Friday, July 17, 2020

Nature Journaling

It's been five years since a very thoughtful friend presented me with the gift of a small, colorful book titled "Art Before Breakfast," by Danny Gregory. At the time, I was definitely feeling called to draw more and create new art, but still struggled to sit down most days and actually put pencil to paper. Thankfully, this bright little book was just the friendly nudge I needed, and its message would ultimately help recalibrate my entire creative process.

Reading Art Before Breakfast helped me to recognize and release the unconscious pressure I had been placing on myself to create "good" art. Which then enabled me to create more art, and inevitably led to creating better art. The book also inspired me to incorporate the practice of art making into my daily routine (even if only for a few minutes "before breakfast"). Over the past several years, this casual approach to art making in my sketch journal has played a crucial role in my creative growth.

This past year has been especially rich with growth and inspiration, as I've delved in deeper into my interests in both printmaking and the natural world. From immersive natural history lessons in the Sierra Nevada mountains through the UC CALNAT program, to linocut printmaking in the letterpress studio at Penland School of Craft, I've had the honor of learning from some truly incredible artists, scientists, and teachers. One of my first and most influential experiences of 2019 was learning the art of nature journaling from the master of the medium himself, Mr. John Muir Laws.

In March of 2019, I had the good fortunate of attending a two day workshop led by renowned Bay Area-based naturalist, artist, author, and teacher, John Muir Laws. Designed for educators, the experiential workshop engaged participants in various journaling practices that inspired deeper scientific observation and inquiry. As students, we were invited to notice, wonder, and reflect - not just upon our natural surroundings, but upon our inner, personal experience as well.

Looking at nature for the first time through an interdisciplinary lens of science, art, and soul ignited a powerful spark for me. And I haven't looked at the world in the same way since. 

Nature Journaling in the field with John Muir Laws


Smitten with this newfound medium of nature journaling, I began looking into other classes to further develop my skills in scientific drawing and observation. A few weeks later, I was enrolled in an online course in Natural History Illustration offered through the University of New Castle, Australia.

The course helped me to sharpen my eye and gain a beginner's understanding of things like botanical structure and animal anatomy. It also provided me with a crash course in drawing fundamentals, and taught me the basics of value and composition (concepts that I'd never formally studied as a self-taught, "figure it out as I go along" artist). Though much of my art has long been inspired by nature, and plants and animals have always factored heavily into my work, up until my introduction to nature journaling, I had simply been content to interpret my subjects stylistically. But after leafing through the exquisite pages of Laws' nature journals, and later marveling at the beautifully detailed and scientifically accurate drawings of Portland-based artist Zoe Keller, I was inspired to take my skills and understanding in this department to the next level.

Now, I feel as though my fascinations with art and nature have fused into a single, powerful force of curiosity and creativity. And I'm excited to see where this journey leads.

Specimen studies in my sketchbook 


Pages are often filled slowly over time
 

A squirrel skull - A lucky find





Back home at my desk


A female Western Tiger Swallowtail
that my husband pulled from a spider's web in our backyard


Lots of detail


After a light wash of watercolor

Monday, December 30, 2019

San Joaquin Kit Fox

As an artist who draws great inspiration from my environment and love of nature, I'm forever contemplating ways to utilize my creative abilities to help educate and advocate for a healthier Earth. One issue that has especially weighed on my heart and mind this year is the current rate of species extinction. Especially troubling is the fact that some scientists estimate as much as 99% of the extinction crisis is being driven by human activity.

It's a big problem, one that's currently unfolding right in my own backyard.

The San Joaquin Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) and Bakersfield Cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei) are both are listed as federally endangered, largely due to habitat loss associated with human development. Both are native to the part of California where I live. To me, they represent why wildland conservation and conscientious stewardship are so critical to maintaining rich biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. I've depicted them here in a graphic style as a dual reduction print, meaning a second block was carved and printed to incorporate a layer of cool color on top of the warm hues.

I love where I come from and all of the life this land supports, and I believe it's possible to create solutions that allow both humans and nature to thrive. And as disheartening as it is to witness such great loss of life and land, my spirit is buoyed by the belief in a future in which we value our Home and all of its inhabitants enough to protect and preserve it to the fullest extent
of our human ability.

The finished print


Block One, Color One: Inked and ready to print.


Due to the nature of reduction printmaking, the block is gradually destroyed with each layer of carving. Therefore, an edition of prints is limited to the number of copies made in the very first round of printing.


Progress photo showing the print with two layers of colors, printed in two stages utilizing two separate blocks.


 Transferring the Key Block (the black outline that has been carved from Block One) to Block Two. Use of a print jig and registration tabs ensure that all of the blocks are in perfect alignment as separate layers are printed on top of one another.

So much thought and care go into every print, from the first sketch to the final execution. I love the process of printmaking and all of the fun little puzzles it requires my brain to solve. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

"Keepers of the Desert" 3-Color Reduction Linocut

A few weeks ago, I completed my first reduction linocut print since returning from my summer workshop at Penland School of Craft. It was a valuable learning experience for me, so I thought I'd share a bit about the process here. 

For video clips and further explanation of the printing process,
check out my Stories on Instagram @smallfoxpress

As great as it was printing on Penland's automatic Vandercook letterpress machines, I don't have the advantage of such technology in my home studio. So initially, there was a lot of trial and error as I sought to find the perfect registration system for the Jack Richeson Medium Press that I picked up via Craigslist shortly after returning home from North Carolina.

Registration refers to how well the layers of color align on a print. Each layer of color requires another pass through the press, and another opportunity for either the block or the paper to fall out of alignment. To ensure precise registration, I purchased a set of Ternes-Burton Registration Pins and Tabs, and am really satisfied with how well they worked. However, there was one flaw in my system: The cardboard jig that I made for the block was not 100% snug, and the block was able to shift slightly, resulting in some imperfect registration on a few prints. Something to improve upon next time.

"Keepers of the Desert" is a 3-color, single reduction linocut, meaning that the print was carved from a single block of linoleum. After the first layer of color is printed, the block is carved again in preparation for the next layer. This process was repeated three times. Because the first two layers were destroyed via the carving process, this is a limited edition print. It cannot be reprinted.

I realize that most folks who are new to printmaking find it somewhat challenging to visualize the reduction process, so I made this little gif to show how the layers of the colors stack up (from lightest to darkest):




After many hours of drawing and redrawing, the design is transferred to the linoleum block using a graphite pencil and tracing paper. 


Carving the first layer of color.


The first layer of color is printed. The number of prints made at this stage will determine the maximum number of prints in the edition. It's best to print more than desired, as this layer cannot be reprinted after further carving.



Carving the second layer of color. More details begin to emerge. 


The second layer of color is printed. The print is beginning to take shape. 


 The third and final layer of color (the "Key Block") is carved, inked, and ready to be printed.


 The final layer of color is printed. Registration looks good!

As I mentioned, this print turned out to be a great teacher for me, and I learned a lot through the process of creating it. I'm glad to have challenged myself, but it certainly wasn't as easy without the support of a knowledgable instructor and a studio full of other talented artists to help guide and reassure me through the inevitable bumps in the road. I have a feeling that I'll be drawing from the wisdom and confidence bestowed upon me by my Penland experience for many years to come.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Penland School of Craft

This summer I attended a two week linocut reduction workshop at the beautiful Penland School of Craft in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The experience was an opportunity to immerse myself in art, nature, and a warm social atmosphere alongside nearly 200 other amazing artists.

I began researching various printmaking workshops at the beginning of the year. What I wanted was the opportunity to work alongside other great artists in my preferred medium of linocut printmaking, as well as have access to the space, tools, and support that would enable me to take my creative practice to the next level.

My time at Penland helped me to achieve exactly that, and more.

One of the most valuable takeaways from my experience was validation. Validation that art is a noble and worthy pursuit. Affirmation that art is a valid career path. And realizing that, when given the opportunity, I will happily spend 12 hours of my day in the studio, sketching, planning, carving, printing, and more or less transcending time and space in a blissful state of flow.

Meeting other female working artists who devote themselves entirely to their craft was equally inspiring. My studio instructor, Laura Baisden, owns and operates her letterpress shop Camp Nevernice in Nashville, Tennessee. Her style, technique, and work ethic are all worthy of the highest praise, and her sense of humor is not to be matched. I feel very thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from her creative vision, entrepreneurial spirit, and general air of fearlessness.

I'm now back home in sunny California, and excited to integrate all that I have learned into my everyday creative routine.

For a little mini tour of Penland and a peek into the letterpress studio, scroll down to view my photos, or check out my Instagram feed @smallfoxpress.

Rocking out on the porch of the Craft House 


Craft House back and Supply Store Entrance 


Double rainbow welcome following orientation


Warming up on a small 4x6" block (battleship grey linoleum mounted on 3/4" MDF)


Planning a 9x12" dual reduction 


Carving the key block 


Printing color #2 on a Vandercook Letterpress Machine 


Proud Printmaker

Finished 9x12" dual reduction linocut print (still awaiting paper trim)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Bakersfield Life Magazine

For a look inside my studio and a little insight into my work, check out this short video interview I filmed this fall with the wonderful Mark Nessia of Bakersfield Life Magazine. I feel very honored to have been featured alongside some truly remarkable local women in the October issue, and am thankful for the opportunity to share my passion with the town I love.


Photo by Mark Nessia


It's been a busy several months and I've been working hard on new projects.


For now, enjoy this bookmark design I created as a giveaway item to pack along with my shop orders. It's one of my latest attempts at "carving" prints digitally:




Sunday, September 9, 2018

Watercolor Breakfast Table Mini Prints

I loved taking my watercolors to these cute mini prints!

They are now available for purchase in my online shop.

Lots of activity in my studio these days!  Follow me on Instagram @smallfoxpress
to keep up with my latest creative projects.












Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tea Pot Mini Print


The Breakfast Table mini prints just keep coming!


In this print, I finally paid homage to one of my favorite times of day: Tea Time. 

Normally I proof in black ink, but for this tea pot I decided to use a splash of color instead. I love how the sherbert gradient turned out! 




This project also marked a milestone in my career as a printmaker, as my husband finally built me something I've always dreamed of: a drying line for fresh prints!




I've found that the printing process is much more satisfying when the finished product can be displayed neatly on a wall, as opposed to haphazardly strewn about every surface in the room.




And of course, what would a new print be without its digital counterpart?

I so loved the look of the gradient backsplash from the handprinted version, I decided to incorporate it into the vector image, as well. 




These colors make me feel so peaceful and satisfied.

For this series of prints, I sought to create a glimpse into my ideal breakfast nook. One that rests in quiet reflection, and finds joy in life's simple pleasures. A place that feels warm, hospitable, and safe.

The sense of balance, the clean lines, and the simple harmony of these designs helps me come back to center. They encourage a sense of presence, and gratitude. It's the little things that anchor us in the present moment. It's giving thanks for life's mundane details that sweetens the everyday.

I hope these prints will bring peace and gratitude to many kitchens. Prints and cards will be available soon! Follow me on Instagram @smallfoxpress to stay up-to-date on news and shop launch date.

Thank you <3

Sunday, July 1, 2018

California Poppy Mini Print

Somehow it's already July, and it seems that the triple digit temperatures are here to stay a while. Fortunately, my little home studio is the coolest room in the house, and I can happily hibernate here all summer long. 

However, I am looking forward to getting out later this month: On the evening of July 26th, I will be hosting Art After Dark at the Bakersfield Museum of Art. Art After Dark is one of my favorite events at the BMOA. That night, Kern River Brewing Co. will be in the house pouring craft beer, and I will be leading the group in a fun linocut activity. I'm really excited to share my experience, and watch everyone's creations come to life!

Since the theme of the night is nature and the great outdoors, I created a print depicting spring's most ubiquitous little cheerleader: The California Poppy.




I don't often pull out the colors, but an orange/green gradient was a really fun look for these guys.




And as usual, I couldn't resist scanning the original print and experimenting with multiple digital iterations in Adobe Illustrator.


I love that my collection of prints is growing steadily every week! I'm just about ready to print some greeting cards. I'll be sure to announce shop updates here and on instagram @smallfoxpress