Drawing Reductively

cup awesome

Often in drawing, one uses a graphite pencil or stick of charcoal to make an image on the page. This drawing session was different. I asked my students to spread charcoal across the entire surface of their paper, and use an eraser as their only tool. Observing simple white objects set on the table in front of them, the students carved highlights out of the dark space, bringing the three dimensional image to life on their paper. As I demonstrated, one student remarked that it was almost like watching me sculpt the object rather than draw it.

This brings me to an acquaintance I made a few years ago, whose name is Matthew Woodward. He is a Chicago-based artist, but we met at a residency, and I had the chance to walk into his studio during open studio hours. Graphite dust covered the walls and floors, where he had been working on a massive reductive drawing that reached from floor to ceiling. I happened to be alone in the room, and I was awestruck. While I do not remember the exact title of the piece he was working on, it was based on architectural details found on the streets of Chicago, which were then translated in his work. This is an example of what was happening in his studio.


Later in the evening, Matthew and I shared a conversation in my studio. I had also been working in reductive imagery, but in printmaking, and on a much smaller scale. We shared a conversation about our love of light on forms, and the beauty of pulling an image out from the darkness. There was an overlap in our stories, our experience of loss, and the need to make work about it. This is what was happening in my studio.


The following excerpt is taken from an interview by Damien James, titled “More than a Whisper in the Ear: An Interview with Matt Woodward and Linda Warren” in 2011.


In describing his process, Matt says,”I begin sanding into the surface. Actually, what I do is not so much sanding into the surface as it is beating the hell out of the surface. I’ll drag whatever I can find across it and throw things at it and generally get into a fight with it until it starts to let go of its face a little and dissolve out. I do this is because of the graphite; the paper is going to record just about everything I do to it, and when I get around to laying the graphite powder down it’s going to sneak into all of these grooves and tears and make what it is I have done to it into a more visible mark. It’s also going to make itself difficult to get out again. And, of course, it’s then that I go about trying to get it out again. I start scraping and sanding and erasing or getting it wet and pulling it out however I can. Sometimes I’ll add more paper to the surface, over the graphite and get back into it and repeat the process.”

matt woodward1

Woodward continues, “I’ve taken these objects, these images and I have put them in the dark, in the graphite bed that I have made for them. And, if you’ll humor my analogy a moment, after this I then begin to pull them back out. I do that by applying light to the object, by erasing the graphite out of the surface. It’s really your traditional reductive drawing, and in this way, I think, reductive drawing has more in common with a sculptural idiom, an architectural idiom than you might expect. I am letting the light of the image, which is the light of the paper – the paper that is buried beneath the graphite – signify the things presence by pulling and carving it out of the surface. It’s very much like a relief.”

mattwoodward9matt woodward 1mattwoodward8


Do you remember ever being so inspired by something that it took your breath away?


You can see more of these images at mattwoodward.com.

Moku Hanga Love

carvingI spent the last three days studying the Japanese tradition of Moku Hanga printmaking. Moku hanga is the Japanese term for woodblock print (moku means wood and hanga means print). Rice paste and water-based pigments are the inking materials specific to the moku hanga process. In Moku Hanga, one applies colors to the woodblock with brushes, and uses a “kento” registration system for printing a paper multiple times. The actual print is made using a handheld “baren” as a burnisher. Traditionally, separate woodblocks are carved and printed for each color.

HokusaiWoodblock printing was brought to Japan in the 8th century by Buddhists from China and was first used to reproduce religious texts.  Woodblock printing became the primary form of commercial printing in Japan. This print by Hokusai was made between 1826-1833.

I love this method because:

a. it is non-toxic. Using water-based pigment means it is safe for use around children.

b. everything can be done by hand. There is no need for a printmaking press of which I have no room for and no money to buy one.

c. one can start and stop the process with ease. This means mom can be available when desperately needed elsewhere in the house.

Inspired by the moku hanga prints made by my friend Katie Baldwin, I wanted to give it a try and decided to study with Annie Bissett, a regional moku hanga printmaker. I began with a watercolor sketch of some winter berries from our yard. Then began carving multiple blocks for various colors.

watercolor sketch

carved blocksinking blockHere I am applying pigment to the carved block. From the top right you will see rice paste, pigment, and baren. The woodblock is held tight in a registration board to ensure proper placement of paper over the carved block.

brushThis is the traditional Maru Bake brush used to spread the rice paste and pigment onto the carved block. The following images show the carved blocks once they have been inked.

final prints

If you are interested in taking a cool workshop like this, contact Zea Mays Printmaking.

Winter Art and Andy Goldsworthy

snowEvery morning, even on the coldest days, I take our dog Toby for a walk. It is a ritual for the two of us. Because of where we go, Toby is able to run, unfettered by a leash, to his heart’s content. But I walk. And lately I’ve been noticing our footprints in the snow.

This particular morning, I decided to change it updog and make some winter art. Toby watched curiously as I walked in curves and spirals, breaking our long tradition of habitually straight lines. I secretly hoped someone else would visit this spot later in the day to discover the patterns we had made.

This brings me to Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist who produces site-specific sculptures in natural settings. With gloveless hands, Goldsworthy fuses together icicle chunks with warm water, holding them in place while they freeze. He packs and molds snow for hours on end. Goldsworthy uses only his bare hands, teeth, and found tools to prepare and arrange the materials he finds in nature. Photography is the only means for making these works permanent. Because snow melts, ice breaks, and seasons change.

Enjoy these images, and the next time you go out for a walk with your dog, your children, or a friend, leave behind a mischievous pattern in the snow.June30_Hawthorn_Tree_2andy_goldsworthy_03goldsworthy-ice_ball_2                Andy Goldsworthy, OBE is a British sculptor, photographer and engoldworth ice-twigs 1999goldsworthy

Carving out a space

Studio in summer This is my art studio which we renovated a few years ago, turning an old lead paint-covered front porch into a light-filled space for housing art books, making drawings, and evaluating my college students’ artwork. It has been a place for my cat to find safety from the dog, a place to make art with my children, and most recently a place to illustrate a book. Sometimes when we have guests over, it becomes a storage room to hide things that we didn’t have time to clean up. The view is so beautiful that I often drift away from the task at hand.

I feel blessed to have carved out this space for myself. But this space can happen anywhere. In a field with a notebook, in a kitchen with fresh ingredients, on a mountainside with snowshoes. Spaces are plentiful but time is often not. Take a moment to carve out a space for yourself today.


How To Make a Monotype

I LOVE making monotypes.

drawing on plexiglas

I begin with a sheet of plexiglas onto which I draw a sketch of my image in permanent marker. The image must be drawn in reverse.

inking up the roller

Then I ink up a roller using my favorite Graphic Chemical Bone Black Etching ink, and roll out an even layer of ink onto the plexiglas.

Using a light table so that I can see the sketch on the back of the plexiglas, I begin to pull off the ink in the places I do not want it.

I use rags, Q-tips, and cool little tools I make from cheesecloth and masking tape to remove the ink and create texture.Qtips with ink

I also use brushes and setswell compound (often used in lithography) to modify the inks and change their consistency. This enables me to work the ink as if it is an oil paint, and approach the image in a painterly way.

Once I have cleaned up the edges of the image, I can finally prepare to print. I soak a piece of Rives BFK printmaking paper for at least an hour in a water bath. The plexiglas plate is then set onto the bed of the etching press, over which the dampened printmaking paper is gently layed. I lower the three press blankets, which cushion the plate when printing, run the whole darn thing through the press, and… voila! The finished monotype.

Finding our way IV

The crazy thing is that once you have made this one-of-a-kind print, you simply wipe the ink off the plate using vegetable oil, remove the marker on the back of the plate, and make something new.

Zea Mays Printmaking Residency

Knob on Press

This year I am honored to receive the Northern Berkshire Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant for the year 2013. This funding has helped to support my current artist residency at Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, MA. Zea Mays is a printmaking facility that honors the rich tradition of printmaking by exploring alternatives that are safe for artists and the environment. It is housed in a historic mill building that once made cutlery. You feel history when making art in this building.

Zea mays Sweet CornAs for the name? “Zea Mays (Sweet Corn) is a plant known for its ability to extract heavy metal toxins from the soil through its leaves and roots. Just as this plant is being used as a natural way of restoring contaminated earth back to health, our mission is to restore the art of printmaking to a healthy art form.”  Zea Mays is non- toxic in its approach to printmaking.


During this residency I have created a new body of work, but in the process, engaged with a wonderful community of artists, like Liz Chalfin (director), Joyce SilverstoneNancy Diessner,  Kate Jenkins and Lynn Peterfreund. You should check out their work.


Takach Press

Mixing Ink







I  work in a private studio called the Annex, where I mix ink, cut stencils, adjust pressure on the press, cross my fingers, pull prints, and occasionally play Words with Friends on my iPod (everyone needs a break). I even had helpers one afternoon.

Children working in AnnexSafety

Check back in a few days for my post: How to Make a MonotypeInking the rollerAnnex DoorOld Mill BuidingBrayers

Paste Papers

PASTE PAPERSPaste PaperPaste Paper

One of the early forms of decorated paper, paste papers were used for both covers and end-papers in books from the late sixteenth century through the eighteenth century in Germany, Italy and France. These papers are gorgeous, and can be made by anyone. Sure, you can buy decorative papers in an art store, but nothing beats a handmade paper with your own color choices and mark-making in it.  I teach my students how to make these papers in my Book Arts classes. What are you waiting for? Get out and make some papers.

Paste Paper by Patricia McPikePaste Paper by Cynthia BaldwinPaste PaperPaste can be made from methyl cellulose, wheat paste, flour, wallpaper mix or cornstarch.  Once you have made your paste, add a water-based paint to the paste mixture and stir.  Apply the paint-paste to your paper with sponge brushes.  Multiple colors can go down simultaneously.  Any tool that can make a pattern in the paste may be used.  Professional graining tools may be purchased at a craft or paint store.  Experiment with crinkled paper, plastic wrap, sea sponges, cut-up credit cards, bubble wrap; anything that creates texture will make a beautiful design.

Paste Paper Demonstration

3-signature sewing

Loop the Loop

Paste Paper Book 


Methyl cellulose:  1 oz. powder mixed into 10 oz. cold water; stir for five minutes; wait 30 minutes and dilute to desired consistency.  Stir throughout the day; ready to use after a few hours or overnight.

Wheat paste:  Add six parts cold water to one part wheat starch; bring to a boil, stirring continuously, until paste becomes clear; strain when clear

Cornstarch: Mix one cup cornstarch with one cup cold water; add mixture gradually to five cups boiling water; stir until cooked through; while slightly warm, add ½ cup liquid ivory soap to give smooth finish.

Coloring agents: Acrylic, watercolor, gouache, inks

paste papers Drying

Paste Papers Drying