Thursday, March 1, 2018

mike lyon - kc printmaker

    Mike Lyon has a three story custom built playhouse and the energy, imagination and enthusiasm of a child let loose to explore endless possibilities. He is a dedicated artist first, a superb craftsman, whose furniture creations are much in evidence, an inventor and computer wizard. Moving through his building one is struck by the multitude of ingenious equipment that he designed and built. He skillfully re-purposed building materials from a dismantled school building for floors, walls, shelves and cabinets.

     The first level space of the studio building is dominated by a 4 by 8 foot stationary press and its accompanying self-designed sliding humidor drawer. This is a paper delivery system for his large-scale wood block prints. Nearby is the giant router bed where the blocks, 13 to 30 per print, are cut according to Mike's computer programmed instructions. A large multi-machine equipped wood shop is next door and then upstairs to a broad window walled gallery and studio space. The sound of churning and whirring, like a giant washing machine, comes from the ingenious device he created to produce little squirts of ink onto enormous heavy, absorbent paper, which is vacuum-adhered to a table. As the suspended pen moves about over the paper it charts out the instructions that Mike codes into the computer that directs each tiny movement. The result, after several weeks, is an immense drawing that reveals itself upon close inspection to be visually fascinating and quite unique. Though the process is reproducible, Mike chooses to make only one of each drawing.


     Mike has developed and applies industrial techniques that have no actual commercial application, just to create what he imagines. In a candid moment he said, "Sometimes I wonder who would do something like this!" Apparently, no one but him. His approach to woodblock printmaking, though inspired by the Japanese tradition, is otherwise revolutionary and charts a new path. One similarity: the famous Japanese woodcut artists painted their images, which were then glued onto and cut into the blocks by craftsmen. A router executes Mike's woodcuts, but the images he captures with photos must be translated by him into code before the machines can do anything. To Mike, the actual printing is the least engaging part of the process. It is the weeks of devising algorithms and programming that challenge him. And the unique marks that result are the eye candy that feeds his habit and are the viewer's reward for getting up close. Due to the large scale of the images, that experience is much like looking at an old master etching through a magnifying glass. 


      Mike had a great deal to say about his work, which he appreciates being understood on the artist's terms. It is radically different from digital print production (inkjet on high-quality paper). He merited a chapter in the new book, Post-Digital Printmaking that explains this contemporary practice, incorporating the strengths of both digital and traditional, resulting in hybrid printmaking techniques. This is now an important current in the printmaking of our time.

~~~~~ mike lyon studio review by print society member Catherine Vesce ~~~~~~

           Mike on LINE MAKING. Watch 2 minute video.                       
          " can see time ripples kind of growing out from that.
           So I am pretty fascinated by my own stuff. Obviously I wouldn't
           do it if I weren't interested in doing it. It's a lot of time every
           day down here thinking up how to make images. These are all
           sort of experiments in cross hatching, which seem so simple.
           In fifth grade, my friend Joe Kramer taught me how to cross
           hatch, we were cross hatching those first space capsules
           they were shooting up. And so we drew those conical
           shapes, he showed me how that side of the pencil or pen 
           to make lots of lines (he makes sideways motions with his
           hand). You know, I drew like that through art school and
           after with lots of line (moving his hand in the air) to make
           tone. And never thought too much about it. But when you
           are instructing a machine where to move one-thousandth 
           of an inch at a time, then it becomes more, you can not just,
           there is no command, at least not on my machine, that says
           "go like this" (his hand doing the vigorous sideways motion 
           in the air). (laughter) Most of these drawings are made
           following a kind of plan that takes the contours kind like a
           woodblock print, and grow out of the wood block printmaking,
           take the contour and step in this set distance and trace the
           contours. So that in a real weird way the direction of the line
           follows the direction of the contrasty parts of the drawing.
           So the lines of the eyebrows follow the hairs of the eyebrow.
           The lines for the glasses (his hand points to the glass
           frames on the large print) and then, in a wacky kind
           of way, the lines of her skin also follow the lines of the
           glasses for a while, and then they start echoing the lines
           of other features of the face."


(Photo by Catherine Vesce)

     Mike stood by the large bed of the ink drawing machine that he built. The arm was moving and depositing white ink on specific portions of the orange image below it. Next is a segment  about the pen on the arm and after that a segment about the solenoids he used in its creation.
"The pen (on the suspended arm) is not held down by anything when it's drawing, it is just the weight of two nuts. There is no downward pressure other than gravity. By trial and error I decided how much load to put on the pen. I have TORN UP lots of drawings in the process of finding out what works best. Initially I held the pen in the machine, because the machine has an axis that moves up and down. This bed is supposedly flat. I would lower the pen down until it just touched the paper, and then draw. The table is never quite flat, so the drawings would be dark in some areas and pale in others. So then, I loaded the pen up and put a little bit of sponge against the top, so when I pushed down on it I never really hit on it--- I never really finish a sentence, do I ?--- So that didn't work very well either, the foam that was supposed to put pressure on never did get it right. "
(Photo by John Mallery) 
"I finally bit the bullet, because it requires, so these wires (he points to the arm that holds the ink) are three lines. I can control three solenoids. Only because that is all the wire pairs I had and the wire I had, otherwise I could have controlled more. So, I built a circuit to hook up to the machine, which is in the box. There is a control box under here, that the computer talks to. And there is the circuit board I built in there, just simple relays that in a de-bouncing circuit that takes the 24 volts that the control box runs on. I spent a week to ten days learning about solenoids. Reading the catalogs, deciphering these charts, and learning, after I almost burned the studio down, with a solenoid that was designed for door opening (back and forth motion with his fingers). You know, you say into the door panel, "Madeline, it's me," and that loud buzzing sound and click that releases the locked door, so you can enter the building. It was THAT kind of solenoid. They are not continuous duty solenoids. They are ten to fifteen percent duty. They are not made to be on all the time, but I did not know that. So the first one of these I made was a 110 volt solenoid that lifted the pen up and down and worked great. I went home at night. When I came in the morning the whole studio was filled with black snowflakes, and my solenoid had MELTED down onto the drawing. So that was when I started studying solenoids, and learned there is a continuous duty and a partial cycle, 24 volts, six volts, five volts. The manufacturers give you graphs, that tell you all the you need to know. Like, how much weight it will lift, how far, how fast, how the contact points meet. This solenoid (pointing to the inking arm in motion) is rated for half a million cycles. This drawing has more than that. It will probably have one hundred thousand cycles alone. I don't know how many million actuations. You hear the CLICK? That lifts the pen, moves the arm to the next location, drops it down, and it draws whatever it is supposed to be drawing."

ShopBot (CNC) computerized numerical control
More on solenoids here  A solenoid is a device which converts energy into linear motion.

Mike talked about nineteen different line thicknesses for a printed drawing that took four or five weeks to produce a particular image. Watch one and a half minute video.
"A valve, sort of like an airbrush, where the needle comes down, I can pull the needle up, and lift the whole thing, so that when I lift it it stops the paint and when I drop it, the needle stays up and the paint can flow. Just running it. So here I invented "Chuck Close like.. (My hero is Chuck Close. I love his work.) 
"....So here I invented some gestures, diamonds and squares, in different sizes and calculated the amount of the surface of the square, each of those little shapes would cover, and then combined them to make, in this I think there were nineteen different darknesses of line. And then I painted blue and red and yellow and black in sequence over and over. So it painted four times. Just  like you imagine, it even makes its own noise: "deeyoo,deeyoo, cheechee, deeyoo, deeyoo, cheechee, deeyoo, deeyoo, cheechee, deeyoo, deeyoo, cheechee!!!" over and over and over and over. So that is very printerly in a way, if we like printing processes where, in this case, four or five weeks, it took to produce one example of prints, ridiculous."

Photos and videos by Robin Gross
Blog layout by Karl Marxhausen

Credits:(POST DIGITAL PRINTMAKING CNC, Traditional and Hybrid Techniques, A&C Black Publishers, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc (pages 119-128),; Chuck Close courtesy of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,;  de-bounce circuit  link courtesy of Electroix Express,; actuation link courtesy of Wikipedia,;  solenoid links courtesy of WiseGeek,; and Mechtronics; CNC link courtesy of ShopBot,,  December 3, 2012
http://mlyon. com/
December 2012


Local radio station KCUR 89.3 FM did a piece on the Nelson Atkins Print Society "Show and Tell Salon." The event took place on January 13 at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Gallery.  Photos and interview were done by Julie Denesha, digital media specialist. Thank you Julie for your fine work.

Full interview here. Click on These Kansas City Art Collectors Are Unabashedly Obseesive, Sometimes Influential


Friday, February 23, 2018

robert quackenbush -- kc printmaker

Mineral spirits were causing light colored ink to drip across a wood plate covered with dark ink. Caught up in the moment, its creator invited attendees to take notice. Robert Quackenbush was giving an print demonstration for members of the Kansas City Print Society, in the studio of artist Jane Voorhees across from the Plaza (photos below). Voorhees had given permission to use her press for the demo.

Often in the world of prints, the final image can be seen as rigid, set in stone, a finite quantity, a collision of colors frozen in time. This print maker had the attitude of an explorer. To him the equation to a product had variables and his job was to try them all. Saturday he let us in on the wonder. That was what he intended when he inked his plate with a beige swath across the top and a black swath across the bottom.

By design he intentionally let a solvent mingle with both colors, letting gravity pull rivulets downward. Solvents that were used for cleaning up oil stains in a work room could very well destroy or wreck a carefully planned image. Who would ever risk losing such an image? To do so could be seen as a careless act. It was our teachable moment. Clearly, that gentleman wanted us to see what the chemical reaction would do and share in his excitement.


    Girded in an orange apron, Quackenbush explained how he once was doing an aquatint and how he wanted to block out a certain area, so he applied ground over the area. (Ground was used by etchers to keep portions of the plate from being eaten by the acid) He couldn't get the ground to work as it was leaking all over the place. So he streched some masking tape across instead, figuring if the acid ate up the tape, it was no big deal. It was a chance he was willing to take. When he took the plate out the the acid bath he noticed that the acid had no effect on the tape. He liked the way the taped area looked, so he printed it up. Through trial and error he came up with his wood plates (ABOVE) which are covered with tape patterns. Double click on images to see enlarged. He used a brayer to roll on the oil-based ink. The paper for his prints were 
soaked and blotted Arches or Stonehenge paper. He discovered that certain tapes are too slick and would not hold ink. Others had the right kind of tooth or grit to hold and transfer the ink, when he ran them through the press.

A simple purchase of lotus leaves at the Asian Market inspired two artists. His friend, Reilly Hoffman, whom he shared a space with in the Kansas City Crossroad district, created a sculpture of a lotus leaf. Robert, in turn, used re-hydrated lotus leaves for printing. He sprayed shellac on the leaf to give it strength. Double click on ABOVE closeup to see enlarged. His techinque captured every crease and detail from the leaf. But it was a sacrificial thing, the leave was so fragile it distegrates after passed under the rolled pressure of his press. He mounted the leaf on a glass substrate and brushed the ink onto the leaf before printing it. It was labor intensive and used lots of ink, but the results were fantastic. He showed us a large leaf print done on a heavy black paper. He got the 40 by 60 inch sheet from Daniel Smith Art Supplies at fifteen bucks a page.

Her husband was a perpetual learner his wife Merry pointed out.

"Any place we have lived Robert has always found the best art school in town and taken classes, always wanting to try something new. Even at his age, he is still curious and willing to risk failure, because, usually, anytime you start something new you make mistakes."

You can watch her FULL INTERVIEW on the video below. She spoke in length about the lotus leaf project. Video is three minutes.


According to Merry Quackenbush, the white ink on black paper and black ink on white paper ABOVE were some of the first images Robert produced when he began using masking tape. After eight to ten prints, he has since learned, the tape on the plate would begin to fall apart.

Part 1. One minute video of the solvent drip demo.
Click on triangle.
Members study large leaf print.

Part 2. Solvent drip demo, six minutes.
Click on triangle.
RQ: I just want to let this rest another couple seconds. Can you all see how that is turning out?
MQ: What is that little block over there? Is that tape coming up a little?
RQ: Yes, that is a piece of tape coming up. Remember how we talked about this plate has been used before, it's been cleaned, and eventually the solvents will get under the tape and compromise the glue. Particularly where they have little points and what not. But I am going to let that go, We'll just see what happens. It was on the other plate too, and it did not seem to have a big negative effect. Still need to bounce this one a little more. (He lays plate on the newsprint on the press bed)
MQ: You can see where Robert has penciled in guidelines, so he knows where to place the plate. In this case he is centering this.
RQ: The last plate was a little bigger, that's why you see those lines. Now there is a chance that some of these lines may come off on the print. This is just an experiment for today.
A piece of paper coming up. I like to use paper that is a little wetter than most printmakers would recommend. I feel more comfortable about it, I think the ink takes better. (He blots the wetted paper with clean towel on work table. Husband and wife bring large paper over to the press bed) The paper is in place. I have added a couple sheets of newsprint. I am pretty sure that some of this ink will be coming through this paper, cause there is a lot of it. We can't soil these felts.

MQ: They would never have us back (in the Voorhees studio or use their press). We would never have another party here. (chuckles)
RQ: In the printmaking world, the biggest thing you can do wrong is mess up the felts. Frankly, art students are terrible human beings when it comes to being neat.
This is called a pusher, catcher rather. You will see a lot these with images off.
Now the experiment begins. (Robert rotates the big metal wheel next to the press bed, hand over hand, moving the pressbed under the steel roller, with even pressure)
Viewer: Does the speed of how you roll that affect any of the printing?
RQ: It can. Sometimes if you move too fast you can push the plate. If you are using multiple plates, it is important to have them angled a certain way,. For instances, if you are going to make a print that has three plates in it, you got to do it from the side, if you don't that third plate is going to move. It is one of the things you learn the hard way. If you move too fast you can move the plate, and some printers actually roll it back and run the plate through again. (Robert and Merry, on either side of the press, pull the layer of felt blankets back over the top of the roller).....OK, are you ready?? (ahhs and wows) (Robert gently pulls the paper off the plate to reveal the print BELOW) Double click on image to see enlarged.

Robert and his wife Merry, BELOW.

RQ:  We are going to run a ghost, which means I am not going to ink this plate again. I am just going to run another piece through. Sometimes they are very interesting, and like the other ghosts we ran in the first demo, they can be used in other ways. (Merry takes above print and lays it out on the table for the members to inspect up close. Husband and wife carry a second blotted sheet over to the press, carrying it by the edges with both hands. They carefully lay it on the taped plate, BELOW. They lay sheets of newsprints on top and felt blankets) 

Viewer: Some of us are going to be tempted to try the taped thing. Do you have a patent on it, Robert? (laughs and giggles)

RQ: I should. Although I can't be the first person to have tried this. (Robert rotates the big metal wheel next to the press bed, hand over hand, moving the pressbed under the steel roller. Felts are pulled back, newsprint rolled up, print it lifted up. Regarding the print: ) Not much, not much.

Viewer: No, but you could do something with it....

RQ: Absolutely!!

MQ: You could paint over it.

RQ: You could draw or paint over it. I could cut it up and collage it into something else.

Viewer: Could you print over it?

RQ: You could print over it. Sure, sure, absolutely!! Well, that's us. If you have any questions....(applause)

More on monotypes, click HERE.
(courtesy of Wikipedia, accessed September 16, 2012)

To view Robert's print page, click HERE 
accessed September 16, 2012

Robert is a member of the Hand Print Press
at the University of Missouri Kansas City.
To visit Hand Print Press, click HERE.
(courtesy of Hand Print Press,,
accessed September 16, 2012 )

A word to the Kansas City print community:

"Be prolific! Do a lot of work. Constantly improve your skills. One of the best lessons I ever learned is not to be afraid of my imagination. If making art is your passion, go after it. Don’t wait for anything. As Chuck Close once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs
…..Get to work!”
(courtesy of Art By Karena,, accessed September 16, 2012)
submitted by Karl Marxhausen, September 22, 2012