Saturday, February 8, 2014


I wrote about this subject previously when I discussed my problem finding good brushes. But it applies to everything else an artist uses. In the event you find a material that works for you, buy as much of it as you can afford. Otherwise, when you look for it a couple of months – or years - later, it might not be the same.

Many years ago, I created a series of over-sized linoleum blocks. I figured out a way to carve the linoleum easily (an electric iron on low heat makes it cut like butter.)  I even worked out a way to print the 22”x32” blocks without a press. While the prints were good, the blocks themselves were even better: rich, dark and beautifully textured.  A few months ago, an art dealer I know wanted to purchase the blocks, not the prints; she is looking for a way to cast and reproduce them.

But, back to my problems with linoleum. After about a year of creating some really powerful prints, I discovered I had “lost my touch.” Nothing worked any more. I was frantic. The rhythm, the fluidity of the cuts was gone; the blocks looked forced and brittle. I thought it was my fault. And then I ran into an old friend who taught printmaking at SUNY Purchase.  She explained that the composition of “battleship” linoleum (which was what I had been using) had recently been changed and that other printmakers were running into the same problem. Less linseed oil in the mix, no more Kaori tree gum? Who knew? The material looked the same, but apparently some key ingredient was no longer available or had become too expensive. If I had known this was coming, I would have stowed away a lifetime supply. I never carved another linoleum block again; it would have been a waste of time.

Another material I now have trouble finding is the right charcoal, those special hard sticks I used to use to put my drawings onto canvas. My best paintings begin as charcoal line drawings on a sepia-toned surface. When the drawing is right, I “fix” it and then apply oil glazes. But the drawing has to be perfect or what comes afterward never works. What can you do to spoil charcoal, you ask? Charcoal is charcoal; the cavemen used it. Normally, I work with hard sticks on gesso-covered cotton canvas. The rough texture of the two materials slows my hand down, forces me to compose shapes more carefully, more thoughtfully. Lately, however, I can only find thin sticks of soft charcoal, the kind that slides all over the canvas and the line it produces lacks subtlety. What happened to my hard charcoal? I promise you, if I find some again, I will buy enough to last a lifetime.

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