Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: "Photographic Possiblities" by Robert Hirsch

An excellent book I just finished reading:

5 out of 5 Stars

This book is fantastic! It is laid out in textbook format, but don't let that intimidate you. It is well worth reading!
The first note to make about this book is that its focus is more directed towards photographers working with film. This book covers topics such as: paper and negative developers, photographic toners, specialty films and cameras, and how to mix and store chemistry. It also has an excellent opening chapter about what photography is and pushing the boundaries of art making.
The author, Robert Hirsch, also wrote a lengthy chapter about historic processes. This chapter was the main reason I bought the book. I picked up quite a few helpful tips for coating paper and what substrates work with different processes. I felt the information was adequate enough to at least begin experimenting with these processes, though I sometimes wished he'd gone into more depth. I learned about a new process called gumoil that I am very excited to try and already have a project in mind for it.
Overall I found this book to be very informative. Hirsch is very thorough in the information given. He lists recipes for: making toners, chemistry for historic processes, as well as film and paper developers. He explains in detail what the different chemicals do and why they are needed. He tells what the different visual results will be depending on what type of developer is used. (For example, with film he specifies how each developer will effect the grain size, contrast, etc). He also gives a lot of resources, such as: introducing a wide range of working artists, websites to buy supplies and chemicals, websites for more information about the topic, and a long list of resource guides at the end of each chapter, including other books.
One of the things I liked the best is that this book is filled with beautiful photographs from a wide range of artists. Often he would use the photographs as examples of what he was talking about by using artists who used a certian processes or developer or technique. Also the images would have quotes from the artists that not only explained their technique but also talked about what their art means or why they made it. I love that! It was kind of like little artists statements with each photograph.
The one thing I found most disappointing was the description of how to make digital negatives. I felt like he really skimmed over the concept. He did not give much detail about it. He mentioned the need to change the curves in Photoshop and what to change it to depends on the process you are working with. But then he gave no information about what the curve settings need to be. All he did was reference an artist's website, Dan Burkholder, who has written a book about making digital negatives. So, I guess if you don't already have the curves and information you need, you might want to look into buying the other book, too. Maybe he felt like it was too much information to try and add to his book. But I did take note that for someone who doesn't have experience with making digital negatives, they will probably get lost when making one if they are only going off the information he provided.
My final critique of the overall quality, clarity, information, and inspiration of this book is that it is excellently executed. I felt very inspired by it. I wrote a long lists of ideas to try that I gained from reading this book. I was really influenced by the artists' works and writings. I felt like I gained a lot of insight into the art making process. I learned things about photography I did not know, especially new darkroom techniques. This book is a resource I plan on referring to often. I recommend it to any serious artists working with film, darkroom techniques, or historic processes. To me, it is a must have!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Experimenting With Plexiglass

This is an image of my husband, Devon Harbaugh. I was working on two projects when I made this piece. The first project, I was trying to figure out a good way to convey the concept of layers building upon itself. With the other project, I was playing with the idea of making a book out of plexiglass. I wanted it so that you could look through all the pages and see a final image, but that you could also flip through the pages as you would a book.
When all the pages were put together, I loved how it looked, but each individual piece was not strong enough to hold interests as you looked at them by themselves. I still need to explore that concept with a different approach and subject matter.
As far as the other project goes with building up layers, it wasn't quite the right look I was going for. I think this project looks more broken and pieced back together than individual layers built up to make a whole. I found a different way to resolve my layers piece, much different than how this turned out. But I think this approach has great potential for future concepts and projects. What is your critique and feeling about this picture?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review: "Encaustic Workshop" by Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch

Another book i just finished reading:

3.5 out of 5 Stars

I read this book because I am interested in mixed media techniques and have played some with wax and wanted to learn more. This book covers some basic techniques and ideas for working with beeswax as an artistic medium. I wouldn't suggest this book for someone who is seriously interested in learning the traditional techniques of encaustic painting. In terms of how to paint with encaustic, the information was limited. But if you are a mixed media artists or are always looking for new techniques this is a fabulous resource to have in your library.

Patricia takes a very alternative approach using beeswax as a form of art. This book explores carving the wax, adding watercolor, transferring images, adding found objects, cloth and papers, and even burning shellac on the wax. She even has a chapter at the end with tips, examples, and ideas for how to present or frame your encaustic work.

The step by step images for all her technique examples seemed clear and easy to follow. However, I didn't care much for the examples of the finished art that were given throughout the book. Most of them I found to be uninspiring and as far as I could tell there was no real concept to any of her work, which was a disappointment. She made only a few references to concept throughout the whole book!

She did have some interesting techniques that sparked my interested, though. There was an example she showed where she bleached black paper. It looks like it has a lot of potential to create beautiful things. I am also interested in trying the shellac and watercolor techniques.

Here are the examples of these techniques. I photographed them from the book:

Bleaching Technique

Shellac Technique

Watercolor Technique

And now for my two cents about what I have observed from this book and in my own experience: I have found that when it comes to working with beeswax often times simpler (an image with a few accents and a couple layers of wax) is better...unless you want to go for a more abstract look. When I am trying to use photographs as the main focus and I am adding sand and twigs and paint and text and so on, it just never seems to come out correctly. It usually comes out looking cluttered or disorganized or scrapbooky. I think working with encaustic has a delicate balance between being a cohesive, strong piece of art and being a mess, boring, or having disconnected elements.
But, like I briefly mentioned before, when it comes to abstract work there is a lot of potential. There are many great textures and colors possible through the layering techniques of wax. In general I have found that I like the beauty and mood of abstract work with mixed media encaustic more then something that has a recognizable subject matter. An abstract approach with encaustic can create some very beautiful, visually interesting art.
On a final note, an important tip I discovered: when using photographs make sure the background surface is white, not wood/dark colored because it will darken your natural image a lot as your image becomes partly transparent from the wax.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Great Horned Owl

About 4 or 5 days ago very late at night I spotted a Great Horned Owl perched on a telephone pole. It was hard to see it because of how dark it was, but I was very excited about it none-the-less. I love owls and they are one of my favorite birds. Yesterday I went to photograph at the Arboretum in a neighboring town, and right when we got there, around dusk, an owl flew right above my head. I watched where he perched and was able to take some photos of him. Unfortunately the lighting was dim, so I had to bump up my ISO (which causes graininess/fuzziness) and slow my shutter speed down (which causes motion blur). So even though they aren't perfect pictures (and I can't afford a $5,000-$10,000 telephoto, fast, birding lens), I am still happy I was able to get them!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Darkroom Mural Print

Sorry I haven't been posting my art work as much as I should be lately. I have been having great art experiences other than just creating, but I have been creating lots this summer too and I have so much art to post. Sometimes it just takes me a while after I create something to re-photograph it so I can post it. But I took some pictures and will be sharing them here in the next few weeks.

To start with, this is a self portrait I made as part of my BFA show. My BFA show is my senior project that is required for a Bachelors in Fine Art (BFA). I have been working since last December on it and will be showing it this November at Gallery East in Price, Ut. I am really excited about it.
This photograph was taken on a medium format camera called a Hasselblad. The film I used was Ilford Pan 50 which allows for really fine detail and beautiful contrast. I printed it large (30x32 inches) in the darkroom by projecting it onto the wall and then taping mural sized RC variable contrast silver gelatin paper to the wall to make the exposure. This photograph is about knowing you have an important decision to make and confronting your fears about it with confidence. It is about taking the first step towards change.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book Review: The Art of Papermaking with Plants by Marie-Jeanne Lorente

And yet another book I have read this summer:

3 out of 5 Stars

The way this book is set up is that there is a chapter in the front of the book discussing supplies and materials needed to create handmade paper. Then it gives instructions on how to make handmade paper. The instructions are basic and easy to follow (of course I think paper making is one of those things that is easier said than done). After the brief introduction on how to make paper, the rest of the book, except for a concluding chapter, has recipes for how to make different types of paper. The concluding chapter features a gallery of working paper-artists and shows the diversity of what contemporary artists are creating with handmade paper. Each artists also has an artist statement and bio.

The recipes in this book are broken up into 4 sections: grasses, trees, edible plants, and non-plant papers. Examples of some of the plants found in this book are: bamboo, wheat, chestnut, elm, artichoke, mushroom, zucchini, and tomatoes. The plants under the edible plants chapter seem to be the easiest to access. Some of the plants aren't even indigenous to America (the book was originally written in French and the author is from France). There are 52 plant recipes.

Recipes include: location for where the plant can be found, when is best to harvest the plant, how to prepare it, how long to cook it for, how much bleach to use, how long to rinse it, the results of the paper (texture, look, etc), and what it can be used for. Some of the paper is so fragile that it can't really be used for anything; it is just to look at.

The thing I did not like about this book was the authors writing style. It was cheesy and random. In the first chapter of the book she gives an introduction about paper-making and the invention of making paper. I found it scattered and uninformative. But when it comes to paper-making she seems to know what she is talking about.

I was interested in this book because I'd like to try printing historic processes on handmade paper. I love the unique look and texture handmade papers offer. Plus, I love using my hands to create. I am not sure how well the emulsion will stick to the paper, but i definitely think it is worth trying. I also want to use handmade papers for image transfers and art books.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Review: "Book Art - Handcrafting Artists' Books" by Dorothy Simpson Krause

Here is a review of another book I read this summer:

3.5 out of 5 Stars

This book is focused on the art of book making. Dorothy Simpson Krause seems to be a very experienced book artist. The book is filled with well over a dozen examples of handmade books she has created. With each of these examples she talks about her concept and how and why she did certian things, which is always interesting and helpful for me to hear how other artist work.

Krause covers a lot of ground: altering found/blank books, transferring images and text, book layouts, stitching, and making covers. This is great for an overall introduction to these techniques, but I found that some of the examples and how-to steps weren't as thorough as I would have liked, especially on the stitching section. I wish she had more pictures showing what she is talking about with each step. The pictures are kind of vague. I think if you were a beginner without much experience with bookbinding it might be hard to follow. But if you are familiar with bookbinding and have made a handful of books before, you shouldn't have a problem understanding what is going on and would probably enjoy the book a lot.

Besides the lack of more detailed pictures I found the book comfortable and easy to read. Her writing was conversational and easy to follow.

Overall I enjoyed the book. It had some really helpful tips and creative ideas. It gives a broad introduction to book arts and gives insight to the possibilities available, with great examples. I also found the author to be very sincere and open about her art which is also insightful. My favorite part in the book was an example she gave for gelatin monoprints. She showed how to use gelatin, leaves, and paint to make gorgeous transfers onto book pages. I am really excited to try this technique and can see myself using it often in my own book making projects.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: "Image Transfer Workshop" by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson

This summer has been a nice vacation for me. I am up in Washington while my husband is doing research at a university here. This has been a great time for me to take a break from school and work, and to be able to do what I want! During this time I have been able to read a lot of books. Because I have been getting so much great reading done, I decided to write up some book reviews. This way I can share these wonderful books I have been finding so many gems in and share it with you!

5 out of 5 Stars

I would definitely recommend this book. It is a very simple to read, straight forward book with a wide variety of techniques to transfer images (35 to be exact). It gives very detailed step by step instructions with each transfer as well as step by step photographs to go with them. It is hard to get lost or confused along the way.

Plus, with each transfer it lists: its limitations (potential issues), the different types of surfaces it works well on (wood, cloth, metal, paper), its archival quality, and the materials you will need. Also, it gives a troubleshooting section with each transfer to help you figure out why your transfer didn't work. I also found it really helpful that at the end of the book they have a list of resources for where you can buy the materials you would need.

They also have a chapter at the end of the book showing how the artists apply these techniques in their own work. For me personally, my style and taste differs from theirs, but these techniques can definitely be utilized to fit my own personal vision and offer great potential to all different styles of art making (photography, book arts, mixed media, painting, fabric arts).

I plan on using a wide range of transfer techniques I learned from this book. I like to use different substrates in my work and so I am really interested in the transfer techniques that can be used on wood, metal, and cloth. There was also a really interesting technique where you use silk tissue to make a transfer that I want to try. Once I get home and have access to all my art supplies I will post an example of an image transfer I make based off a technique I learned in this book.