Below is a continuation of my experience of working with Master Printer Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press in Otego, New York. You can read Part I by clickinghere.
Tim in his spot.
I believe that one of the reasons we were able to accomplish so much in a short period of time was due, in part, to my planning, but in a larger part due to Tim’s organization and economy of movement. His studio is set up, just as with a short order cook, with everything at hand. Tim stands in one spot in the studio with two glass slabs in front of him, his inks to his right next to an old Uline catalog that serves as paper on which to clean his palette knives, rags below him, solvent to his right, the press behind him, and printing paper to his far left. He didn’t move more than three feet all day.
Old Uline catalog used as scrap paper.
I, on the other hand, walked miles, as I found a spot across from him to watch as he mixed colors and then moved to the other side of the room to watch the print being rolled with ink.
Tim Inking Plate
Tim and I worked through all the color permutations. There were several points where we would have loved to have stopped, because the results were so beautiful. It was time to add the black that depicts the branches. This was the final step, the last layer of color. He pulled the first print and THUD! Disaster! Worst print of the day.
Tom looked worried and disappointed. I think he was afraid that I’d be devastated. Instead, I felt that the print confirmed what I had felt ever since seeing the first tentative proofs weeks earlier — the black just didn’t work. In paint and even in the computer generated image, the black acted like a gestalt – stunning and integrated into the overall image. In the print, the black sat on top of the page both dwarfing and destroying the colors beneath. It might as well have been a black and white print. Tim and I both thought that switching to a middle gray would accomplish what I was after. Even within the gray you can have a range of color, and I wanted the gray skewed toward lavender.
Pantone book, oil paint sample and computer generated image.
This is when Tim finally pulled out the Pantone book. This is the printer’s Bible. It contains every color he can mix with his inks, and gives him the formula to do so. I flipped through the color samples and pointed to the color I wanted. The improvement was immediate and dramatic. It quickly became apparent that the other color versions of the print could also use gray, but the value of the gray would have to be adjusted to work with the other color versions.
Getting exactly the right shade of gray (don’t even go there) was as much work as determining the other color combinations.
As we printed each layer we were both delighting in the detail. But here is the truly confounding result: it seemed that the print would have to be viewed from about 18 inches for them to be appreciated. That is exactly the opposite effect of my paintings, which look best when viewed from across the room. The paintings look painterly close up (down right messy, in fact), but at a certain distance they snap into focus and look almost photo realistic.
When we added the gray to the print Tim and I found ourselves backing up across the studio. The prints were still reading well from twenty five feet away. We managed to produce the same effect in the print as in my paintings.
Once we saw these qualities in one print, it was a matter of bringing that effect to all the prints. Sometimes remarkably small adjustments made the difference between reading the print as color and reading it as light. This is where the skill and integrity of a Master Printer makes all the difference. The work is demanding and exhausting. At the eleventh hour, Tim was still willing to mix one more color and make one more adjustment so that I could see if we could perfect the print.
A great Master Printer hangs in there with you to the end. When your energy flags, he shores you up, so that you can produce the best work possible. Tim told me over and over that it was about my vision, and he did everything in his power to make that happen.
In early December I spent two days at Corridor Press in Otego, New York, working with Master Printer, Tim Sheesley. In two twelve hour sessions we were able to put together proofs for a suite of four prints that were inspired by my painting “Almond Tree – Biot”.
I was blessed with beginner’s hubris. Creating a print with just the right color, using four plates would have been project enough for one day. To get four of them completed in two days was an insane proposition. This is where the experience of a Master Printer made all the difference.
I had worked out all of my color combinations ahead of time. With the help of graphic designer Chelsea Nye, I made a virtual print in Photoshop. We generated computer swatches of color for each plate, which I then converted into color samples made in oil paint. I sent my color swatches, along with the names of the oil colors I used, to Tim and he made a sample print from these instructions.
What I did not know was that a printmaker’s palette of litho-inks is not the same as a painter’s palette of oil colors. Lithography inks must be transparent. Some of my oil color pigments are opaque and cannot be used in lithography ink. For example, none of his blues approximate ultramarine blue, a color I use extensively. He was able to mix a blue that looked very much like ultramarine blue, but it didn’t have the purity or brightness of my blue. The mixture of colors had dulled the effect.
Tim is not only a print master, he is a color master. He mixed any color I gave him perfectly. However, as with the blue, occasionally there was a limitation inherent in the pigments available.
Palette of Lithographic Inks
Tim is used to working with artists who have a concept in mind and the expectation that they will be able to produce that concept exactly. In Tim’s experience, watercolor artists are the most insistent in this regard. Tim was very concerned I would blow a gasket when I came up against the limitations of his palette. What he didn’t know, was that secretly I was hoping to use this project to expand my experience — to find new and unexpected ways to interpret my work. This road block was just the sign I was looking for to head off-road and see what adventures awaited me in the woods.
The first step was a tiny one — abandoning my concept of ultramarine blue for one in his palette that could give me the quality of light I was after. But changing one color has a domino effect — all the other colors had to be changed to work with that color. If it is the 3rd color you have added to the print, it can cause mayhem.
Tim Mixing Ink
In this process you start with one color, then try to make the next one work with it. The third color has to work with the first two and so forth. This is a tightrope walk, especially when everything about your print is an expression of color.
Tim folds the mixed wet ink into aluminum foil with my name, print version name, plates number, and color mixture listed on the outside. At the same time he makes a running list with the same information on a pad. This way, when he remixes the color he can compare wet color to wet color and not wet to dry, which would be different.
As a painter I noodle and adjust colors all the time, sometimes scraping up a color from a palette of a previous painting and using it in a new one. That can’t happen in print making, because you have to be able to replicate the color perfectly for each print. Each color you use must be recorded with a formula and connected with that specific print, as well as with a certain plate from that print. You have to record all of this information for each mixed color, whether or not that color is ultimately used. This is because you may make several versions and compare them before you settle on the perfect color combination.
We were not doing this for one print, we were doing this for four! But we did not do one print at a time. Since the prints shared colors on certain plates, we were doing all four versions at once. That we both didn’t get a migraine is a small miracle, although I noticed that at the end of the day, we were both unable to put a sentence together, as simple words escaped our memory.
I talked to some friends who have been following The Print Project, and I seem to have managed to completely confuse them.
I brought one friend to the studio and walked her through my process and that seemed to help. I am hoping that this little video will do the same for you. In it I show how I am preparing four “films”, or plastic layers, that will later be converted into metal plates. These plastic layers are used very much like a film negative. Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press will use them to burn the image to a metal plate.
For now, all I need to do is put the image of a single color on a single plastic “film”: red, yellow, blue and black.
What happens when Roy Lichtenstein translates mass media printing techniques, notably the Benday dot, into paintings and then back into print? What has happened that the final result does not land back into the banal?
Another story of the path from print into painting and back into print might help explain that.
Much of Monet’s work was influenced by Japanese prints. The prints offer a view of everyday life, emulated by the Impressionists, but they also captured an instant.
So, not only would a Hokusai print depict a flower, but a flower in a particular wind and weather. Note the wings of a the butterfly.
When asked about the origin of Monet’s series of paintings “Grainstacks”, he said that he was working in the field and noticed the light changing. He asked his step-daughter, Blanche, who frequently assisted him, to bring him another canvas, and another and another. He changed the canvases every few minutes to accommodate the changing light.
I think that it is far more likely that Monet’s inspiration for the series came from Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji”. Monet collected Japanese prints and owned several biographies of Hokusai.
Hokusai, “Mount Fuji”
In Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mount Fuji”, he captured the iconic mountain under numerous conditions. Monet did the same with his “series paintings”, but perhaps most famously with his Rouen Cathedral paintings. Here, the monolith is transformed by light.
Monet, “Rouen Cathedral”
In 1968 Roy Lichtenstein used photos of Monet’s cathedrals for a series of paintings and lithographs, using not the Impressionist dash or even the pointillist’s dot, but the banal Benday dot.
Lichtenstein not only reinterprets Monet’s series, but gives a nod to the original print source of Hokusai.
Its decided, my first lithograph is going to be of “Almond Tree – Biot”. There is some method to this madness. Since this is my first attempt at lithography, I want to learn as much as I can from the process.
If I could do anything in lithography, I would like to do a print of the Almond Tree close to the size of the original painting. The painting is 60 inches by 70 inches. It seems to me that I could do this by putting together nine sheets of paper 22 inches by 30 inches, which is a standard size. It could be printed with the image running off the edge of the paper and then either hung together or in nine separate frames. But it might be a tad ambitious to start with that.
So, how do I get there from here. There are several questions I need to answer to go forward. One of the main ones has to do with the method I would use to create the colors. Should I use what printers call “process color”: cyan, magenta, yellow and black; or should I use “index colors” — colors selected from the painting itself, such as beige, pink, yellow, and black. The only way I can know for sure would be to do a print of the same image using these two approaches and see which one I prefer. Once I know that, I would know which version to use on the 9-part print.
Since this image is so complex I couldn’t draw out the different color layers just by looking at it. So I asked artist Chelsea Nye, who has lots of experience with photoshop to work with me to separate out the different layers for both color versions. Here is a sample of one of those layers:
In order to make the two versions of this print, I will be creating ten different plates that look something like the above. Each of these plates will be about 22 inches by 24 inches. I bought a magnifying glass with a light and look forward to drawing these plates. Could I have made this any more difficult? I hope that I will be able to show you the proofs sometime before the next millennium. I will be interested to find out which version you prefer. This piece is so complex I feel as though I am heading full speed toward black ice. I think that this project will either be great or it won’t work at all. Fingers crossed.