them in early 2018.

Detail shot of 4 layers on this print, I wouldn't be surprised if it takes me 3 days to carve the next layer. There will be so much more detail. 

The Assemblage Project

During the fourth and final week at SJAC, I tackled the largest yet of my many projects, combining many of my recent cells, souls and personalities images into a single, large print. I looked at this as the type of challenge that would be much easier to tackle once I have done it once. I tried really hard to troubleshoot it to the point where I could going forward replicate the process with confidence and make several different Monoprints using this method, which is what I am hoping to do in 2018 when I have the time and space available to me. I learned that with each project I did at SJAC I pushed myself harder and the need for an extra pair of hands, an assistant, became clearer with each project. By the time I got to this portion of the residency I was confronted with my physical limitations more than ever.

Luckily the amazing SJAC staff was there to help. Emily, the new intern, and Larry, the maintenance man and part time miracle worker, were both able to give me a hand a few times with requests both large and small, while Kelly, the graphic designer, helped me clean blocks until 11pm one evening. Andrew, the amazing director, meanwhile recognized and solved some of my problems before I even realized I had them. Overall I can't say enough good things about the staff at SJAC. Attempting as complicated of a pull as I did could have not gone nearly as smoothly if it wasn't for the amazing SJAC crew! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

So I cut some paper close to 10ft.

Then I made a very, very large jig. Part map, with number and letter codes and part support blocks to prevent the paper from dipping and stretching in unexpected ways.

Then I inked up all the blocks and placed them. Of course I did a test run on crappy newsprint first.

Luckily I learned a lot in running this newsprint proof. I had been very tempted to skip this part, but ended up listening to every printmaking instructor I ever had... To get to this point it took about two days. The first day was spent with cutting paper and figuring out the jig. The second day was spent inking the blocks, laying the paper on the blocks and then hand printing it. I was so stressed and focused on the size of the print and what all could go wrong during printing that I overlooked the simplest thing, which is to clean the blocks before inking them. Some of them had stood in my studio for years now without being used, and when I inked them up, the ink started repelling. Luckily I didn't waste 10 ft of beautiful Baika paper in the process. Once I saw the proof I cleaned the blocks and adjusted my inking method accordingly.

The next day I came in and started inking right away, which took me from about 11am until 5pm.

A quick pho to boost my energy. 

And now the most nerve wrecking part... laying the Baika paper down on the blocks. It has happened in the past when printing large prints that as I lay down the paper it wrinkles in unexpected places, and once that happens there is no fixing it as ink will have already started to transfer to the sheet.
But this time it went smooooothly. A dream really.

Now to the hard part: printing. With a giant sheet like this, I am of course printing by hand..

.... using the wooden tool that Murph, the former NSCAD tech, made me years ago... 

... and still printing. This part of the process took an hour. 

And now that everything is transferred to the paper all that is left to do is to pull the paper carefully and slowly off the blocks. The lovely Kelly assisted me with that and we even got a video of it.

This little gift which I found with my things on packing day, said it all.
Thank you Andrew, Kelly, Larry and of course Nora! SJAC is amazing and you guys rock!

Finally I would like to say thank you one more time to Canada Council of the Arts. This residency was made possible by a project grants to individuals, which is the first grant I have received from them. It made the entire month of September an exceptionally amazing experience. To not have the pressure of finding enough students to fill workshops and classes or sales and making ends meet and hoping that there will be enough cash left over for materials and food and travel expenses for one month was such a tremendous relief. It also allowed me to fully focus on my projects and to spend an insane amount of time in the studio creating new work. Through this generous opportunity I managed to squeeze about three months worth of work into four weeks.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.

Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.

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