Saturday, May 30, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Or perhaps I should say linocut in bloom!


Blue columbine. Delicate... showy. And the quintessential symbol of summer in Colorado. I had plans to be back home in the Centennial State right now, but of course that's all been scuppered by the pandemic.

Instead I am in Maine, which is celebrating the bicentennial of its statehood this year.

There are wild columbine which grow here also, but they are the smaller red ones. Nice. But not the blues. (To be fair... these aren't open yet...)


Not being able to visit my home state right now also means I've had to postpone some artist talks and workshops and demos that were scheduled there. Disappointing on so many levels.

BUT! Through the wonders of technology, I can at least try to make up for a little of it. I decided to start a small (6 x 8-inch) linocut of columbine, AND I am making a point to document all the stages of its development with photos and video. The goal is to create a virtual demonstration that will be shared with the good folks at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, where I was supposed to present a program this week. In the meantime I can keep you up to date on progress, least.

To begin with, here's a drawing I made, based on some reference photos I have from... wow! More than ten years ago.


I decided that compositionally I liked the flowers facing the other way around. This will seem confusing when you look at the block, because the image has the same orientation as the drawing. But remember that it will print in reverse... so forwards is actually backwards.


I could have made this even more confusing by explaining that I first scanned the drawing into the computer and flipped it backwards so that when I printed it on paper and flipped it facedown on the lino to transfer it would come out right way around again. Which is really the wrong way. But don't worry. I won't tell you that.

Step 1! Carve away any areas to remain white, and print a lovely pale lavender-blue.

Reduction linocut, step 1, printed

Step 2! Oh, crud. Those yellow centers. Spot inking already! Oh well, at least it's a small piece and there are only two areas that need yellow. A little carving, a few newsprint masks....

Step 2, newsprint mask for spot inking

Et voila! Yellow contained and printed.

Reduction linocut, step 2, printed

That didn't take very long, so I went ahead and carved and printed for the third color pass. Another transparent blue-y lavender.

Reduction linocut, step 3, printed

As you can no doubt tell by now, I'm doing a little "frame breaking" with this composition. It's been a while since I used this particular design approach... something leftover from the days when I did a lot of page design as a paste-up artist. (Paste-up! Who remembers paste-up!?!?!)

So far things seem to be moving along nicely. I don't have any real concept of where I'm going with this once I get the blooms sorted out. In the back of my mind is the knowledge that I will want some greens in here, and I've already compromised that a bit with so much lavender.

But that's the trick with reduction printing. One needs to decide where one wants the "purest" color early on. Layering greens over this lavender-y color will mean I won't likely get "pure," bright greens. But layering the lavender over the green would have been less appealing... I'm highlighting the blooms more than their greenery, so they get priority in the order of layers.

It all sounds good in theory, but sometimes reality throws a curveball. We'll see what happens in the next few color passes!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Scoter-ing to the finish

Well. It's finished... but I'm honestly so confused about how I got there that I'm not sure I can describe it in a way that makes sense. Let's see, shall we?

I had to go back to the previous post to see where I'd left off. Oh, right. Step 7 was the fiddly details of the birds' faces... yellow in the males' bills and pale cheek patches for the females.

Step 8 brought on the drama! Hooray! Finally some darker values to kick everything up a notch. I rolled up a transparent sort of licorice green....

Linocut in progress: Step 8 rollup

And cut some newsprint masks to contain the color...

Mask in place, ready to print

Here's a side-by-side with Step 7, just to get us re-oriented.

Step 8 above, Step 7 below.

At this point I thought, "Easy peasy! All that's left is to warm up the bodies of the females with a brown and then print a black for the bodies of the males. A little spot inking and I'm done!"

But then impatience struck, and I made a right headache for myself.

When there isn't much raised surface left on the block the press roller can jump up and down as it hits empty and raised areas. This can cause smears and slippage and just overall poor printing. To avoid the problem I decided NOT to carve away the areas that were printed in Step 8, but to keep them from printing by using another mask. This is generally a fine idea... except that the previously-applied inks need to be dry enough on the actual prints not to be stripped off by the newsprint mask.

Step 9, ready to print!

Guess who didn't wait long enough for the prints to dry.

I printed the first test print. The newsprint stripped off a little color. Okay. Not bad. The second print had slightly tackier ink, because I had adjusted the intensity of color and inking in the previous color pass. Hm. That stripped off quite a bit more color.

I stopped. I thought about it. I decided it wasn't that bad... and went on.

The next day when I went back to the studio I realized I had been wrong. The stripped color was now entirely too light, and the darker birds seemed to float in space, disconnected from their background. [Insert inappropriate language choices here.]

Nothing to do but reprint Step 8... which I could do because the whole problem was caused by not removing that material in the first place. So much for being almost finished! I carved away the shapes of the female birds so they wouldn't cause the same problem, and printed Step 9b.. which was really Step 8 all over again, if you can follow that. (sigh)

Unfortunately I was so frustrated with myself at this point that apparently I didn't take a photo of everything resolved. But once the prints were appropriately DRY I cut one more mask and printed the small areas of black on the male birds.

Step 10... which is sort of 11, since I had to print 8 twice. Get it?

 The differences between the dark brown of the female birds and the black of the males is extremely subtle, but I'm satisfied that I took the time to do it, even if hardly anyone but me will ever notice.

So... here's the final image... embiggenable if you click on it. It still needs a title, but at the moment all the ones I can think of are rather grumpy.

Needs a better title than "Sherrie Got Impatient and Made a Mess,"
which is the current frontrunner.

What's next? I think I'm going to try to focus on some smaller images for a little while, and I'm going to get back to finishing up work on my online linocut course! Yes, it's been a long time coming... I have a thousand excuses for why it's taking so long... but I'm trying to get past them all and wrap up this project. At least it doesn't involve waiting for ink to dry.