Monday, October 29, 2012

How I Made "April Mouse"

Most of you know that I'm a printmaker, but I'm sure that some of you don't know how exactly a print is made. It's not actually that mysterious, but it does require some trial and error and it helps if you can learn to "think backwards." And for some reason, I really enjoy that. Some printmakers are very process-oriented, and some like to try things out and see what happens. Either way, it's a surprise what happens. You can plan and plan, but never truly know what your print will look like until it's finished. That can be frustrating, but also part of the fun.

I was asked by The Visual Arts Center of Richmond to contribute a 2-color print for a 2013 Calendar that will be handletterpressed by printer and teacher Paul Morris and other generous volunteers. Sales of the calendar will go towards buying new rollers for VisArts' platen press, which was donated by the Valentine History Museum and rescued from a life of storage. This collaborative, community project is being created by some local art-stars, including Diego Sanchez, Dennis Winston, Aimee Joyaux, Mary Holland, and others. The calendar date grid was typset by hand, and the images were created by artists using linocut, woodblock, lead typesetting decorations, and hand-drawn artwork converted into magnesium plates. The calendar will debut at VisArt's 48th Annual Craft + Design Show on November 17th  and people will be able to take pre-orders until the limited edition of about 300 calendars is released to the public in December.

I will now show you the process of creating the April calendar page. I call it "April Mouse."

First, I think about the month of April and what it means to me. I wanted to incorporate Dogwood blossoms, but decide it doesn't really work with my composition because I want to include a mouse in there. So I research on the internet about an early-blooming plant and the Bleeding Heart is my choice. I search on the internet and print out some reference photos of mice and bleeding hearts, then sketch ideas until I come up with a composition I like.

Here is the finished composition. I include all the most important shapes, but leave out a few details that I will carve in later. Notice that I also draw a house-key in there. It makes me think of a story - maybe someone lost their key in winter and the leaves get raked in spring so it can be discovered again? But only the mouse notices it now :)

Then I trace the image onto tracing paper.

Here is my linoleum block. I like to paint the surface with India Ink (I use Rapidraw Black India ink by Rapidograph). The reason for this is that when I carve my image, it makes it easier to see which areas will not print and remain white - the carved areas - and which will print in color - the areas that remain black.

Using a yellow carbon paper (yellow because I want it to show up against the black ink), I trace the image onto my linoleum block. But first I flip the tracing paper so that I'm drawing the reverse image. When the final block is printed, it will reverse again and the image will appear in the same position as the original drawing - see what I mean about "thinking backwards?"

Then I begin carving - see the section with the key and grass. Some printmakers like to draw out their image exactly as it will appear, but I truly enjoy starting out with a black field and just my line drawing to guide me. I have done many linocuts, so for me this is the most fun part and I get to "discover" how I will carve it. I also sometimes do tests on scrap lino to test whether I like the marks I make.

And the first plate is carved!

Such a sweet mouse.

Then I proof my image. The print will be in two colors, brown and pink. The first plate is to be printed in brown. I set up a little make-shift print studio in my bedroom because these prints are just to help me check that I like my carving and to figure out where to place the next color. I roll up some brown ink on a cardboard slab covered with saran wrap (plexiglass would be better, but I had this on hand).

Using my brayer, I roll a nice even coat of brown and then transfer it onto my block.

Then I place a piece of scrap paper over the block and rub the surface with a baren. This transfers the ink onto the paper.

Here is the proof print. It's not perfect, but I don't need it to be for my purposes. Notice how the image is reversed?

I let the print dry and then I go in with a pink colored pencil and color in the area I want to be pink.

I take a piece of tracing paper and trace just the areas that will be pink.

Then I repeat the process of transferring the drawing onto a 2nd plate using carbon paper. I carve my plate so just the areas to be printed in pink will remain.

At this stage, I decide to proof the pink print.

Here is the pink proof!

I take a brown print and print the pink plate over it so I can check my registration. Registration is how the plates align together. I have to carve away a little bit more of my pink plate so that the colors will register better, but in general I was careful enough with my other steps that I was fairly spot-on (yes!)

Here are a couple of proofs of the pink and brown together. They look pretty crappy because I was trying to work fast and just test things out. I didn't wait long enough for my inks to dry, so more of the pink showed through than I would want for the final print. But the proofs are good enough for me to think that they will print fine. I decide I liked the darkness of the brown color in the top print, and the pink color in the bottom print. These are the proofs I will give to Paul Morris when he mixes up the colors for the printing of the actual calendar pages.

And before I am ready to give the plates and proofs to Paul, I decide I will carve a bit more texture into the bricks. I don't bother proofing that step since I'm guessing that they will still look pretty good once printed.

I usually print the plates myself on an etching press, but for the Calendar project it was going to Paul Morris to be printed on his vertical press at Benj. Franklin Printing Company. His printer is much faster! When Paul was ready to print my pages, I biked over there to watch him and okay the final print.

Here's the studio! Lots of machines.

Here is my pink block locked into the press. The ink appears red on the plate, but will print pink on paper.

Here is a close-up. I also carved some little ornaments to go in the calendar grid area, which you can see on the right.

Paul printing! The machine is fast and looks a bit scary, honestly. But Paul really knows what he's doing.

And the pink is printed! We talk about how light I want the pink, and Paul is much obliged to get the color exactly the way I want.

Paul lets me look at a Pantone color guide to figure out the color brown I want. I look at the handprinted proofs I gave him before and settle on a shade of brown.

The next week I go in and help Paul finalize the brown color so he can finish printing it. And here is the final image!

 Voila, April Mouse!

So as you can see, creating a print from start to finish can require a lot of planning. But I think it's worth it in the end :) I hope that seeing this has helped demystify printmaking a little bit. Let me know if you have any questions! And I will post more updates about this calendar project as it comes nearer to completion.

Fall Show Schedule 2012

All of the events coming up are in chronological order. I have color-coded the Craft Shows separately from the events where I will be doing Golden Moth Inutitive Card Readings. I will also be updating my schedule as more events might pop up. I've started a new Craft Shows & Golden Moth Events Page for your handy reference at the top of the blog.

Saturday, Nov 3rd, 10 - 6 pm
Sunday, Nov 4th, 12 - 5 pm
The Aquarian Bookshop
3519 Ellwood Avenue  in Richmond, VA

I'm donating my intuitive card reading services to this year's Psychic's Festival Benefit. My shift will be from 10 - 2 on Saturday, but there are a ton of psychic, astrology, tarot, palm reading, healing, and other services offered by many. Most 15-minute sessions are $15, and all proceeds go to the Baby Girl Project to build schools for children in Kenya.

Saturday, November 10, 11 am until 5 pm
at Cobblestone Hall
215 Wolfe Street in City Market, Raleigh, NC

This will be my first time at the Handmade Market,  which boasts over 50 indie craft vendors.

Sunday, Nov 11th from 1 - 4 pm at Blue Elephant
119 N. Robinson St. in Richmond, VA

My monthly reading session at Blue Elephant. Be sure to check out the interview with Patsy and Jessica of Blue Elephant here!

Saturday, Nov 17 from 10 - 4 pm
Queens Lake Middle School
124 West Queens Dr.
Williamsburg, VA

My first time at this show with over 40 artisans and vendors.

Saturday, November 17 from 10 AM-6 PM
Sunday, November 18 from 11 AM-5 PM
at the Science Museum of Virginia
2500 W. Broad Street, Richmond, VA

I'll be doing readings and selling art from 1 - 4 pm on Sunday. I have also donated a print to a cool project organized by Printmaker and Teacher at The Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Paul Morris. 13 artists were asked to contibute a 2-color print to make a limited-edition letterpressed calendar. I've seen some of the artwork and it is really amazing! You'll be able to see a sample of the finished calendar and they will be taking pre-orders for it at the show.  I'll blog about the process soon.

Thursday, November 29 from 7-10 p.m
The Emeral Barn
1620 Brook Rd in Richmond, VA

Art 180's 9th Annual Fundraising event Art Karma is so much fun. There will be food, drinks, tarot readings, an art auction and gift certificates for awesome experiences around Richmond. I'll be doing readings at this event.

Saturday, December 8th from 11 - 5 pm
Art Works
320 Hull St in the Manchester District
Richmond, VA

Such a great show with tons of great indie craft vendors! Don't miss it!

The Punk Rock Flea Market-Dome
461 N. 9th St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123
Handmade craft market and flea, plus punk stuff and records. You will enjoy this event whether you're into punk or not!  300+ tables of vendors selling old records, clothes, art, music, food, junk, bicycles, stereo equipment, instruments, automobiles, tools, posters, furniture, computers, skateboards and lots of other stuff !

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Who's Behind Blue Elephant?

As some of you already know, I've started to give monthly Golden Moth Intuitive Card Readings (like tarot readings, but using my own deck of cards) at Blue Elephant in Richmond. This months readings will take place on Sunday, October 21st from 1-4 pm - coinciding with their weekend Sidewalk Sale which starts tomorrow! 

Blue Elephant is a fantastic boutique that sells vintage housewares and artwork by local artists, and I always feel inspired after I visit. I've gotten to know Patsy and Jessica, the owners, but thought it would be neat to interview them to find out a little more about the mysterious women behind Blue Elephant. Enjoy!

Here's Patsy on the left and Jessica on the right.

Hello Patsy and Jessica! Would you please tell us a little about yourselves?

J: I was raised in Northern Virginia, and came down to Richmond to attend VCU. I definitely wasn’t thrilled to move here at first, but now I can’t imagine living anywhere else! I have a cute row house in Oregon Hill that I share with great roommates and one fat cat, I ride a scooter everywhere and refuse to get my driver’s license, and I love all the great local shops and restaurants. The amount of creative talent and friendly people make Richmond one of my favorite places. It’s a beautiful, but unpretentious, city.

P: I come from a military family, and moved around often while growing up. My mother (Jessica’s grandmother) is Japanese, so my father would take assignments in Japan so my mom could be close to her family. I’ve lived in Japan twice in my life, and been back for visits several times. Japan and all things Japanese hold a special place in my heart and soul.

I worked in Northern Virginia at a large telecom company for almost 20 years, while Jessica and her brother, John, were growing up. When I first started working in telecom, I had no idea that I would do so for so long. While working in a corporate environment has its good points, it certainly didn’t make me feel fulfilled in a creative sense.

How did you become interested in vintage items and what made you decide to open a shop?

J: My mother, Patsy, was the one who always wanted to try her hand at owning a store. When she decided it was time to give it a try, I talked her into opening in Richmond, because I thought a vintage housewares shop in Richmond would make a great fit. She was still working in Northern Virginia, so she asked me to help set up the store. And things kind of just went from there!

P: As time went by in my telecom job, I found myself thinking more and more about leaving my current life behind, and doing something totally different. So in 2010, I took a large part of my savings, and opened Blue Elephant.

Jessica is a huge part of why I opened the store in Richmond. She loved this city, and, in all my visits to it, I found that I loved it, too. As I was still working in NoVA in 2010 and 2011, I also needed someone in whom I could trust to be my business partner, and whom better than my own daughter? J

It’s hard to say how I became interested in vintage items, as it seems like I just always have. I like things that have a history to them, and I like wondering about who owned them before me. I like new things, too (well, some new things), but given a choice between a new couch and a cute vintage one, I will almost always choose vintage!

How do you acquire your items, and what sorts of things are you particularly on the lookout for?

J: We take things on consignment from people and we also source things from auctions, estate sales, etc. Generally speaking, we look for things that range from the 1940’s through the 1970’s or vintage inspired pieces. Small pieces of mid-century furniture are always popular. I’m forever searching for dressers, side tables, etc. Things that fit into small Fan apartments.

P: When I go shopping for the store, I just look for things that I like. End of statement! I think people sometimes think we’re experts or curators and know a lot about this period and that particular designer and whatnot, and, over the past couple of years, that certainly has become more of a true statement as we’ve learned a lot. Jessica especially spends a large part of her day researching items, and can generally give our customers a much more informed history of an item in our shop than me. But as for me, I just look for what pleases my eye and what strikes a chord inside me.

What are some interesting/non-traditional ways that customers use objects from your store?

J: just had a customer that bought a wooden crate and mounted it to the wall for a shelf. He also came back and bought a giant wooden spool to try and turn into a side table. We also sell vintage luggage and people do all sorts of things with them; tables, storage, pet beds.

P: We’ve had people buy mid-century china cabinets and sideboards to use as dressers, and people buy dressers to use as sideboards. I think non-traditional uses of furniture and accessories make a space interesting.

What is your favorite item currently in the store, and why?
J: My favorite piece of furniture is probably the gray mid-century sofa that we had reupholstered at u-fab. It has the greatest lines with wide arms and original brass tapered legs. I’m also a sucker for tiny animal figurines. I have a lot of bookcases at home and I like to add the animals in with the books. I tell my little sisters they come alive at night to have tiny animal book club meetings. 

P: I love the gray sofa, too, but just recently someone brought in this blue clay bowl with three blue clay heads inside. It’s odd, it’s whimsical, and for some reason, it just delights me. I think I’m going to buy it for myself and take it home! 

You two are the main owners of the shop, but other members of your family are also involved. Can you tell us how each of you helps in the running of the business and what it’s like to work with family?

J: My brother, John, is a senior Crafts and Materials major at VCU. He comes in frequently to do the windows for us. I assist him when we do them, as there’s usually a lot of work that goes into our window displays. John also will come and rearrange the store for us. He has a great eye for visual merchandising.

My mother’s husband, Ron, also helps us. Unfortunately for him, it’s usually the un fun part that he helps us with. Delivering furniture, helping us with the accounting. He’s a good sport about it, thankfully!

P: As Jessica said, John has a great eye for arranging a space. Have you ever watched that show on HGTV where a designer comes into someone’s apartment and rearranges all of their own furniture and makes it look like a thousand times better? Well, that’s John! I love when he comes to the store and rearranges everything!

I don’t think that without the support of my husband, Ron, I would have been brave enough to venture out and start Blue Elephant. It’s true that he does help with a lot of the un-fun things, like moving furniture and fixing things. But for the past two years, he also played a really important role as our bookkeeper, and helped us make sure all our accounts and taxes were in order. 

What is the best part of running your own business? The most difficult?

J: The best part? I like when I have someone buy something that I know they are excited about. Most everything in the store is something I would like, but I am not a hoarder. So it’s the next best thing, finding things for other people that make them happy!

The most difficult part for me is the stress of owning your own business. When things don’t work out, or something you are trying to do fails, you have no one but yourself to blame. I think people have a misconception that what I do is fun all the time. I love what I get to do for a living. But it is hard. There are a lot of responsibilities involved, and I put myself last.

P: One of the best parts for me is that I get to work with my kids. I like that we have a common goal, and I feel it has brought us closer. The relationship between parents and their adult children is a lot different than when they’re little. I really like where I am with them at this point in their lives. J

One of the most difficult is exactly what Jessica said. It sometimes seems that we sacrifice a lot to maintain the store.  It’s not a job that you work 9 to 5, and then forget about when you go home. It’s integral to us, and it’s really important to us to be fair to our consignors and our artists and crafters.

What has been your favorite experience with a customer?

J: Recently, we sold a beautiful blue mid-century sofa to a young couple that had just moved to Richmond. They were both very kind and I knew the wife had her heart set on the sofa. When her husband came in later after work to see it himself, I worked with him to get to a price we could both work with and had it delivered for free. It made my day when they sent a text telling us how thrilled they were with the sofa and thanked us again. When people appreciate the things we do, it makes everything worthwhile.

P: I have so many it’s hard to choose! Generally speaking, I just love when someone buys something that they’re super excited about, and that’s a good deal for both them and us.

How do you like your current location in the Fan?

J: We just recently moved from Strawberry Street to Robinson Street. The old location was smaller, and when the opportunity to be next to Halcyon Vintage Clothing opened up, I couldn’t say no. And so far, it’s worked out great! The space is larger and brighter, all the ladies next door at Halcyon are wonderful, and having Deep Groove a couple blocks down is awesome too! We’ve kind of made a little trifecta of vintage stores.

P: Ditto to that!

What kinds of items do you think will be popular this coming holiday season?

J: The things that I think make great gifts are vintage items like aprons, books, embroidered linens, and cute kitchen items. I also think work by local artists such as yourself make wonderful gifts. Small prints, paintings, or pottery by local artists are great one of a kind items that support the creative community within Richmond.

P: I think anyone who has someone they’re getting a gift for who appreciates something not mass-produced and that’s different and unique as well as thoughtful, will be able to find something special at Blue Elephant!

Anything else we should know?

J: I can’t think of anything else. Just, thanks!

P: You ask a lot of questions, Aijung! I’m tired now. ;) But thank you so much for taking the time to interview us!!

Thanks, ladies!