Dye, dye, dye, my darling

It’s autumn! The days are getting shorter, the squash is ready to harvest and the black walnuts are staining the roads of Central Pennsylvania. Not only do they stain the roads, but anything else they come in contact with, which makes black walnuts a popular and easy source of natural dye and ink. There are many recipes floating around on the interwebs but as long as one has walnut husks, water and heat, there should be success.

Here is one more ink recipe to add to the mix:

Materials: black walnuts, plastic bucket/bag, stainless steel 2 gallon pot, stirrer, gloves, cheesecloth/coffee filters, funnel, rubberband, denatured alcohol, large bowl, clean 20 oz bottle, gum arabic (if desired)

Collect the desired amount of black walnuts. I used about 20 walnut husks (more will increase the concentration, less will decrease it).

Put the fruit in a bucket, or bag and let it break down (I filled a bucket with water left the walnuts in it).  It is ideal when the outside husks have oxidized and are completely black. The green fruit will give dye, but they are difficult to peel.

Wearing a pair of disposable gloves, peel the walnuts and reserve the husks. Meanwhile fill pot about two thirds with water (I used the water from my bucket) and heat until boiling.

Put the husks into the pot and simmer for an hour. After the hour is up, begin checking the color of your dye. Black Walnut gives anywhere from a pale sienna to a rich dark brown (adding iron, like nails, results in a brown-black color).

When you are satisfied with your color, remove pot from heat and allow it to cool. At this point the contents look like black sludge.

Place cheesecloth over a bowl and secure with a rubberband. Slowly pour the pot’s contents over the cheesecloth. The sludge will remain on top, while the liquid filters into the bowl. Wrap up the cloth and squeeze to release the remaining liquid.

At this point I added 4 teaspoons of gum arabic to act as an emulsifier and help the ink bind to the page.

To filter the liquid more finely, place a coffee filter into a funnel, the funnel into a 20 oz bottle and slowly pour in the liquid. It takes a few hours for the liquid to drip through. If you are impatient, you can gently agitate the filter, but the fibers break easily.

Add 5% denatured alcohol to the resulting volume of ink (for example, I ended up with 32 oz. of ink, so I added  1.6 oz. alcohol). Denatured alcohol is available at any hardware store in the paint section. This keeps mold and bacteria from growing in the ink.

Tea, anyone?

I love a well brewed cup of tea. I hold the warm mug in my hands, watch the steam curl into the ether and mentally go over my to-do list. Which brings me to my incredibly delinquent June collaborative project with Spring Leaf Press.

If memory recalls (it was four months ago. Yipes!), there was only one rule of engagement; a record of time passing. I graphed my tea consumption over the course of a week. I initially imagined this exercise on a heavy weight paper with mug screen prints placed solidly on top of one transparent chart, all folded neatly into a concertina format. Due to time constraints, I made some changes. I kept the format so that the information could be addressed a page at a time, or all at once. Instead of cutting stencils, I painted a watercolor image of each mug in my cupboard. I scanned them into photoshop and did the rest of the imagery there. Individual graphs took the place of a master chart. I had the book printed at Office Max on a thin, slick paper. In the end, the book has a more disposable feel (much like take out cups on the way to the office) than I originally anticipated, but it seems appropriate. The implied heaviness of the drinkware printed on the flimsy material creates subtle tension between permanent and provisional use.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to brew some tea.

Thank You for Flying Flight 67

George Carlin gave a spiel about airlines that changed the way I think about the language of flying. Now I smile every time I get on a plane. In early September I booked a flight with U.S. Airways to Seattle, Wa. with a layover in Philadelphia. I prefer a left window seat. I like to stare into the clouds and pretend it’s the flower sea in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (then I, ahem, ponder other, more academic things). As my thoughts wander, I  also spend a lot of time looking down at the patchwork of farmland that covers the ground. That visage was the inspiration for my Spring Leaf/Space Paste exercise for August.

Mary and I decided on a tunnel book format with five frames. One line of text determined the theme.

This was my first time constructing a tunnel book, so I made two mock ups. I chose matte board for my panels and had impressive blisters by the time I was done cutting the demo and the final copies. I used a variety of novelty papers to represent clouds and farmland. My line of text is adhered on the back- Flight 67. Seattle, Wa to Philadelphia, Pa.

(Space) Paste Paper

Not only did I have the opportunity to view a number of artist’s books at the Lilly and Fine Arts Library while I was visiting Bloomington, Indiana, I also made paste papers with Mary of Spring Leaf Press. I can’t wait to make more.

Directions as follows:

Mixture should be a 1(wheat starch):4 (H2O) ratio

In a double boiler, pour a small amount of water into pan and allow to heat up

Pour wheat starch into the measured amount of water and mix until the clumps are gone

Gently pour starch mixture into pan, stir constantly

After 1-2 minutes, the mixture becomes milky and begins to thicken to a pudding-like consistency

Keep stirring for a few more minutes. The mixture becomes glassy and bubbles begin to form

In order to test consistency, place some of the mixture on the back of a spoon and smoosh it against the wall of the pan- it should be stringy

Remove the paste mixture from heat and allow to cool

Wet a mounted screen and pour the now congealed paste mixture onto it

Work paste through the screen. This is the tedious part. The more you work the paste through the screen, the finer the consistency becomes

Massage paste with a paintbrush and add water until it reaches the desired consistency (make sure water is absorbed into paste before adding more water)

Add desired colors to paste mixture

For paper: secure a piece of mylar and place paper on it (for easy clean up). Dampen paper with a sponge, or spray bottle and begin

For cotton cloth: dampen both sides of cloth. Coat one side with unadulterated paste, flip to the other side and begin. If you use clear paste as the first color, painting other colors over it will result in a ghost image

Some samples:

Barbara did it better

As usual, I’m lagging a bit (you know, a month, or two behind) on my projects and posts.

I completed Space Paste/Spring Leaf  project #5 for May. There was only one stipulation for the month: ephemera.

I have a small collecting problem when it comes to natural objects. Feathers, stones, twigs… they all end up in my pocket. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to reduce the piles of snail shells and seed pods cluttering my living space. With the help of a friend, I turned a warped job case into two curiosity cabinets. I placed a transient treasure in each compartment. Except one- in that compartment sits a small book filled with abstracted watercolor and ink drawings.

I was pleased with my creation. Until I visited the Lilly Library in July and got my hands on (thanks, Jim!) Wunder Cabinet by Barbara Hodgeson and Rollin Milroy. And may I just say, squeal! Inspired by the wunderkammern of Germany, these two constructed a beautifully crafted two-layered box containing an assortment of flora, fauna and oddities. Each piece is cataloged with curatorial diligence and corresponds with one of three books (paper made by Reg Lissel) included in the package. It was a delight to sort through each compartment and discover the keepsakes waiting for me.

Thanks, Barbara, for showing me how it’s done.

The Grass is Green

Two posts within forty-eight hours! I win!

I finished April’s desperately overdue book activity a few days ago. The rules of engagement were: wax poetic and use a non adhesive binding. Choosing the text for this project made me crazy! Initially I wanted to use the poetry of a friend, but he wasn’t thrilled about others reading the musings of his early twenties. Then, I found some limericks written by my grandfather, but they didn’t seem appropriate. As I vacantly stared into the yard, bemoaning my lack of poetry, I noticed the grass, green and out of control. Ha! I went to the interwebs and found a poem related to grass. Carl Sandburg’s Grass (represented here with improper spacing. Apologies):

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work–

I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:

What place is this?

Where am I now?

I am the grass.

Let me work.

Gettysburg is all grass now. A visitor would never know that 7,000 soldiers died there and over 50,000 suffered casualties. I find the words somber, yet comforting.

I printed the poem on Murano paper and shredded it to be reminiscent of grass. The covers are recycled printing plates from a former project, sanded and distressed. The book is held together with a stab binding. I was hoping for a balance between manufactured and organic- the machine of war and the patience of the natural world. It lacks subtlety, but that’s what comes from playing catch-up.

Lost & Found

If my blog were a puppy, PETA would have locked me up!

I finally found time to take photos of March’s project with Spring Leaf Press. The theme was Things In a Box. I illustrated nine objects I lost during a particularly stressful school semester and pocketed them in a concertina book. The back of each object states what it was and where I lost it (and in some marvelous cases, where I found it).

I was pleased with the way the collage of illustrations and scanned imagery developed. However, I wasn’t entirely chipper about the outcome of this project. Most mistakes were due to human error (impatience!). I failed to get a crisp fold with Murano paper and the bottom half of the book is too heavy. Both miscalculations resulted in spine warpage.  And no matter how many times I cut and glue a cover, there’s always something! Something, in this case, being cockeyed placement. Grrrowl!

Exercise II: Push!

In the beginning of the year, my friend Mary at Spring Leaf Press and I decided to work on book exercises in order to improve and maintain our hand skills, inspire creativity and learn new techniques. At the beginning of each month we decide on our guidelines, which typically include a theme, a format and a time frame. The rules for February were as follows: teach or preach, zine, 7&7 (7 days to ideate and 7 days to execute). Additionally, the zine could include a found object and hand applied color.

I didn’t research this one. I went with my gut- 1970s punk rock cut and paste appropriated images with poor visibility. Since I was going with my gut, I chose the digestive system, its parts, functions and malfunctions, as my theme. I used images from the ground (one found object!), a lip-print and a current professional project I am working on. With the help of Photoshop, a marker and a copying machine I produced  a double sided four page spread that takes you on a mouth to ass journey through the GI tract. If you have the patience to wade through the copious and disordered writing.