FROM THE SEATTLE TIMES “IT PROBABLY SHOULDN’T come as a surprise that Ella Shepard Bush got lost in the fogs of art history. The same has happened to many other women artists, before and since. But in her day, Miss Bush — as she was always known — was at the heart of Seattle’s budding art scene.”
I’ve always enjoyed learning little oddities and details about people, topics, and other things many probably don’t know, especially for subjects that are familiar to some extent to most. For instance, did you know that The Beatles had made a collaborative painting? I suspect most of you didn’t. To be honest, I can’t remember how I learned of this: I believe I was searching for a specific photo of The Beatles and stumbled upon this by complete accident. I’ve noticed that this subject doesn’t come up much, even among huge fans of The Beatles, which I suppose you could categorize me as such.
The photos taken by photographer Robert Whitaker, who accompanied The Beatles during a significant portion of their touring years, provide some insight on how this painting was made. As you can see in most of the photos I have shared below, there is a lamp resting in the middle of the substrate that they are painting on. The base of the lamp is what had formed the white circle in the middle of the work. Seeing how the circle is noticeably not in the center of the piece and how their signatures in it are adjacent to the corner that they worked on, you can’t help but to wonder if John and Paul had hogged up the workspace and George and Ringo had less room to maneuver, if George and/or Ringo wanted more overhead light to better see what they are doing (and if we were to go by that theory, I’d say that applies more to the aforementioned member rather than the latter, seeing how the lamp was the closest to George’s corner), something else, or even them not even thinking that much or any about where the lamp was placed.
Something else I have observed is how they had added the background color after everything else. The photo immediately below best shows that: you can clearly see how blank canvas occupied the surface as they painted in their respective corners. I think most of you Path with Art painters have experienced how difficult it is to fill in the background of a painting, if you decide to paint the subject first. I am wondering if the use of watercolor paint factored into this choice, as it is a paint with low opacity, meaning that it doesn’t usually allow you to block out lower layers of paint entirely with subsequently painted layers like acrylic, oil paint, or gouache does.
There’s not a good photo of John working on his portion (upper left of painting), which makes it a tiny bit harder to scrutinize his process. But what I find interesting is how clear it is to comprehend what he made. What I mean by that is that he struck me as the sort who planned very little, if he were told to be somewhere at a certain time, he would arrive at some point later, and had an all-around chaotic nature. But I suppose those who are often part of the chaos, and perhaps even perpetuate it, are often the ones who can make sense of it and find ways to refine it.
Paul’s corner (upper right of painting) doesn’t surprise me in the slightest in how it comes across as seeming the most planned and orderly. (After all, that sort of nature is a key contributor in what formed a rift farther down the line, but it was also what helped them keep on task earlier on.) It’s the corner the strikes me as being the most literal, too. (Though, John’s corner is the one that I’d describe as being the second-most literal, and for different reasons, but still running along the same vein as Paul’s section.) But by no means would I call his part plain or dull. It’s still aesthetically-pleasing.
George’s piece (lower right of painting) is the portion I could hear a lot of people describe as being the most enigmatic. His portion has a painterly and sprawling quality that the other corners lack. I would perhaps describe it as being not corporal, which I can’t say that of the others. (And I would also say that that aspect makes perfect sense, too, not just visually-speaking, but who the artist was, too.) I wouldn’t describe it as complete and total chaos—there’s still a certain sort of cohesiveness and distinct flowing movement to it. It strikes me as having a base-level structure or plan that is improvised upon based on what George saw or found fit at that moment—kind of how I interpret how he functioned in general from what little I know of him (and I know him the most of all of The Beatles).
Ringo’s portion (lower left of painting) is probably my favorite. It’s probably the part of the painting that I actually find confusing on some level in terms of subject, but I like it despite that. I think describing it as methodical, but not insomuch planned, somehow seems apt. And it’s deceptively simplistic, in that the forms are strong and clear, but that aspect gives it a special sort of harmony that I can’t quite articulate.
I wish I could find information as to how they selected their subject and who came up with the painting’s title. (Seriously, during any new interview conducted with Paul, someone should ask him some questions about this painting. So much of what people ask him has already answered a million times.) I’m curious if knowing such information would change my analysis of each segment.
Supposedly, creating this painting was something the four of them really looked forward to doing and perhaps even found the process therapeutic. Part of me is curious as to why they didn’t make more collaborative visual art pieces, apart from one other that I will mention a bit below, together. I suppose it was largely due to a lack of time. But if they had worked on numerous visual art projects, I suspect that tension would eventually develop between them with that task, too—after all, there seems to be more overlap to creating music and creating visual art than many probably realize. But then again, seeing how much painting “Images of a Woman” calmed them, maybe that would’ve lessened or prevented what turbulence eventually happened.
The history of whose hands this painting has passed through is interesting, too, including how the painting remained under someone’s bed for decades. Though, to be honest, I don’t find this part as intriguing as learning about the creation process and analysis of this work—I’m like that about visual art in general. I suggest reading the article from The Atlantic that I have sourced throughout this post, if want to learn more about its sales history and ownership.
As for the other collaborative piece I had briefly mentioned earlier, it was a drawing in colored pencil that they had made in 1967 known as “Peace To Monterey.” This piece was sent to the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival, an event that they regretfully were unable to attend (which is interesting, considering that Paul was one of the musicians who was involved in the festival’s genesis). There seems to be even less information out there about this piece than the one that is of primary focus for this entry, including its whereabouts. Unlike “Images of a Woman,” this piece doesn’t feel as if it initially started as something collaborative—it looks as if one of them might had been doodling during a moment of rest, and everyone realizing that it would be polite to contact the coordinators of the music festival decided this picture would be something nice to send, and the others added bits to it. If my theory is right, I can’t help but to feel that George was the one who started the drawing, as the primary subject (not objective) was more in his wheelhouse than anyone else; also, if you have ever seen any of the doodles John had drawn, this piece isn’t what I’d see as indicative of them (and this is even taking into account of how his latter drawings are looser in form than his earlier published drawings—honestly, I think his earlier stuff has a certain charm that his later stuff lacks, and this whole tangent would probably make a neat future blog post).
A point to mention about both pieces before I close out: I have yet to locate prints made of either of these pieces. I think “Images of a Woman” would make an interesting wall decoration and conversation piece, and would be a piece of fan memorabilia that strikes me as being classier than the usual sort of fare. I think if this work were more widely known, there would be enough fan demand for prints of these works to be financially lucrative.
“A 35-year-old self-taught artist, in 1990 Rayed Mohamed immigrated with his family from Yemen to the United States. While his primary language is Arabic, he speaks some English. However, he best expresses himself through his art.”
Everyday when I wake up, the first thing I see when open the curtains of my balcony door, I see a certain mural. This mural is very hard to miss because it takes up the side of three steel-framed, yellow brick buildings, the primary building being five-and-half stories tall. This piece of art is the primary reason why I am glad to have apartment on the side of the building that is located. I know that one of my neighbors is of the opinion that a child designed this, but judging by that comment, I realize that he doesn’t have much knowledge about the technical aspect of art. Everybody’s a critic.
Because of the mural’s enormous scale, the title of the mural is “The Mural of Unusual Size.” This piece was designed and painted in 2017 by HENSE, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia and was part of a project to revitalize blighted properties in the city. The painting required 170 gallons of paint to complete. While I was glad to learn this information, I wanted to learn a bit more, as I’ve never been pleased with answers on a superficial level. In particular, I wanted to learn a bit more about the building.
I knew that the buildings were currently occupied by an audio-visual consultant and an automotive repair garage, but I didn’t know anything about the building’s past. Someone had told me that it was once an old factory, but they did not elaborate beyond that. And for all I knew, what they told me was incorrect. I tried searching for the desired answers online, but I only got articles about the creation of the mural. I knew that someone had the answers. So decided to contact the artist—maybe someone had told him of the site’s history when he took on that job. I sent him an e-mail through the contact form on his site. A couple of days later, I thought of someone else who might be more helpful: the Washington County Historical Society. So I sent them an e-mail, too.
While I still have not heard back from HENSE, the office admin of the historical society suggested that I should check the Maryland Historical Trust’s website. Turns out that that was an excellent piece of advice. Using Medusa’s, their online database, map tool, I found an application from when the building applied for historical status. I had learned that the building was once the site of D.A. Stickell & Sons Feed Manufacturing. This company was both a flour and feed producer. The building was constructed in 1947 and continued to operate until some point in the 1950s. Through this information, I was able to locate some of the burlap sacks that they used through online antiques dealers:
There is even something more baffling that I have come across. I had found an ad for D.A. Stickell & Sons, but it is filed as being from 1915 in the digital library of WHILBR, Western Maryland’s Historical Library. I had originally not noticed that date, and assumed it was from the time frame that was reported on the aforementioned application. But looking a bit more closely at the artwork and typefaces, I highly doubt that the ad was from the 1940s or 1950s and that the year it is filed under is correct. (Printed ad artwork and typefaces throughout history is another subject that would make for an interesting post, but that is aside my overall point.) While the location has a different building number than what the building currently has and was filed as having in the historical status application, I am sure this is for the same buildings. Either the number in the ad is a typographical error or the buildings had a different (but similar) number at that time. I am certain that this ad is for the same location as the cross street that is mentioned is the same one that is where the mural is located. Perhaps these were entirely different structures that had been demolished at one point. But even if that were the case, why does the information in Medusa allude to the Anchor Milling Company being there at that time? For that matter, 1915 predates the existence of the Anchor Milling Company existing in Hagerstown by four years. Did the Anchor Milling Company buy D.A. Stickell & Sons and the former name was kept?
While I am a bit flustered that my question has yet to fully be answered like I thought it was (and perhaps it never will be), the buildings are a bit less of a mystery. Ironically, this newly acquired information does not paint a clearer picture of the artwork itself, and the mystery is as tangled as the artwork itself.
I think I’m confident in saying that regardless of anyone’s income, the vast majority of artists like to save money when purchasing their materials. This is no exception for anyone who uses Gelli plates for their printmaking. For those uninitiated with Gelli plates and printing, one coats a slightly sticky, thick sheet of gelatin with a thin layer of water-soluble ink or paint; this coated sheet is then pressed against a non-glossy leaf of paper. Before pressing, the ink or paint can be moved about with an applicator, stamped or stenciled onto, or gently scraped from the paint to form images. Thin, flexible objects can also be placed in between the coated plate and paper to form shapes on the paper that are devoid of ink. There are other techniques that can be utilized, but I were to explain them, I would be deviating a bit too much from the purpose of the post. Some of the classes Teaching Artist Laurie Brown has taught for Path with Art have utilized these items.
To connect the issue of expense and income with the acquisition of art supplies and Gelli plates, if you had visited the above link to the store page for Gelli Arts, you may have noticed something concerning: the plates have a steep price tag! A 3 inch by 5 inch plate costs $12.95, not including taxes, shipping, and other fees. Keep in mind that the dimensions of this plate are not even the size of a standard postcard. But fortunately, there is a more cost-effective way to obtain Gelli plates: by making them yourself. And even better, the process of making them is not laboriously intense nor does it involve many ingredients. But keep in mind that access to a kitchen burner and basic kitchen equipment are involved in this process, as I know that some of you who are reading this article do not have regular access to either of these.
The recipe and instructions I am sharing with you is a modified version of the process found on The Frugal Crafter’s blog. I found that the instructions she gave did not allow for the plates to congeal adequately, resulting in plates that were too soft and delicate for use. I also wanted to be much more specific in my instruction so that you are less likely to encounter any issues. Any grade of glycerin (craft, medical, or consumable) can be used for this project. Also, I included the optional ingredient of peppermint oil or clove oil for the sake of adding an additional preservative, making the plates without it will work perfectly fine, as the addition of glycerin helps prevent any spoilage that would normally occur without it. If you decide to use either of these oils, make certain that you are using essential oils, not flavoring oils for use in baking and candy making, and to gently wash the plates with dish soap after the plates are ready for use, as the excess oil may repel ink or paint a bit.
3 to 5 drops peppermint or clove essential oil (optional)
2-quart heat-safe bowl (can be larger, if you do not have smaller bowl available)
2-cup liquid measuring cup
dry measuring cups
large mixing spoon
baking sheets, heat-safe plates, heat-safe bowls with broad bases, or other similar containers (has to be at least ¼ inch deep)
dish soap and water (if needed)
paper towels (if needed)
clean, sharp scissors (optional)
plastic zipper bags and/or firm plastic sheets trimmed to the width and length of containers
Measure and add 15 tablespoons gelatin, 1½ cups glycerin, and 3 to 5 drops of peppermint or clove essential oil (optional) to a 2-quart heat-safe bowl. Mix the ingredients until they are fully incorporated and no lumps remain.
In a small sauce pan, bring 1½ cups of water to a full boil.
Add the heated water to the bowl containing the gelatin, glycerin, and oil mixture. Mix until well-blended and gelatin is fully dissolved.
Quickly pour mixture into desired container. Make mixture coats the inner base of the container completely and is at a depth of at least ¼ inch. Ensure that the container sits on a level surface.
Allow for the container to remain undisturbed until fully cooled and that the mixture forms a very firm gel. This process will take several hours, but letting the mixture set overnight will ensure the proper consistency.
With a paring knife, very carefully insert the blade against the inner edge of the container and glide it against the entire inner perimeter of the container. Take care not to tear the gel sheet.
Insert the blade of a rubber spatula and glide it along the same path you made when you used the paring knife.
Carefully slide the rubber spatula under the edge of the gel sheet. Slowly lift the spatula once the blade of it is fully inserted, taking care not to tear the gel sheet.
While the gel sheet is elevated, gently grab the gel sheet with your free hand. Very slowly peel the gel sheet from the container, once again ensuring that the gel sheet does not tear.
If you had used some essential oils, very gently wash the outer surfaces gel sheet under running water with a very small amount of dish soap. Do not use any washcloths, sponges, or scouring pads to clean the sheet—use your hands. Lightly blot any water from the surface with a dry paper towel to speed up the drying process.
(optional, but recommended) With a clean pair of sharp scissors, trim any ragged excess gel from the top edge of the gel sheet.
Store the gel sheet between plastic sheeting cut to the length and the width of the gel sheet and/or insert the gel sheet into a plastic zipper bag. (I recommend both because sliding gel sheets into plastic zipper bags alone can be a clunky process. And storing the gel sheets between plastic sheeting alone can still leave the edges of the plates exposed, possibly inviting dust to stick to their edges. While you can wash any stuck dust off, storing them in the bag allows you to not take that additional step.)
If you find yourself accidentally tearing the sheet at some point during the process, fear not. Depending upon the material and dimensions of the container you are using, you can pop the container with the hardened gel in it into the microwave for about a minute to melt the gel. And if you are using a container that is too larger and/or not microwave safe, you can always tear up the gel and place it into a saucepan, and melt the gel over low heat on the stove. Once the gel is fully melted, if poured back into the container if needed, you allow for the gel to properly set again, and you can make another attempt at removing the gel sheet.
Another perk to making your own sheets is that you can make a more varying array of plates of different shapes. To give you an idea of what I mean, take a look at the photo I have displayed below. The sheet in the bottom right corner is one that has been commercially produced. The other sheets are ones I have made myself. (The reason why the rectangle and oval have a white foam on their top surface is that I had used an immersion blender to mix them. I do not recommend doing this nor using a standard blender or food processor.)
Seeing that the FAQ page on the Gelli Arts website mentions that their plates do not contain products derived from animals, I would presume that you could use agar agar to make them. (I get the feeling that carrageenan or pectin would produce plates that are too soft.) Perhaps one of these days, I will experiment with it—if I do, I’ll be sure to provide an update.
Before I close this post, if you are unsure of where to begin with using gel plates, check out the printing basics category available on Gelli Arts’ website. They can provide far more information and techniques than I could. At a quick glance, I can see that they suggest some ideas that haven’t occurred to me!
I came across this beautiful etching today. The artist is named Sheryl Steiger Young. The detail is amazing. “Fine line drawing and attention to minute detail characterize Young’s artwork.” Her animal etchings will be on display at a gallery in Vermont during the month of May. “The nature and animal studies are the root of her work, expressing all the perfection and beauty one could possibly be privileged to enjoy in the world.” I have done a few etchings myself, but nothing this intricate.