I’m working on scraping the plates every day, even if it’s just for an hour or two at night. I’m going to the studio to print proofs every other night. The continuity I gain from this work schedule is so important. Each time I sit down to scrape a plate, I feel like I can remember pretty quickly where I left off, and this allows me to get back on track immediately.
I think I’m becoming more efficient with my scraping technique on the copper plates. My first proofs are further along than my earlier proofs. The overall contrast is better, and I haven’t been as conservative about digging in bright white passages. This really cuts down on the number of states I have to make to finish the print, which is a huge time saver.
I can tell that I’m getting in a strong work rhythm because I’ve found myself daydreaming during the day about the next time I get to work on my mezzotints. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. After a lull that definitely lasted far too long, I’m finally excited about my artwork again. With these mezzotints, all of the imagery has been worked out in advance, so I can focus exclusively on the technical execution. I’m fairly inexperienced with mezzotints, so I need all of my concentration aimed directly on the process. Every plate I’ve worked on is teaching me something new about the technique.
I was talking to some of my students yesterday about the importance of turning your brain off at a certain point in the creative process. Once the imagery has been established, it’s really just a matter of executing the work. The temptation to judge your work prematurely is always there, and I find that the majority of the time this just becomes a huge problem that keeps us from staying on task. For this reason, I’ve been trying to mentally zone out while working on these mezzotints. For me it helps to listen to something that will keep my mind preoccupied. I listen to music once in a while, but after a while I stop hearing it and it doesn’t hold my attention the way I would like it to. I used to listen to NPR a lot, but stopped after a while because many of the news topics were too depressing or upsetting. Lately I’ve been listening to stand up comedy recordings which work well because they’re light and entertaining, but keep me distracted enough so that I am not fussing over every little detail of my work.
I’m starting to feel my September deadline breathing down my neck. I’ve been working furiously on these mezzotints over the past few days, using every waking moment I can to work on the plates. For my September solo show, I need a minimum of 5 mezzotints finished, although I am going to do my best to finish more. I also need to build in a few weeks to have mats cut, which means I really only have about one month to get the work ready for the September show.
I had a whopping 6 continuous hours in the studio today, probably the longest stretch of studio time I’ve had in months. I proofed my first mezzotint, taking it through a series of 6 states. I have to remind myself to be patient with developing the image. The first proof always looks awful, and so many changes need to be made. Adjustments to the image have to be made in small increments to make sure that I don’t over scrape the plate. I have a tendency to use too much black, so I focused on expanding my range of greys. Another aspect I try to think about is the edges of my highlights, ranging from very crisp and sharp to soft and subtle.
Since I am only in the studio on Fridays, I am organizing my time so that I am able to take full advantage of the hours I do have in the studio. The great thing about these mezzotints is that their small scale makes the copper plates portable, and the scraping process is not messy. This allows me to work on the scraping process at home, so that I can focus all of my time in the studio exclusively on proofing the plates. I’ve been squeezing in an hour here, an hour there at night after I come home from teaching all day.
I am trying to be conservative with my first pass of scraping. With mezzotint, once an area is scraped you can’t make it darker, so it’s better to slowly build the highlights in incremental stages.
My pre-rocked mezzotint plates finally arrived this week, after waiting 2 months. (apparently, the manufacturer is overseas) After the long wait, it felt great to finally get to work on these plates. I’m basing these mezzotints on photographs of my beeswax face sculptures. Working on these mezzotints is very satisfying simply because the process couldn’t be more different than the 7′ x 4′ figure drawings I’m also working on. These mezzotints are only 4″ x 5″ which is so much smaller than anything I’ve made over the past few years. I am enjoying the level of intimacy and detail I’m able to experience while scraping the plate. The last time I worked with intaglio processes was back in 2006, so it’s wonderful to have a reason to return to printmaking after all of these years.
We are into the second week of the RISD Pre-College program, and the first projects have been coming in this week in my Design Foundations courses. For this first assignment, students were given one week to construct a three-dimensional staircase, using only white foamboard and hot glue. For the purposes of the assignment, a staircase was defined as a “three-dimensional series of interrelated steps.”
Last week I sketched out the fourth and fifth drawing, which means that I now have all of the drawings started. Once the work is in motion, I always feel a huge sense of relief. Getting started is always the most difficult part of the process, once I’m over that obstacle everything seems to flow much better. My mezzotint plates are also arriving this Wednesday, which is great as I’m anxious to get moving on those works as well.
I’ve been consumed lately getting my RISD Pre-College courses going over the past two weeks, but that should settle down now that classes are up and running.
Check out this interview I did with Robot Wednesdays!
“Ask the Art Professor” is an advice column for visual artists, now featured in the Huffington Post. This is your chance to ask a professional artist/educator your questions about being an artist, the creative process, career advice, etc. Submit your question by emailing me at clara(at)claralieu.com, or by commenting here on this blog. All questions will be posted anonymously, and you’ll receive notification when your question is online. Read an archive of past articles here.
“I’ve been getting into Illustration and Motion Design, and one of the hardest conversations that keeps coming up is about money. Or really, people assuming you’ll do something “for your resume.” I think there must be some business textbooks out there repeating “You can get artists to work for free, it’s great for their portfolio.” It’s easy to shoot off an angry response, but in real-world situations, you may not want to burn bridges, or the person asking may not really understand just how uncouth what they’re saying really is. Do you have any advice about how to tactfully explain to people that we need to be paid for our time, in a way that builds understanding?”
I get emails all the time from people asking to use images of my artwork for free. Most of the people who ask are independent artists or people from small nonprofit organizations. People have wanted to use my artwork on T-shirts, a band’s album cover, book covers, textbooks, and much more.
At the beginning of my career, I figured that these requests were simply another opportunity for me to get exposure for my artwork, and that it would be no skin off my back to grant permission. At the time, I reasoned that any method of getting my artwork seen by other people would be a positive thing.
The problem is that once you grant permission for someone to use your artwork, you basically lose all control over how your artwork will be used. This ranges from people making adjustments to the color and contrast of your artwork, as well as cheapening your artwork by placing it into the context of poor graphic design.
Several years ago I allowed a small record company to use one of my images for an album cover. The image they wanted to use was one of my oil paintings of dark, shadowy figures standing in a very sparse, empty environment that was nearly all white. The record company was very polite and seemed legitimate in their endeavors. They would credit me in the album and also link to my website on their blog. I gave the record company permission, and then later they asked if they could change the color of the background in my oil painting to a dark blue.
Stupidly, I didn’t think it through and allowed them to make the change. Eventually the record company sent me the finished CD. Looking at the image on the CD cover, I was mortified. Between the dramatic color change and the large, intrusive text that was splashed across the image, I felt like it wasn’t my artwork anymore. A similar situation came up when I once allowed my artwork to be on a book cover. The designer changed the color of one of my ink drawings from dark brown to bright orange and peach.
I can say that over the years not a single one of these “opportunities” has ever provided exposure that has benefited my career. If anything, it’s done more harm than good because the presentation of my artwork was so bad or my artwork was changed beyond recognition. In the end, the result of allowing others to use your artwork for free results in no money, zero positive exposure, and the high possibility of your image being manipulated beyond recognition. There are essentially no advantages for artists in these situations; it’s entirely a losing proposition.
Today I never allow anyone to use my artwork for free. When I do get these requests, I don’t bother explaining to people that artists need to be paid for their work. I write back and politely state that I cannot allow use of my images without compensation, which usually ends the conversation very quickly. No one has ever offered compensation after their initial request. It’s a waste of your breath to explain why artists need to be paid for their work. After all, if they’re unaware enough to be asking to use your artwork for free in the first place, it’s likely that a lecture from you isn’t going to change their mind.
“What do you do for art storage?”
“How can an artist balance their life?”
“How can an artist overcome their financial issues?”
“How can an artist create an artistic group outside of school?”
“How do you balance a full-time job, kids and your own art?”
“How do you socialize in the art world?”