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.  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. "During this same period, in creating a number of black-and-white tempera drawings, 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 and drawings--"abstracting as much as possible"--she often confused anyone watching as to exactly what she was capturing on the surface!
Titled "Trees I," this tempera drawing was done with sticks and twigs Orville found on site.

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 a BA in Fine Arts and an MFA 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. "As a younger artist, I often exaggerated elements in the landscape. Now I seek out forms that are weathered and shaped by nature," Orville says.

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