Musings on my muse, new leaf silhouette series

I have a muse that visits me with clues about where I’m going with my art. I mean this quite literally. I am not in control of the art that I produce. Yes, I can use my rational brain to choose the media and techniques, acquire the tools and materials, and gain the technical skill, but at the end of the day my muse decides what kind of art I’ll make. I wrote last week about how there are days when I just have to slog through some routines because there is no inspiration. (You can read that post HERE.) There are other times when the ideas flood so fast that I have to just focus on the few that are most achievable right now. I simply choose the next project from a massive stream of inspiration, letting the others flow to the back of my brain for later.

That’s what happened this weekend. I had been thinking about how my geometric printing plates are starting to wear out. The high pressure of the press does round off the hard edges after a few hundred impressions. So I need to design and carve some new plates to continue my color education. I was actively working on some new geometry. (Note that this is not deeply inspired work, it’s the sort of drudgery where I’m in control and slogging through math to create interesting shapes.)
The stream of inspiration started with a short hike on Friday. I hike every day and lately one particular leaf silhouette had been grabbing my attention when I walk by. On Friday, I realized that leaf silhouettes meet the technical criteria for CNC carving. With typography it is immediately identifiable if the blocks are not quite level because the shapes change thickness across the block and the type looks weird. Leaf shapes are organic so it wouldn’t show if the plates or carving weren’t perfect. It would look, well, organic. Here is where the muse whispered, “photograph more leaf silhouettes on your hikes.” OK, got it! Thanks, muse!
[Vetch silhouette]
[More leaf silhouettes]
Last week I had been experimenting with ghost prints. In a ghost print, the plate is used to make an image on paper that already has a layer of ink on it. In that impression, the print takes most of the ink off the plate in the areas where it’s touching bare paper, but leaves some on the plate in the areas where there is already ink.
[Original print]

Notice in the image above that I caught some of the gloss on the surface, showing you where the ink is thick. In the image below, you can see that those extra glossy areas left more ink on the plate to be printed in the ghost image.

[Ghost print]
[Solid print over ghost]
When I showed the results to my best friend with a degree in printing, I lamented that the ink wasn’t sticking to previous layers of ink the way I want it to. He said offhand, “Maybe the ghosting is a feature.” My first thought was, “Well, I can’t throw away the two impressions that it takes to load a block with the ink to produce the ghost so it can never be used in production.”
Then I went away for a camping trip. Yeah, I know. My life is kind of like a camping trip, but it’s still nice to get away to other places and see geology and wildflowers that we don’t have here. And it’s nice to be alone with a friend and away from the frenzy of creation. While hiking on a regular old hill, I was hit with the lightning strike of inspiration for the next print series, and potentially for many series after that. I’ll create triptychs. I’ll choose different leaf silhouettes, orientations, and ink colors for each set. Each image will have two primary impressions – a full-strength one, a second full strength one with a different silhouette – and finally, a ghost with the silhouette that came from the first two impressions on the other two images in the triptych. If I continue with rainbow rolls, each image will have 3 layers of 2 colors each, for 6 separate colors. With colors blending together through transparency, that will give me over a dozen colors in each image. This will all make more sense next week when I’m able to show you some examples.
To give me a variety of effects I am making two plates from each silhouette – a positive and a negative. I’ll either be printing the leaf shapes or the space between the leaves.
[First pairs of plates]

There is way more work than meets the eye to prepare these plates for printing. These four plates are the result of two days of work, and they’re not ready to print yet. I need to trim off the outer edges, hand carve and clean up the carved spaces, add another layer of shellac to prevent the carved areas from absorbing ink, let them dry for a day, and then sand them smooth. By the time I see the first results of this inspiration, I will have spent about 60 hours preparing the plates. It’s a good thing I trust my muse! That’s a lot of time to spend on something I’ve never done before.

I can’t wait to show you some of the results. Next week, I hope.

  • Skip Dane

    May 10, 2016 at 11:41 am

    I really like the stories of this process. Especially the "inspiration" from a hike. Moving here, I kind of "out of mountain" to hike, so I switched to bike trail riding. I laugh, same amounts of time, just more scenery. Inspiration does follow.

    I hope that with more practice, the muse gets more interested; guess all I'm really trying to say is: keep it up! Looking good and don't worry…………..muse and such critters are very curious, they WILL come around more.

    Enjoy! You are doing really neat stuff.

  • Blossom Merz

    May 10, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Thanks, Skip! I appreciate the encouragement.

    I am definitely glad for both kinds of days – inspired days of creative possession and almost mindless days executing the muse's previous whims. Are you an artist, too?