After a gathering of printmakers at the SPE conference in March 2011, vaguely documented here – Jon Cone invited everyone to Cone Editions for a “Piezography ink workshop” or print-fest, general gathering.. as Scott King and Bill Kennedy were planning to attend an unrelated workshop in the area. With Walker a Vermonter, that left just John Dean and myself having to travel. Ultimately Scott and Bill had to cancel, but with travel plans in place Walker, John, and myself arrived at Cone Editions Thursday June 9th.
An experience like this at the receiving end of Cathy and Jon Cone’s hospitality requires a short story to do justice, the idyllic pastoral setting, Jon’s amazing cooking, the shop itself.. the occasional surreal call of things like “there’s fresh strawberry shortcake upstairs for lunch”!… the following concentrates on my impressions as a printmaker.
When you put four somewhat obsessive printmakers in a shop with a wide variety of Epsons, a big Roland, software and inksets, they immediately start printing.. for hours and hours… every day. Interestingly the common thread was subtle hue and surface as a distinctive tool to bring the individual’s images to life, and each worker’s was different. Dana Ceccarelli helped each of us at every step and is a force to be reckoned with in the shop.
John Dean brought prints of 5 different images using a variety of mixes from home to compare with tests he began here with existing sets like K7 Selenium and Special Edition.
Coincidentally over the years Walker Blackwell and I had each landed on an ink combination we loved, with slight variations- a dual quadtone system using the Piezotone Warm Neutral and Selenium inksets, then using StudioPrint RIP to blend and combine them in a variety of ways. With glossy compatible K7 versions of the same sets now available, he wanted to create a version made from the K7 sets that worked similarly, then by adding a GO in an 8 cart printer, give it gloss capability as well. A variable hue, split or blend, gloss or matte, monochromatic inkset.
I long had an ink hue in mind with little chance to pursue, so took this opportunity. My largest body of work is landscapes which I prefer slightly warm. But I have other work never printed in ink I thought needed a bit more of a silvery feel. They are somewhat formal urban images with natural elements, and simpler compositions. Mixing custom sets with a small desktop and refillable carts is easy and fun, the various K7 sets provide endless possibilities and print well without concern for relinearizing or profiling while testing. I knew there wouldn’t be time to complete this work and then translate it over to a larger Epson for StudioPrint work and larger prints, so I brought images that work well at smaller sizes.
Starting tests with Canson Edition Etching, a beautiful paper, I put Selenium in shade 7 to take the cold edge off the highlights as they go into the paper, and get a slight rosy hue. Shades 6, 5, and 4 were from the neutral set, shade 3 from the Carbon set, and shade 2 from the selenium set. I wanted some hard splits in the darkest tones to bring out shadow contrast like silver papers, Azo and Portriga in the past. After some tests, swapping shade 6 from Neutral to Selenium, then shade 3 to a 50/50 mix of Carbon and Selenium. It was very close, but still not quite right. Finally trying Canson Rag Photographique instead of Edition Etching, it all came together. Then I printed a chart for Dana to make a custom profile of the setup to finalize everything.
Jon was working with a truly unique setup. A variety of near abstract tree/branch images done with single optic lenses melded seamlessly into the surface quality of an amazing paper he was working with through the large modified Roland printer. The paper is a triple thick kozo/cotton blend, also described here – with an inkset derived from the one discussed in the same article. The sheets were 39″ squares with a large feathered deckle. He lightly adhered them down to a larger thin sheet and set his image size larger so it printed full bleed completely over the deckle, then removed from the temp backing piece.
The inkset is complex and hard to describe, the visual look primarily a complex warmish gray, crossing over a cold gray in the shadows, then back to a deep almost reddish black. The editing process seemed, just from occasional conversation, to be about the transitional areas on a per image basis. The hue contrast in the dark trunks and branches accomplished by careful ink control and crossovers, the gorgeous surface that melded with the image structure, large size, full bleed, lens qualities, all came together into something I think few have ever seen before in photographic fine art prints. He completed 4 or 5, and an additional with a deckled 32×44″ sheet of the same paper.
Working in the same room all together for several days was a real treat, each of us absorbed in our own images and ink setups, good music playing, lots of art talks, politics, joking, Jon running out for occasional food prep (I’m pasting in his “menu” at the end). On Sunday we were all wrapping things up with a lot of great results.
Watching Dana build my custom K7 profile with Jon’s unique profiler was very impressive, after the measurement data is brought in, you can visually watch each of the seven ink curves adjust accordingly, extremely cool. I proceeded to finalize tonal edits of several images and make final 13x19s. This inkset will make it’s way into what I am doing at home. Walker made slight adjustments and perfected his set, and also printed several nice things. After careful consideration of the prints from home, the test prints from existing sets at Cone Editions, and seeing the other’s work, John decided to complete his prints for the now legendary “Tastes Like Chicken” portfolio, making an edition of one image on Jon’s Special Edition inkset, and another image edition with Walker’s Warm Neutral/Selenium dual quad set. Jon completed several finals, all leaning against the wall in our work room as things progressed.
Looking back on what everyone was doing, a few things were consistent to me. Resolution, continuous tone, the practical issues of B&W with ink, are past, it’s just a given that all that is in place. In unique and individual ways, each was focused on bringing together the materials to make the hopefully exquisite “thing”. Paper hue and surface, ink hue, changes/splits/blends for particular images, how that worked with paper base hue.. even particular editing for a materials combination, all to bring an image alive as a physical object. Printmaking is not craft for it’s own sake, the image is the beginning and end, the point being to manipulate craft for the sake of the life of the image. That’s how I saw it, that’s what everyone appeared to be doing…
Another striking aspect is how unusual this experience was, in fact very unique. In my formative years there were classrooms, darkrooms, workshops, all over the world tinkering with materials and process to make the effective print, to bring physical life to photographic images. Now in the digital era, it feels was too “special”, it should feel normal, even expected.
There’s much more, it was hard to keep it this short and I’m not giving anyone the justice they deserve. My thanks to Jon and Cathy Cone for such hospitality, for giving us the run of Cone Editions and even their home, and Dana Ceccarelli for her impressive experience, knowledge, and capability. She was as much a part of this as anyone.
Here is Jon’s “menu”-
“On your first night we ate grouper tacos from woodfired (roasted) 4lb slab of fresh florida grouper on soft corn tortillas with quacomole, fresh salsa, cabbage and my remoulade sauce. On Friday I made my chimayo chile rubbed baby back ribs with an apple bbq sauce that was heavy in red pepper but tempered by so much apple jelly. Saturday we had tandoor cooking with a leg of lamb, shrimps and cauliflower – each marinated differently and spiced quite differently. With it we had a peanut chutney and a mint chutney. Cathy made her basmati rice salad which is cold and features too many yummies to mention – but a hint of maple syrup in there along with cilantro, ginger, cashews, garbanzo beans, garlic, currants and spices. Some cool cucumber raita with mustard seed cooled it down. I had brined a brisket before you got here and smoked it for 10 hours on Friday – let it cool – and then yesterday we steamed it for 4 hours before eating it as fresh pastrami. It was covered in the usual black pepper, corriander and some juniper. :)!!!”