Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ArtBeat and "Map Your Own Davis Square"

Last weekend I had a booth at ArtBeat in Davis Square with some of my work as well as an experimental crowdsourced mapping project where visitors could add their experiences to a map of the Davis area. I've never done an interactive project before, and it was definitely a learning experience. I tried to anticipate what problems might arise, and I'm pleased to say that there weren't any big problems, besides participation. I think that there were just too many steps -- I tried to make it as open-ended as possible, which helped a little bit, but still most people just passed by, even if they expressed interest. It's also the kind of project that only really gets off the ground when enough people have added to it to show value (and make individual submissions less prominent), so that can easily push it into a cycle of non-participation.
The booth started off with a list of instructions, flyers for recording inspiration, stickies and a blank map:

By the end of the festival, the outer edge of the map was covered with stickies, and the corresponding dots were interspersed throughout the map:

Some selected stories:

and other booth shots:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Drypoint Maps

Last weekend I took a workshop at Maud Morgan Arts on drypoint, a printmaking technique that involves etching lines directly onto a plate. I've never tried that kind of printmaking before -- the only prints I've made have been with linoleum or woodblock, where gouges are made into the surface and the ink rests on the remaining surface. Drypoint, on the other hand, is an intaglio process (like etching or engraving), so the print is made by inking the plate and then wiping off all ink on the surface; the ink that sits in the engraved lines is printed onto the paper. In drypoint the ink doesn't just sit in the grooves, but is also caught by the minute burrs that form when you scratch into the surface. What's counterintuitive about it is that large areas of black aren't created just by a deeper groove, but mostly by a denser mat of crosshatching.

We started by learning about the tools and practicing on small pieces of copper, and then started our first plates using plexiglas. The biggest benefit of plexiglas for translating an image into a drypoint etching is that you can just place the image under the plexi (assuming it's either been reversed or you're okay with it printing backwards) and then trace over that with the etching tools. I also found that it was a little easier to control the tools over the soft plexiglas surface. Unfortunately, the cheaper material doesn't hold the cuts as well, so apparently you can't make as many prints from a plexi plate.

Once you're at a stopping point with a plate, the next step is inking and printing it. The hard part of inking is that you can't just roll or brush ink on and then print -- you have to meticulously work ink into the minute grooves (without disturbing the burr too much, since it does wear down), and then spend ages trying to wipe off the ink with a light enough hand that you don't end up wiping off the parts you want to have ink. I only almost got the hang of it once we were out of time.

The inking station:

The wiped plate on the press:

I made one print with plexi by tracing over a printout of one of my drawings, and then decided to do my copper plate completely freehand. I discovered that the process feels, surprisingly, less like drawing and actually more like making cutouts -- you have to apply a lot more pressure, and be more aware of the quirks of the medium. 

It's all totally worth it, though because the results were AWESOME. I've always wanted to experiment with having more gradient over my works, a more integrated combination of organic wash and controlled lines, and this is basically exactly what I was looking for. The plate holds on to ink in kind of unpredictable ways, but you can selectively remove ink and control the rhythm of ink density across the plate with wiping as well as the depth of the original cuts. Here are two prints of my freehand map, made one after another (re-inking, of course, but without any changes to the plate between prints):
MAJOR differences in terms of density, contrast and overall rhythm. I'd almost say it looks like a different city. And that's what I'm trying to explore -- making maps that could be anywhere just with a few changes. 
I eventually went back and hatched in every little house (temporarily killing the nerves in my thumb in the process, I think) to make my last print, which I think looked even better:
And here's the plexi print as well (I obviously got some help in the ink wiping department, because it's much less grey):

I would definitely keep exploring this, as long as I can figure out some kind of reasonable way to get access to a large press like the one we used. Unfortunately that's definitely necessary to get the kind of pressure you need for these prints. But it's obviously worth it!

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Water Resist Maps

I recently came across a call for artwork to be shown in a store in Central Square, and decided to make something large and colorful to submit to work with the space. I ended up with two 15"x20" water-resist maps (like this one, which sold last summer - I haven't worked in this style since).

The first one I tried was just a radial streets pattern:

Removing the rubbery strings of rubber-resist:

and the second one I tried to build around a central fabricated (maybe too fake-looking) river:

I called the first one "Strata" and the second "Sediment", to relate to the way they were built up in layers. The finished pieces:

They look better smaller! In real life they're 15"x20" and framed in 18"x24" frames. I brought "Sediment" to an art crit last weekend and displayed it together with the first water resist piece I tried (the one that's still in my possession) to ask why the first smaller one was more visually successful than the larger, more recent one, which ostensibly would have more experience behind it. The consensus seemed to be that there still wasn't enough experience; I had to get used to the large scale and the materials before it would look better. I guess the smaller one was just chance! Here's the setup we critiqued:

In the end, both "Strata" and "Sediment" got accepted into the exhibition, which will be at Boomerangs in Central Square starting July 16th. For a full list of my current and upcoming shows, you can always check out my website

Friday, July 13, 2012

Art Weekend - First Friday and Printmania

Now that the installation is up, I have a chance to mention my art-packed weekend! Last Friday I stopped by the monthly SoWa open studio/gallery event, mostly to catch a reception at Chase but also to catch up with some artist friends at 450 Harrison. Then on Saturday I checked out the end of the Printmania zine fair in Union Square, which had a surprisingly small number of zine tables (like, maybe one or two), but a lot of interesting printmakers to make up for it. Some artists I really enjoyed included:
- Alicia Tormey, whose lacy, leaf-like paintings I went to see at Chase, and
- John Dempcy, whose work ended up transfixing me at Chase. It's a little hard to tell from the photos, but there's a lot of fractal interactions going on within those fried-egg-like circles. (You have to have your face right in the work, like I'm not ashamed to say I did, to fully appreciate those tiny worlds)
- Lesley Cohen, who had a couple amazingly detailed, mostly abstract charcoal and chalk drawings in Bromfield Gallery in SoWa
- Rachel Thern, whose exhibition in the back of Kingston Gallery I came across completely by chance. Her work is also mostly abstract, and I love the way her work involves a combination of fastidious process and organic materiality.
- Adrienne Ginter, who had a table at Printmania with very detailed prints that had a lot of storytelling elements. I was really drawn to one in particular for its composition (and the little city, which of course I can't resist). According to her website she also has some unbelievable paper cutouts as well.
- Elisabeth Nicula, a Somerville printmaker who had some prints at Printmania with texture that I was instantly drawn to. After checking out her site, I can see why I was interested in her work -- her statement mentions that she's inspired by "Outer space, mathematics and machinery, cells and microorganisms". Unfortunately her site doesn't have the pieces I was most drawn to, but all of her work is great.

After listing these artists and revisiting their sites, it occurs to me that most of them focus on circles and/or dense or fractal texture. I think that says much more about my tastes than the current art scene (besides that circles are ALWAYS popular, and fractals are present in nature and proven to be unusually aesthetically pleasing).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Modular Map Installation - Nighttime Display

We finally installed the modular map project yesterday afternoon, and it's now on display for anyone who walks through Davis. It looked very minimal in the daylight, almost easy to miss, but at night the paper construction gets a little more interesting. Here's some photos from last night:

The installation will be on view only through July 30th, so make sure to check it out in the next couple weeks!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Modular Map Installation - Progress

The display windows of the Davis Square CVS, which are prominently visible in the middle of the square, often house works by local artists or exhibitions relating to current events in the neighborhood. This month they will have a combination of both -- an installation I'm putting together reflecting this year's ArtBeat theme, "Migration". I'm working on some "migrating" dimensional maps, a flock of birds, and a series of large-scale map "scrolls" as a backdrop. 

This was my preliminary installation sketch (not quite to scale):

The modular, dimensional map project has definitely been more time-consuming than I had anticipated, although I have made efforts to streamline the process. The problem is that it's so difficult to anticipate what the parts will look like together before you have multiple in front of you. Here's a progress shot of the first one I made:

It turned into the large one on the right in this photo, and in the detail below. Note how the more recent ones I've done are smaller, have more "legs" (to take up space as well as add movement!) and are much less dense:

Painting in the fields/squares may well be the most time-consuming part. (I actually calculated it out at one point, when I feared that the project was doomed: for each triangular segment, I spend about 1 minute average on tracing and cutting out, 5 minutes drawing the map, 1 minute gluing, but 12 minutes painting). 

The installation goes up on Friday morning. I'll be sure to post photos!

UPDATE: We've decided to postpone the installation until Tuesday (partially because it's a LOT more work on my end than I anticipated!). It'll be up from July 10 - August 3 July 30th, and during ArtBeat, which is July 21st.

UPDATE 2: I showed a segment of the installation in an art crit meetup last night and I'm excited about how it looked all together. Here's a photo:

I also got a lot of great feedback about it. It hadn't occurred to me, even with the dimensional "folded" shape, that they look like an animation of paper folding itself (especially since these particular pieces are all a similar size), and that the shape could refer to paper road maps as well as topography.