I had my post surgery follow up yesterday. It went well, my neurosurgeon said I could now be considered a normal person (haha, I'll take that with a grain of salt) and I can resume all my regular activities. One very important thing we did talk about yesterday was weaning off the medication I've been having to take since late December. I am not going to lie, if there has been one really, really difficult part of this journey, its being on this medication, I have had the occasional really dark day and it has only gotten worse the longer I've been taking it. I can only describe those days as "despondent" in nature. Thankfully I was given the green light to try going off these meds - I'm hoping and praying I will remain seizure free.
Now, entering into this whole health saga and blogging about my creative output, I made a decision pretty early on - I would always have some little job to work on or some prep to keep my hands busy even if my head or heart wasn't in it. I've already been dealing with chronic illness (unrelated and very well managed) for over a decade so I know how recovery ebbs and flows. Some days when you feel good, you can make miles of progress. Bad days can sometimes only be measured in inches. However, inches add up. Many bad days can set the stage for what looks like miles of progress on a semi good day. The secret is chipping away at small pieces of the whole.
My Bad Day Project
Anyone who has followed my story will start to see a pattern is emerging. There has to be some sort of good coming out of all this awfulness. Beauty for ashes so to speak. It honestly is the only goal that I have reliably set my eyes on. It has carried me through some really awful moments. Seeing the good in this season has kept me moving forward.
When I met my neurosurgeon, the biggest thing that made me trust her was that she works with kids. Parents have to trust their kids with her during very scary times. I used to work with kids and it is an absolute privilege and pleasure to be trusted with them. The stakes are that much higher when its life or death. I do not envy her job in the sense of the magnitude of having to deal with kids who have brain tumours, brain cancer or brain surgery. Trust me, any of these things are hard enough to deal with as an adult. I get choked up thinking about what that would be like as a child (or the parents of a child).
So, right after I met with her about my surgery, I asked myself if there was anything I could do that might help some kid going through a situation similar to mine? That is when the idea hit to make health card sized documents that could empower them during their journey.
I did not invent the idea of "playing the brain surgery/tumour/cancer card" concept. I'm sure a hundred or more people have made their own variations over the years as well (I actually have never googled it because that doesn't matter) I first heard about the idea of a "cancer card" a few years ago when a dear friend was fighting her own battle. She and her husband referred to this mysterious card in relation to kids missing a deadline at school because it fell on a hospitalization day. Needing an extra dose of understanding when meds caused awful mood swings. Needing Tim Horton's chili because it's the only thing that appealed for breakfast. The Cancer Card - getting one means you are a part of an awful club. There is for sure a Brain Tumour Club and a Brain Surgery Club (and those are different, not all people with tumours get surgery, not all surgery patients have tumours). Wouldn't it be neat to have an actual card one could show? Especially if extra treats are involved.
Now coming up with the idea and then actually thinking through the steps whilst dealing with a brain tumour/brain surgery is REALLY freaking hard. I am not going to lie. That is equivalent to me asking you to design a skyscraper. Where do you even start? Even if you have built a skyscraper, try doing it hopped up on meds and having had someone drill a hole in your head, yeah, now you get it.
So, since January, this became a constant low level item on my to do list. On good days, I'd think about my next step on bad days I'd just do that step. To say that these cards pictured above were made with love is an understatement. They were some of the most difficult and some of my best moments through this journey. The only reason why I made them was to give them away. Hopefully to give someone a bright moment in an otherwise really awful situation. My deadline was my post surgery follow up so I could give them to my neurosurgeon as a gift. A thank you for all the years she spent honing her skill so that my biggest issue from the whole ordeal was dealing with how bad those medications affect me. This was also my way to fight the meds.
Now, I'm not a saint either, I will probably make more of these to sell at some point but those won't have nearly the same amount of my heart poured into them. I do have to make a living somehow, and these are pretty cool. However the batch above is special. I remember how long it took to figure out the exact measurements for wallet sized identification documents. Cutting the paper to size. Sitting in a dark room rounding the corners with a handheld clipper (that was a hard day), wording and rewording in my head. Printing in two rounds so I could do two ink colours. Trying to set type that is upside down and mirror image, trying to get perfect registration. Hard enough to do on a good day, very challenging during recovery.
Anyways, I've given most of the brain related ones away, I made extra of the Cancer Card ones because I have plans for those too. Too many people I love have to deal with that monster. Brain stuff is a little more esoteric I guess. I know they seem simple and to the expert eye, there are imperfections but I can honestly say it was the best I could do on some pretty bad days. Totally worth it too.
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.
The short answer is yes, you can print using linoleum flooring. While they are very similar, I found there were some differences to this material from artist grade linoleum. Recently, my sister (who works for a flooring company), gave me some samples of discontinued linoleum flooring to try. On initial inspection, they looked almost identical to battleship grey artist grade lino.
To touch, I found that the flooring was more pliable and had a very, very slight texture to the cutting surface. I did not sand this sample down, because I wanted a baseline test to see what out-of-the-box lino would be like to work with. In future tests though, I will take a very fine grit sandpaper to the surface to reduce this. It almost feels like a surface coating.
Cutting the flooring was a pleasure. I honestly breezed through the entire sample. It was somewhere between a soft block and standard artist grade. It held the tool well without me feeling like I had to force anything. The line quality was decent. One thing I noticed though was hit the bottom layer very easily (making for a not as pretty block) Since it is a thinner material, there is a finer layer of the linoleum surface on the hessian.
Once I got to inking the piece, I noticed the surface texture a lot more. It is very smooth but minutely pebble like to touch. When I rolled the brayer of oil based ink on it, I noticed it didn't drink it up quite the same way as the first layer of ink on artist grade linoleum.
I let it sit for a moment to soak in, applied another coat of ink and then proceeded to print. After a few proof prints, it printed almost identically for for the first 10 prints or so. I achieved nice inky, deep blacks and crisp lines with the usual amount of effort. As an aside, I pull prints with the help of an antique book press, so I don't know if hand burnishing would get the same results.
I found after about 10 prints, I started fighting an odd resistance to the ink. I noticed my edges were fuzzing out a little here and there and had a closer look at the block. I appeared to be that the all the cut lines were pushing back the ink. I blotted the block when I noticed this happening and it seem to alleviate the issue for a few prints but it always came back. I'm pretty sure sanding the coating off the top layer is the way to fix this issue.
All in all, I will keep experimenting on this, for sure. I really like how it carved and I like the fact that if I wanted a bigger piece to work on, this would be an economical way to get materials. I'm not worried about the "artist grade" part of this on a conservation level because the time span that a block is in use is so short and the contact with things that need to be artist grade (ink and paper) is very brief, it wouldn't have much of an effect. Remember, flooring is where linocut printmaking all began in the Die Brucke movement... it was a cheap, easily sourced alternative to woodcut blocks.
Stay tuned for the reveal of the print I made with this block! I'm not quite done with it yet.
I have exciting news - I've taken the step of seeking out gallery representation! This move has been in the making for some time, I wanted very much to find a gallery that not only suited my paintings, but also was supportive of my printmaking and letterpress work as well.
I am delighted to partner with Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, Alberta - they have an amazing collection and great curation. Every time I step foot in this space, there is a buzz of colour and energy. There are many artists also represented with this gallery that I feel honoured to share wall space with.
Check out what work of mine they are carrying here. Thank you, Bluerock!
Some of you might remember my summer Letterpress confessional style update - new presses, restoration, Heritage Park, yadda, yadda, yadda (you can read it here if you are just coming across this now). Anyways, there is an addendum to this story, which I am really excited about.
Way, way, way back, the original person who got me into letterpress did so by giving me his press. Not because he was wanting to get rid of it, but because he was moving. I know that had to have hurt more than a little bit. While I am very thankful he passed it along to me, I have always kept my eyes out for a smaller, more portable replacement for him. This summer, it showed up!
The funny thing about this little press was I knew it was meant to be for my friend the second I laid eyes on it. It is the exact type and brand of press he gave me, only one size smaller and a whole lot more portable.!
One catch with this press though was that it was unusable - the clamp that held the chase and chase bed in place was broken off, an earlier brazing repair to the roller arms was done crookedly (so the rollers would not have traveled in a straight line across the ink plate) and there were all sorts of missing or loose bits to hold it together.
Luckily, I have access to an amazing shop and a friend to help with repairs! After giving a good clean, we started chipping away at this a little while ago. I did the smaller stuff, prep work and painting while my friend did the jobs that required a higher level of skill like the brazing and fitting work. Check out the pro clamp repair:
Anyways, I'm overjoyed that we could rescue this sweet little press, give it some love and send it to a new home where I know it'll see a lot of use! I feel like there has been a full circle made in this story now!
Where to begin? Fall is here, kicking and screaming and I finally feel like I've had a chance to come up for air.
Studio Expansion: My garage is now officially a core component to my studio practice. Late July, we welcomed a third press to our family: a Chandler and Price Old Style platen floor model. Some good friends helped us load and move this along with a paper cabinet, composing table, type cabinet and full sized paper cutter. I am truly blessed.
The flip side to this is making room and extra clean up. Almost all of my open studio time in August has been spent puttering away in my garage doing glamorous jobs like scraping old labels, sanding, painting and degreasing. We are in the homestretch now which is good - winter is coming and my car needs it's shelter for parking!
On a side note, paper cabinets are a beautiful thing. With 25 shallow drawers, this is for my art supplies like what the wardrobe is for Narnia. Things feel so in reach and organized!
Current Projects: I'm in the early stages of some small still life and landscapes for the upcoming Christmas season. I am also busy printing all sorts of letterpress goodies for market as well. Add in some collaboration involving a laser engraver, block printing more flour sack cloths, instructing as well as the aforementioned studio expansion and I am a busy girl.
Website Update: I've cleaned things up and added some greater detail on events and workshops. I've been planning this out in my head for a while and finally sat down long enough to get it all up on the web. I still have loads more pictures and details to add, but this should suffice for the moment. I have a love hate relationship with digital tinkering.
Plein Air Postponement: My deepest apologies to all of you who have expressed interest in further plein air meetups - this has been on my mind constantly. I had a domino effect happen with that equipment acquisition that affected too many areas of my household. Add in multiple extra weekend bookings for August and I couldn't make it happen. Stay tuned for spring though - I have some alternate ideas I'd like to try out with plein air!
To say I've been busy lately is an understatement. I've had a little side line going besides my usual rotation of art making and instructing, plus a child graduating and the bustle of summer.
If you read this blog semi regularly, you will know that for many, many years I have been increasingly pulled into Letterpress printing. For those of you that don't know what that is, it is the pre-digital, pre-offset method of printing text and images on paper. Commonly used for printing books, posters and newspapers. It dates back to around 1440 and Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type.
For me, it all started ages ago (in the range of 15 years) when a dear friend of mine gave me a table top platen press that needed a little restoration and some parts. I had no idea what this thing was but knew somehow you could use it to do linocut printmaking. So I kept it knowing that I could eventually use it once I figured out how to get it running. I started paying a little more attention to the word "letterpress" when I encountered it, slowly realizing what it was and seeing the possibilities beyond straight linocut printmaking. This period lasted about 10 years. The machine sat idle.
Then about 4 or 5 years ago, I saw a workshop posted at a local gallery for beginner letterpress printing. I jumped at the chance. The machine got carried out of the basement and dragged along so the instructor could take a look and let me know what needed to be done to get it working. I started actively looking at letterpress work and tutorials online when the mood struck.
Fast forward another year or so, I end up at a museum on a tour and start telling the blacksmith in charge there about my press and wanting to learn how to take apart machines so I could figure out how to fix it. I end up volunteering once a week there (and still do) helping with that sort of thing and working in metal. The press gets fully restored. I start bringing the press to events so I can share this art form with the public.
Last summer, through my museum connections, I end up in touch with someone who is looking for a home for her grandfather's press. Desperate to keep this equipment out of the scrap heap she speaks with quite a few Calgary organizations who cannot take this press out of her basement. We figure out a way and remove it successfully. This new press is brought to the museum in August. Coincidentally, during this time, my family moves to a bigger house that can accommodate multiple type cabinets and a full size floor model platen press. Work begins when time allows on restoring and repairing the press.
At the same time, I learn that one of the organizations that was interested in this press (but could not take it) was Heritage Park, a huge historical village/museum in Calgary. A light bulb goes on in my head.
One of the frustrations I have had over the years is trying to learn the proper way of using the equipment I have. Letterpress information can sometimes be wildly off base as the blind lead the blind in a dying art form. If you do find someone offering a workshop or running a business with beautifully produced work, chances are they don't live near enough to visit often. Video tutorials can help, but don't always show a lot of detail. Old textbooks are a wealth of information, but you cannot ask questions if you do not understand.
There can be a disconnect at times from the generation who were skilled tradesmen working a full time printing career to the next generation of artisan letterpress operators that utilize new as well as old technology. I know a few people in artisan camp (and thankfully, Calgary is really blossoming in this area so I am VERY thankful for the camaraderie) but I didn't know any old school pressmen. Until I realized there must be more than a few of them working with the machines at Heritage Park.
So I sent a nervous email before Christmas and an off season visit was arranged so I could tour their newspaper building from 1909, The Strathmore Standard. It was great, they were very generous with their time and information. My interest must have been evident, because they suggested I apply for a part time job there if I wanted to learn more an run the equipment. So I did! I've been working 1 or 2 days a week for the past few months and it has been so much fun. I've wanted to demonstrate letterpress for years, especially to children and this has been a wonderful opportunity. I even get to wear a costume!
Plus, the team at the Standard is great. We have guys who have worked in the newspaper industry, owned their own print shops and a variety of others who just love the equipment and want to keep it maintained and share it with others. Naturally, this has taken up some of my time (part of the reason my artistic output has been a little leaner than usual - don't worry, this was a planned educational break and I'm already gearing up for my late summer painting binge!)
A few weeks ago, the major work was finished on the press (serious props to my blacksmith friend at the museum - I couldn't have done this on my own). It was delivered safe and sound and is in my garage awaiting the last few minor parts. It runs so beautifully and is even sporting a brand new treadle so I can power it by foot!
You have no idea how exciting this has all been to me. A gift from a friend who was moving away (who couldn't take it with him) has absolutely transformed a lot of my art and taken me on an adventure of a lifetime. Through this I've learned so much more than I would have about printmaking, machinery, metal working, graphic design, the history of type, bookmaking, and of course letterpress printing. I've made some life long friends (and keep making more) who continue to encourage and guide me.
The best part is that I have barely gotten started. The coming months and years hold so much potential and I am so excited to see where it goes.
Airdrie, Alberta is home to a very neat studio and shop, Mukluk Magpies. While it is primarily a stain glass operation (trust me, they are one of the best in Alberta for all things glass related), they have been steadily amassing the work of regional artisans to sell through their gift shop as a complement to their other wares.
This morning I brought in a full selection of Flour Sack Cloths, Letterpress printed cards, framed Linocut prints and some paintings. I'm really excited to have another venue to show my work through.
You can find hours, directions and more on their website here.