July 24, 2012

New Potato Prints, and Improvisation

Ladder, ink on Masa dosa paper, 12 x 8 in.

Through my entire artistic life my work has depended on a great deal of planning and control; my paintings, textiles, and cardboard prints are worked up from precise drawings with a clear objective in mind. This is not to say that there is no surprise during the process; there always is, in dyeing wool, in mixing paint, in using the brush or the baren. However, I've never worked in such an improvisatory way as with this suite of potato prints. I cut the potatoes into shapes without a preplanned drawing, dip them into ink, stamp them on the paper without any preconceived ideas at all; I stand above the blank paper, wielding shapes, and the composition builds bit by bit as I stamp. In the case of Ladder, I had cut a long thin rectangle, dipped it in two different colors, linking up the shapes to make long lines. The green edges came first, then the bluish horizontals, neither planned; they just seemed a good idea at the time.

Primary Circles, ink on Nishinouchi paper, 12 x 11 in.

Some of the images seem terribly mundane to me, like this linking of three circles which have other irregular circles within them (this print was made with an onion, not a potato). So I think "dumb idea" to myself, but then am intrigued by the accidental quality of the stamped ink, the areas that aren't covered, the thicker lines, the splashes. 

Primary Circles, detail

Even an unwanted splash of yellow which first seemed to mar the piece now seems to me to be integral to it. Another dumb idea?; I honestly don't know. 

Descending Ovals, ink on Gampi smooth paper, 18 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.

A similar change of thought happened with this piece as I decided to leave the splotches of ink at the bottom of the sheet instead of tearing it down to remove them. As I do more of these, many will be placed on the reject pile. This one is sure to go there because when I double stamped the top shape, the ink became too opaque for the feeling I wanted. 

Bow Tie, ink on Masa dosa paper, 12 x 10 3/4 in.

An amusing portrait perhaps? Another accident I let be: the poorly finished edge of this sheet of hand made paper. I also like how each stamp of the same shape appears different: the ink misses different spots each time, is more or less opaque. This is something I can't control, and I don't want to.

Gold Caps, ink on Masa dosa paper, 12 x 12 in.

Another centered composition, with the gold circle made by an onion's stamp.

Green Band, ink on Nishinouchi paper, 9 x 6 1/2 in.

Two Blue Ovals, ink on Akatosashi paper, 4 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. 

The two pieces above use the same shape, a long rectangle with shapes cut out of it, which did interesting things put end to end. I used it for a long, large piece that I recognized as a total failure right away. With each session I've had one or two pieces that went right into the trash, so at least I have some little idea, vague but still hovering, of what I'm trying to achieve with these works. I am attracted to the notion of chance and improvisation; I'm just not sure it's my forte. 

Here's a detail of one of the prints shot with a side raking light so you can get some idea of the texture of the Masa dosa paper; I love its irregular edges and surface. Using these beautiful Japanese papers is one of the reasons I'm enjoying my foray into printmaking. The sensuous appeal of materials––the silky smoothness of calfskin parchment, the fuzzy weight of wool, the surfaces of paper––has become an important factor for me in my work. 


  1. I love the ladder - so many possible metaphors besides its immediate beauty. Brings to mind Eric Carle too. Maybe I have made a leap between the inch worm and the print.

    1. Thanks, Blorgie. It's also nice to be reminded of The Hungry Caterpillar, a marvelous book. I've been feeling in my second childhood doing these prints, so a children's book is a good reference.

  2. Along with the qualities you cite, these are tremendously engaging to me for their vitality. Don't know if the paper is a factor, but your color palette is slightly different and attractive in its not "primary-ness."

    1. Thanks so much for the nice comment, Julie. The paper may be a factor in the color choices, but I think it's more the ink colors, which are different from the pigments or dyes I'm used to using.