Monday, February 5, 2024

Linocut in Progress: Let's wrap this up!

 Okay...  Remember that cartoon in which a couple of scientists stand at a chalk board filled with complex equations, at the bottom of which is the phrase, "And then a miracle occurs"? 

That's kind of how the documentation of this linocut seems to have gone. A bunch of photos and a few steps that seem to be missing and then the piece is somehow done. So..... somehowwww..... Art=Science. Yay! We knew that.

Step.... let's call it 11....

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 11

Hey, this looks like more spot inking. Which I had warned you about in the last post. Perhaps I am psychic. (Or perhaps this piece was already finished when I wrote that last post and I have just been drawing things out for dramatic effect. You don't know.)

Some green in the head, another grey across the back, and oops! I had missed a little bit of rust color in the reflection last time. 

Hard to tell what's happening in the small images of the overall print, so how about I show you a detail for Step 11?  It's still not great.... this thing has been crazy-hard to photograph. But now you can see that there's a little more detail in the head and some subtle color in the the reflections. 

And here's where that miracle mentioned above comes into play. It appears there was another pass of some transparent gray over the bird's head and back, but I don't have any photos for it. Also some more spot inking in the head... tiny areas... ditto. 

Here's what things looked like after Step 12 or 13...

Step 13... Super hard to tell what has changed!

But now we are in the home stretch. One last dark gray-green to hit just some details in the head and those lovely feathers on the side....

Step 14 rollup

And then I waited a couple of days until the prints were dry enough that I could get an actual scan... This image is slightly embiggenable if you click on it.

Merganser linocut (needs a title!), Click to embiggen!

So, whew! That's the first new reduction linocut of the year all finished. I'm sidetracking for a couple of days to work on another project, and then hopefully there will be another one underway next week. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Linocut in Progress: Complications. Of course.

Honestly. If I had a dollar for every time I thought I'd reach the end of a linocut in "just a couple more simple steps" I'd be a gazillionaire. This is art-making, after all, and if you are somehow still harboring the illusion that "being an artist" is all rainbows and "doing the thing you love" I am afraid I must burst that bubble for you. A lot of it is, quite simply, a slog. Or it involves a lot of hair-pulling and bashing-upon-the-table of one's forehead. Or all of the above.

At its most basic, my job is to create problems for myself and then somehow find my way out of them. Mostly I am better at creating problems than solving them. But hey. We all have our skills.

If it's not enough to confuse myself with the actual making of linocuts, I also confuse myself in my attempts to record the process. I've got a bunch of photos. Let's see if we can make any sense out of them.

Reduction linocut in progress: Steps... Hm. 7 and 8? Or 8 and 9?

I have this photo, and while it obviously represents two steps, I'm not sure if they are 7 and 8... or 8 and 9. In my last post I did the spot inking for the head, beak, and breast of the bird... Step 7. That should be it at the bottom of the photo, but it seems a little dark. I might have run a layer of transparent gray over the whole bird at this point, or it might just be that the light was different in the studio that day. 

Either way, the print on top represents a clear next step... and here was its roll-up:

Let's call this Step 8

Step 8 printed

And here's where things got a little more.... well.... more. My original "plan" (like I ever have a plan) was to keep the bird and its reflections really close together in value and very gray in tone. But at this point I thought the whole piece would get better with "just a bit" more color. Back to spot inking! A gray-green and a red in the bird's beak and eye, and the reflections below.

Step 9 rollup

Ugh. I know... All these stages were hard to photograph, so this image isn't great. But you get the idea, I hope.

Step 9 printed

So nowww....

Step 10 rollup

Back to an overall gray. Fairly transparent. 

Step 10 printed

This particular photo seems pretty true to color and value for this stage, so maybe let's stop here and take a breather. The whole piece seems so close to completion, but something is still not quite right. I predict more spot inking on the horizon. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Linocut in Progress: It's time for the M word...

And what's the M-word? Masking, of course. When I typed a title for this post I realized that I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the word "mask," here in what we could call the sort of post-pandemic period. 

But the type of mask I refer to is made of newsprint, not filter paper, and it doesn't have strings attached. Not literal ones, anyway. 

Reduction printing involves applying all the colors of an image from (often) a single block, layer by layer. But sometimes one doesn't need a particular color to print over the entire image, so little feats of acrobatic fussiness can be employed in the form of masking.

For example... here we are at Step 4 of the current linocut in progress. I'm adding another blue to the water, but it's not a color that's necessary in the body of the bird. I rolled ink over the entire block, but I also covered up some areas with bird-shaped pieces cut from newsprint. These newsprint "masks" prevent the ink from transferring to the print in those areas.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 4 rollup and newsprint mask in waiting.

Hm. Sometimes I explain that better. (This is not an example of exemplary explanation. Say THAT three times fast.)  I also didn't take a photo of the block on the press with the mask in place. (Honestly, Sherrie. Get with the program here!) But here's the print at this stage:

Step 4 printed

See? No darker blue ink in the bird shape. It's still gray, as it was in the previous step. Clear as mud? Good, because there's more of this sort of thing to come. 

Step 5! 

Step 5 rollup and masks

Here is another blue (another!) which I don't want in the bird OR in its reflection. So I cut two mask shapes from newsprint and set them in the appropriate spot(s) on the inked block. 

Step 5 printed

Et voila! Except, oh dear. Lousy photo. This was a late night print session, so overhead artificial light reflected strongly on the wet ink. However, I think you can see that the bird and a portion of the reflection did not print this darker blue.

Now it was time to think about some wee bits of color that need to go into the body of the bird, NOT into the water. For this step I'll do some spot inking combined with masking. 

Step 6 spot inking and mask

The breast of the bird needs to be a sort of brick color and the bill is an orangey red. (It looks super orange in this photo!) I used small brayers to roll this ink only in those two areas, and this time I placed a mask around those shapes instead of on top of them. This created a little window for the color to peek through and transfer to the prints in only those areas. 

Here is the block on the press, with the mask in place, ready for the print to be placed face-down on top of it.

Step 6 ready to print

Step 6 printed

The bird's head also needed to be green, so there was another round of spot inking and masking to apply that color. No photos of the green mask, but here's the result.

Step 7 printed

Things are moving right along now, and it seems quite clear what our subject is! All this bright color will be toned down in the next steps, but so far so good!

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Linocut in Progress: New year, new energy

Happiness is... first ink on fresh paper. All images slightly embiggenable with a click.

Well. It's been a while since ol' Brush and Baren has seen much action. 2023 was a challenging year for me in a lot of ways and my good intentions weren't enough to balance the energy scales. 

2024 is off to a better start, and I'm determined to move forward in all kinds of good ways. The first of those has been getting a linocut started. Finally. 

So let's get... rolling!

Linocut in progress: Step 1 rollup

Despite all my efforts to come up with a composition that wasn't long and skinny, here I am, working on something long and skinny. I actually love this format, but it can be a tricky one for people to find place for on their walls. And let's face it, I do have to think about those sorts of things. Ah, well! Long and skinny it is. And a very pale blue to start because, let's face that, too... it's almost always the case.

I need to say something about ink, however, especially since it was part of my difficult 2023. Longtime readers might notice that for a first color, the rollout above seems remarkably opaque. 

For decades I have worked my prints similarly to watercolors... by layering very transparent colors to create a number of effects. I did this by using boatloads of transparent (non-pigmented) ink with just a smidge of pigmented ink mixed in. 

During the peak of the pandemic I couldn't get the brand of transparent base that I usually use, so I bought a different one. I've used other brands before, no problem... so I carried on as usual. What I didn't realize was that the formulation of this "new" base was significantly different from those I had used previously. Using high quantities of it turned out to be a bad idea, but I wasn't to discover this until months later. 

It turns out that the new-to-me brand contains linseed oil which, when stored in the dark (such as in a flat file, as all my pieces are) undergoes a chromatic shift. Which is a fancy way of saying all the prints turn yellow. Think of old oil paintings, which were often varnished with linseed oil. 

So, yes. Entire editions of work... basically everything I did last year, and a couple of pieces from the year before that, have discolored. Oddly, the color will eventually change back when exposed to light... but that's pretty much the antithesis of the usual thought about preserving work. I put UV-blocking glass on my work, and I've noticed that one of the pieces in question from last year, which is also on the least-light wall of my sitting room, has discolored under the glass, even though it was never stored in the drawer. Sigh.

I've pulled the questionable images from circulation... luckily I hadn't exhibited any of the really horribly affected ones from last year, so none went out into the world. But it was a demoralizing blow, to be sure. 

Which is a lot of words to say I am learning to work a new way... learning to balance the use of white ink with transparent base. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 1 printed

So, blah blah blah INK blah blah blah. Here's the first step printed. A nice pale blue. Interestingly, I found it easier to get an even tone with a little bit more opacity to the ink. Lots of transparent base was always a challenge to get applied evenly on the block.

On to Step 2! Oh look! Some things never change. Here's another light, slightly grayed down, blue.

Step 2 rollup

Again, I was pleased with how nicely the ink was rolling out. Technical problems when I was already feeling wobbly about working would have been no fun at all.

Step 2 printed

I bet that birder-types will already recognize the species here!

Things are moving right along. Time for a definite gray, rather than blue.

Step 3 rollup

And, voila! It's official. I am back to work. 


Step 3 printed

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Linocut in Progress: The Finish and the Rescue

 In the first post about the process of this linocut I mentioned that I was distracted and unfocused during the time I worked on it... which has been super clear from the erratic photo documentation! The funny thing is that when I started the image I had designs on thoroughly documenting it and making a video of the process. But when the warping problem became apparent fairly early on... well. Not a good candidate for video documentation if the whole thing ended up being scrap paper.

So let's not prolong the agony, shall we? Let's roll up some ink and finish this thing.

Step 8 ink rollup

Wow. Okay. That's some ink, alright. I did say I wanted to break up all that green... but this seems like a bit... extra. It's so orange! Remember your color theory, though. Red and green are opposites on the color wheel, with a tendency to dull each other down and, I hope, create a warm brown.

Still, it must have seemed like a lot at the time, because I have no photos of what the image looked like at this stage. Coward. 

But it's clear I did create a ninth color pass, because there are two values of what reads as a brown in the final image. It looks like this!

"Bobolink," reduction linocut, 7" x 5" - Edition of 20

There are a few more little darks in the green areas of the vegetation as well as the second value of brown, so I'm guessing the final pass was one last transparent gray.

So here we are. The images look nice... I managed to hold the registration together even though the paper was so warped. But when I say "so warped," I mean So. Warped. 


I mentioned in previous posts that I knew this was a problem fairly early on, and that the issue kept compounding as I carried on with printing. It was not a problem of too much press pressure. The block was not pressing into the paper enough to cause any embossment. But the ambient humidity was enough that even light press pressure was enough to stretch the paper. 

About halfway through the process I did stop and try to flatten them. I was away teaching for a week when the prints were about half finished, so I stacked them under glass and weights and hoped for the best. It did help. A little. But as you can see in this photo, it wasn't enough, and by the time I finished all the color passes I had prints that were so wobbly they couldn't be made to lay flat even under a mat. 

Time for Plan B. 

I was away for another week at the beginning of September, which was enough time for the finished prints to dry completely. 

There are many reasons why I prefer to use traditional oil-based inks for my prints, but this Challenge of the Warped Linocuts added another to the list. Once the prints were dry, a little water wasn't going to hurt them. At least I didn't think it would. Luckily I had a few "reject" prints to experiment with. 

I first tried just spraying one side of the paper with a light spritz of water and tacking the print out on a board. It helped a little, but not enough. 

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Enter Plan C! I took the prints to the sink and ran cold water over both sides of the paper. Yep. I held my prints under the faucet. I pressed them between sheets of blotter paper until they were merely damp, and then taped them out on a board like watercolors (or etchings):

And it worked! Whew. Luckily I had printed these with plenty of paper margin, because of course the tape damaged the edges of the paper. But there's plenty of extra to trim these down and still have a nice image with plenty of space. 

As I am writing this, we are just saying goodbye to the remnants of Hurricane Lee, which blew through here yesterday. The air behind it is cooler and drier than we've had in a while, and I'm hopeful that we've left the worst of heat and humidity behind for a while. I'm not sure what the next image will be, but I'm looking forward to working on it without warping issues. 

And I'm happy to know that a solution I have long regarded as theoretical has turned out to be viable. Just in case.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Confusion and... warping?

 Right off the bat I will explain that the "confusion" of this post title is mostly to do with the fact that I dropped the ball on documenting the process of this linocut and I have struggled to sort out which of the (very few) photos I have goes with which step. (Yes, there are time stamps, but sometimes I shoot things out of order, or some steps look a lot like other steps!)

All of which is to say, "hang on, it's a bumpy ride."

But it starts well enough. Here's the ink rollup for Step 4:

Linocut in progress: Step 4 rollup

Pretty, right? A blended roll of light and cheery greens for the vegetation. You'll note I didn't ink across the bird. It wasn't necessary for the image, and it keeps an extra layer of ink out of that area.

Apparently at this stage I only took a photo that looks like this:

Step 4 printed

I also mentioned in the previous post that I had printed a second pass of the light yellow in the bird's head. I thought I had done that right away, but in this photo it appears I did it after this stage. Let's call the "head brightening" stage Step 4.5, because by Step 5 it's clearly in place. Yep. I'm confused. 

So confused that I didn't take a photo of the rollup for Step 5, but I'm going to guess it was a light transparent gray, because:

Step 5 printed

Actually, now that I look at this photo, I think there were two things happening in Step 5. There was a gray applied to the bird, and another blend of greens in the vegetation. You can see in the place where the bird and the leaves meet that there's a sort of fuzzy line... I believe I inked these two areas at the same time and just let them overlap. (Hey! It was a month ago! I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning.)

The next image in my photos looks like this:

Step 6 rollup

That seems like a nice, strong blended roll, which I think goes with the print on the right in this photo:

Step 6 printed (on the right). Step 7 on the left. And warping... everywhere.

And here is the point at which we need to address the issue that was causing me complete consternation. Can you see that these prints are not laying flat? They are buckled and warping. I have never had this much issue with stretching paper before! But then again... I have never experienced a summer as wet and rainy as this one before. 

Which is one reason I don't usually do a lot of printing in the summer. Other reasons are too much heat and a too-busy teaching schedule. But I was determined to get something done, so I kept plowing forward. What else was I going to do? Abandon the whole thing? I could... but... stubborn. My reasoning (such as it is) was that I could either throw all the prints away NOW.... or I could finish them and experiment with trying to flatten them. If those experiments failed, well... I'd still lose all the prints. But there was a chance I'd figure out a solution, so.....


Step 7 ink rollup... nothing fancy.. just a transparent gray over all the block. 

Here's the ink rollup for Step 7:

Step 7 printed

And, judging by the look of it, I think I used another transparent gray (maybe the same one) for Step 8:

Step 8 printed

These are looking okay... but I'd like to break up all that green with some sort of red-brown. Maybe two color passes to go? And then... we'll see if they can be salvaged. 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Oh, look. Starting with blue. How unique.

Okay... where the heck were we? Or, more accurately, where the heck have I been?

The story of that is long and sort of boring, involving tedious experiences with illness and such that have left me with distracted focus. Distracted focus has meant some disasters in the studio.... You know how it goes. 

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take on a "simple" and small piece, just 5 x 7 inches, to remind myself that I do know what I am doing. Ha! Just wait until you hear what happened. 

But for now... let's begin as though we DO know what we're doing. 

Step 1 rollup

Linocut in progress: Step 1
Look! It's a blue blended roll! We haven't seen that more than, oh, a zillion times. But it's certainly comforting to start with something familiar. Bird geeks... any guesses? Because of course there's a bird in here.

It's a nice background, but a bit blasé, so I decided that a subtle texture could make it a little more interesting. 

Enter the chipping of many small dots. Well, not dots, really. I think of dots as round and regular. These are more random in both shape and distribution. Let's call them... divots?

I created many divots in the upper portion of the background, but completely cleared the area around the vegetation in the lower portion. Don't want things to get TOO crazy, do we?

Step 2 rollup
Step 2 printed

Carrying on... time for another blended roll. Oh look! It's exactly the same as the previous blended roll. Okay, maybe not exactly. I darkened the gray slightly. I did say I was going for subtle here. 

Things felt pretty satisfactory so far, but we are only two steps in, so there haven't been many opportunities for things to go wrong. 


If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you will know that every summer since I moved to Maine, I have trouble with the bed of my press. Despite a small dehumidifier in the studio, the heat and damp conspire to buckle the laminate. My neighbor has helped me fix it a few times, and right now the upper surface is cooperating... but the lower surface is buckled and it's causing some uneven pressure problems. 

On a small piece like this it isn't too much of an issue, but there were other problems lurking. I almost always print on dry paper, but when the humidity level inside the studio creeps towards 75%, "dry paper" is a relative term. I eased back on the press pressure from the beginning, but as we will see soon... it wasn't enough.

Step 3 rollup

Step 3 printed

But let's not worry about that just now. Time to clear away all those meticulously-carved divots and call the background finished. And time to do a little detail work on the bird. 

The male of this species has a lovely straw-colored back-of-the-head featherdo (not to be confused with hairdo), so it's time for a little spot inking. No need to be particularly careful here, as most of the yellow will be covered by a much darker tone later. 

Full disclosure: I went back and printed this color a second time, just in the bird's head, because I felt it needed to be a bit more intense. I neglected to take a photo, though... maybe because I went with friends to the fair... for the first time since 2019... and got distracted by THIS FACE. I mean, come on

Yep, I'm distracted again now. Wandering off to think about cute goats. More.... later.....

Sunday, July 2, 2023

She's ba-ack! Sort of...

 Well... heck.

It's been a super long time since I've posted anything to Brush and Baren. There's been a lot going on, and I have just needed a break!

I'll be getting back in the saddle here soon, promise. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Linocut in Progress: All the little ending bits

Okay, wow. I have at least four steps remaining to show you, but they are kind of a snooze. AND... full disclosure... I was trying to finish this piece for a deadline back in April, so when it got down to the crunch I stopped taking photos of ink rollouts and masks and all of the interesting bits. I promise I'll try to do better next time.

So here's Step 10. You'll have to trust me that is was another transparent gray pass. The goal was to create some darker greens, and it also darkened up the background blues a bit.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 10

And now I can no longer avoid the bird. It's a small thing (Literally. It's maybe an inch and a half long), but a big thing... if you know what I mean. 

Of course because I've been largely ignoring it, I need to go back and lighten some small shapes. I knew this was coming, and it's always a bit of a risk, but I did it anyway. 

Here's a closeup of Step 11:

Step 11 detail

I lightened the beak area, plus a couple of shapes in the reflection. Rolled out the ink looked almost white, but as you can see, it doesn't appear white as printed. That is a good thing. I didn't WANT white. But it did take a couple of tries to get this to register as a lighter warm tone with all that green and gray underneath. 

Here's the overall view: 

Step 11 printed

So NOW I can really start try to resolve the creator of all these lovely reflections. An American coot has a dark gray body and a black head, but I wanted to suggest at least a little light hitting the bird, so I left some lighter gray-brown areas when I rolled out... Another transparent gray. Darker this time. But still gray.

Here's a detail:

Step 12 detail

Okay, so close now! I think one last dark transparent gray... not quite black... will do the trick.

But first, the overall image at Step 12:

Step 12 printed

The final dark finished off the bird, plus I carried it down a little way into the reflection... you know... 'cause that's how reflections work. 

Step 13, final

So there you have it... "After Effect," reduction linocut, 12" x 18" in an edition of 15. It's even up on my website already. Wait... before it was officially finished? Well, yes, because: deadline. 

The only question left now is.... what's next?

Linocut in Progress: Let's wrap this up!

 Okay...  Remember that cartoon in which a couple of scientists stand at a chalk board filled with complex equations, at the bottom of which...