Carry on carrying on

I saw the above advice on Instagram the other day and admired its pragmatism. It also made me chuckle.

Can any of my Dear Readers relate to the “exhortation” below that I shared with an artist friend recently?

I very much need to be moved by my own exhortation today. I am on my way to a gallery with some of my stuff to show them and I am donning my armour before I go when I hear:

” No, that sucks, we don’t want shit like that in here”, no matter what shmoozy words they use.

Here is my little self-talk intended to douse any flames of self-pity, shame and discouragement that might threaten to burst out:

” It is especially hard not to sell at all after all the joy you have taken in the work and the dedication to the studio time.

I think there is only one way forward out of the misery of not selling and that is to keep on doing what you love. To decide to do that. To simply choose that. To say NO to the voices that tell you your art life is over or should be since the Bottom Line (or whatever ) does not justify it.

Realize with gratitude that inventory of artwork stacked in your studio is not there to accuse you of having failed to sell. What you look at each day is marvellous proof that you have invested in your gift.

The “harvest” in terms of sales volume is not ours to decide ultimately and is never going to be- even if we have a responsibility to market the art we make. We can only plough, sow the seed, water – then gather, we hope, in due time. Is there any other way to look at an art life that lets you keep creating? 

The other thing that lights up these dark passages is to look at all you have done to make your art and to support your art sales, then to celebrate every step very deliberately with a conscious expression of gratitude that you were able to carry out each and every step. Everything is grace. Gratitude builds us up.

It is terribly tempting to look at the same efforts and say to yourself: What a waste of my time, my resources, my hopes, my inspirations.

Say “No” to that response. It is possible to choose another response, that is, one that affirms each and every step you have taken to make the art and to put the art out there. You can look at these as if stacked in the studio alongside each other as proofs of your investment in your gift. Or as a stairway to knowing your own heart.

These are works of grace given and used for good, maybe not just your benefit. Possibly others can “take heart and do the art ” from what you simply Show and Tell, not only the Show and Sell

You can choose to look at your own efforts in gratitude, in appreciation, instead of in condemnation which is almost knee-jerk at times.

Accepting to respond in this self-affirming way brings power to build us up, to bring us life in times when we are down and might feel left for dead in the side of the art road.

We choose life by making our art, by choosing to carry on carrying on

Photos next time, Dear Readers! Will be carrying on with my inks.

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Chameleon inks

Happy new year to all my readers and welcome to new readers since last post.

Do you have plans for artmaking this year?

My art plans for 2019 are substantially the same as in 2018: Get some art work done, Wendy. Sigh. And throw out some of that stuff in the studio. Or at least use it up.

I did manage to reduce my Hallowed Dye Hoard in 2018 but there is plenty left. ( ” Dye Hoard”? That sounds familiar…)

As I realized recently, there is depressingly enough dye material in my stash to colour several of Christo’s next giant wrapping installations. So I am actually quite excited to keep on filling wee bottles of ink with extracts made from the plants, powders and potions still residing in cupboard and freezer.

Wow, there are some great inkmakers at play, I have discovered. I have so much enjoyed, for example, following and learning from Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Company and Tim McLaughlin at that dye-heaven, Maiwa in Vancouver where I buy my dye stuff.

Meawhile, I am truly trying hard to resist collecting any new art studio materials except for items like cute bottles to put ink in. Readers, the cute factor must be maintained even at the expense of stash reduction.

So up to now, various eccentric and alchemical inks concocted from dye plants such as walnut ( sepia brown), buckthorn (green), wild grape (purple/blue) and coreopsis (orange-red laked powdered pigment) have been bottled up in my studio. Plant inks, by their nature, are chameleon-like, meaning they can change colour depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the surfaces they land on. Natural dyers are familiar with the colour-changing actions of dye modifiers such as ammonia, iron, vinegar, copper acetate and others. Plant based inks behave similarly in the company of these modifiers. I took note that encounters with such modifiers can take place by design (the artist’s) or by chance ( the paper’s or cloth’s). So dear reader, I accept that when I make art with plant ink, I need to be resolved to let the plant ink have its way a lot of the time.

Now the wee bottles of ink may want to run amok if left as they come out of the extraction process.

So far, however, none has exploded or grown scary-beastie-like forms in the short weeks since they came to be. That is because they contain a little restrainting substance, in the form of a natural preservative.

To encourage – but not guarantee – longevity of the plant colour extracts, I add preservatives such as whole cloves and/or wintergreen oil as recommended by experienced and ( please note) still living plant-ink makers. Am thinking that tea tree oil and aspirin might work, too, to extend the life of the ink and to help it stay mould-free. ( Though most inkmakers say just keep calm, remove any impertinent mould and carry on) . Alcohol is used by some makers as preservative but inkartists can complain of feathering when the ink is used for calligraphy and when the alcohol is present at a preservation-useful 15%. Vinegar has its uses as a preservative ( it is said) but it also lowers pH, thus can change the ink colour. Which may be what you want more than you care about how long the ink lasts) . I add gum arabic also to help flow and texture.

I think it best to keep plant inks in the fridge where it is cool and dark. But that might be overkill for some. For myself, I approach inkmaking like jam or jellymaking and so sterlize the bottles and equipment.

Best be upfront about this ink adventure: anything made with water and plants together will have a propensity to live its own life, if you get my drift.

And now for the pictures which you may have skipped the text for.. maybe go back and read the text later?

I will divide up my recent ink pics over a few posts. ( you can find lots on my Instagram, too) Today we have red/pink ink made from roselle or hibiscus sabdariffa. In Jamaica, where it is known as “sorrel”, this flower is dried and used in a refreshing drink like lemonade.( FYI: You can buy the dried blossoms in Caribbean and Mid East food shops. ) The red colour can be hard to keep stable but traditional natural dyers have done it on textiles with special plant mordants. ( Check Cardon for info – see my refs page). Since Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, here are my as-yet-unsubstantiated efforts with roselle colours as ink. ( Apologies – no pics of the dried plant – my stash is now ink)


After an hour simmering in distilled water, a little vinegar and some alum, dried roselle calyces are strained and the extract is ready to be boiled down to a concentrate to make the ink
Two eco print paper bundles were simmered in the roselle dye pot, pre extract. One bundle had dried safflower petals inserted between the papers
The second ecoprint bundle of folded paper cooked in the dye pot had chokecherry leaves inserted between the folds. The greens and blues are from the chokecherry. The roselle made the purple-pink around.
This is how the red roselle extract colours papers of various composition. Blue for some and red-pink for others depending on the paper pH.
Here is the roselle ( R) with [R to L) walnut, grape, buckthorn and irongall-sumac on Saint Armand artisanal paper


So that is is for this post on my chameleon inks! Up next- sumac berries. I will also post a pic of my latest and re-opened references for readers wishing to have a go themselves.

Blessings on the work of your hands this year, dear readers.

More walnuts



Last time I reported on making walnut colour extract on its way to becoming ink. The walnuts have been fermenting since late summer 2015. They started out in big jars (128 fl oz), a couple of dozen green-hulled walnuts in each jar with water to cover, left to solar-soak outside until frost, then transported inside to dark studio cupboards.

Most recipes I have looked at suggest removing the green hull and using that part. I thought that maybe some extra tannins might enter the dye if I left the nutmeats inside their shells and cooked them along with the green bits. After cooking ( and before being donated to the critters outside) I find they  look a quite lovely deep brown:

 

Walnut does quite well as a dye without cooking. I found it enough to simply soak a discoloured vintage white wool coat in a bucket of fermenting walnuts. After a couple of weeks soaking and a rinse in plain water, this was the colour:

You can see that different shades of white wool had been used to crochet this thrift-shop find. I could also have soaked the coat a second and third time for deeper shades. Wool dyes beautifully in walnut- here are some more examples from a few pre-ink years ago:

Eco printed wool pre-felt, native plants.

Lambs-wool cardy dyed with walnuts, iron nails and eucalyptus (I  forget which kind)

Little strips of blanket trimmings bundled with various eucalyptus and immersed in a walnut dye bath – also from past dye pots.

Linen and cotton dye well also, as does paper. Here are some samples of eco dye prints made in October 2013 while Shlomo and I were in residence at Arte Studio Ginestrelle near Assisi in Umbria. The walnut there ( photo below) is the Juglans regia – ours in Ottawa is Juglans nigra.

Notice the distinct pinky lavender colour that comes out with the yellow pigment in the eco print.

 

The photo above shows one of my Artist Books with linen covers eco dyed in walnut; the pages are about other  plants of the Subasio Regional Park where the art residence was located. The title of the little book is “Pianticelli del Subasio”.

And now here is a little surprise – walnuts combined with wild grapes to make a colour extract. I found a reference to this combination in a book about First Nations quill dyeing traditions. The recommendation was to combine walnuts with ” a lot of wild grape” and cook that until the liquid went black. I stopped the cooking way before the liquid turned black and got this grey-blue-greenish colour you see on tag of the left hand bottle of ink. ( More on grapes next time) 

And to finish in a sweet walnut note from the kitchen: here is what we had for breakfast one day at the art residence: walnut-parmesan scones ( I do not have the recipe so must go back there and pick it up…)

Until next time.

Welcome to new readers and thank you to those who have been following along this inky passage this fall. I do have lots of ink-fixings in my stash yet to be explored so we are not done yet.

Happy Chanuka for tomorrow, too!

This year, I made some chanakiot for the grandkids  – The candle ” flames” are cut-outs with velcro attached so the kids can “light” their candles each night ( and open a little loot bag, too! )

Even if we do not celebrate Chanuka, we  can still be the light!

 

 

 

 

 

Walnuts Continued



It’s finally time to get to that benignly-neglected walnut stash that has been fermenting in a dark cupboard in my studio since the summer of 2015.

At Canadian Thanksgiving in early October, I posted a few photos here of a quick dye/ink made with a few freshly foraged green walnuts that obliged by producing the above-pictured measure of dye.

I learned from my research, however, that the best walnut colours in terms of fastness  can be had from walnuts that have soaked for a year, water-covered, in wooden casks. Now my green walnuts had been soaking for three years in big glass jars, so neither extra tannins ( from the wood) nor oxygen (which is believed to optimize the dye characteristics) entered the glass jar as happens with wood casks.  One might expect bad smells and molds after all that time, too, but there were none of either. My three-year walnut liquid had simply  become a thick dark brown potage smelling slightly of the fall forest. I wonder if fermentation prevents the mold that walnut ink is reputed to harbour? Time will tell.

To make this batch of  walnut colour, I put half a potful of the mushy brown ferment (along with the still-hard nuts in their shells) in the slow cooker, covered the sludge with water and heated this for an hour or so at  80 – 90 C. After straining and filtering the liquid, I cooked it down by half until it was sort of a bit syrupy. The dye looks like this on watercolour paper:

The dye liquid, cooked down, was then put into wee bottles ( with some gum arabic added to ink it up) and  finished with walnut-dyed tags and labels:

Off to the craft fair next weekend in Chelsea, Quebec! And taking some buckthorn ink along, too:

Next ink colour to try is wild grape, waiting its turn in the stash, Might even have some ready to go with the walnut and buckthorn for next weekend! Naturally, the ink so-obtained can work as paint, also;  you can even add some other binder – an acrylic glazing liquid might be nice.

A la prochaine, mes amis/amies

Bye bye, buckthorn berries

Buckthorn hedge with fall berries

No more buckthorn berries left now in mid November for making the historic paint colour, Sap Green.  I collected about four cups/ one litre of them a month ago and have been posting the results of my colour search here. Today I am wrapping up the basic buckthorn work and providing a review of what I have learned from my experiments.

Juicy blue-black buckthorn berries which the Field Botanists of Ontario tell me on FB that the birds eat only when desperate , so to go ahead – please make paint and ink with them!

The Rhamnus cathartica ( Common buckthorn) is a despised shrub here in Ontario and , as in many North American zones, is classed as invasive. I normally try to work with native plants to obtain dye colours. I find I am guided by pragmatism as much as by principle -native plants take less gardening work, survive extremes of neglect and weather more easily and attract interesting and useful critters. Why buckthorn, then? Because of its long and fascinating history as a dye plant as a species here and in other parts of the world. 

For my research on the use of buckthorn for pigment, I have relied chiefly on the work of Dominique Cardon on natural dyes and of Daniel Thomspon on medieval painting. A delicious new book about making ink by Jason Logan rekindled my interest in buckthorn greens, and pointed me back to some of my previous work in similar areas, reported here: iris green ( also am historic colour) and walnut dyes/paints/inks. Enough background now. (Please check my references page and recent posts for full info). 

Here is what you might do to get buckthorn (“Sap”) green. Believe me, there are a lot of recipes out there so no need to swear by mine- I don’t! 

Here are two cups of ripe crushed berries in a one-litre/four cup slow cooker, heated to below boiling ( around 180) and cooked for an hour and a half or so, until the juice looks deep purple. My research turned up variations on whether to cook the berries or just squeeze the fresh uncooked juice. I tried both and found no difference in how the colour developed. Note also that to get a deep colour of green (a later step in the process), medieval recipes advised  cooking down the liquid by at least half…so clearly, buckthorn is heat tolerant, which was my concern. 

After the cooking step, time to strain the contents of the pot and then filter it. I used a wire colander for straining, then used a jelly bag for filtering the first time ( best to have more than one filtering session). I saved the residue for a second extraction as the old recipes advised. 

After transferring the purple liquid into clean glass jars, time to shift the pH  upwards  in order to trigger the formation of that coveted green. Some of the old recipes suggest using a combo of alum and soda ash. I used alum acetate alone, about one teaspoon/5 ml per cup /250 ml canning jar- or until the colour turns dark green before your eyes! Stir the jar a bit,   dissolve the alum in a tad of water, then add it. No need to be terribly exact. I figured if the alum did not work alone, I  could throw in the soda ash, too. It worked fine! 

I kept some purple liquid to use as is for its purple colour, then put aside a jarful of green liquid for further trickery. Natural dyers who are accustomed to working with modifiers such as ammonia, soda ash, iron, vinegar and copper sulphate will enjoy messing with the dye chemistry at this point.  I did a little of that but my main goal was green and maybe a bit of yellow-green ( with soda ash as modifier) 

Buckthorn green modified soda ash (yellows) and splashed with lemon juice (pink)

 Colour test strips

Green modified with soda ash for yellows;  splashed with lemon juice for pink
Greens splashed with lemon juice for pink
Greens light and dark with a tad of pink

These colour trials are on 140lb watercolour paper – different colours will show on other papers. On fabrics? I have not tried  the Sap Green on fabric yet but the ancient preference was to use silk for the easiest dye take up. 

I have to say that my mopping-up cloth ( a heavy canvas) looks pretty colour receptive, even without a mordant: 

Catching the green and yellow drips

The next step was to ” insissipate” the liquid – i.e., to concentrate its colour by either boiling it down to at least 50% of the original volume or by letting it evaporate to the same level. I boiled the dye down, having combined two batches of green dye liquid. ( Reminder: The berries can stand to be used for two extractions so do not chuck out the berries after the first straining. )

I filtered the boiled down liquid through three layers of cut up nylon pantyhose ( not thick ones) – in fact, I filtered the liquid also before  boiling it down. You can filter as many times as you think the sludgey bits in the liquid need it.

Greens bottled up

The test strips here show the colours before and after filtering the green liquid. The darker green contains thickish cooked plant residue, the ligher colour is after filtering. Because Sap Green is a relatively transparent colour, you need to paint more than one layer for a deeper shade. The green sludge in the liquid might please your inner texture seeker, though. 

As the photo shows, the green dye is now enrolled as an ink. To each one ounce bottle of liquid, I added 15 drops of gum arabic, one whole clove and for anti-mold overkill, one drop of very pungent tea tree oil ( used in soaps for Athlete’s Foot). 

So I think that is it for buckthorn basics for now.

I have in mind to try a dye blanket with buckthorn green over plants in an ecoprint adventure. And there is one more medieval technique to try and that is to make a “clothlet” as reservoir to hold the green colour ( I will not be using a pig’s bladder as artists did way back) …I have made ” clothlets” for iris green ( reported on this blog).  Thompson says Sap Green was also stored in clothlets. You know where I am going with this…

Next time: probably walnut ink! While I get my “clothlets” and dye carrier blankets sorted. 

Purples from basic buckthorn juice; greens from the purples juice modified with alum acetate

Making paint and ink with fall buckthorn berries

A few posts back, I shared with readers my stack of current books. One of them is by Jason Logan and is about making ink from plants he forages in the city, notably Toronto, NYC and Brooklyn. I find his book a truly charming intro to the world of foraging plants for pigments, well researched, beautifully written, and most of all, recipe-rich with luscious photographs of very arty ink marks. You know I love it! And he has great entries on his Instagram, too. ( Jason Logan’s book : Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking)

In the past, I have posted here about making paint and/or ink with blue iris and walnut; more recently, coreopsis was the subject. This time, I am reporting on buckthorn berries, a traditional source of green dye and paint. Artists of the Renaissance and later used buckthorn berries as a source of “sap green” as well as for various yellows or yellow-greens. The colours obtained depended on berry ripeness, plant variety and methods used for the colour extraction – all fascinating topics widely written up. (If these interest you, check out some of the references this blog, works by Dominique Cardon and Jenny Dean being great resources. You might also check a most informative blog on making artist paints: http://www.sunsikell.wordpress.com. Each of these provides trustworthy info on the pigment properties of and colour extraction methods for various varieties of buckthorn)

The buckthorn familiar to me in the Ottawa area is Rhamnus cathartica, and it is not an MVP in the plant world hereabouts! In fact, an Ottawa buckthorn SWAT team of vigilantes meets regularly to search and destroy this invasive non-native. But in spite of my preference for working with native plants, I am pretty excited and not too politically correct to find some pleasant use for the berries of the otherwise-despised buckthorn.

In fact, I found a whole hedge of the buckthorn bushes laden with juicy blue-black berries in late September ( the birds eat the berries only when nothing better is available, I have learned. ) So I helped myself to about two cupfuls with the intention of making ink and/or paint, having been inspired and instructed by Jason’s book.

First task was to extract the colour from the berries. Now I have to admit that at this point, I did not follow the instructions in Jason’s book. His practice is to just squash the fresh berries and use the juice uncooked. I decided to go with traditional dye extraction practice for this first attempt; this involved crushing the berries, covering them with water, cooking them at a simmer in the slow cooker until the water took on a dark purple-blue colour and then straining them in a jellymaking bag:

Notice how the jelly bag begins to turn green, even when purple juice has not done draining into the pot! ( Probably because of the soap residue in the jelly bag)

Now the fun begins. Indeed, to obtain green is the first colour goal, so a portion of the purple liquid is poured into a glass jar ( about a cupful) and a scant teaspoon of alum acetate is added. A good stir and a shake – et voila! Green! But not as a result of adding lye crystals, as Jason uses: first, because I had no lye on hand and anyway, older recipes often recommended alum ( though potassium aluminum sulphate). Thus, first pic shows the basic purple juice extraction, then the green with the alum added:

Then some trials on paper with these two colours ( FYI: the first pic shows how the purple stains changed colour in the empty cooking pot when I rinsed it with plain tap water – triggering a pH change and thus a colour move from blue to green) . The papers were painted with the purple and the green pigments.

With the addition of other modifiers besides alum, other colours besides greens developed. Ammonia gave brownish-yellow, soda ash gave yellows, lemon juice and white vinegar gave pink, without alum. Here are some of the samples:

To help preserve the natural paints/inks from developing molds, a number of agents can be tried. I used whole cloves ( Jason’s recommendation) in some containers and tea tree oil ( a well known anti-fungal) in others. But any mold that might develop can simply be removed and discarded. Depends how you feel about the mold.

Next time, I plan to report on the performance of additives like gum arabic that Jason recommends for ease of ink/paint flow for markmaking.

Meantime, I have buckthorn berries fermenting ( see Cardon for info on this) and plan to use those berries fresh, not cooked, to see how the colours develop in comparison to the colours obtained from the cooked ones. BTW, after cooking, you can put the mashed berry residue back into the pot, cover with water and cook again for a second extraction. And you can freeze the berries, too.

PS on ART FOR AID

For folks who have been following my art kit project to benefit Art For Aid: the good news is that a shipment of mylar blankets has left for the north, eagerly awaited by First Nations families as winter sets in. My art kits have started to arrive – one donor in NSW, Australia has even received hers BEFORE the kit mailed on the same day last week to Victoria, British Columbia! Generous folks have even donated over and above what I was able to supply in kits to match donation, though I was able to send them a just one wee kit. These little ones were in small stash I had set aside in case of SNAFUs….And no-one at all has asked for a refund, even if they were they unable to get a kit in a size that matched their donation when the supply ran out

I am extremely gratified and touched to find myself in the company of people like all these donors. Some compassionate and generous people even offered to make an extra donation as compensation for those who might have asked for a refund. I have experienced in this project the hope created by people who light candles instead of cursing the darkness.

A la prochaine, dear reader

Wendy

Refund offered to folks too late to get an art kit

Just a quick word to anyone who has donated to the ART FOR AID mylar blanket programme, who did not reserve their kit through me and who now find that all the original kits (S,M, L) are gone. And furthermore, this info is especially for folks who did not manage to let me know that they had donated. If you did not let me know, I was unable to reserve a kit for you.

Colleen Gray of ART FOR AID tells me she will be gladly refund the donation of any donor who did not manage to reserve a kit and who prefers not to receive the small compensation kit I have offered to folks who missed out.

Both of these offers apply to people who donated between October 28 and November 3, 2018.

Let me know if this applies to you.

Contact me stating your preference at wendy(dot)feldberg(at)sympatico(dot)ca.

Good for you, Colleen! Thank you! And thank you, readers, for your patience.