Friday, December 19, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Swallows in small bites (get it?)

With the background behind us (oh, I am a veritable treasure trove of puns today, aren't I?) it's time to turn our attention to the birds and branch. And by us and our I mean me. Of course.

Swallow linocut, Step 6

Both the male and female violet-green swallows can have green across their backs, although it's typically more pronounced in the male. (Who also has a green head.) No need to spew this color everywhere on the block, so a little selective inking put it where it belonged. More or less. I also employed a newsprint mask, as seen here on the next step.

After that sort of olive-y green I wanted a brighter green. David Sibley's bird guide describes the color as "emerald," so if it's good enough for David, it's good enough for me. Here you see the ink rolled up on both birds, but sort of squeaking out beyond where it belongs.

Enter the newsprint mask:

This mask serves two purposes (and perhaps more that I haven't yet discovered). First, it acts as a window through which ink will transfer to the print only where I want it, and second, it keeps the un-inked portions of the block from getting grabby with the slightly tacky, previously printed ink layers.

Swallow linocut, Step 7.
There's not a lot to see here, although if you squint you can tell that there are two different greens. Right?

And now for something slightly silly.

Male violet-green swallows sport some exciting color on their backsides, most of which isn't visible in this posture. But a teeny, tiny bit of purple is... and, well, even though it doesn't really matter to the print it DOES matter to the species, so I need to add it. The total area is about 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch, I kid you not.

Obviously it's not worth all the contortions required to do this step with the press, so a little application by hand was in order.

Swallow linocut, Step 8. If you can call it a step.

Seriously. That's all there is. And some of it will get covered with a subsequent color. But I couldn't leave it out entirely. That would be bad form.

Thankfully the noodling-around portion of this piece is now finished, so the next layers should be more fun and hopefully more dramatic. I thought there were only going to be two more passes, but it looks instead like three. We're getting close, though... AND... at the risk of jinxing the process... NO REGISTRATION PROBLEMS. So far.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Back to the Swallows

I've managed to finish painting a second sheet of tiny birds and have a third ready to go, but I wanted to get back to work on this swallow piece first. It's potentially an image with long-term ramifications which I'm not yet able to announce, and it needs to be done before the end of the month. So... it's back to the press.

Swallow linocut, Step 4

Hm. I fail to understand why this image looks so dark in Blogger. It's a lot cheerier in P-shop, and far less grainy. Weird.

Ah ha! It's the fault of Google, which now "auto enhances" one's images unless one turns the feature off. Just for grins, this is how horrible the image looked when Google "fixed" it:

Anyway... this step was a nice purple-to-blue blended roll. In the top photo you can see that I'm still having a little trouble with lap marks, although in real life it's not nearly as pronounced as it looked in the "enhanced" (snark) image.

Swallow linocut, Step 5

I considered leaving the background plain at this point... but that little bit of uneven color made me uncomfortable, so I decided to go for some subtle texture to visually break up the unwanted line. Yep, I think a little background interest was just the ticket to break up the unevenness.

From here all the background marks will be removed and the focus will be entirely on the birds. This makes me a little nervous from a registration point of view. Two greens and two browns and it will be finished... I hope I can hold it together!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Linocut experiments: Little hand-colored birds....

Okay, then! I finished painting the first set of little bird linocuts....

This first set took a little while... I wanted to keep the overall color palette cohesive so they could work as individuals or groups, so had to engage my brain cells. Hopefully the next sets won't take quite as long.

It's funny, but I felt a little guilty coloring these with watercolor rather than working them as full-on reduction prints. But my goal is to produce some inexpensive, "giftable" little images, so this seemed like a workable idea.

Here they are, all trimmed and ready to go. Almost. I'd like to have a few more sets done before I pronounce them ready to meet the world.

Once again, you may employ the embiggenator with a click.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Linocut experiments: It worked! Eventually.

The stars finally aligned this afternoon and I was able to tackle the printing of the 18 x 24 sheet of lino full of small bird images.

For this first large-scale printing I intended to print single color (black) and later hand-color these little critters, so out came the watercolor paper. And, hm... out came some problems.

I had suspected that my earlier efforts to recalibrate the press had not gone quite right, and the first print attempt made that abundantly clear:

Hmmm. That just ain't right!

Nope, that's not a trick of the light. That's a good impression in the upper right corner and a lousy one in the lower left. In this photo the leading (into the press rollers) edge is on the right, so clearly the roller isn't balanced. What I don't understand is the image also getting lighter towards the left (trailing) edge. Hm.

I messed around with the press adjustments and found what I thought would be a good balance. The second impression was more even, but still too light to satisfy me. I'm printing on Arches 140# cold press watercolor paper, so it has a fairly pronounced tooth, but I want a nice, solid black line. (Without cranking down the pressure enough to cause embossing.)

It seemed like dampening the paper might be the way to go, but I don't really have a set-up for working with wet paper. I've no good way to ensure even wetting... no blotters on hand...not even a spray bottle or fresh sponge! Oh well! I soaked some shop towels and gently wiped one side of the paper as evenly as I could.

(Ah, the smell of Arches watercolor paper. Snark. Could they make the sizing any stinkier? But I digress. )

 But a little water was definitely what was needed, because...success!

Embiggenable with a click...

In just about an hour and a half I had... let's see... 18 times 9... 162 little linocuts. Of course I have more to print, and I still have to paint them, and trim them, but, hey! Pretty darned exciting, if I do say so myself.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Small steps

Well, my larger tympan-to-be arrived yesterday, but I didn't have time to mess around with printing the large lino. Today (Friday) and Saturday I'll be exhibiting in the Buena Vista Holiday Art Walk, so it will be at least Sunday before that adventure can happen.

In the meantime, I made a couple of steps on this new small linocut. I'm experimenting a lot with pressure adjustments and finding that the addition of even one more sheet of newsprint between the print and the tympan can make a big difference. I even experimented with adding a couple of pieces of newsprint under the block. Yep. Interesting.

Step 2. Try to ignore the weird smudge at the bottom. I tried to Photoshop out
a shadow of my hand and made a mess instead.
Good thing I'm a printmaker and not a digital painter!
For Step 2 I added a little bit of brown to the leftover transparent gray ink from Step 1. Gee, do you think it might be an image of birds on a branch? Nah, I bet it's a puppy dog.

Step 3
Step 3 was a transparent blue, giving a little coolness to some shadows, especially in the birds. Not much of this color will be retained, but I wanted a blue tone overall before tackling the big, scary hurdle of the background. I'm going to aim for some sort of rich blended roll... nervous about how that might play out.

Thankfully I'm not having the registration/stretching issues I had with the last print. The pressure is knocked back quite a bit, and I'm adjusting with thin sheets of paper instead of micrometer settings. So far, so good.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's Going On?

Subtitle: The best laid plans....

I've been slowed this past week by a rotten cold... the kind that mostly only makes me feel "off" and tired during the day but miserable at night because I can't sleep for coughing once I get horizontal.

Despite that, and a time out for the Thanksgiving holiday, I did manage to finish carving this:

Many mini linocuts ready to print

Yes, that's 18 (count 'em, 18!) 3 x 5 images carved out of a single 18 x 24 sheet of linoleum. My theory is that I can print them all simultaneously and trim them apart later. Right.

I was all ready to tackle printing this weekend. Plenty of paper... space cleared on the drying rack... ink at the ready. But then... oops! Problem.

I've been using a cutting mat as a sort of tympan instead of blankets. It's stiff, but flexible enough to make a good impression. Unfortunately my largest mat turned out to be not quite large enough. I found a larger one in a store here in town, but sadly at a price double what I could find online. I try to buy locally as much as possible, but economics being what they are at the moment..... (sigh). Online it is.

I'm also going to try some recycled rubber offset blankets.. I've sent for a sample to be sure it's what I want, but I've heard several people say they've used them with good success. Still so many little details to sort out...

So the big experiment is put aside for a few more days, and I've started something new. Not much to see yet, though.

This week my attention turns to a couple of exhibitions. Abend Gallery's 24th Holiday Miniatures Show opens Friday, December 5 in Denver and in a last-minute decision it looks like I'll be participating in Buena Vista's Holiday Art Walk Friday evening and Saturday. Unfortunately it doesn't look like I'll have 18 little birds for the events, but hmmm..... maybe something interesting will have to happen with them online! Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Linocut in Progress: How It Ended, or, Even After 18 Years There's Still a Lot to Learn

Yep, I started dabbling in relief prints probably 18 years ago...settled down to focus on them about 10 years ago... and I still have a lot to sort out about this engaging and sometimes frustrating medium. Especially since I'm in the process of sorting out an entirely new way to work. New equipment, new registration system, new paper, new ink. Nothing like throwing ALL the variables into the mix at once.

This piece has definitely been one of those learning experiences... with a completely ironic twist at the end. But first....

Step 8: The geese appear
Step 8. A straight-up transparent blue over the entire block. No, really. Here's a detail of a section of cloud:

I was satisfied enough with the color, although it wasn't really what I had in mind when I started. But by this time I was having some rather acute registration problems that I just couldn't straighten out.

The first problem was that the prints had all developed a curl, which made it just about impossible to get them to lay flat on the block. Hm. I work my paper dry... but I'm also working in a small apartment, with humidity from shower and laundry just a few feet away. But I don't think that's it. I think it's too much pressure. This lovely press has such a light touch that it doesn't feel like too much pressure, but I'm also still getting that problem of good registration at one end and not at the other. The paper isn't embossing... but nothing seems to be slipping, so pressure adjustments seemed the likely culprit.

 I nudged the pressure down a wee bit and printed. Nope, not enough. Again. Nope, not enough. Again. Nope. Just for grins I tried running one through the press the other way around. Big mess, as one might expect. But at this point I was pretty desperate. More ink, less ink... still problems. What. The. Heck.

And then... another major dope slap. Because suddenly the print is getting slightly embossed and it seems like maybe the lino is stretching.

I've always had trouble wrapping my brain around camera settings. I understand that less is more when it comes to aperture, but in relation to speed? I just could never keep it in my head. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, then, to realize that what I had been doing was not loosening the press ever-so-slightly... but tightening it! Smaller number isn't less pressure, it's more! D'uh!

I figured it out in time to save just 4 prints, but by golly I did figure it out.

 But here's the kicker. Remember those early reject prints? I kept them in the rotation all the way through.

The one that was too red? Moody. Rich. (Although you can see registration blur on the left side.)

And the REAL kicker?

This was Reject 1, pulled out in the very first pass. I ran the background on it twice, trying to get the ink coverage even on the block. I liked it, but thought it was too dark too early in the game.

Then the aborted attempt to use that icky white, which made chalky rather than luminous color. But it DID serve as a good undertone for the subsequent color passes, and this image, although entirely different from the others and not at ALL what I was aiming for, is really quite lovely. In fact... despite its registration issues it already has a new home with the first person who saw it other than me. (The weirdness along the bottom is an artifact of the light and slightly warped paper.)

So there you have it. No matter how much I think I know about this process, it will always pose challenges. But it will also produce lovely surprises, and that is what keeps me coming back for more.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Making and making use of rejects

I was reasonably happy with the orange-to-yellow blend of Step 3, but it didn't seem to have quite the OOMPH that I wanted. Enter the uses for the "reject prints" that I keep in the rotation as I work.

Ordinarily my "tester/rejects" are nothing to look at: just bad registration and bad color choices, so I don't take photos of them. This is unfortunate, because I can't show you just how far Reject 1 had deviated from the rest of the edition already. At Step 1 I had run the initial background twice, and Step 2 went on really dark. Step 3 was printed like the rest of the edition, but for Step 4 I first mixed an opaque orange with lots of my new Handschy white in it. Disaster!

I do NOT like this Handschy white, I'm afraid. It's too.... varnish-y... or something. It's runny out of the can, but overbearing on the roller. And a b@#$% to clean off rollers and blocks. I don't use any solvents, only mineral oil for clean up, and this white just doesn't want to let go. I've ordered some Graphic Chemical white to try instead. Darn that Daniel Smith for not making ink anymore.

So... sorry I can't show you the mess at this point, but you'll just have to trust me that you'll see it later.

Step 4: Another orange-to-yellow blend.

Step 4

Okay. It's not exactly what I was after, but it will have to do. Now to tone down that orange. I want to cool off the color temperature but not resort to opaque ink. (Partly because I am struggling with that white.) Might not be possible.

Step 5: The wrong color
Whoa. Definitely not what I was aiming for. I tried using a transparent purple-blue here, but the result was wayyyyyy too red. At least I have Reject 2 in the rotation now.

Step 5: Still not right, but better.
Well. Okay. This is less harsh than that red, but not the cooler tone I was hoping for. There's a lot of blue in it, but I moderated it with a little umber. Hopefully it will influence the next layer in appropriate ways.

Step 7: Getting there, but GEEZ.
Hm. Again not exactly what I wanted, but clearly I am not in charge here. It's swinging back to a cooler color temperature, but I think it's time to just surrender and let the print take me where it wants to go.