The Art of Making Art: Beth Adler


Beth Adler is an artist and printmaker who works primarily on paper. Recently, she has incorporated cyanotype into her engraving methods. Cyanotype is an alternative photographic process using chemicals and sunlight.

The artist in front of his studio wall filled with cyanotypes. Credit: Jake Wein

She organizes her work into “collections,” creating prints based on a similar theme but with varying images and shapes. Images can be based on natural materials like leaves and flowers or on shapes of objects that inspire the artist.

Adler has a studio on Florence Street in the West Village Arts District of Evanston. It is a showcase with huge bay windows and a promenade garden in the front.

Inside the studio are his essential tools: a press, a cyanotype light box, a large table to spread out the work, a drafting desk, a flat filing cabinet for storage, and plenty of chairs and benches for friends stop and chat! For Adler, his press is like a painter’s brush. It is the means by which she applies ink to paper for multiple images by making multiple passes through the press.

The chairs are an essential part of the studio as they allow Adler to sit and consider his designs both in progress and completed. She posted messages on her walls for further inspiration.

When a collection is complete, it removes all the work from the walls and starts over with a new collection. As a general rule, she makes two or three collections a year.

The studio is her workshop where she keeps dried flowers and vases. It is equipped with a small sink and fittings. She works there almost every day, usually in the afternoon for four to five hours.

Adding Shape and Perspective with Colored Pencils Credit: Adina Keeling

The huge windows help her keep a close eye on the sun. With cyanotype, a chemical solution is brushed onto paper. Next, items such as plant material or cut-out shapes are placed on the paper and laid flat where the sun will shine across the entire item sheet. When the sun hits the chemical on the paper, a chemical reaction occurs and that area of ​​the paper turns a nice Prussian blue. But the paper protected by the material or the plant forms, does not turn blue and retains the color of the original paper.

Since the sun is a bit unpredictable in Evanston, she recently purchased a UV light box that she can shine on her smaller pieces to create the reaction. But the sun is needed for his larger artworks which measure between 24″ x 36″ and 18″ x 2″ 5 inches.

Cyanotype light box Credit: Adina Keeling

Recently, she and her husband were visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, and they strolled through the Ancient and Byzantine department where an area includes ancient pottery vessels thousands of years old. Adler’s connection to these ancient pieces was immediate.

She then went online and discovered that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a digital archive of hundreds of ancient vessels. She was able to upload many images and the various photographs of the vases became the subject of her current project.

Adler collected cardboard food boxes —— from friends and family. She carefully peeled back the edges of each box to create a flat piece of cardboard that she was going to use as “paper” for the project. Because the boxes varied in size, she chose a correspondingly sized photo to use on each box.

Various old cyanotype containers inside used and returned food boxes. Credit: Beth Adler

Then she painted the old, plain “inside” of each box with the cyanotype chemical, laid the photographic negative on it, and exposed it to UV light. After the box is washed with water, the image of the old vase appears inside the box.

Using colored pencils, Adler carefully enhanced the printed image by drawing the vase in accordance with the original design and adding dimension.

When several jobs were completed, it was time to create a display for the project. She originally displayed them each in a two-sided vertical plastic frame where the image of the old vase appeared on the “blue” side, and the original outer box design was on the other side.

Then, as she continued to expand the collection, Adler began folding the boxes back into their original shape, but with the old vase on the outside. She cut small holes in the side of each box so the viewer could see what type of product the box was originally used for.

The ship project continues to develop. Adler recently printed images of vases on plain paper. She also combines printmaking techniques with cyanotype to create a variety of ship-themed works.

Adler said, “Evanston is an engaged, liberal community with lots of natural beauty.” She regularly incorporates what nature has to offer in her collections. When she’s not creating art, she enjoys taking walks on the lake and gardening, visiting cultural venues in Chicago, and helping generate new ideas.

To learn more about Beth Adler and her art, visit www.hermanadler.com, her Evanston Made page at https://evanstonmade.org/projects/beth-adler/.

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