My nephews were visiting over the holiday, and we spent the afternoon in my art studio.

Step 1: Pictures were drawn, to the size of the block. Then traced onto tracing paper for transfer to the block.

Step 2: Carving the block. No nephews were harmed in the making of these prints!

Step 3: Ink up the block and run through the press.

Z used a paper “mask” to cover the background while he inked the house in black:

N used different brayers to ink up different parts of the block without a mask:

This is my new Econo Etch Model II press.

One of the final prints, a three color Eiffel Tower:

Sometimes I find myself in the position of explaining what printmaking is to someone who’s never heard of it – this is actually fun!

A super basic definition of “printmaking” is something like this: the art of creating an image (through carving or impression or other) on a firm block (such as wood, linoleum, or rubber), applying ink to the block, and then transferring that ink to paper to make a print of the image.

For the block material, I use either MDF (medium density fiberboard – it’s like wood, but much cheaper – but also less durable), wood, or rubber (sometimes called “speedycut”).

First, I draw an image, or I’ll alter a photo that I’ve taken. Lately, I have been doing pieces that are simple and small, so that I can focus less on drawing and more on carving and choosing layers to print.

Then I transfer the image to the board I’m going to cut. Sometime I have to think about whether I’m going to use two colors, and transfer one part of the image to one board, and the other part of the image to a different board.

For this print, I drew a Yucca plant seed pod that I picked from a trail near our house.

To carve the board, I use special carving tools. I recently got this cool set from Flexcut! The tool handle tucks right into my palm, so it’s easy to hold and control. Each tool provides different line thickness.

I carved the first block and printed it.

Then I decided that I could add another color to this image (usually you figure this out first!), so I found another block that would fit and carved out the background color. The block on the right is the background color – ink will only appear where the white spots are in the image above.

It takes a bit of mental calculation to make sure you carve out the right spots on each block. And you’re looking at the image in reverse!

Final outcome – small and fun to do!

Please comment (to the left), subscribe (below), and share this page with friends…

Experimenting with writing poetry, and then printing over it to see the effect of type showing through in the white spaces.

Original two-color print:

Prints with poems woven in:

[Note: I have a backlog of posts that I didn’t publish – I’m backdating the post to around the time that I worked on the print. Current date: 12-2015]

Several times in our lives together, my husband and I have done a “5 year plan” for ourselves. I’m not going to spend much of this post convincing anyone about Why. I’ll just say this – you may have heard the line “most people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their lives”. That’s not how I want to live my life – I don’t want to wake up and find out that I’ve run out of time – I want to live it with intention.

Last year, we realized two things: we hadn’t gone on an international vacation in 5 years (a resort in Mexico just doesn’t count), AND it was about time for another 5 year plan. We decided to up the ante with how we had typically gone about it in the past.

I looked to my creative life, my work in leading Agile transformations, and online, and I pieced together some simple writing exercises that my husband and I could both resonate with. We refined together, and here’s what we ended up with.

Principles we learned:

  • It’s more like a design than a plan. Just roll with it and don’t worry about perfect outcomes.
  • Do it together. It was more meaningful to create it together, and then I knew I wasn’t forcing us into something.
  • Have fun! Find an awesome place to work on it together, have a fun weekend getaway, go hole up in a booth at the most expensive breakfast buffet in town and make them regret serving bottomless bloody marys (yes, that’s what we did).
  • Don’t give up. We did have to convince ourselves a little bit. If this sounds too formal, see Why above. If this sounds like something you don’t know if you’ll ever find the time to do, see Why above. If you think you can’t write, this isn’t a contest and no one will see it – just write whatever comes to mind, even if you think it might be silly.

Prep exercises:

A. Name the different areas of our life.

Here’s what we came up with:

  • Family
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Health
  • Travel
  • Intellectual pursuits or hobbies
  • Social
  • Lifestyle/environment (where we live, how we live etc.)
  • Spiritual
  • Emotions/Behaviors
  • Volunteerism

B. Define the timeframe.

For us, 5 years made sense, but it could be different for you.

C. Brainstorm an awesome place/way to create the first draft. (See Bloody Marys above…)

Creating your first draft of your AWESOME life plan!

We thought we would get through all of the questions in one day, but we quickly realized that two days, even separated by some investigation time in between, was more realistic and fun – no pressure!

Day 1

Bring: paper, pencil/pen, and these questions. Optional: markers, art supplies, your dog, etc.

Get comfy. Start writing…

  1. List Roles
    • What are the roles I play in my life? (Just list them out… mother, aunt, daughter, Software Programmer at work, Friend, writer, etc…)
    • Also just write the first thing that comes to mind for “Who am I?”
  2. Describe Roles
    • What is the purpose of each role?
    • What is the priority of each role at this point in my life?
    • This helped us focus and come up with ideas for the next section
  3. Describe Future
    • Refer to the areas of your life. For each area, describe: What are my goals? What would my life look like in 5 years in this area?
    • Note: it’s helpful to think big: What is possible? What would my future self want?
  4. Describe Today
    • What is my/our current reality?
    • What do I currently like about my life?
    • What’s working well?
  5. Create Actions
    • What are some steps I could take to get to my goals?
    • Be specific:  What will I do? Who will I do it with?
  6. Share goals and actions with each other

We wrote on our own and then shared at the end. I thought maybe we would share after each question, but we each went down our own paths and didn’t exactly follow the order, so it made more sense to share later when we were ready.

We were happily surprised to learn that some important stuff synched up (like wanting to spend more time at the ocean, wanting to travel more, wanting to find a way to connect with something more than material, etc.), and I feel really lucky about that.

I could see how it could be scary to explore future desires with your partner, only to find out you want drastically different things. Of course, everything we want does not line up perfectly, but we looked for the similarities and focused on the positive overlap.

Day 2

We waited about three weeks, unintentionally, because the holidays were upon us.

Prework – we pulled out our budget together and revised it, and we were thinking about which of our actions required money. Do some investigation on costs of things, for example, if you’re going to go back to school or something.

Found another comfy spot – this time a coffee shop for a morning, and splurged on breakfast burritos and huge lattes.

Bust out that paper and pencil again:

  1. Clarify Actions and Prioritize
    • Reread the specific actions from #5 last time. Make sure they are clear. Write more if we need to.
    • Prioritize the categories for ourselves – this means number them in order from 1-whatever.
  2. Identify Help
    • What obstacles might I encounter?
    • What support do I need?
    • What do I need to do, daily/weekly, to meet my actions this year?
    • Who do I need help from? ID some people we need to ask for help – either to just support me/us in what we are doing, or help with some kind of information or assistance
  3. Budget
    • What is our budget?
    • Share actions and ideas and make budget decisions based on actions
  4. Checking In
    • This is about frequency – we didn’t want to go a whole year (or more) without thinking about this work, so we brainstormed holding our selves accountable with some kind of planning board, and then doing another coffee shop retreat about half way through the year. And then I put a calendar reminder in my phone right then and there.
  5. Retrospective
    • What parts of this process worked for us?
    • What would we adjust next time?
    • I would not be a respectable Agilist without doing a “retro” – and we found this useful too! Terry thought it was good that we had a break between part 1 and 2, so that things could sink in. He also suggested we get out of our element a little more – go up into the mountains for a night. We both agreed that bottomless bloody marys and omelets and shrimp cocktail was key to us making it through day 1.

Whew! Done!

What we experienced was a little mind-numbness right after – like, wow, that was a bit of work, and wow, we have all of those goals, and wow, life is short, and cool that we are thinking about it, but it feels a bit daunting and what if we never do any of it, won’t that be more depressing than never having explored it at all?

But we had actions – things to do (and stop doing) and clear steps that we could focus on in the meantime.

We felt really good about what we created together and just the possibility of living some of our dreams was really inspiring and motivating. And sharing it together brought us closer together, which was probably the best part.

And now we are doing the work. Stay tuned for more…

[Note: I have a backlog of posts that I didn’t publish – I’m backdating the post to around the time that I worked on the print. Current date: 9-2015]

Swimmers are supposed to look down, so that you aren’t straining your neck when you’re swimming all those laps in practice, but as you approach the end of the pool, you look up for visual cues indicating the end of the pool and where to place your feet against the wall as you explode into the next lap after the flip turn.

This is my first two color print. I printed the blue with the bubbles first, then I printed the lane line and markers on the pool wall. And, I like power tools. I created the bubbles in the water with a power drill.

[Note: I have a backlog of posts that I didn’t publish – I’m backdating the post to around the time that I worked on the print. Current date: 9-2015]

In the same way that we go through our days and lives integrating all kinds of stimuli, verbal and non-verbal information, to create a whole picture, I want to integrate my writing and my printmaking. It’s hard to make sense of the whole that is presenting itself at any given time without getting input from many senses and sources in our lives.

In that way, I’m experimenting with typing onto my prints. I have some lead type used for letterpress, and I arranged a word, ink it up by hand (no pun intended), and stamp it onto the print.

Here’s an example, using one of the large hand images that I printed a while ago.

Just as eyes are an access point into our inner selves, hands are an access point inside-out – they are a versatile appendage that can feel and grasp and hold and take – and give. Hands possess, and they show our possession to others. Fingers are binary digits, but are so sensitive that they can convey unlimited levels of interaction.

Close up of the type added to the print. I like being able to integrate small bits as I feel moved to.

[Note: I have a backlog of posts that I didn’t publish – I’m backdating the post to around the time that I worked on the print. Current date: 9-2015]

I’ve been working on a new project, but it’s not even ready to carve yet, so to satisfy my desire to play with richly pigmented ink (and to prepare for an upcoming event at the Denver Art Museum with my friend Theresa Haberkorn), I made a small batch of business cards.

A lightbulb goes off.

Each card is hand pressed. I cover the whole thing with scrap newsprint first, so that I don’t get ink on the spatula. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment.

When I say small batch, I mean it.

Please comment (to the left), subscribe (below), and share this page with friends…

Writing with a pen is one thing, writing by piecing together tiny individual bits of lead type is quite another. But in a strange way, it is exactly what I strive for when I create – the meshing together of verbal and non-verbal stimuli with the same juxtaposed outcome.

I did my first letterpress workshop this summer, through the Naropa Summer Writing Program (an experience in itself), with instructor Karen Randall, one awesomely creative letterpress maven. The best part was doing the workshop with my best friend, Kathleen. The worst part was packing our entire house one night to prepare for evacuation from a wildfire above our home in the foothills, and then unpack (thankfully) the next day. But, of course, we kept on printing throughout the whole thing…

First, you write a poem. Then you set the type. Upside down. And backwards. It’s awkward – and it completely separates you from the verbal aspect of writing, which is important, because then you can actually concentrate on the design of the layout.

Typesetting workstation

Mosey on up to the workstation, pull out the font of type that you’d like to work with (Times New Roman, 14 pt, for example), and get to work. I found the process relaxing (except when I was thinking about the fire) and strangely rhythmic. If you look closely, you can see that there is a lot of filler surrounding the type, to get it to sit just right.

The type is set upside down and backwards.

When you’re done, set the type into the bed of the press and lock it in. This is Kathleen locking her form (setting her poem).

Locking in the type

Then you ink the type (trip), set the paper, and run it through.

Finished product

The hands-on form of writing through letterpress is abstract and methodical, allowing you to slow down, focus on the primary elements of your form and words – the result is pure and beautiful to touch, as well as read.

The process of creating through the tremendous stress and anxiety of my home potentially burning down (which it did not) was quite another experience, but somehow strangely related. It took all of my inner resources to stay present in the moment, both for the ability to participate in the class, knowing there was nothing I could do (once our belongings were packed into our cars), and also to allow myself to see beyond the crisis. All I could do was watch and accept and release. Sort of like making art.

Please comment (to the left), subscribe (below), and share this page with friends…

I finally finished one of my largest pieces (48″ x 24″) of work to date, a multi-media arrangement with various hand prints and cut paper, and instead of feeling satisfaction, I feel dread. Ugh! I do NOT like this thing at all.

Honestly, I haven’t liked it for quite some time. I was all over the place with technique and materials, and I never really had a vision. But I usually don’t have a vision, so perhaps that’s not quite it. It’s that I never felt connected with it – there was no underlying energy making its way to the surface. But I kept going, because I was supposed to, because I wanted to finish a piece (even though I finished a few other small ones in the meantime), because the intention was to “play” and let the work “emerge” on its own.

Unintentionally merging all of those things – play, practicing technique, practicing with materials, pushing forward without vision or energy – resulted in one confused piece.

One reason I don’t like it: it doesn’t feel like ME. I resonate with most of the other work that I’ve been doing, the blueprint piece, the red hand, etc. With this piece, it feels like I am trying to be someone else.

Which leads to the other reason I don’t like it: I’m pretty self-critical, which has no place here. While the criticism is probably justified, in that it is true that this piece just doesn’t work, it is also true that it’s time to let it go. I don’t like it, end of story, so move on and try again. I’m learning to listen to my creative voice, using different receptors, and it takes patience. I know that all of our fearless leaders have gone this route – observe, reflect, learn, integrate, … repeat.

Please comment (to the left), subscribe (below), and share this page with friends…

Ok, it’s been a warm and glorious summer, and I haven’t exactly been wanting to hang out on the computer – probably since I spend most of my day at work on one. So, no blog posts lately, but lots going on and several things to share.

Here’s a project I’ve been working on, more with hands – right back where I started at the beginning of this blog one year ago. I shot some photos of my hands and the hands of my family members. I’m working on a series that will incorporate various angles and looks into each of us through what we use to touch and sense the world.

Here’s a carving of one of them. I’m still using MDF. I love how cheap it is for the size, and it works well for what I’m after – in a way, it has some grainy-ness that’s reminiscent of woodcut, but it’s much easier to work with.

Here is the first one, inked up and ready to print. I use Akua Intaglio ink, which is washable with water and theoretically less toxic. The size is about 16″ x 21″.

And here’s the first proof, on some bleached mulberry paper. Interestingly, I bought it a store called Kozo – and kozo means “mulberry”. You learn something new every day.

The one year anniversary of my blog makes me wonder about the effect that working on my art has had on my life. What am I learning through this process? How to accept imperfections and make them into, if not strengths, at least into admitted parts of my life. I’m definitely making progress on some of my visions too, although it feels unclear because my big challenge remains finishing a work, or more specifically a series.

Oh art gods – I most humbly retract any moments when I said or even thought to myself, “I can do that…” when looking at someone else’s work. As an artist, I totally know better, but it has slipped through on occasion. Hmmm, doing it is a lot harder than thinking about doing it!

Please comment (to the left), subscribe (below), and share this page with friends…