Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wendy Orville's monoprints may look like photographs, but...

Bainbridge Island artist Wendy Orville
There was a lot of close-up inspection of Wendy Orville's sample monoprints at the February 14 CQA meeting as the attendees discovered that these very photographic-looking pieces...were not photographs at all! An artist residing and working on Bainbridge Island, Orville spoke to the group about her artistic journey, inspirations, and methods in this informative program, enlightening the many of us who knew little about monoprinting.
This monoprint triptych is not a photograph!

Orville came to appreciate art and nature at an early age, with her scientist parents (father=geology professor; mother=high school biology teacher) encouraging her and her siblings to experiment. For fun, she would draw and paint birds and animals from taxidermy specimens her mother brought home to use as school samples. She traveled extensively with her parents during school vacations, and when her parents' sabbatical years would come up, the travels--usually to other countries--were lengthy enough that she was put into local schools in those countries, experiencing total language immersion!
The above image and the two below are among the "15 paintings in 5 days" Orville produced while at Yale, using blobs of pure color and often just twigs, rocks and other "painting tools" found on site. A similar type of abstraction is an element in some of her present-day works as well.

She found herself drawn to oil painting early on and studied art at Yale University. One of her first class assignments was to create 15 paintings in 5 days! She settled on using bold chunks of pure color to capture the essence of the scenes she chose to depict. "I was painting faster than I could think!" she said. "I made up a rule of my own: I could draw the landscape with only the 'tools' I found on site, meaning sticks, rocks, and so on. The resulting work was very similar to what I'm doing now...the pendulum swings between abstraction and realism." In playing with hard edges as a major element of these quick paintings--"abstracting as much as possible"--she often confused anyone watching as to exactly what she was capturing on the surface!
Orville took a 4-day intensive workshop in monoprinting from Taos, N.M. artist Michael Vigil, above.

Above and below: Two of Orville's early monoprints, inspired by Taos scenes

Orville received BFA and MFA degrees in painting, then, unfortunately, her career as an oil painter ended when she developed a severe allergy to oil paints. A move west to Taos, New Mexico, set her on her current path. Here she took a 4-day workshop in monoprinting with local artist Michael Vigil, and found her new medium. The vast open skies of the southwest gave her new themes and inspiration--as, in 1996, did a move north to the moody skies, wetlands and dense forests of the Puget Sound region.

Puget Sound wetlands represented in a monoprint...a big change from Taos scenes!
Above and below: Picturing her kids' toys was a fun way for Orville to keep her hand in while busy with child-rearing.

She began to incorporate northwest scenes in her work, then came a hiatus when a lot of  her time was taken  up with raising a new baby. Much of her art during this period consisted of small, quick drawings of kids' toys "just to have a good time." Perhaps it was these drawings, or perhaps a mental return to her drawings of the taxidermy specimens in her childhood, as Orville found herself wanting to seriously concentrate on animals, but with a high degree of abstraction.

Her more serious work depicting animals was sometimes done  "on site," e.g. sitting in a pig pen to  capture the porker above.
Achieving a hard edge on the sides of the sheep, above, came as Orville practiced a new technique. This image became the logo for a local eating establishment.
In creating this image, Orville tried to ignore the dog's personality and just show patterns of light and dark.
"I actually sat in a pig pen to make one drawing," she laughed, adding "I wanted to show just patterns of light and dark and not get hung up on the animal's personality. How much could I take out and still have a recognizable form."
Vast skies over Washington's Palouse region

With the first child and, later, a second one under control, Orville returned to works from nature with an emphasis on skies: "I found that unlimited space could be found just by looking up," she said. "Clouds represent a moment in time. For me, it's about paying attention to the abstraction of form--I can get lost in an image." She spent several years with landscape and sky subjects "trying to find my language," she said, adding "sometimes I invented landscapes...I've learned not to question myself if I'm having a good time!"
The rock, tree and clouds were all printed from different plates, and the rock itself came from Orville's imagination.

Much  of her work is in black and white, but other pieces include as many as 8 to 10 layers of color. She will lay down some under layers of bright colors and then add complementary colors on top until she achieves the desired effect.
Some of the color monoprints have 8 to 10 layers of colored ink applied.
Orville's "inspiration/test", sketches and test prints
Sketch with design notes form a record of a particular piece

So how does Orville achieve monoprints that look like photographs, but aren't? As a guide, she may start with one of her own photos or drawings created on site, parts or all of which may end up in the finished print. Then, using a range of values of non-pigmented ink (which allows the light of the printing paper to come through) on a sheet of glass as a palette, she uses a thick, heavy roller and rolls back and forth over the inks until she achieves the desired blending of tones for the over-all piece.

Non-pigmented inks are laid out in a range  of values
Inks on the glass palette ready to be rolled and blended
The first rolling....
...then continued rolling, until the inks are blended to her satisfaction.
This "base" is then rolled onto a plexiglass plate and the detail work begins. If the work features clouds, Orville will take a small stick and draw a sharp line, delineating the edge of a cloud as the line of ink is removed. Then, using a small wad of paper, cloth or even her finger, she will proceed to remove more and more ink until a perfect cloud appears: "It's a subtractive process," she explained, adding that the inked plate can be worked on for as long as a day before the ink dries too much to be worked. The paper to be printed on is soaked and blotted before being put on the press as wet paper absorbs the ink in a more saturated way. And as the name implies, only one print can be pulled from the plate.
The final blended ink is rolled onto a plexiglass plate, ready for creation of the image. A photograph (upper right) serves as a general guide for the desired shape of the cloud.
A sharp line delineates the edge of a cloud...
...then rubbing with a wad of paper, cloth or a finger removes ink to create the cloud itself.
Soaked, blotted printing paper is taken to the press where the final plexiglass plate is mounted, ready for printing.
The completed monoprint of the sky and cloud comes off the press. Any trees or other landscape features are added later from different plates.

She may print only an area of clouds one day, maybe not knowing what, if anything, she will print on top of it, and return at a later time to add trees or other landscape elements from a different, separate plate. To achieve the often very thin and "spiky" portions of trees, grasses and other forms that mark a number of her pieces, Orville will employ parts of credit cards, toothbrushes, Q-tips and other everyday items to make fairly sharp lines--"anything that pulls the ink off," she explained.

The moody, ethereal quality of Orville's work is wonderful on its own...but it's even more enjoyable when you find out how this artist achieves her unique images!
Monoprint of old pilings at the site of the former Port  Blakeley mill on Puget Sound. "If the scene is of something old, I seek out shapes that are there," says Orville, "but for younger scenes, I will often exaggerate."

For more views of Orville's pieces and information on the artist, go to

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CQA holds annual "Play Day," prepares for StashFest

A "free-form" marbled design, right after being pulled off the "gel" medium
A large turnout of enthusiastic CQA members gathered January 10 in the workroom of the Bellevue Art Museum, eager to learn some new surface-design techniques as well as to play with favorite art materials. All the activities were aimed at producing unique fabrics for "The CQA Collection," which will be unveiled at the StashFest 2015 fundraiser, set for April 18 in La  Conner, WA.  

Attendees were clad in old clothes and aprons, ready to "get messy" with paints, crayons and more, in instructional sessions led by  volunteer "stationmasters": Colleen Wise (silk screening), Marilynn Dondero-Rich (die-cutting), Carla Stehr (water-soluble crayons, pencils, color sticks, rubbing blocks), and Helen Johnston (layered marbling using fluid acrylics, masks and traditional marbling tools). Roberta Andresen was our liaison with BAM and also brought a varied collection of stamping materials. Carla DiPietro, fundraising chair for CQA, masterminded all the details of this fun--and important--meeting.

Colleen Wise (at rear) led the silk-screen station

Popular silk screen designs ranged from textures (above) to small patterns (below).
Leaves are always a favorite silk-screen design (above) as are textures (below). The latter lend themselves to further screening, stamping or other surface design,

Carla Stehr, left, led the station using water-soluble crayons, pencils and "color blocks" as well as the use of rubbing plates.
What looks like pastels are actually water-soluble color blocks.

Using water-soluble color sticks on wet fabric with  rubbing blocks beneath creates interesting patterns.

Carla Stehr's "notebook" showed the many different appearances of the same color that can be achieved with the different water-soluble products and how they are handled.

Rubbing over embossed plates with various water-soluble media on a piece of wet, previously dyed fabric produces some interesting effects.

Marilynn Dondero-Rich (right) with her "assistant" Sally Strawn sets up the die-cutting station.

Die-cutting flowers out of a fusible-backed piece of fabric (above) resulted in a "negative space" piece of fabric (below) that was later used as a mask in a silk-screen project!

Finished die-cut flowers, packaged for sale at StashFest.

Helen Johnston taught at the marbling station--a technique new at the Play Day this year.

Yellow paint is applied, drop by drop, to create the free-form marbled piece at the top of this post.
The use of this plastic mask (above) confines the paint on top of the gel to produce a more structured piece (below). Once removed from the gel, all the marbled pieces were placed on layers of newsprint to soak up what amounted to a fairly large quantity of liquid.

This piece started with the use of the yellow "holes" mask...and then went off on its own!

(Above and below) Some very unusual patterns were achieved at the marbling station!

Good, solid pressure is needed to get a clean impression of the large circular stamp.

Some patient stamping of simple letter forms (above) produces an interesting piece of fabric (below)!

Many pieces of unusual materials were completed during the session, with others due to be further treated and then returned at the next meeting, as Carla DiPietro builds up the pieces of "The CQA Collection." The play-day was the group's third such annual workshop, and the April 18 StashFest marks CQA's third appearance at that fundraising event. StashFest sales of fabrics created and/or donated by CQA members  will benefit both CQA and the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum. (Preliminary information about StashFest may be found at

(From left) Fundraising Chair Carla DiPietro, former president Mary Lewis, and member Cheryl Quesnell admire finished pieces as they begin to stack up on the drying rack.

Among the completed, labeled and packaged pieces for "The CQA Collection" to be sold at the April 18 StashFest is this delightful, coordinated set of  silk-screened "rooster"prints.