Detroit Litho Magic.

Category : art, travel
Detroit Litho Magic.

Last month I took a week off and went out to visit Lee Marchalonis in Detroit; she moved out there a few years ago to take a position as Printer in Residence at Signal Return, the fabulous public letterpress shop in town. Along the way, she also acquired a litho press and some stones and enough space to house them all in her place (the benefits of leaving NYC in action).

Studio assistant.

We spent the week setting up her own home litho studio and editioning a print.

I was not a printmaking major in school; there are great big holes in my printmaking knowledge, which I try to fill as I go and/or need to. I had only a dim understanding that litho had something to do with oil and water in some kind of mysterious way. Working with Lee one-on-one and having her explain the process-a multi-step, careful, complicated process – was super helpful in learning how it works. I’m going to explain to the best of my ability below- if there’s glaring errors anywhere please let me know!

We spent some time grading the litho stone first. This is pure physical labor, which erodes the top layer of the stone evenly, to expose fresh stone below. I was a bit awkward at it but luckily Lee knows what’s she’s doing.

Once you grind the limestone down to a pristine surface you’re ready to draw. The advantage for artists using this technique is that you can draw directly on the stone’s surface and pull a print that reflects the quality of all lines, and the tones, that you make. There’s a bunch of different materials that you use to make your marks, all of which contain grease.

Once the drawing is done, the stone is etched for the first time, with a combination of nitric acid and gum arabic, the amount of acid depending on what exact materials you’ve used in different areas of your drawing, which gives you control over the amount the stone is etched. Then you leave it overnight and have a beer.

Studio assistant resting after a long day.

The next day, you wipe the stone down, clean off the drawing materials, dampen the stone with sponges, and then roll out very stiff ink onto the stone, to reveal the image area. Then there’s some talc and rosin dust rubbed into the stone, then some more gum arabic is buffed into it, then you leave it for a bit.

 

Later on you get to print. It takes a while to get the density of ink that you want, you generally try to build up an ink surface. And you want to keep the stone wet while you’re working- the water keeps the ink from sticking to the background stone area where the image isn’t. So you go back and forth with dampening the stone with sponges and rolling out the ink. At this point it was helpful that there was two of us- I was on the sponge end of things keeping it all an appropriate level of damp, and Lee managed the inking duties.

Here’s the final print! I added the letterpress text at the bottom at Signal Return; I’m also planning on hand coloring the edition. The Diamondback Terrapin is a gorgeous turtle that is native to salt marshes along the eastern and southern coast, including here in Jamaica Bay-where their numbers are drastically decreasing, unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t clear, but that may be related to the ongoing loss of salt marshes. The turtles spend almost their entire lives in the water, except for when the female Diamondbacks come onto dry land to lay their eggs, so we don’t know very much about their lives and activities. In the early twentieth century, they were almost driven to extinction by hunters harvesting them to be cooked into Turtle Soup; they were considered a delicacy.

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Glasshouse is here.

Glasshouse is here.

The second project I spent most of the fall working on is a new book project: Glasshouse. It is a limited edition artist book that looks at the history of greenhouses, a technology made to cultivate foreign plants in a controlled environment, originally in service to empire. How did we build structures to contain trees meant to grow elsewhere? What is it like to sail off the edge of what you know? What does economic botany mean?

I spent a lot of the spring taking photos of exotic plants in greenhouses and reading about botanical history. I learned a lot about why botanical gardens exist, which is something I don’t really think we think about when we enter one. Today, botanical gardens do a lot of important conservation science and research into how plants are used and have been used by various people throughout the world.

But when they began, it was a bit different. Botanical gardens were used as a research facility for European imperial governments. Their roots were in medieval medical gardens, where the students would learn about botanical remedies and their uses. As Europeans began sailing around the world, gathering plants and gold and various other things from other countries they suddenly realized existed, they brought seeds and seedlings of foreign plants back and tried to grow them in Europe. Elites had already developed the technology to build heated enclosures to grow oranges and citrus fruit trees from the Mediterranean; these buildings were used to house these new kinds of exotic plants, which often weren’t happy to be in the colder climate of Northern Europe.

As European nations competed for power and resources through exploitation of the rest of the world, one element they considered was, What kinds of plants are there out there and how can we use them? Colonialism and botanical gardens had a tight relationship that I don’t think that is obvious when you are casually walking through and enjoying a room of orchids. A glass room in London filled with tropical plants is sort of a perfect image of colonialism if you think about it.

I wanted the book to be like walking through a garden; visually engaging, with the text as a caption to the plants, but one that makes the narrative and the context of these plants clear.

 

There are some waxed pages in there for the transparency.

And the second section of the book is specifically focused on the specific kinds of plants that I’m talking about and how they were transformed into commodities.

I’m pretty happy with how it looks. I’m going to the 2017 Codex Book Fair in California next weekend, Feb 5-8. You can see the book in person there if you happen to be there, otherwise I’ll also be at the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair in NYC in March. So there’s that. Copies will be available in February; I’m furiously making boxes this week.


My arms are tired

Category : art, book
My arms are tired

Hi Mom,

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in several months. I know! For a variety of reasons, I had to print an entire book and a pamphlet in the space of three months. I know, that’s a lot! A mad dash for three. whole. months, with no time to breathe, or cook, or clean, or certainly blog. This is a photo of the last run I printed last night:

ferns

I’ll post more soon about both editions. On to binding. See you at Christmas.


Make it big.

Make it big.

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I spent most of the last month or so carving an enormous piece of wood that had taken up residence in my living room.

carving

Finally finished in time. Guttenberg Arts, the generous hosts that gave me a residency this past winter, hold an arts festival in nearby Braddock Park, with demos, vendors, steamroller prints and more.

done

I did a spoon printing demo of some of the enormous blocks in the park with my co-horts Beth Sheehan, Amanda Thackray and Ana Cordeiro.

handprinting

We had to fight some serious wind gusts but we recruited some help to make it happen.

Spoon printing #woodcuts

A video posted by Sarah Nicholls (@phosphorescentfacehighlighter) on

I finally got to see my block printed!

finished print

Both by hand and by machine.

steamroller

And Ana found a friend along the way, who cheered us on:

braddock


Onward.

Category : art, book

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It’s time to break out the hot pink ink, folks, in a vain attempt to keep warm, perhaps. I’m working out how to print something that looks like a greenhouse, something that looks like a staged version of tropicality. Or something along those lines.

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I’m also working on portraits of Joseph Banks this week, the renowned botanist and free love enthusiast. I discovered that not only did he come up with the idea of bringing cotton as a cash crop to the West Indies (to develop new markets to provide England with cotton for its textile mills), he also thought England should bring Chinese teas to India, so that the British would have a more affordable place to buy their favorite beverage. Never underestimate a botanist.

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Beginnings of a Book

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I found out this week what the beginnings of a pineapple look like:

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As I’ve been muddling forward trying to learn what the beginnings of a new book might look like. It’s all vague at this point; I’m trying to figure out what I want it to look like, and what kinds of things are going to be there.

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I’m not sure what to say about it all. It’s fun, messing around a bit with bits of paint and wood.

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NJ was frigid tonight, and I am happy to be back home with a warming cat. I’ve gotten to the good part in this book, (James Cook and Joseph Banks just got to Tahiti) and am looking forward to getting a copy of this one. Here’s to progress, and future endeavors.

If you are in Portland, you may want to stop by 23 Sandy Gallery during the month of February, where they are currently hosting Ink+Metal+Papera new exhibition organized by the CC Stern Type Foundry:

 Ink + Metal + Paper features recent letterpress work from a select international roster of renowned printers and includes books and broadsides showcasing the use of metal type, ornaments, and border elements in relief printing.

There’s lots of amazing letterpress work in the show, and I’m proud to have a pamphlet in there. And if you’re in LA this weekend for the LA Art Book Fair, check out the Floating Library, which is making a West Coast appearance in conjunction with the fair. There’s some pamphlets involved, I heard. You can learn more about Sarah Peters’s aquatic reading escapades here. 


Thinking warm thoughts

Category : art, book, inspiration

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So I’m about three weeks into a residency at Guttenberg Arts in New Jersey. It’s been fabulous so far. I’m hoping to flesh out a mockup for a new book to be produced this year, about greenhouses and botanical gardens.

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Why did Europeans sail around the globe picking up plants to bring back home? Bring artists on their boats with them to paint samples of plants? Build enormous iron and glass structures so one could grow a palm tree from a pacific island in the middle of England? Develop interconnected analog networks of naturalists and botanists, trading plants among themselves? All of this seems odd to me, but tied into the history of the field of natural history, and colonialism, and the spread of invasive species.

So I’ve been drawing some flowers:

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And some windows:

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It’s been great fun. I hope to have a plan for the edition at the end of the residency, and some blocks ready to go, paper and structure sorted out. Seems reasonable so far.

 


Reading Time

Category : art, book arts events

 

body glitter head to toe_web

As of this week, I’m starting a new residency at Guttenberg Arts in NJ. Three artists enjoy the luxury of 24 hour access to their facilities at a time for three months; I’m planning on starting work on a new book, and am wildly excited. (Details to follow.)

To kick it off there will be an exhibition of my work opening on Friday, January 8:

Reading Time is a reading room installed in the gallery at Guttenberg Arts that invites visitors to engage with monologues, brochures, ephemera, manifestos, scientific matter, propaganda, and alternate histories in the form of printed language. Included are a range of publications and a selection of prints which collectively revolve around the authority of the printed word. Publishing creates community, though that community may only be temporary and hard to hold together. In a culture where visual noise is inescapable, printed matter creates an opportunity to pause, ruminate, speculate, and share.

Totally accessible via a short bus ride from Midtown, Guttenberg Arts is a 4500 square foot gem, with both printmaking and ceramics facilities as well as a gallery. (It also serves as home base for the great artist-driven magazine Carrier Pigeon) Come say hello! from 7 to 9pm. I would love to see you there.

 


Winter pamphlet ready to go.

Category : art, pamphlets

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It took a while, but the December pamphlet is ready to go out, and will soon be arriving in a mailbox near you.

process

Where does money come from? Why don’t I have any of it? Is there something I can use instead of money? Should we just burn the banking system to the ground and start over?

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All these questions and more answered in a convenient paper-based portable format.

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Edition of 200, printed letterpress from wood and metal type and linoleum blocks. This is the last pamphlet of 2015; if you were a subscriber this year and would like to continue next year, subscriptions are available here. 

Subscriptions support the production costs of the series; each subscriber is guaranteed to receive all pamphlets produced in three mailings a year, plus a thank you, AND have the option to nominate someone in addition to themselves to also receive pamphlets for a year. The balance of each edition is mostly sent out to a variety of folks as a surprise, some people I know, some people I don’t know. The list changes. If you have received a pamphlet and have questions, they might be answered here: http://www.brainwashingfromphonetowers.com

Thank you for all of your support, I am so happy to be able to make these things. 


Looking Forward

Category : art, inspiration

special deluxe

Things to look forward to:

I brought my letterpress class to the Center for Book Arts yesterday, and showed them books from the collection made by the students at Scripps College Press. They were suitably amazed. I was especially taken by this book from 2001, Deep Rooted, I love how simple it is:

deep rooted 2 deep rooted

In other news, I went to Philadelphia last weekend. I somehow missed out on the book fair, but did get to see this:

Which pretty much made the whole trip worthwhile.


Whoops

Category : art, birds, book, pamphlets

Apologies for the shameful lack of blogging as of late. I’m finishing up various things, and starting various other things, and rushing around and such, as one does in fall. Having spent a sweltering summer without air conditioning I am really appreciating fall this year. Leaves! Sweaters! Squash-based dessert items!

SO, to sum up: this happened:

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Which is the summer Brain Washing From Phone Towers publication Milky Seas. All about the wonders of bioluminescent bacteria. 100 copies in silkscreen and letterpress went out recently, if you received a copy I hope you enjoyed it. They glow in the dark!

I learned to silkscreen this summer, which is still exciting and new. I’ve been doing so at the friendly and convenient Shoestring Press on Classon Ave in Crown Heights. They are lovely people. I have been messing around with various patterns and colors, trying to get a handle on what to do next :

new print in progress

I am, miraculously, almost completely done with binding bird books. The deluxe editions of the Field Guide to Extinct Birds are now available:

book with prints_web

which include a set of hand colored additional bird prints for your enjoyment and informative benefit.

And finally, I am looking forward to starting the fall pamphlet this year. I can’t tell you what it’s about, but I can tell you that it involves FIRE.

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And that’s my whirlwind report from the last two months. I’ll make more of an effort to keep up in the future.

 


Summer pamphlet in the works

Category : art, pamphlets

Just in time for Labor Day, I’m in the last throes of a new summer pamphlet: Milky Seas, an investigation of the unseen and the luminescent.

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I’ll be setting the type and printing some of last images this week, and these should be in the mail to subscribers by the end of the month. Tip for subscribers: read this one under strong light, then turn off the lights and read again.

 


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