Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Subtle... and strange

Work continues, in fits and starts, in the studio. Focus is still elusive, but in part this is because the beginning of a new year tends to have a lot of activity to distract me! Tedious things like year-end bookkeeping, but also fun things like the 121st Christmas Bird Count. The CBC was, of course, different this year with virus protocols in place. I spent the day by myself, surveying a subsection of the territory I usually cover with a group of friends, and sent my results via email rather than gathering with all our counters at the end of the day.

But we had good weather for it... some sun, not too windy, not too cold... and I was able to cover more ground on foot than usual. I didn't find anything out of the ordinary, but it was nice to be out and about.

Step 3... more gray!

Back in the studio the color palette and progress on the current linocut remained subtle. Gray, gray, gray. It's difficult to tell what's happening yet, but if you use your imagination you might be able to find hints of the main subject. (Yes, of course it's a bird, silly.) 

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 3 printed

And now... hm.

All the hard thinking of this image seems to be happening in the early stages. The foreground needs to stay a fairly light gray, but I don't want it to be flat and boring, so I have been carving lots of tedious little dots... stippling, as one might do in a pen and ink drawing.

But the hero of my image is also gray. Gray on the back with a white belly. (And a few other white areas.) The tricky thing is that most of the white areas are in shadow... AND the shadowed white area is darker than the sun-lit gray area! What the heck color should I print the underside of the bird so that it reads as "shadowed white" rather than just another gray? Ooph. 

First things first, though. I think the decision about the shadowed-belly-color needs to happen now, and it needs to be contained. There can be some of the shadow-color influencing the bird's wing, but not its back... so it's time to cut a mask.

Cutting newsprint masks

The strange shape of this mask makes me laugh. I can't decide if it looks like a demented chicken, or maybe it's a hamerkop. Look at it on the block! Definitely hamerkop.

Mask in place on the block

It took a couple of tries to get to a color that I liked, and I'm still not entirely sure this is the right one, but I'm going to carry on and hope it works. The advantage for you is that you can at least see where our hero is standing, even if you can't quite identify the species yet. Or maybe you can. Any guesses?

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 4 printed

From here I think I will have a few days of chipping out tiny stippled dots in the foreground. I will also remove material from the belly and face of the bird to preserve that strange purple-gray color. What, me nervous? 

As for the next color... I think there's one more pale gray pass and then I can get going with what I hope will be the more entertaining bits of the background.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Rolling in(k)to the new year!

Wow. It has been a while since I've had photos like these to share. YES... there are fresh lino chips on the studio floor... YES.... there are sheets of paper hanging on the drying rack. YES. This is ink rolled out on the slab.

Yes. I have a new linocut in progress. 

Step 1 rollout

As usual, the early stages are subtle. For Step 1 I only had to carve two small areas, and then I rolled a pale transparent gray over the entire block.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 1 printed

I was amazed that things went so smoothly for this first color pass, especially after a rather protracted period out of the studio. I had zero issues with coverage or viscosity... the only adjustment I had to make after I pulled the first print was to lighten the color a bit. (In the top photo you can see my first gray all the way on the right, and the one that I ultimately printed is on the left. That dark one in the middle... never mind about that. Pretend you didn't see it.) 

The tricky thing about this piece (well, I think it's going to be ONE of the tricky things about this piece) is that most of the image area is going to be subtle, pale grays. The main focus will be in the the upper third of the space. Compared to a lot of images I've worked on lately it seems to be quite simple... even a bit minimalist. Except you know me. I really doubt I'm going to be able to keep it simple. 

In fact I've already started making a bit of trouble for myself by adding some texture and temperature changes in the second pass. Probably you won't be able to really tell on a computer monitor, but the second color pass is a blended roll, from a cool gray to a warm gray. Both very light and very transparent. There's a little bit of texture happening right along the edge of the top third.... and there will be more of that as this progresses. 

Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the rollout for Step 2, but here it is printed.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 2 printed

Although the temperature change from the blended ink color isn't very obvious, you might see that this particular print had a little bit of the dreaded "Sharpie bleed." After I transfer my drawing to the lino I usually draw over it with a Sharpie brand permanent marker. The Sharpie drawing will hold up through multiple inking and cleaning stages, but sometimes it also will bleed back to the prints during the first color pass. I thought I had avoided that this time... After I made the Sharpie drawing I sanded the linoleum and cleaned it with a citrus cleaner. It was mostly fine, but a couple of prints did show some transfer. No big deal, this will all be covered up in subsequent color passes, and as an extra measure of "safety" I moved the Sharpie-bled prints to the front of the printing queue. This makes them first in line for mistakes on subsequent color passes.

So! Things are moving again, albeit a bit slowly. The next stage COULD have gone really quickly if I had decided to keep the background simple... but, let's say it together, "Oh, nooooooooooooo. Why would I want to keep things siiiiiiimple?" Instead, let me embark on what can (in a G-rated blog post) be called a boatload of tiny detail carving. Because it might be a new year, but some things never change. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What's-It-All-About Wednesday! "Dinner Party"


"Dinner Party," reduction linocut, 18" x 18", edition of 18

Well, hello there! I'm a little bit leery about making the following statement, a little superstitious about "jinxing" things, but I think I am finally coming out of the long, dark tunnel that has been the last few months. 

In a making-art-for-a-living life there are always ups and downs. Ideas, and enthusiasm for them, wax and wane. But this year? Wow. This year there has been a whole lot of wane

The good news is that I've started to kick around some new ideas and putter around in the studio again. In fact today I started to draw up a new lino and prep the paper for it. That hasn't happened in a while. 

There's nothing yet to show for the effort, however, so while I'm stirring that particular pot I thought it would be nice to thaw out the periodic "What's-It-All-About Wednesday" posts. And since I've been seeing a lot of buffleheads around lately... well... let's take a look at Dinner Party.

This piece is a couple of years old, but it remains a favorite. Two pair of buffleheads have come together to ride the swells and search for a meal; in fact one of the females has already found a tasty appetizer. 

Small and feisty, buffleheads are constantly in motion. Back in Colorado I always had a heckuva time deciding exactly how many buffies were overwintering on my local pond, since I could never be sure I was seeing all of them on the surface of the water at the same time. Pop up! Down! Up! Down! Constantly.

It's challenging to suggest all that busy-ness in the sort of stop-motion view of an image on paper, but I tried to do so by ramping up the color and texture of the water and by giving the birds very alert postures. They could all dive back down to the underwater buffet line at any moment. 

Interestingly (I think), buffleheads are cavity nesters. That's right. A bird that spends all of its time on and in the water... raises its young in holes in trees. And if you've never watched day-old ducklings leap out of a tall tree... well. You owe it to yourself to spend some time on YouTube, at least. 

Because they are so small they can (and do) take advantage of old flicker holes, and they will also use nest boxes. Here in the United States most of us have to be content with seeing them only in the winter, however, as the bulk of their breeding range is in central and western Canada, up in to Alaska. But this time of year you should be able to spot them in fresh or salt water across the entire lower 48 and down in to Mexico. In fact, I've been entertained by a number of rambunctious dinner parties in my Maine neighborhood recently, both off the coast and on inland ponds. 

It's been a while since we've been able to engage in similarly energetic human parties, but those precious gatherings will return. And when they do, I imagine they'll feel just as celebratory as a gathering of buffleheads. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

It's an... updated website!

 Yes, I know, I've been away too long. Blame it on a dumb ol' virus that's been messing with my motivation to get in the studio.

But all is not lost! I've been working on other projects, including the redesign of my website! Hooray! It's a bit overdue, and I'm glad to finally have it up and running. I hope you'll take a few minutes to pop over to sherrieyork.com and check it out. Thanks!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the Harlequin Ducks

By now I really should know better than to make pronouncements like "I think I'm all done cutting masks for this image." Because, of course, after the last color pass I felt the current linocut needed just a little more oomph in the color department. Something a little brighter, and maybe a little surprising, but not obnoxious. Something, perhaps, in the water.

Almost all of the lino has been carved away in the areas of the block that represent water, but there were a couple of sections still intact that could be interpreted as the shadows or reflections of the birds in the waves. In order to contain the color, though, I had to (wait for it)... cut some masks. Which I said I wasn't going to do anymore. But I did. Like this:

Step 13 mask

I mixed a lovely turquoise as the color to be corralled by this mask. The inks I used are a bit transparent straight from the tube, so I knew they wouldn't appear this light and bright on the prints, but there was still an anxious moment when I pulled the first one. 

Step 13 rollup

Whew! Okay. Subtle, but there. Just enough. I can't really explain why this step felt so important, other than a vague feeling of too much sameness in the overall image. It's a tiny thing, but I felt much better for having done it.

Step 13 printed

But NOW we are definitely done with the mask-cutting. One more color pass remains. A deep almost-black will add just a bit more depth and detail...

Step 14 rollup

And, voila! Here it is. This is a direct scan of the final image, so the color is pretty good and the light is finally consistent. I've uploaded this at a decent size, so be sure to click on it for a better view. 

The Lazy Eight? The Crazy Eight? Eight is Enough? Step 14, final
Image 8 x 24 inches, Edition of 18
UPDATE: Final title: "Swell Gathering"

Once again all that remains is a title. There are eight birds, well, seven-and-a-half if you want to be technical about it, so that seems an obvious starting point. But it feels like there's probably something to be said about the comfort of a "pod" of sociable companions, too, so I'll keep thinking about it. 

What's next? Don't know yet. I'm back to work on the content for my online linocut course, which I'm trying to get launched before Christmas, so that's taking a fair chunk of time. And I am frequently distracted by the pesky red squirrels that have finally figured out how to get to my bird feeders. 

No matter. A little puttering about along the shore, in the woods, and in the studio, will no doubt turn up something to challenge me again soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Pulling things back together

Maybe it's too soon to celebrate, but I think that newsprint mask-making time might actually be over! After isolating the two female ducks and establishing their overall body color, it's time to pull the image back together with some unifying color passes. 

Step 11 is a rich, transparent blue that will create shadows in a few areas of the females and bring the overall tone and value of the male birds back into line.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 11 rollup

And here's where it landed us:

Step 11 printed

It's starting to come back together, but the females are still visually overpowering the males. It's time to really focus on those handsome boys. Here's the roll-up for Step 12, an even richer blue-gray. You can see that the farthest-distant female is almost completely removed from the block, and just a few shadow textures remain in the closest bird. Additionally, all the water except for a few details around the birds and a couple of waves in the foreground has also been removed.

Step 12 ink rollup

Aaannndddd... hooray! A nice day and some indirect light outdoors, so I was able to get a decent photo of Step 12 after it was printed. I also uploaded this shot at an embiggenable size, so you can click on it to get a better look at where everything stands. 

Step 12 printed, embiggenable with a click

We are really close now. I think I only need one more pass to finish up the birds... but I am undecided about whether I should mess around with two little sections of water that haven't yet been carved away. It might not be necessary to put a different color on them, but it also might be just the right little zing! if I do it right. We'll see what I decide when I get there...

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Grace and awkwardness

When we last left our heroic linocut ducks, things had gone from harmony to disharmony with the application of the rusty-orange bits in the males of the species. I did promise you that the next step would bring things back together a bit, and so it did. A bit. 

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 8 printed

Yes, 't'was a nice transparent blue applied to the entire block that seemed to set everything back on the right path, but of course it wasn't to last long. There are two female ducks in this group, and their plumage is brown, unlike the strong blues and oranges of the males. It was time to give them a little attention.

In order to keep the brown colors contained I cut another newsprint mask, and did some spot inking of a light brown. Here it is, on the press and ready to print.

Step 9 mask

And here's the result. Again I apologize for such lousy photos this time... I promise that when we finally do get to the end there will be a proper image of the entire print.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 9 printed

Because this first, lighter, brown was of a similar value to the blue of the males, this step didn't seem to go too far astray. But don't worry. I'm gonna awkward this up right proper with Step 10.

The Step 10 ink was a darker, lush brown. Spot inked again, and masked again. I could use the same mask pattern as the previous color pass, since any areas that would retain the lighter brown had, of course, been carved away.

Here we are again on the press, mask in place, ready to print.

And here's that result. Quite clunky-looking now, isn't it? The overall value of the females is much darker than the males, which at this stage look a bit like ghosts of their selves-to-be. But never fear! These next few steps should (I hope) bring a little grace back to this raft of harlequin ducks... and give me a little reassurance as well. 

Step 10 printed

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Linocut in Progress: The maybe-not-ugly-but-certainly-not-attractive duckling stage

As I mentioned in my last post, it's time to move away from the pleasant and harmonious color scheme we've had so far and put in the contrasting orangey parts of the male ducks. 

Since only small areas of the finished image will need these orangey shapes, I can use a combination of spot inking and masks to move the process along. I used the same piece of acetate as before, placed it over my carved block, and traced my new shapes in blue instead of pink.

Another mask pattern

Again, I used this pattern to create newprint masks... like this: 

Step 6 mask, ready to print

It took a couple of tries to get the first of my two orangey colors right. This paler color will be the highlighted areas.

Step 6 ink rollup

Before you see this next photo I have to apologize for the continued poor quality of my in-progress images. Now that the sun has made a seasonal shift it's difficult for me to find a spot in the studio with natural light for photography,  so these have all been very dull and and strange, with glare from artificial lights... But hopefully you get the idea...

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 6 printed,
embiggenable with a click

Awkward little shapes, but sufficient for now. I did just a tiny bit of carving and then used spot inking...

Step 7 rollup

and the same newsprint mask....

Step 7 on the press with mask in place. See what I mean about dodgy light?

And heeeeerreee's Step 7 printed. The orange looks particularly harsh in this photo, but it's not nearly this bright. And a lot of it will be obscured by future color passes, anyway. 

Reduction linocut, Step 7 printed,
slightly embiggenable with a click

Thankfully the next color pass will be a blue-gray that should start to pull the image back together again, because all these awkward-looking prints on the drying rack make me feel very uncomfortable. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Duck masks, but not masked ducks

Alrighty then! So far this new linocut has been proceeding in a fairly straightforward manner... a couple of flat color passes and a blended roll. Nothing too tricky.

But now it's time to bring the birds a bit forward of the background. The next color pass needs to place a blue-violet into the shadowed areas of the birds without getting too much darker in value and without interfering with the background so far. 

Time to cut a mask. For ducks. But not masked ducks. Which are an actual species. But not the species that is the subject of this linocut. Oh, nevermind.

The first step was to place a piece of clear acetate over the block and trace the shapes in which I wanted this new color to appear. I didn't want to have to carve a lot of fussy details at this stage, so I aimed to simplify the shapes and keep the mask-cutting to something that wouldn't make me pull my hair out. 

Step 4 mask pattern

That seemed alright, so I traced it on to newsprint and cut out about 10 masks. I planned to reuse each mask 2 or 3 times, so ten seemed sufficient, but in the end I had to cut a couple more, as the masks didn't hold up as well as I hoped.

Step 4 masks cut from newsprint

Here's the block all inked up with a transparent blue-violet, mask in place, on the press.

Step 4 ready to print

And here's the result. There's a much clearer sense of the birds and the overall image. So far, so good, I think. 

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 4 printed

On to Step 5! The changes here are subtle, but extensive. A lot more carving has been done in the water, and the white markings on the birds' heads that are in shadow have been carved away. The Step 5 color pass was a solid, transparent blue over the entire block. No mask required. 
Step 5 printed

It's all looking pretty harmonious, so you know what that means! It's time to mess it all up. There are some small details in the male ducks that need to be a sort of rust color, so I need to tackle those before moving on to the rest of the water and the dark shapes of the birds' bodies. Time to make more duck masks. But not for masked du... oh, nevermind.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Duck duck duck!

When we last left our hero she had just finished a lino and purchased a car. There were a few loose ends... like titles for both the vehicle and the print edition. The automotive title is coming eventually (ongoing pandemic = slower processing time), but the lino got its new name ("Low T'Eiders") and will soon be posted on my website

So of course it's time to get something new underway. I had a piece in a long, skinny (3:1) format sketched out before I started the eiders, but decided maybe the world wasn't quite ready for yet another linocut of harlequin ducks. 

And then I decided that although the world might not be ready... well... who's doing the work, eh? Me, that's who. And I am always ready for more harley ducks. So that's what we're doing. Look away if you must.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1

This time I thought it would be fun to push the color a bit, a decision which might end up looking great and might end up looking like a disaster zone. But, hey. I run the risk of a very public crash and burn every time I start documenting a new piece... so why not? I started out with a transparent green.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1 printed.

Yep, that's green. Could be fun, could be a nightmare. Let's move on. 

Color pass #2 was a bit more predictable... a transparent blue.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 2 rollup

The printing of this color was straight up and basic... just roll it and go. Because the blue was so transparent it created a sort of... well... a blue-green, of course. 

Step2 printed

For the third color pass I decided it was time to make things a bit more interesting by creating a blended roll. I rolled out a transparent light blue and a deeper transparent blue-violet.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 3 rollup

Alrighty, then, that seems like a good start. 

Step 3 printed (embiggenable with a click)

Those first three steps moved along fairly quickly, but now things have to slow down a little bit. These birds have bright white markings on their heads and sides, but I want them to appear in a sort of dramatic cross-light, so many of those white markings are in shadow. For this reason I didn't carve all the white shapes away in the first step, but now I need to address them before they become too dark in value. They will be a blue-violet color, which they more or less are right now, but I want them to be slightly different from the blues of the water. 

The best way to do this will be to cut a mask and do some spot inking, so that's where we're headed next.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the eiders

Alrighty, then! In the space of 48 hours both my quest for a new car and my quest to finish the eider linocut were resolved. More or less. There remains the obligatory shuffling of papers for the car and the equally obligatory shuffling to find a title for the image, but at least things have moved on to a new stage.

Step 10... AKA the expected-to-be-final-but-then-alas-not-quite-final step. I mixed a bit of sepia into all my scraps of greenish and ochre-ish brown ink and rolled the resulting deep brown across the entire block. 

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 10 rollup

The result was good, but not exactly right...

Step 10 printed

...which meant there was one more pass to go. I'm sorry to admit I didn't take a photo of the last ink rollup, but here's the carved block after I had finished printing.

Final carving stage

The birds' heads and backs have been mostly carved away, as well as swathes of rock weed in areas that are shadowed, but not completely so. It seems like there's a lot of material still left on the block after 11 stages, but believe me, a lot has been carved away. It's just been in tiny bits at a time.

The final color was the previous brown with a good amount of Prussian blue mixed in to give it a coolness that seemed appropriate for the deeper shadows.

And... heeeeeeeere's the final image. (This is a scan rather than a photograph, so the colors are closer to correct. The photos always seem to be a bit lurid.)

As-yet-untitled reduction linocut, 12" x 12"

All that remains is to find a title for it. Female eiders camouflaged out in the open are a common sight here in Maine. The birds are similar in color to the rock weed that is exposed at low tide... its slippery fronds making it treacherous for human beings and other predators to traverse the rocky shore. Lingering at Low Tide? Perhaps. 

I've already got another large-ish lino in the long, skinny format drawn up, but it might be time for me to tackle some smaller images. I am undecided. What I DO know is next on the horizon is finally pulling together my online Learn Linocut course! I've promised my producer than I'll have the written portion...well... written... in the next couple of weeks, and final feedback on the video portion. The goal is to have everything ready before the holidays... so if you know someone who wants to learn the process I should have at least some of your holiday shopping solved for you! 

Linocut in Progress: Subtle... and strange

Work continues, in fits and starts, in the studio. Focus is still elusive, but in part this is because the beginning of a new year tends to ...