August 22, 2012

More Adventures in Printmaking: Digital Prints

I am a very lucky artist. I was invited to "play" for two days at the amazing digital printshop, Cone Editions Press, by my friends Jon and Cathy Cone. We planned on Monday and Tuesday, so I spent time over the weekend getting materials together. My idea was to make relief collages from my textile and cardboard print materials. I cut some linen into different sized rectangles, cut a few shapes out of wool, and ironed many leftover pieces of wool of many colors; I also cut shapes out of two ply cardboard, so as to use the corrugations in my compositions. My thinking has certainly changed over the years: my first print project with Cone Editions, many years ago, was a landscape that I drew in Photoshop. 

This is a view into the print room, with Epson printers stacked high. My prints were made on the printer at the left, an Epson Stylus Pro 9800. There are other printers in the shop, even an Iris printer. 

You might have wondered how I could make collages into a digital print, and here in the answer: a remarkable direct scanner that can capture objects up to 14 inches deep and 40 x 60 inches wide! in very high resolution. When I got to the shop on Monday morning, I laid out my materials and just started putting things together; I worked on a table, on the floor, and directly on the scanner bed, trying this and that until I got an image I liked. For this first piece I made a diptych of two small pieces of linen, then added the curved thick lines of blue. I wanted to include the lime green wool, so, mindful of the quality of volume and of shadow I could get (there are banks of lights at either side of the table that can be adjusted), I folded the wool into a curved form. I peered over the composition, and then had the idea to tie the two parts together with a thin line of red wool. Then the scanning could begin, after focusing, which was a job in itself. The scan took several minutes.

After each work was scanned, the huge digital file was sent downstairs to Jon's computer where he would do the cleaning up, and any color adjustments needed. After all the scans were done during Monday, I sat next to him on Tuesday, conferring on the many decisions needing to be made, such as which shadows remained and which would have to go. My idea in using cardboard was to color the shapes in the computer, while keeping the corrugations as texture in the image. Jon was able, with his tremendous expertise, to get just the effect I wanted; you can see the result of this image below, the print titled Ghost

Red Line, archival ink jet print, ca. 16 x 25 in.

When I look at these prints, I'm amazed at the strong illusion of form and the quality of light; it's really very exciting. I feel that my ability to work in this improvisational manner has been helped along by my other printmaking, especially doing potato prints; working with abstract compositions for years with my textiles also helped in this process. (how can I do this and realist paintings too? weird, huh?)

Pink Bar, archival ink jet print, ca. 22 x 22 in.

In Pink Bar, I liked the idea of the unfolded and folded rectangles, with the squiggle of a deep pink line moving the eye back and forth, tying one end of the composition to the other. 

Ghost, archival ink jet print, ca. 22 x 26 in.

This is the finished version of the print you see on the computer monitor above. With the black and red wool background I was thinking of Russian Constructivism, so thought of making two shapes white and the small circle blue. That oval does have a figural allusion, which is why I gave it the title Ghost.

Blue Triangle, archival ink jet print, ca. 23 x 23 in.

This image was scanned just using the ambient light in the room (all the lighting fixtures are daylight fluorescents), and it gave particular richness to the color. 

Golden Shapes, archival ink jet print, 32 x 29 in.

To make my work easier, I had arranged all my wool pieces in color groups; when Cathy looked at the pile of yellows she remarked how beautiful they were and that they were Buddhist robe colors. So right then I determined to make a composition using them, with a truncated circle of cardboard at the center. When we were working in the computer adjusting the image, at first I was thinking of a light color for that circle, but then Cathy walked in and suggested black for it. As Jon was adjusting the color, this dark brown came up and I said "stop, that's great!" and there it was; a collaborative effort.

Red Dot, archival ink jet print, 32 x 29 in.

This final print is made up only of cardboard, in a rather cubistic composition. The process of arriving at this result was also collaborative, since I had a different idea of how it would end up. Originally I wanted a colored rectangle behind the cardboard, but after seeing Jon's idea of making the cardboard darker against white, which Cathy also preferred, we went for that. I added just two colors, to square and circle. After working for two days with these visually and technically smart people, I'd love someone in the studio all the time to bounce ideas off of; collaboration is a wonderful process.

Here's a photo of the prints hanging in the studio, to give an idea of their relative sizes.

Jon Cone photographs

Cathy Cone photographs

Jon and Cathy don't only run a state of the art printshop, they are also terrific artists. Jon has invented Piezography printmaking, using different ink sets for black and white prints of varying colorations. They have great depth and richness, and you can see it in Jon and Cathy's photographs; an online photo can't come close to showing the gorgeous quality of these images, their mystery and poetry. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have made prints with them. 


  1. What a great opportunity..and results! And here I was cramming cloth into the machines at KinkOs! LOL

  2. Your work is always fascinating. Unique and beautiful use of this medium. Wonderful.

  3. Thanks for the nice comments.
    Deb, a flat bed scanner just doesn't do the trick, does it?

  4. That IS a wonderful scanner. It looks like an old copy stand setup:

  5. Fascinating stuff Altoon!! How wonderful to have had this opportunity!

  6. A different thing to hear about your collaborative process. So too to see these marvelous prints individually and then in a group context. It will not surprise you that I am especially drawn to Ghost...also appreciate those wonderful tones in your hosts' photographs.

  7. thanks, Mona and Julie.
    Julie, Ghost was also Cathy Cone's favorite.

  8. Rich collages, Altoon. The heft, saturated colors, and shape contrasts are pleasing and surprising. I enjoy the space available in each of them; the space invites me in.