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.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Linocut in Progress: The curse of beginner's luck

It's a known fact that I have beginner's luck. I can not tell you how many times my first attempts at something new (new technique, new exhibition, new project) are successful... and the next attempts are dismal failures. Seriously. It's some kind of a gift. It must be.

I had big plans to dive in to a larger print after the chipping sparrow piece, but first I took a day to finish printing the editions of two black-and-white pieces I did for my solo show at the Puffin Project Visitor Center in Rockland, Maine.

To the Horizon, linocut, 12" x 18"

This adventure was surprisingly more challenging than I expected. Single color on thin Awagami kozo paper? Piece of cake, right?

Eh... not so much. I found it challenging to get the pressure and the ink coverage just right. For reasons I have yet to sort out, I experienced good, crisp impression at one end of the block and fuzzy print at the other. An uneven spot in the press bed? Maybe. Too much pressure from the press distorting the paper? Maybe. Eventually the problem sorted itself out and I got through the editions, but it was NOT the speedy process I expected.

Given the vagaries of that experience I decided to tackle another small reduction piece before committing to something bigger. (I do have an experimental 18 x 24 block mounted and ready to go!)

The first step was a three-color blended roll with lots of transparency over an uncarved block.

Step 1

Not bad, but not exactly what I wanted at the top. The color needed to be a bit more purple, a bit darker. I'm also having trouble with a "lap mark" for the first time. That vertical line on the right side of the print? That's caused by my brayer making one complete revolution across the block and starting again. No amount of re-rolling seemed to fix it. I tried starting in the middle and rolling to either edge... rolling over and over and over from one side to the other with the brayer starting in a new position each time... I'd get everything looking okay on the block, but in the print? A line. This never happened when I hand printed!

Already by the first color run I had pulled one print out as a "reject" to use for testing. Remember this, for it will be significant later on.

Second color run was a transparent purple-blue, just across the top of the block, masked out with newsprint when it went through the press.

Better, I think.

Step 2
It will become clear on Step 3 that I'm going after another sunset image. Here comes a crazy-bright blended roll of yellows and oranges.

Step 3 rollup
With NO lap mark problems except from the underlying color. What the heck?

Step 3
It's looking okay so far, but don't let that fool you. Things are about to get ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Finished Chipping Sparrow!

Yippee! I've finished my first more-complicated-than-intended print* with the new press! I learned quite a bit along the way, which is always gratifying post-learning. During learning it might be a little less enjoyable.

(*Grammarians. You will note the lack of comma in this sentence. It is not my first, (comma) more-complicated-than-intended print. Almost all my prints are more complicated than I intend. This is just the first one on the new press.)

So here's how the end played out.

No more time to avoid the two little sections of spot inking on the bird's head and feet, it had to be done. But way back in my hand printing days (read: last month) spot printing took slightly less consideration because I could also "spot rub," applying pressure only to the inked areas. But the press will apply pressure across the entire block, so I have to consider that "dry-block-peeling-up-lower-ink-layers" business.

In the end it was a two-mask process. The first, to do the actual inking:

Here's that mylar again, this time cut as an inking mask. Rusty color in the head and pinky color in the feet.

But then, as I discovered earlier, a newsprint mask protected the bulk of the print from the ravages of the block as it went through the press.

Victory! Pleased to report that this somewhat noodly layer went down without a hitch. Although how the heck did I get to Step 13 already? Sheesh.

Originally I had hoped that a single transparent browny-black (don't you love my color descriptions?) could be applied in one pass, but when I tried it it just flattened everything out. So.. two more passes to go.
Sparrow linocut, Step 14
So here is a transparent brown applied in a 4"-wide swath diagonally across the block from lower left to upper right. It's really all for the bird, but I liked tying some of this tone into the fence. Again I used a newsprint mask to protect the print.

One last transparent dark to bring out some of the details in the bird and kick up the value contrast in the fence and it was finished:

"On the Fence," reduction linocut, 10" x 8"
All done! All smiles here. After I finished this yesterday I also pulled 18 single-color guillemot prints to finish an edition I started last winter but delayed completing because my wrists were really bothering me. Not anymore! I think Presston and I are gonna be great pals. 
(I seem to be having some technical difficulties at the moment. This final image can be enlarged by clicking on it.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Linocut in Progress: In which the blooper finally happens

I can just imagine the creative rubberneckers, craning to see the train wreck... Bwah ha ha ha!

Sparrow linocut, Step 11

But first... that "just one more" pass in the background. I was more or less satisfied at this point... although you know there was a little voice that campaigned for yet another pass. But time to move on. Really.

Now it was time to take out all the background and get the fence and bird finished up. It took me a while to decide whether I should go for the mid-tone of the fence or the dark of the bird and fence first, mostly because I was afraid of getting yet another color layered on to the bird. This turned out to be a valid concern because:

Sparrow linocut: Step 12. First attempt.

Yikes. This mid-tone blue-gray was mixed with the new-to-me Handschy white instead of my tried-and-true-but-no-longer-available Daniel Smith white. Definitely a different attitude to this ink... and the first print was WAY over-inked. Bleah.

Thankfully this was one of two prints already relegated to the "tester" pile for registration and color issues. But how to remedy the situation? Clearly the subsequent prints would be inked more thinly, but what about that bird?

I could ink the entire block and then wipe off the bird before printing. Somewhat tedious, and the chance of the un-inked areas of the block sticking to the print is high. This might be avoided by hand-rubbing, but I'm using Rives BFK paper here. Not a good candidate for hand-rubbing especially with 11 layers already in place.

So I decided to try a sort of modified mask: Ink the entire block, but place a mask over the bird before printing so ink won't contact the paper in that area. Not sure why I thought I'd try mylar, other than the idea that I'd only need to cut one mask and could use it multiple times. The result? Disaster!

Sparrow linocut: Step 12. Failure #2

D'oh! The blue-gray was masked from the bird, but the mylar lifted all of the previous two ink layers! This was a major dope-slap moment, because of COURSE that happened. Offsetting to non-absorbent mylar is how I would transfer an image from one block to a second if I were doing multi-block prints. Serious head-shaking ensued. What WAS I thinking?

So it was back to the wipe-out the bird theory. Well... AND the mask theory. Because there was still the problem of the "dry" areas of the block sticking to the previous ink layers and pulling them up.

In the end I did this:

That's an inked block placed in the registration jig. The sparrow has been wiped clear of ink and a newsprint mask placed over it.

Sparrow linocut. Step 12. This time I'm serious.

Yep. That's the ticket. One dark (I think) and two little bits of spot color in the head and feet to to go. Presston's first print (with me) is almost finished!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Getting There!

The problem with it being sooooooo easy to print now is that I find it really hard to stay patient and wait to move on to the next steps. So I don't. Stay patient, that is.

Friday afternoon's linocut adventure started to bring our little birdy buddy back in to view:

Step 9: An ochre-to-green blend. Rolled just in the bottom 2/3 of the block, although all the blue area has been carved out of the top third, so it wouldn't really matter. Feeling a little better about the background now.

Step 10: Another blend, this one green to green. I like how the fence is starting to appear at this point.

I thought I'd be clearing out all the background now and finishing up the fence and bird, but I think it needs one more pass to deepen the value in the bottom third of the image. So... a little more grass carving and THEN the bird and the fence.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Linocut(s) in Progress: Birds Everywhere! And in other news...

The little sparrow reduction print continues with its ugly duckling stage. Maybe "ugly" isn't the right word. More like "disharmonious" or something.


It just ain't right. Yet.

Sparrow linocut, Step 8
A second blend... and those questionable wavy shapes. Hopefully they'll be less obnoxious once I go on to the next step.

I took a little time out from this yesterday because after 8 colors in three days things were getting a little "rejecty" (That's a technical term. Trust me.) There's plenty of carving to do before the next color can be printed, so it's not like I'm sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

In fact, I'm so psyched by the possibilities now that I have a press, that I've embarked on another experiment.

This here is an 18 x 24 sheet of linoleum with 18 (count 'em) little bird images drawn on it. I've wanted to do some small sets of hand-colored prints for a while... My poor, neglected Etsy store needs some love!

The idea is that once all 18 of these images are carved for single-color prints I can ink the whole thing up and print them simultaneously on a full sheet (22 x 30) of watercolor paper. Chop 'em up, color 'em, et voila!

Of course a really smart printmaker would have put all the birds facing the same way so that the image could also be printed as a single large piece... which I intend to do one of these days. But little prints are the goal at the moment, so these are set up instead in a way that will make them easiest to carve. (Facing out as much as possible around the border, so I can just turn the block to work on each image.)

It's a heckuva lot of carving, but it will be a nice thing to work on in between other projects. I've got ANOTHER more complex reduction print in the drawing stage. I'd like that one to be at least 18 x 18, so I will need to have a solid registration system in place before hand. But there's a lot of drawing to do there first, too... so don't hold your breath.

In other news.... Guess who's got the cover of this month's Colorado Central Magazine! Here's a hint: It's me. Or rather, it's my lino. Looks nice, don't you think? The latest issue isn't up online yet, but here's a peek at the cover. I'm not ready for winter, but I'm definitely ready to print some new winter linos!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Entering the ugly duckling phase

Carrying on with my first piece on the new press, I've realized that I should have given a little more thought to what to do if the process actually worked. I assumed it would take me a little longer to sort out this temporary registration system than it did, and now I'm seven passes in with no particular plan about where it's all going.

Oh, well. Some things never change.

I had errands to do yesterday, so the prints had a day of rest. I had two ideas about the next step, neither of which I pursued. Instead I printed one more brownish tone.

Sparrow linocut, Step 6

Most of this will get covered up, but I wanted to add a little subtlety to the face and underparts of the bird. Mission accomplished.

When everything seems to be working so nicely it's hard to head into the "ugly duckling" stages that often follow. From here I need to start working the background before the darkest bits are added to the bird, which means all the lovely harmonious tone is about to get disrupted.

Sparrow linocut, Step 7

Rather than continue to emerge, our little bird is now pushed back in to oblivion. But I shall endeavor to a) remain calm and b) try to figure out where to go from here. I started carving a few shapes in to the lower portion of the image and am somewhat regretting that decision, but I'm committed to it now.

There's another small hiccup in the forward motion department. For probably the last ten years I have used Daniel Smith oil-based relief inks exclusively, and DS has announced that they will only sell paint from now on. By the time they made the news public some colors of ink, most notably white, were already sold out. And as of today, I'm out of white, too.

A printmaking colleague has recommended the Handschy (now Hanco) opaque white, which I have on order, but which hasn't yet arrived. I think I should be able to move forward without it, but it's one more "new" variable to add to the learning process. Yippee.

In the meantime, expect things to get uglier before they get prettier. But also expect me to continue my happy dance, because I'm having oodles of fun getting to know Presston.

AND, I want to give a shout out to the fine folks at Takach Press, Presston's mothership. I've been using Takach brayers for a couple of years and love them, but before I went out to Nevada to pick up the press I sent ecstatic and probably delirious-sounding emails asking for moving advice. They responded quickly and generously with suggestions and offers for continued help once I got settled.

I have discovered that one of Presston's pressure settings goes out of adjustment more quickly than the other, so late on Saturday night I sent off another email, not expecting to hear anything until the work week began again today.

Nope. At 9:30 on Saturday night I received a detailed message diagnosing the problem and offering clear options for fixing it. Seriously. Presston is 15 years old this month. When was the last time you contacted a company about a 15-year-old piece of equipment and had a response other than "Sorry, we don't support that [model, product, version, software, manufacturer] anymore."? So refreshing. Thank you, Takach, for your professionalism. It is very much appreciated.