Thursday, January 22, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Aspen leaves

We don't have much in the way of deciduous trees here in the Rockies and our autumn color can be decidedly monochromatic. (Read: Lots and lots of yellow.) I've done several linocuts of our iconic aspen trees and leaves, but none quite like this one.

There ARE certain stands of aspen that turn not yellow, but orange, and sometimes even brilliant red in the autumn. I've never heard an adequate explanation for these renegades, but coming upon them is like finding a glowing treasure. (I swear one might even hear music.) Yes, there appears to be a pigment (anthocyanin, if you want to know) present in red and orange trees that isn't present in yellow ones... BUT... just because a tree turns red one year doesn't mean it will do so the following year.

This past September a large, rich stand of red and orange aspen flanked the Marshall Pass road, one of my favorite autumn haunts. I lined my pockets with leaves of red and orange and salmon and pink and gold... some of which are still on my window sill, although quite brown and crunchy by now.

Aspen leaf linocut: Step 4

Of course all that lovely color variety just begs to be made into a linocut. It took me more tries than expected to get to this salmon-pink color, which will only remain in a few leaves when the next color goes on.

Aspen leaf linocut: Step 5
Next, a transparent gray. Again, not much of the resulting dull red will remain in the finished print. The next color.... (more of that dramatic music now) will be a yellow ochre. Slightly risky, given all the red underneath it, but the ochre pigment is naturally a bit opaque, and I'm aiming for a color that will say "leaf past its prime," so I'm hoping it doesn't give me too much trouble.

Depending on what the roads look like this afternoon I may still try to make my run out of the mountains, so it will be a couple of days before much new happens. Plenty of time to screw up my courage and move on to the next step.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's It All About Wednesday: Snow Shadows

Well. I had intended to make an overdue run to the Front Range today, but the forecast calls for snow everywhere. It's a 2-3 hour drive for me each way (depending on where I'm headed) in GOOD weather. Forget trying to navigate mountain passes when the weather's questionable.

Staying home means getting other things done, though, so be prepared for an update on the linocut-in-progress tomorrow. And in the spirit of a snowy day, I'd like to share a little bit about "Snow Shadows II."


First things first (or maybe that's second things second): It's called Snow Shadows TWO because I did a smaller black-and-white version back before I started making color reduction prints.

One of my art heroes is Francis Lee Jacques, who worked as a fine artist, illustrator, and painter of  dioramas in the 1920s-40s, first at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and later at the Bell Museum in Minnesota. Jacques was a great painter, but it is his black-and-white scratchboard illustrations that knock my socks off, particularly those he did to illustrate several books by his wife, Florence Page Jacques. I went on a major eBay binge in the 1990s and bought everything I could find, since all of Florence's books were out of print. Several of them have since been reissued, but I'm quite fond of my 1940s-vintage first editions, thank you very much.

Jacques was a master of design and a consummate draftsman. He was, in my opinion, the king of negative space, making fantastic choices about what to render and what to suggest. Florence was an equally charming writer, documenting her adventures as the new bride of an avid outdoorsman. Here's a little snippet from Canoe Country to give you a taste of both.


It's simple but dramatic images like this one that showed me the design possibilities of water ripples and snow shadows. And Jacques' trees are darn lovely, too.

So what's that got to do with my linocut? Eight or nine years ago I was out driving with a friend on a sparkling, post-snowfall morning. We came around a bend and I shouted STOP! and was out of the truck in a flash. There... right there! was a shadow pattern worthy of Jacques. I snapped a few quick photos and vowed to "do something with them sometime."

My first black-and-white effort to "do something" showed promise, but once I started to feel more confident about reduction prints I gave it another try in color. It's no Jacques, but I like to think he'd approve of those snow shadows.

Monday, January 19, 2015

We now join this linocut already in progress

It's a wee bit crazy around here. I have illustration jobs for three different clients on the table, plus a commission project, a website redesign, and all my year-end paperwork/tax prep in progress.

So of course all I want to do is print. I've been sneaking in a little printing between all this other stuff, but neglected to take any photos. Sorry, but I'm bringing you in to the loop here at Step 3... the fourth color is ready to go, maybe today.

Aspen leaf linocut in progress. Step 3

This linocut-in-progress represents a biggish step for Presston and me. So far all of the reduction prints we have done together have been 8 x 10 inches. This one is 12 x 18, which more or less represents the full reach of what I can comfortably print by hand. (I have done larger pieces, but not often.) So far I'm not having any problems, other than some rather extensive transfer of the Sharpie pen I used to draw the image. It's a puzzle, because I made a point to scrub the block before the first printing, but I'm not too worried about it. The places where it's most obnoxious will all be covered by dark ink as the image progresses.

The carving is finished for Step 4, but I'm undecided about the next color to print! I have one more pale-but-clear color to go, a rosy-orange that I tried to get to at this stage, but didn't quite achieve. (The color I printed was a bright transparent pink, but not enough to overcome the two yellows underneath.) I don't want to resort to opaque color just yet, I want to maintain the luminosity of transparent ink as long as possible.

My other option is to print a transparent gray overall and then build other colors on top. I'm leaning towards trying one more time to rosy things up as is and then doing the gray, we'll see what I decide.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A rare "brush" post for Brush and Baren...

Perhaps I should have titled this post "Where-the-heck-did-she-go Wednesday."

The answer is that she got chained to the drawing table for the past week. Trip to the Front Range? Cancelled. Mostly because of weather, but also because I had multiple illustration deadlines in head-on collision. The good news is that I have work, the bad news is that it's keeping me away from the press.

Illustration in progress for an interp panel in the local state park.
In between bouts of sitting at the drawing table I've been sitting at the computer. (How dumb is THAT?) A major overhaul of my website is underway! It's going to be great when it's finished, but right now it's just tedious. I'm switching everything out of Dreamweaver and learning to use WordPress... trading one persnickety beast for another. But as I said... it's going to be great when it's finished.

I sent files for two jobs off to proof last night, and as a reward for good behavior I started prepping paper for a new print. Going to make the leap to a slightly larger image this time: 12 x 18. And something landscape-y rather than birdy. Can't wait to get started!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Linocut exhibition at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center

On Monday, with the help of the ever-capable photographer and hospital liaison Dan Downing (go look at his work), I installed my first exhibition of the year at the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center (HRRMC).

The blank wall awaits, and the puzzle commences. What goes where?

When this facility opened in 2008, board members had the fantastic insight to approach local artists first when they established their art collection. I was, of course, delighted when six of my linocuts were included in that initial purchase. One of those pieces hangs in the emergency room, and it's always amusing when someone approaches me with "Hey, I was in the emergency room with a broken leg, but it was nice to see your work," or better yet, "I was really pleased to see your work while waiting for my colonoscopy."

Still shuffling, but getting close.

This exhibition hangs in the main hallway between reception and the cafeteria, so I anticipate less traumatically-inspired commentary. At least I hope so! The work will be up for the entire first quarter of 2015, show ends March 31.

Finished! Two views, since it's hard to get a good shot down a hallway.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bitty Birdies For the New Year

American Robin
 Alright, sports linocut fans. I finally finished painting enough of the "Bitty Birds" to put a set up on my Etsy store, Rio Salida Art.

Each image is approximately 3" x 5," printed on Arches 140# cold press watercolor paper and hand painted with an assortment of Holbein, Winsor Newton, and Sennelier watercolors.

It was fun to putter around with watercolors for a change, and a good warm-up for the extensive watercolor illustrations I'm working on for a client right now.

These are a few of my favorites, but there are 18 in all! (And only $20 a piece, totally giftable.)

I've got more ready to go in addition to the ones in the shop, but since they're all hand painted and variable I decided to put them up separately. (And hey... if you want a short cut to the store, there's a page on this blog that will take you there, too. Up there in the menu bar where it says, oddly enough... Etsy Store!)


Audubon's Warbler

American White Pelican

Barred Owl

Common Goldeneye
Wilson's Phalarope



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcome to "What's It All About Wednesday"!

"Early Snow - Ponderosa Pine"
reduction linocut, 18 x 12 inches
Or maybe I should call it "Why'd You Do That Wednesday." Either way, get ready for a little side trip down memory lane on Wednesdays in 2015. (Not every Wednesday, mind you. But some.)

For me the most important part of an image can be the story behind it. My work is frequently inspired by experiences I've had while hiking or camping or just hanging out along the river. I like to imagine the "whys" of observed animal behavior, or the "what happened here" of a newly-fallen tree or other anomaly on my regular walk.

But this particular linocut started with an idea and became a quest to create some larger images of iconic western trees. "Early Snow - Ponderosa Pine" was the fourth in the tree portrait series.

The funny thing about these tree portraits is the length of time it can take to find "the" representative tree for each one. Take this one, for example. I had in mind an image of the quintessential ponderosa pine: solitary, tall, and graceful with an arched crown. Such trees are everywhere, right?

HA! Not once you start looking for them. Our forests are full of ponderosa pines, but until I started looking for the "perfect" tree I didn't realize how few of them fit my stereotype. Many of our local pondos don't have the arched crown, or their crowns are broken, or they are part of a dense group and the character of the individual tree is hard to discern.

Worse yet, the "best" trees were often frustratingly out of range for me in my little, not-particularly-practical-for-mountain-living car.

The Quest for the Perfect Trees expanded to include a couple of friends, one of whom kept his eye out for weeks and then sportingly took me on a couple of four-wheel-drive expeditions to visit potential candidates. I am sure I heard triumphant music when this particular tree emerged from the gray of a light snowfall and seemed to say "you looking for me?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Swallows for the win

It's funny (in an annoying, frustrating, hair-pulling sort of way) how the steps that I think will be the "easiest" turn out to be the real challenges, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Case in point: These swallows. After all that mucking around with bits of green and the blends in the sky... a couple of browns in the branches and birds ought to have been no problem, eh?

Here's a nice transparent brown ink.

And here's the lovely gray that came out of it.

Swallow linocut, Step 9

I wasn't surprised it didn't look very brown, but I was surprised it was so gray! But I went ahead and ran it on the whole edition since I thought it might make a nice base to transition the OTHER browns on to. And a little gray in the branches wouldn't hurt anything.

Swallow linocut, Step 10

Now this is brown, but it took forever to hit the right value. Several prints were sacrificed to sort this out. My first attempt was WAYYYYYY too dark. (This image looks a little too red overall... the right edge of the branch is probably closest to real color.)

I also discovered a few things about the branch that I didn't like very well, but it's a little late to do anything about it. I'm going to keep those to myself and hope you don't notice them.

And finally...

Violet-green swallows need a title! Help! Embiggenable with a click, as always.
So now all it needs is a title. I chose these two bird postures because together they seemed calligraphic and reminded me of a Chinese character. Of course my Chinese is lousy (read: non-existent) so it took a while to figure out what it was. Ah ha! The number 8! Regarded as lucky in both Chinese and Japanese cultures, and there is also ashtanga yoga, the eight-fold path. There's something to be said here, but I haven't quite sorted it out yet. Ideas?

Ultimately this pair may have a destiny beyond this particular edition...but I can't say anything until I know for certain. You'll just have to come back later to find out!