Zea Mays Printmaking Flat File Project

A selection of my monoprint works are on exhibition and available for purchase through 2024 through the Zea Mays Printmaking Flat File Project.

Curated biannually, prints in the Flat File Project include etchings, monoprints, relief, photo etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, mixed media prints and artists’ books. Over 50 portfolios of prints by member artists are included.

Throughout the year, works from the Flat File Project are selected for exhibition in Zea Mays’ Sanford Gallery, on site at the Florence MA center. Two of my prints were chosen for “Magic of Monotype,” curated by Arch Macinnes and Edda Valburg, running through July 23, 2023.

Zea Mays Printmaking has been a vital source of inspiration, learning and community for me since I started my printmaking journey. I am extremely honored to participate in the Flat File Project.

Art in the Garden

“Asymmetrical grace” won a First Place prize in the Tampa Regional Artists’ exhibition “Art in the Garden.” This is one of three monoprints I entered into this show. Dozens of beautiful original watercolors, acrylic and drawings showcase floral interpretations, and I’m truly honored that Terry Denson (FWS) selected my piece for this prize.

To create this piece, I inked up a plain monotype plate with various colors, then impressed some relief blocks into the ink before running it through the etching press. Then, I drew the flowers onto the image using Derwent Inktense pencils, and painted the flowers with Akua Liquid Pigments.

“Art in the Garden” is showing at the Old Hyde Park Art Center through June 8, 2023.

Woodland wonders

Nature surrounds us. There it is, making the most of whatever soil and space it can eke out of human encroachment. Birds, plants, trees, wildlife, insects find a way. For instance, when the ditches alongside roadways fill with water, it’s common to see egret spotting insects and snails among the elegant stalks of arrowhead flowers and grasses.

Florida has managed to preserve some areas from development, though. Brooker Creek Preserve, spanning Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties, is just such a treasured place, where arched branches of live oaks form a vast cathedral through which sunlight casts its sacred light over swamp, hammock, and flatwoods. I come to Brooker Creek Preserve to center and take notice. Every visit exposes a new discovery where even the most commonplace “weeds” reveal themselves as precious. 

It was during a guided walk with one of the Brooker Creek Preserve staff, Barb Hoffman, that I was particularly struck by how the silver-grey tillandsia glowed bright red when illuminated by sunlight. These spiky, curly plants cling to trees, rooted not in soil but air. And the trees are bedecked by blooms of red Christmas lichen (among other varieties).

In my ignorance, I thought these plants to be parasitic, but my guide explained that this is a myth. In fact, lichen are beneficial to fungi, serving them nutrients and a habitat. Lichen are sensitive to air pollutants and are used by climate scientists as a key indicator of air quality. These delicate epiphytes are so lucky to be able to hug trees and commune with the arboreal commonwealth. 

I am currently up to my inky fingers in celebration of these woodland gems. Three of my prints are on display and available for purchase at Brooker Creek Preserve from May 15 – August 13, 2023. Inquiries: info@friendsofbrookercreek.org

Left: “Rooted on air,” Relief, drypoint, monoprint, 2023; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 18″x18″

Above: “Airy conceptions,” Relief, drypoint, monoprint, 2023; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 18″x18″

Bay Area Art Show 16

My monoprint, “Rustling whisper” was honored with an honorable mention in the 16th annual Bay Area Art Show, presented by Tampa Regional Artists. The quality of submissions was so good, I am truly humbled by this recognition. The show is juried by Amanda Cooper, Chief Curator for the Morean Art Center in St. Petersburg, FL.

This work is part of my “Arbor” series of prints, and was completed after I took an excellent online course with Sally Hirst called “Approaches to Abstraction.” The image evokes sun streams that sparkle through the canopy of live oak trees.

Rustling whisper is a 12″x12″ print made with Akua inks on Rives BFK paper and mounted on wood panel. Available for purchase through May 4 2023 at Tampa Regional Artists, located at 705 West Swann Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33606.

Outside my comfort zone: Painting

I’m learning to paint with acrylics. “Paint what you observe,” says instructor Marjorie Greene (also a printmaker, but currently teaching painting).

I am finding it very difficult. Intimidating. But I’m also finding it’s more immediate than printmaking. Although I’m more comfortable making prints, painting may come to have its place in my repertoire. 

Elaine Fried showed William De Kooning her work, and he told her to start with still life. (Later he married her.) So let’s start with still life. Marjorie taught us “unit of measure,” a technique that accurately represents proportion on the picture plane. Then she had us “sketch” with paintbrush and shades of grey rather than pencil. That loosened me up!

Even thought my first still life (at left) is a bit labored, it won honorable mention in the Carrollwood Cultural Center Student show. (I think it’s the styrofoam ball that clinched it.)

Now we’re making collages of our subjects and painting from that. See the original subject, the collage, and the painting, below.

Process talk: Textured relief

Thinking back to art classes in middle school, you may have carved a linoleum block with a little, U-shaped knife. You were creating a relief plate, but you may not have called it that. This is one of the most common forms of printmaking, and linoleum and wood are likely the most widely used materials.

I carve my relief plates in a thin PVC foamcore board used for signage, called “Sintra”. This substance is easily carved and cut with an exacto knife, and I find it very versatile.

Typically, an image is carved into the plate using sharp implements (my fingers always suffer after a carving session), and ink is then rolled over the plate, placed face down on paper and passed through an etching press. That creates a crisp, graphic image. Additional layers can be printed over this image.

I use a process I call “textured relief” to create multi-layered prints. I ink one plate, then press a different plate face-to-face onto the first plate, rub the back to create some suction, and peel the two apart. This makes mottled gaps in the inked plane, creating lighter and darker areas which translate as light through the translucent palmetto fronds when the plate is printed to paper. 

You can see the printed results on the palmetto leaves at the bottom and top of the print at right. By pressing plate against plate, the ink roll is somewhat corrupted, producing a soft, textural line. I think it creates a result that looks more organic and irregular than direct ink-to-paper printing.

Below, you can see the difference between the two methods — on the left, I’ve made a straight, ink-to-plate relief print, and on the right you can see what happens to the ink when another plate is pressed onto an inked plate before printing to paper. The effect adds a bit of value and dimension.

Process talk: Drypoint

Drypoint is an intaglio process, allowing for fine, precise lines through incised lines in a printing plate. Unlike etching, drypoint doesn’t involve any acid to produce the incisions: A drypoint involves scratching the surface of the plate with a pointed tool to create a “burr” that grabs ink. The inked line is then transferred to paper in the usual way (damp paper on plate, run the paper and plate through an etching press). 

The traditional way to ink a drypoint plate is to smear ink onto the plate with a card, then wipe off the excess ink with the same card, and wipe further with a cloth or tissue paper until the ink shows only in the lines themselves. With each wipe, the line becomes clearer. Any ink left outside the lines is called “plate tone”.

I once eschewed plate tone, seeking a clean, crisp line like a drawing. But after a class with Susan Rostow, I learned that plate tone can actually enhance the lines, and add depth to an image. She taught me how to wipe lightly, leaving ink on the plate with expressive marks left by the cloth. 

Playing with this, I tried brushing on the ink, and found I could apply and wipe at the same time. This allowed me to ink up the lines and create expressive, sweepy marks to enhance the drypoint lines, adding atmosphere to the image.

Here’s a comparison of the two processes – traditional inking vs. brushed inking.

The full image of the brush-inked print can be viewed here.

Process talk: Aluminum etching

Palmystery – Photo-litho etching and relief monoprint; variable edition, 2022; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 12″x12″

Many people have used the term “etching” as a joke, as in “come up to my place to see my etchings.” We all know what that means, but most people may not know what etching means to printmaking.

Etching is an intaglio process — a design inscribed into a surface, or “plate”, ink is applied to the incisions and transferred to paper. It’s a technical process involving acid that bites into the raw metal to create the incisions. Acid-activated etching is done on metal. Drypoint is another intaglio process that doesn’t require acid, and which can be done on plastic, metal or even milk cartons.

This year I’ve been learning acid-based etching. I started with a relatively safe process involving copper-sulfate acid on aluminum, and fell in love with the grungy effects I can get.

Here’s how it works:

  • I start with a photo or scanned drawing and create a high-contrast image in photo-editing software. That image is converted to negative and printed to a polyester lithography plate (aka “Pronto plate”) via my laser printer.
  • Next, I transfer the image to an aluminum plate to create a resist for the acid bath. This resist is called a “ground”, which protects the areas that will not be etched in the acid bath. Here’s how:
    1. I transfer the laser-printed image using a lithography process in which Baldwin Intaglio Ground (or “BIG”, a non-toxic substance) is used instead of oil ink.
    2. I then place the inked pronto plate on a clean, degreased aluminum plate and run it through my etching press, Patsy.
    3. The ink is hardened in my homemade “oven” consisting of a cardboard box and a blow-dryer for about 25 minutes.
  • Once the ink — or ground — is thus transferred to the aluminum, the aluminum plate is placed in a relatively low-toxicity copper-sulfate bath for about 16 minutes. I love to watch the bits burble up from that lovely flat, shiny piece of metal:
click to view video

Treading the shallows

“Treading the shallows” won Third Place in Dunedin Fine Arts Center member show, April 1 – May 16, 2022. Judge Caroline Mathers commented that “The subtlety of this piece invites calm and encourages reflection. Its gentle palette and soft lines create a mesmerizing scene that one could never tire of looking at.”

My proceeds from the prize and sale were donated to World Central Kitchen as part of Dunedin Fine Arts Center aid to Ukrainian refugees.

This piece employs a new process for me, learned from Liz Chalfin at Zea Mays Printmaking. I scanned the image and laser-printed it to special paper that can be inked and printed like a lithograph stone. Then, the image is transferred to an aluminum plate through my etching press, and the plate is immersed in a copper sulfate bath. The inked image on the aluminum resists the copper sulfate and will not hold any ink, but the blank areas of the plate will be etched.

This piece took three plates — two aluminum etchings and a carved relief plate. My post called “Process talk: Aluminum Etching” describes how the plates were made (with a video).

Save the mangroves, save our coastlines

“Coastal Living” was inspired by Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss (@extraction_art), a global art intervention which seeks to provoke societal change by addressing hazards, both global and local, that are the result of our misuse of the planet. It will be exhibited as part of “KARST Grounds: Quatro Sunistra” at Tempus Projects in Tampa when their new space opens.

Living in Florida, I’m surrounded by mangrove forests, and am drawn to their tangled web. They are shadowy yet uplifting, stolid yet floating, tree-dancers that build shorelines. They nurse marine life, protect our shore against major storms, and defend against climate change. But these defenders are under siege.

Coastal Living – drypoint, monoprint, 2021; Akua intaglio ink on recycled food containers and yard signs; 26.5” x 21.5”

“Coastal Living” is my visual prayer for mangrove preservation, realized as an altar with three predellas (narrative scenes at the base of an altar). Tranquil scenes of mangrove forest life are torn apart by urbanization. But the pictures of coastal development surfacing from these ruptures appear degraded, suggesting that the future of our own communities is in jeopardy. We sow seeds of our own destruction as we abuse the very defenses that protect our coastal communities. 

Global awareness, conservation and restoration are needed to preserve these venerated trees. My hope for these is shown in the center predella with a mangrove propagule, the birth of a new tree. 

To create this drypoint monoprint, I re-purposed printing plates and printed them onto used fast food containers. The frame is contrived from polypropylene signboards recycled from a golf fundraiser. There were definite challenges involved with repurposing these materials, providing me an object lesson in the difficulties of recycling.

Vital to the planet

At .01% of global landmass, mangrove forests are one of the most resilient, productive, and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Bridging ocean and land, these salt-tolerant trees support a diverse food web for marine- and wildlife. Their dense root systems form a natural infrastructure more efficient than man-made breakwaters at mitigating tropical storm surge damage to our coastal communities. And they are planet protectors: The mucky soil that accretes among their roots serves as a highly efficient carbon sink, sequestering 3 – 5 times more climate-warming carbon dioxide gas than tropical rainforests.

But mangrove forests are severely threatened by urbanization, conversion to agriculture and aquaculture, and accelerating sea level rise. From 1996 to 2016, the Global Mangrove Watch calculates global mangrove loss at nearly 11%, approximately 367 km a year.

Since 2016, deforestation has slowed to 4.3%, thanks to increased regulatory protection, environmental replanting and restoration programs as well as natural expansion in some areas, including the US (ironically due to climate change). But, these changes aren’t enough on their own to prevent further destruction: Widespread recognition of the value of mangroves to our coastal communities is needed to curb further development and industrialization.

See “The State of the World’s Mangroves 2021,” published by the Global Mangrove Alliance, for more information.