Art & Me Preservation Family Workshop | Put in Print
The art doctor is in! From Chicanx graphics to Japanese prints, explore how Smithsonian conservators preserve colorful artworks on paper in this engaging online workshop. Then create your own colorful print and a protective folder, so your artwork stays safe.
Part of a yearlong series that encourages families to experiment with artmaking and preservation techniques, this program is co-hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.
Alright, I did see someone write in the chat about that they thought that the cat was really cute, and I have to agree. I think it’s a really adorable cat, and we’ll have to tell you a little bit more about it as we get started. It looks like we have a good number of people here, and so I think it’ll be a good time for us to get started. Thanks for sharing that, and we’ll move forward. Welcome to our Art and Me Workshop today. From the Smithsonian we have colleagues from the National Museum of Asian Art, the Freer and Sackler Galleries as well as the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lunder Conservation Center, so we’re going to do some quick introductions for today’s program. We’re going to be focusing on printmaking, and we’ll give you some instructions on how to make it, but before we get started my name is Matthew Lasnoski, and I’m an educator at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries. I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, Ellen.
ELLEN CHASE: Hi, everybody. I’m Ellen Chase, and I am an Objects Conservator. I work with Matthew, and I’ll tell you a little bit more later about what a conservator is, but in the meantime, I’m going to let Leah introduce herself.
LEAH BRIGHT: Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming today. My name is Leah Bright, and I’m also an Objects Conservator just like Ellen, but I work at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, and I’ll turn it over to Laura.
LAURA HOFFMAN: Good morning, everyone. My name is Laura Hoffman, and I work at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lunder Conservation Center. Sometimes we say SAAM for short because that can be a long thing to say, and I work with Leah, and I am the Program Manager of the Conservation Center.
ML: Ellen’s going to take it from here.
EC: Okay, so if any of you have come before or maybe have heard this word before, does anybody know what a conservator is? Have you heard that word before? Do you have any ideas of what we might do? You can take a look at the picture, too, maybe that might give you some ideas of what we might do in the museum.
ML: Someone wrote microscope is what they see.
EC: That’s right, so what you’re seeing is you’re seeing a conservator looking through a microscope, so what we do as conservators is take care of the art. I see someone wrote in the chat study pictures and bring art back to life. Yes, so we’re like doctors for art, so one of the things that we do is just like when you go to the doctor for a checkup, the doctor checks and makes sure and looks and sees how you’re doing. What that conservator is doing looking through the microscope is examining that piece of artwork closely to make sure that everything’s okay and see how things are going. Then, just like a doctor would, sometimes if you’re hurt, the doctor will help you, and so if artwork is hurt, we’ll help it. Also, sometimes we do things to make sure that it doesn’t get damaged in the first place, so it’s called preventive. Like Matthew said, we’re looking through the microscope, we always look at things really closely, and then we’ll talk about some of the other things we do as we get into it more, but that’s exactly what we do. You’re right, so Laura if you could go to the next slide, please.
The other thing we’ll talk about a little bit more once you guys are doing your art projects is some of the tools that we use, but this is just a picture of what my desk looks like on a really busy day. You can see I have a lot of stuff going on on my desk, and a couple of the other things I’ll just talk about quickly. I don’t know if you guys can see what I’m wearing, but I’m wearing a lab coat. Have any of you thought about or can you think about reasons why I might be wearing a lab coat when I work with the artwork?
Give it a second and think about it, and if you have any ideas put it in the chat. Art is messy; yes, that is exactly right. If you can see on my lab coat, I am kind of messy, so sometimes I need to use paints, and I don’t want to get it on my clothing, but also if I’m wearing something like a really fuzzy sweater, I don’t want little bits of my sweater to wind up on the artwork, so it’s for that reason, too. It is to protect me, and it’s also to protect the art. Like I said, we’ll talk about tools a little bit more going forward, but let’s move on to the next one, and so Laura’s going to take it over from here.
LH: Alright, so if you haven’t already, this is a really good time to gather your materials. This looks like a lot of art materials, but what you’re going to be doing is printmaking today. We’re looking at all about prints, so we’ve given you different options, and these are just suggestions. You don’t need everything on here, so for example for printmaking in general we all need things. If we’re going to do a print, we will need some ink or paint. In order to make our print, we’ll need something to put the ink onto our print so if you have what’s called a brayer, that’s like a roller, or a foam brush works well. If you don’t have those, any other sort of bigger brush will work just fine. It can get a little messy, so we recommend, especially if you’re going to be rolling on the paint, you need a good surface to put it on, so you can use a baking sheet or a plate or whatever you think you’ll have ready. Those are the basics for everyone.
Then, I’m going to show you two different types. I’m going to do a quick demonstration. We have subtractive printing, which sounds like a lot, but we’ll go into what that means, and if you decide to do that, you’ll just need a sheet of foam – maybe like a Styrofoam. I’ll show you what I have. I use this; I got this from the grocery store. It’s a grocery store tray but you can also use any other sort of foam. Sometimes you can get them at an art store, just these flat pieces of foam that work really well.
Then you’ll need something to impress into, so you’ll need something like a pencil. You could use a pen or a popsicle stick or a skewer. If you instead want to do additive printing, that means you’ll need a flat surface, so again get a piece of cardboard or again if you don’t have that, you could use something like a baking sheet, and then you want things to add onto so we suggested things like string or yarn or rubber bands or glue. Again, it’s pretty open to what you have and want to use. The last thing we’ll show you, and this is if we have time, is to create your own protective folder, so you keep your prints safe. That’s pretty much a better activity to do after the program, but again if you work really quickly and want to create it during, the materials that you need are something to create the folder, so we suggest like a manila folder or a piece of poster board. You just want to make sure that when you fold it together, it’s larger than the size of your print. Then if you want to make some handles, again I’ll show you that, you can use paper or I like to use if you have a paper grocery bag you can just take off those handles. Those work really great, so then you might just need some string and scissors and tape for that, and then you get to decorate it on the outside, which is super fun.
As you guys are gathering, I will start to show you. Again, we’re going to do a quick demo of each, and then you’ll have time to work on it while you get more inspiration hearing from both Ellen and Leah and seeing some examples from our museums.
Alright, so for subtractive printmaking: if we think of the word subtract, that typically means take away from, so we’re removing a layer. What I like to do is, if you don’t have a flat piece of Styrofoam, you can see here that mine has a curve. I’m going to flip it on to the back side. Alternatively, you could also cut this off so that it is a totally flat piece. Now, I’m going to use the back side because my piece of Styrofoam is pretty sturdy, and what I like about it is it already has some things written on here that are impressed in, which I think is kind of fun, and I can work into my design. We wanted a piece of Styrofoam because we can easily carve into it, and again that means subtracting. We’re carving into it, so again you can use any because Styrofoam is very easy to press into. You can use any type of pencil. I’m using a conservation and printmaking tool. This is usually actually more for printmakers, but it’s called an awl, and it’s spelled, I believe, A-W-L. Awl. I always mess it up when I say it too quickly, and here you can just press into lines. The key is, you want to press into it so that you can feel it but you don’t want to press it all the way through because then when you try and paint over it, the paint will get onto your surface. You want to give a good amount of pressure. Again, this works well to work together with your adult, your grown-up, in case you need any help. I’m making some lines here, if you can see around the words here, and the numbers just like that, so you can see I’ll keep going with it after but that gives you a sense of what the subtractive is.
Now once you’re done putting in your design here for the subtractive, what I would do is put on some ink or some paint over this surface, and then I would take my piece of paper, and I would put it right on top and rub it in so that the ink in the paint transfers onto your piece of paper, so that’s an example of subtractive. Do you guys have questions about this type of printmaking before I explain what additive printmaking is? Again, if you have questions as you’re making, we’ll be monitoring the chat and we can answer them throughout.
Now, for additive printmaking, we are going to be adding things onto our surface, so before we are putting them in, but now we’re going to build up on our surface.
We have a good question. Do you only put paint in the ridges created by the Styrofoam or dip the whole thing in paint? Dipping the whole thing in paint might get really messy, so I would suggest taking some sort of roller or a paint brush and painting the whole surface. You might want to just – in terms of just the ridges or the whole thing, I like to do the whole thing because you can see all the different depressions and you get to see the parts where you left with no carving, so I think it’s a fun experiment. It’s great to have multiple pieces of paper so you can see how it looks with different amounts of paint and different colors, so that’s a really good question.
Okay, so, for additive printmaking we’re going to be adding onto the surface. For example, I’ve got these really cool long rubber bands, so what I might do is add them here. I have a couple of them, and I’m just going to make a fun design this way. I’m just going to put it here. You can see I’ve put on a bunch of different rubber bands, so now I’m adding up the texture this way. If you feel it, you can feel the ridges are up as opposed to into the material. You can also use string and you could glue them on or you could use any sort of materials you don’t mind being on here. What you would do after this, once you have your design set, is you paint on top again. You would roll the paint on top of here, and then you would print. So, you take your piece of paper – once you’ve painted the surface, you take your piece of paper, you put it on top. You really have to put some pressure and rub it down to make sure it gets on – and again this activity works really well with your grown-up, and then you would reveal your print on the bottom here.
People are saying they can’t see my work. Would it be helpful for me to take it off for a second? I’ll take this off for a second to share my screen. Okay, so here I can show you again. This is my example. You can actually see both examples here. I’ll do this as my additive print. You can see here I’ve added on all of these different rubber bands, so if I was printmaking on top of here it’s ridged up and you can feel it, so you can also use you can glue on anything. Again, that’s why I’d use a piece of cardboard. Use something you don’t mind gluing on to do, but I like using the rubber bands because then you can easily remove them after, although they’ll be covered in some paint. Then, you add this on, you put this on. Once you have the paint on, you rub, rub, rub, and again I can’t show you because I’m holding it over my computer, and I’m worried I get paint all over my computer which wouldn’t be the best, and then you would have your print.
If you’re doing subtractive, the first kind, I’ll just remove these here. You can see I have all these. You’re just carving lines and patterns and whatever your design is into, so you feel it, you can see it going into it, and then you do the same way where you would cover this in paint using a paint brush or a foam roller or what’s called a brayer. That’s the roller, and you put it on your paper. You rub, rub, rub, rub, rub and then you have your print. Those are two different types of prints.
The other part that I wanted to show you is a post-program activity. After your prints are dry, you want to keep them safe, and so a really good way to do that is to have a folder that we mentioned. Here I have a manila folder and what I did is I took – again I took these great handles from a reused grocery store bag – and I taped them on the outside. That’s really important to put them on the outside. If you put them on the inside, you might harm your artwork because you want to keep your artwork safe inside. That’s why you want to make sure you have a folder that is larger than your actual artwork, so if I’ve got my imaginary artwork in here, I can keep it nice and safe. There’s plenty of space and what’s fun is when you don’t have your artwork in, because that would be very bad practice, is you can decorate the outside. You can really make it your own, so you could put on crayons or markers or even more paint, and then it’s your own personal protective folder for your prints. This is a really good way – we’ll explain why you want to keep your prints safe in just a moment. After this I think if there aren’t any other questions about the activity, we’ll turn, as you guys are working now, we’ll go back into our slideshow and show you some examples of some prints at our museums and how the art doctors take care of them.
Okay let me share the screen back. One other thing I just want to say at the end of this program, we’re going to offer a show and tell with your artwork if you’d like, so we’re going to put in the chat box when you’re ready if you want to be a part of it to email us a picture so we can pull it up on the screen and everyone can see your artwork.
EC: Okay, so once everybody settles in and has their stuff and you’re working on your projects. Actually, if you want to watch and then do your project later that’s okay, too, but Leah and I are just going to talk to you a little bit about some of the pieces in our collections, and so Laura just told you all about the different ways to make a print. The prints we have in the museum – there are lots of different ways of making them, but a lot of them are made in the same way, and so these are some of the tools that we have in our collection that are used to make prints. They’re part of a Japanese woodblock print tool set, and so if you look at it, some of the things you can see how Laura was talking about carving things out for subtractive, and the tool on the very far left is a chisel that’s used to carve out wood. A lot of Japanese prints are done using a block of wood and so that’s used to help carve out the wood, and then if you look in the center just like she was talking about before there’s a brush to apply the ink or the paint, and then below is a dish with some green pigment in it that would have been used to put on the block. Then just like Laura was saying, you would have a block carved and you would put the ink on it, and then you would put a piece of paper down, and then you would rub it in. In Japanese woodblock printmaking they have a special tool called a baron, which you can see over on the side, and it’s a really good way to rub really hard and get good contact between the block and the paper so that you transfer everything. Just like what you’re doing now, they’re really similar tools and they’re made in a very similar way.
Can you go to the next one please, Laura? In thinking about prints and how you’re doing your design take a look at these two. The darker one on the left is a printing plate. That’s a copper printing plate, and then the piece of paper on the right is a print from that same plate so take a quick look and tell me if you see anything different about the design on the plate and on the print. Do you see anything that looks different in terms of the design?
ML: One person said on the left the paper looks darker and maybe it looks older is what they thought.
EC: Okay, right. I see that Owen says there are trees on the left. Actually, the one on the left is not paper, it’s a piece of metal, and so just like you guys are carving into the Styrofoam or the cardboard, that’s what, in this case, it’s using copper and there are trees in both but what happens if you look really closely? See how there’s that big dark area? That’s the tunnel. If you look on one and you look on the other it’s actually on opposite sides because when you make a print, you’re actually flipping the image. You’re reversing the image, so if you write something on your tray – if you have a letter or you put your name on it, when you print it it’s going to look backwards, so it’s something to think about when you’re making your design.
Can we go to the next one please, Laura? This is an example. Remember that I was showing you the tools earlier for Japanese woodblock prints. This is a Japanese woodblock print. We’re really lucky at our museum; we actually have some original printing blocks in addition to the prints, so this is an example here. You can see the wood on the left side and that would have been carved with tools like the ones that I was showing you earlier, and then the ink would be put on it and the raised parts are where the ink would go. You can see the fish, right? For these kinds of prints they’re in different colors right. How many different colors do you see on here on the print on the right or tell me some of the colors you see?
ML: Blue came up.
EC: Blue, right, of course. Yes, and red. Yes, very good. There’s also red, blue, grey, black, so in woodblock printing of this type each different color has its own block, so if you had five colors, you would have five different blocks. Sometimes there are things that are painted on by hand each time, so there are lots of different blocks that are used to make this kind of print. The part that you would want to be in that color is the part that would be raised and you would carve away the other parts. If you look at – no, that’s good, that’s fine.
We also have more than one version or one example of this print, so take a moment and when you’re looking at the two different ones, tell me what you see that looks different. Do these two look exactly the same? They would have looked the same when they were first made, but what do you notice that’s different now?
ML: People are wondering if it’s faded. The one on the right looks older.
EC: Yes, so it does look faded, you’re right, and it does look older. The colors are different right, so if these originally did look the same, and it’s not that the one on the right
is older, it’s just that it’s been more exposed. It’s been out of its folder or out of a book. It hasn’t been protected, so it’s had a lot of light and one of the things about a lot of the objects in our museum, not just prints but especially prints, is that they’re very sensitive. Light can cause them to fade and can cause a lot of damage, so we are very careful in the museum about protecting things from light because you can see the difference if something has been in the light and it’s faded, and it can’t go back. We can’t fix that, so once something fades, there’s nothing we can do about it as conservators.
The other thing you’ll notice about the one on the right is it looks kind of dark and grungy, doesn’t it? It looks kind of dirty because when you handle paper, it’s very easy to get the oils and dirt from your finger on to the paper and so it winds up leaving grime behind. Again, that’s another reason why it’s really important we’re very careful about how we handle things. A lot of the time we have prints in mats so you don’t have to touch them and then also in folders like Laura was showing you to protect them so that we don’t have to handle them and they’re not exposed to light. I think that we can go to the next one for now, and then Leah is going to tell you about this one.
LB: Alright, thanks Ellen. I’m going to show everybody some examples that use printmaking techniques in really unique and special and sometimes surprising ways that I hope will inspire you to really use your imagination when making your prints, so take a peek at this first one. It probably looks really different from what we’ve seen so far, but maybe you can throw some words in the chat. What do you see? What is going on here and maybe how is it different from the other artworks that we’ve seen so far? I’ll give you a second to look. It’s really cool. This is one of my favorites.
Yes, bees, good job. You’re spot on. This work is called “Bee Pile,” and it was made by the artist Sonia Romero in 2010, and she shows that you can use printmaking techniques to make artworks that are not only just on flat paper, but you can use prints to make sculptures and anything that you want. She used a woodblock like Ellen was talking about to make these bees onto pieces of felt and then she cut out the pieces of felt in the bee shapes and then hand stitched them together and then put them in this pile. Laura, you can go to the next slide. You can see it was originally displayed in a grocery store, and so she was using this artwork to try to tell the world about problems related to bee populations and how the populations are going down and how that’s related to issues like climate change. You could think about an issue that’s really important to you and how you could make that into a print, and I hope that you could also use this as inspiration to show that you can make pretty much anything that your imagination can think up.
We can go to the next one. Sorry that the photos are not great on this one, unfortunately, but this is another example of a print that is on something that’s not paper. This one is flat, and what do you think? Maybe the photo on the right, you can see it a little bit better, but can you tell what this print was made on?
This one is actually made on something similar. Yes, someone said napkin. It’s something really similar. Yes, it was made on fabric. It’s basically a cotton handkerchief or a paño, and it is a screen print, which is a complicated, confusing way to make prints but basically ink is pressed through a really fine screen with the areas where there’s not ink all blocked out. This was made by the artist Shizu Saldamando, and it’s a portrait of a really famous musician in Los Angeles named Alice Bag, so it’s a portrait.
Laura we can go to the next one. Maybe you can see a little bit better, yes. Shizu is a very talented portrait artist and creates a lot of portraits in print but also in painting and with colored pencils of people in her life who were inspirational, her friends and family and musicians like Alice, so maybe think about people that inspire you or are important to you in your life, and you can make a print out of them. Although this print was made on fabric, it has a lot of the same issues conservation-wise that a print on paper might have, and it was brought to me in my lab to go to the art doctor because it was very wrinkly. You could probably see that in that other photo, so you might think why would you not just iron it like a shirt at home.
You could just iron it, but actually ironing might be okay for our clothes at home but for artworks in a museum heat without any kind of moisture can actually really damage fabrics over time, and we want this artwork to last for many generations into the future, so I chose to just use tiny amounts of water to release those wrinkles from the fabric, and I didn’t want to just dip it in water because it inks. I don’t know if you’ve ever maybe spilled a drink or something on a piece of paper, but the ink can go everywhere, and I really didn’t want that to happen, so I used tiny bits of water really carefully in these special little packets all around the print. Then I used weight to flatten and release those wrinkles, so I went little by little very carefully to get the wrinkles out.
LH: These here are the weights, right?
LB: Yep, those are weights. As the water helps relax the fabric and take the wrinkles out
the weights help then to flatten it and make sure that it stays flat.
LH: I would say don’t try this at home. This sounds very complicated.
LB: Yes, particularly with things like the artist’s signature was made in pen, so I was very nervous about introducing any water because that could just go away and because this paño is so nice and white and clean, we have to be very careful when handling it in the museum. We have to wear things like gloves to make sure that anything that’s on our hands doesn’t get on that nice white fabric.
ML: Someone was curious how long it took to get the wrinkles out.
LB: That’s such a good question. I worked on this probably for probably about six hours because I had to leave those little weighted packets one by one for probably about 45 minutes in each place, so it really didn’t take that long. The time that I was actively working on it wasn’t that long, but I just had to wait for long periods of time. Really good question. Here you can see a little bit better the artist’s signature that is on the bottom of the print.
This last example is actually a digital print, so it was made totally on the computer, but it was designed by the artist Favianna Rodriguez in 2018. It’s called “Migration is Beautiful.” What do you see in this one? What colors do you see? What is that image in the middle? Take a good look. I’m sorry I’m going fast; I want to make sure we have plenty of time to see all of your artworks.
ML: Someone said the they see people in the wings.
LB: Yes, good job, good eye. I love this one because it’s simple, but it really is powerful and beautiful, so it shows that even though it may not have that much it’s still really gorgeous and beautiful. This is showing how prints are often made into posters to convey ideas just like the “Bee Pile” at the beginning. She designed it on the computer, so it doesn’t quite have the same conservation issues like a paper print, but it could be viewed by anyone on who has access to a computer. Think about what ideas you might be inspired by and try to convey them in a print.
EC: We had talked a little bit about the idea of protecting prints and other kinds of artwork from light, and so it’s not just when they’re in storage and not on view, we also have to think about it when they’re on exhibit. If you’ve ever been to the Freer-Sackler this is the Peacock Room, and the windows are not open very often, partly to protect the room from light, but some days it’s open and you can come see it. What these people are doing is we have special film on the window to protect the light. There are certain kinds of light that are worse than others and these films will reduce or there will be less of that light, so it helps protect the room and some of the other things we think about is how much light we have in the galleries. We also have skylights, and so we have to think about making sure there’s not too much of that either, so we have special lighting designers who specifically think about how to light the artwork so that you can see it so it’s really beautiful but also making sure that they’re protecting it and not using too much light so that it won’t fade or have other problems like we were looking at earlier.
You can go to the next one, and this is just an example of the kinds of folders that we had been talking about that Laura showed you. It’s a way that we keep a lot of our artwork either in the mat, which is cardboard on the right. On the left are those folders like you can make for your own artwork so that it won’t get torn or dirty and so that it won’t be exposed to light. It’ll help you keep your stuff safe.
This is some of the artwork that we made just to give you examples. You can see there are lots of different things that using the same kind of materials you can come up with really different results right. It can be something where you have something, a specific drawing, and it’s just in one color or it can be something where you have lots of different colors and maybe shapes as opposed to a specific thing. It’s just a way to show you how many different things you can do just by using the same materials.
One thing like we were talking about earlier as art conservators, as art doctors, we always examine things, and we want to look at them closely to understand what’s happening and their condition. We always write down what we notice so that when we look at them later, we know what it looked like earlier, so it’s a way to really help us understand what we’re seeing. This is something we’ll do now. If you guys have your artwork ready, you can do it with your artwork or if you would rather do it along with me, I would love some help writing this examination report for the print here. Let’s take a look together, and we’ll start with the report.
The first thing on a report that we always put is our name so that if anybody ever has any questions about what’s written they know who to ask about it. My name is Ellen, so for me I would write Ellen where it says conservator’s name. For art’s name, art doesn’t always have a name, but it’s really helpful to describe something. Sometimes in the museum we actually have numbers as a way to keep track of things, but then we also give things names, so I think maybe here I’m going to call it “Colorful Shapes.” That’s going to be my name for this.
For the examination we look at things closely, and we write down what we notice. Can you guys help me take a look and think about different words that you would use? In this form, it says what three words best describe your artwork, so let’s see. Help me come up with some ideas. What are some ways to describe this print that you’re looking at on the screen right now? Is it dark? Is it light? What colors do you see? Can you describe what’s in the image? Tell me some things that you see.
ML: Purple, red, orange, and Amber and Owen shared.
EC: Right, exactly, so there are lots of different colors on this one.
ML: Someone else said triangle.
EC: Yes, I agree. Yes, that is something that you notice a lot. I might even say something like the paper is white, and if you look really closely you notice there’s a bumpy texture to the paper. That’s something helpful to know, too, so all of those things would be the kind of things that you could write down when you’re examining a print.
The next thing is to describe how you felt making the art, and so I have to admit that I did not make this. Leah made it, but I am willing to bet that Leah felt pretty happy when she made this print because it’s a very happy print. The last thing on the report is what can you do to take care of your art, so I know we’ve been talking about some things that you could do to take care of your art, so does anybody remember what any of those things are that you could do to help keep this print safe or your prints safe?
ML: Someone put said put it in a folder.
EC: Exactly, nicely done. The last thing on the form is you have an opportunity to draw your artwork because that also sometimes is really helpful if you have a drawing or a photograph you can point to specific things when you’re talking about them in your examination.
LH: Alright, I think we saved a bunch of time that if you want, we’re going to be moving into the show-and-tell portion, so please email us. I have a bunch already coming up, so I’m queuing them up right now, so email them to me at email@example.com. We’ll also be putting these in our learning lab that we’ll share out with you afterwards. As a quick follow-up, after you’ve done your prints and after this program take a look around your home, in your community to see if you notice any prints around, and if so where they store them and how are they displayed? Just think a little bit as if you were an art doctor conservator.