Thursday, July 30, 2020

Linocut in Progress: It's all heating up...

And I mean that quite literally. It is HOT here on the coast of Maine just now-- the kind of heat that makes this formerly-of-the-high-desert printmaker wonder what she was thinking when she moved to a place where 90-degree temps can be accompanied by equally high humidity levels. To make matters worse... it just doesn't cool down at night. Back in Colorado we might have 100-degree days, but at least I could always be sure that once it got dark I could cool the house down and be ready to meet the next day's onslaught.

Here? Not so much. And I am cranky.

But I'm trying to work, despite doubts about how ink and paper behave in these conditions. It's slow going, since I frequently have to stop to wring myself out, but at least I'm trying!

I'm back to a square format for this piece; and although it will have a few of my usual subject elements (birds and water, of course), there will be a twist of complexity in the foreground that I am both intrigued by and nervous about.

But to get started, here's a soft blue in the background.... not over the entire block, it's not needed everywhere.

Linocut in Progress, Step 1

Not much information there, but that's okay. Let's try to keep some suspense going for a while. 

The second color pass was a blue-to-green blended roll, again just in the upper half of the image.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 2

It was all feeling fine at this point, but I started arguing with myself about whether or not I should be masking color out of the foreground, since the color temperature of the bottom two-thirds of the image will be much warmer than all the color that's been printed so far. My concern is with the interaction and influence of the already-printed color and the color-to-come, but I am too hot to think clearly and my brain cells are dripping down my back along with the rest of me. 

It is, however, quite satisfying to see my studio look as though there is something happening in it again. And look above my drawing/carving table! Can you see that all my carving tools are now in a nifty little rack attached to my shelf? You can thank my friend and neighbor, J, who has a lovely habit of taking an idea vaguely described by me and making it appear as if by magic.

Studio view... so nice to be working, even if I'm melting
and the paper is curling.
Sooo.... studio view and sweltering heat aside, I think I can manage one more color pass for the upper third of the image. This time it's a sort of gray-blue to lavender-blue blend... and, surprise! Some of the subjects are starting to be revealed.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 3

It's time to make yet another pitcher of iced tea and check on the status of the ice cube trays, and then it's back to the carving table. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Reduction linocut demo video!

Back in the day when one could reliably make plans I intended to go home to Colorado for a couple of weeks this summer. While I was there I was scheduled to present a hands-on printmaking demonstration at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, which represents my work.

Since I couldn't be there in person this summer we thought it might be fun to do the program virtually. If you were following along here on Brush and Baren as I worked on the new linocut of columbine you might remember I mentioned that I was shooting some footage and trying to be diligent about recording all the steps. 

Well! I can finally share with you the completed video! It's a solid 15 minutes long, so you might want to make some popcorn or at least get a cup of tea before you hit play. I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Columbine in full bloom!

Oh, you should see Maine right now! It's ridiculously green. I spent most of my life in the high desert, and while we had our verdant moments and secret pockets of rich vegetation, it wasn't anything like this overwhelming wall of... just green... that we have here in the early summer.

There's been a lot of green in the studio for the last week, also. Once I had proved that the columbine linocut didn't need to be scrapped, I was anxious to get on with it. Naturally, the faster one wants to finish the slower the ink layers dry. It's a conspiracy, I swear.

Anyway... somehow we are at Step 10, and somehow I missed taking any photos of the ink rollup. I've been trying to take photos and video throughout the development of this linocut, so I can put together a video for the team at Ann Korologos Gallery. I was supposed to be in Colorado right now, as I mentioned before, and had a demo and artist talk on the gallery schedule. It's still going to happen... but now it will be virtual!

All of which is to say that I'm guessing the ink rollup was recorded in video and not photography, so you'll just have to imagine it. It was another blended roll... a darker and bluer green blended to a  darker and more olive-y green. Like this:

Reduction linocut, Step 10 printed

At this point I was really hoping the next color pass would pull the entire thing together, but I had my doubts. The background is a wee bit boring, but I don't want to go too crazy and have it interfere with the main subjects, the twin blooms. (Oooh... maybe that will be the title! Or not.) I also want to beef up the contrast with some darker values, but I don't want to go SO dark that the flowers appear washed out again.

Ink scraps saved in wax paper

Luckily I have plenty of ink with which to search for the appropriate colors. I think I've mentioned before that one of the reasons I still like to work with oil-based inks is that I can save leftover bits of color by wrapping them in wax paper. The ink scraps will usually stay viable for several weeks this way, and I often use "leftovers" from a previous color pass as a base for mixing new colors.  For Step... hm... 11 (!!!) I started with the leftovers from Step 10 and added in some leftovers from the previous black scoter print! Because that's how I (ahem) roll. (See what I did there?)

Step 11 rollup

Step 11 printed

At this stage I put a little video clip of the reveal on my Instagram feed and asked the question, "Is it finished or is it ain't?" Most people seemed to think it was finished, but you know me! I felt it need just a little more interest in the background and some small darker bits in the stems and leaves.

Ugh. Step 12.

Back to the ink scraps to mix up this strange green-brown... very transparent.

I had to squeeze in "just one more color" of course. Step 12 ink rollup.

Yes. That's what it needed. NOW it's finished.

Columbine, reduction linocut, 6" x 8" Edition size? Probably 18, I still have to sort them.
This image is slightly embiggenable with a click.

I'm not sure what's up next in the studio. I need to take some time now to work on the video of this image, plus I still have plenty of work to do for my online course. And I need to develop a virtual field sketching class for the Farnsworth Museum. Yikes. That's a lot of a whole other kind of thinking! Best get started. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Linocut in Progress: A near-disaster averted.

Aaaaaaaanndddd.... as anticipated, we have reached the "ugly duckling" stage of this linocut, the point at which I question every choice ever made in my entire life, especially the one that involved putting ink and paper together for a living.

There's really no good reason for this print to already be at Step 7 and only have the blooms of the flowers resolved, but that's where things stand. It's time to start thinking about stems, leaves, and the still-avoided background.

The first question to answer is "How the heck are we going to get green over all this lavender?"

Just as a reminder, here's what the last step (number 6) looked like:

Where we last left our hero: Step 6

That's a lot of lavender... and it's nice and harmonious. It's going require the serious pulling up of my Big Printmaker Pants to move on from here.

I knew whatever color I printed next would need a lot of opaque white ink in it. It's impossible to get back to "white white," even if I used straight white ink on the image, but I can at least get things moving in the right direction. I mixed up a sort of "pistachio ice cream" pale green:

Step 7 ink rollup... pale, pale green

And I got this:

Reduction linocut, Step 7

Not what you were expecting, I bet. It was sort of what I was expecting. I had hoped for a little bit lighter value, but the grayness was no surprise. Remember your basic color theory, everyone! Colors that are opposite on the color wheel (blue-orange, green-red, purple-yellow) tend to dull each other out. A yellowy green over a lavender just does what it has to. I went ahead and finished this color pass just as it was, because I couldn't really see a way to get a better solution at this point. I crossed my fingers I could fix it in the next pass.

And I did. I mixed a brighter, but still loaded with white, green for Step 8, and now things look undeniably vegetative. But there's a new problem. The flowers look SO washed out! The richness of the lavender seems to have faded away with the addition of these last two color passes.

Reduction linocut, Step 8

Yes, I admit it. I considered scrapping the entire thing at this point. Because if I have to darken the flower petals the only way to do that would be to cut a second block... and trying to match those shapes? It didn't bear thinking about.

So after a day or two of nail biting I decided I should go ahead and try one more color pass to see if I could bring the blooms back to life. If not... well... I was resigned to the need for a do-over.

Step 9 rollup

I decided that if I was potentially going to pitch the entire thing anyway I might as well go for the bold, so I mixed up a blended roll of dark-to-light (and bright!) green.

Step 9 printed

Hooray! That worked okay, didn't it? The flowers are back to their lovely lavender selves... and the background seems to at least have a direction.

And speaking of the background... there's no more time to avoid decision-making here. I would like to keep things from getting too visually complex... let the two blooms continue to be the focus. Perhaps I'll keep the upper part of the background a solid shape and muck around a bit more with the foliage in the foreground. Time to make a couple of computer printouts and get out the pencils and see what I can sort out.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Because I don't know about you, but I could use some beauty just now

Progress, while distracted, continues in the studio. I have been hesitant to write about creative struggles when there is so much destruction going on in the world. How did we human beings get ourselves to this point? And how do we get ourselves out? So many burdens, so many problems to solve! Climate change, global pandemic, racism, violence. Isolation, fear, anger. Murder.

Like a lot of us, I have found myself swinging between cautious optimism and overwhelming despair. Between no sleep at all and a struggle to get out of bed.

I have had little enthusiasm for image-making (or much of anything else) lately, but I am thankful that printmaking is such a process. Once a critical decision is made (carve this area, mix that color ink), there are long periods of more or less mindless repetition when one is actually printing. Roll ink, register the block, print. Roll ink, register the block, print. What focus I can muster is dedicated to craft, as I strive to be as consistent and precise as possible.

And beautiful. More than ever, it feels necessary to create something beautiful. The blue columbine is a lovely wildflower, although there is a tragic and violent connection to this bloom, also. Twenty years ago, a horrific shooting took place at a high school named for this, the Colorado state flower. 

Reduction linocut, Step 4 printed

Probably somewhere in my last post I made the mad assertion that this linocut would be a simple one. I should really stop saying such things, so that we can all be surprised when it finally does happen. 'Cause it ain't gonna happen this time. Again.

Step 5 printed

Luckily I didn't have to make choices about color for these stages, only value. I added a little bit of blue to darken the lavender, but that was all.

Step 6 printed

It feels quite satisfactory at this point, very harmonious. But in the back of my mind I know that problems are brewing, because of course I need to add some greens now... and how is that going to work with such a dark lavender base in the background? I predict a few difficult stages ahead as I try to balance color and value and as I try to find the overall picture. I have no plan beyond this stage, really... I haven't considered what to do with the background or how to resolve a couple of elements that aren't visible at this stage.

All I know for sure is that I want the end product to reach for a balance of boldness and sensitivity, contrast and harmony. Which, I think, are important qualities to strive for outside the studio as well. Shall we give it a try?

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.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Linocut in Progress: A little bit of excitement and a little bit of fiddly...

Things continue to move slowly in the studio, but they ARE moving. Part of the slowdown is continuing problems with my own focus... but part of it is that the season is changing and drying times are slower.

Yep. It's warm enough to have the windows open and to forego a fire in the wood stove. Well, most of the time, anyway! There is still the occasional chilly morning that requires a little help in the temperature regulation department, but otherwise my wood-burning method of dehumidifying the house is over until next fall.

And, I confess, I've been playing a bit of hooky and taking walks to look for spring migrants. The disruption to all of our lives caused by the pandemic is still very much a problem, but the bright light has been the ability to get out and pay attention to the changing of the season in ways I have not previously been able to. Because, you know... usually I'm running around like a headless chicken this time of year, delivering work to galleries and facilitating workshops.

But I digress....

I'm closing in on the current lino in progress, although, as usual, I've added another step to the process. I had a vague hope that Step 6 would finish off the water... but not quite...

Step 6 roll out

It took me a ridiculously long time to get this color sorted out. I wanted it to lean towards a gray-green... but with all that underlying blue it was a struggle to hit it right. I'd get the hue right but the value wrong.. or vice versa. Of course in the photo it all just looks blue, but trust me... there's a little more variety in it than it appears.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 6

That problem solved... it was time to work on the small details of the birds' heads. I think by now you can see that there are five of them.. two females and three males. The males need a chunk of yellow on their beaks and the females need some light gray patches in their cheeks. With some fiddly masking and spot inking I did get there... but it was rather tedious and I didn't remember to take any photos until after I had finished and cleaned up.

But here's where we are now:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 7

And here's a closeup of just the birds:

Step 7, detail

Okay, then! I am hoping I can wrap this all up in another 2 passes, although I might also need to do a little spot inking in two areas. That would technically be two-and-a-half passes, which still qualifies as less than 10, doesn't it?

As for the excitement I promised in the headline... here's a little video reveal of Step 7. Because... fun!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Back to blue...

Oh, wait. We never left blue. Blue blue blue. Azul. Bleu. Blauw.

We're going to get away from it soon... but not just yet.

I lost a little studio time last week to mucking about learning to make short little videos for the spring World Migratory Bird Day celebrations, for which I made the poster art. After a few days I was reasonably adept, but you know that the next time I have to do it I will have forgotten it all and will have to start over.

BUT.... never mind. I am back to work in the deep blue sea of the current linocut.

Step 4. Not much to say here except that it was a medium transparent blue.

Step 4: Inked and ready to print

I'm starting to strengthen the separation of larger light and darker areas in the water, which is satisfying.

Step 4 printed (embiggenable)

I felt pretty good about it at this point, but decided I needed one more intermediate value of blue before I do the darkest bits. This pass was also transparent... a very gray blue.

Step 5 printed (embiggenable)

Yes, okay! That feels pretty good. I think just one more color pass overall in the water, and then the birds (maybe 3 color passes?) and then it's done! It's looking promising for a fewer-than-10-color-passes finish... stay tuned.

Monday, May 11, 2020

And speaking of migration... Birds in Art 2020!

"A Tern of the Tide," reduction linocut © Sherrie York

It's been a season of disappointment, as workshops and exhibitions everywhere have been cancelled. But this past week brought a spark of delight as I learned that "A Tern of the Tide" has been accepted for the 2020 edition of the Woodson Art Museum's annual Birds in Art exhibition.

Birds in Art is the one of the most prestigious exhibitions of wildlife art worldwide, and I am always humbled and honored when my work is selected. 

The show opens September 12 and will run through November 29.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

It's World Migratory Bird Day!

It's migration season! All around the world, creatures large and small are on the move. In truth, migration isn't just "a spring thing" or "a fall thing," because the diversity of migration strategies is as broad as the diversity of animals that migrate! Short distance, long distance, elevational... North to south, east to west. Some ocean creatures even migrate vertically, living at different depths of the sea at different times of year.

Personally, I love the spring migration of birds. After a long, gray winter, it's so fun to suddenly see bright flashes of color in the landscape. Today a Baltimore oriole came through my yard for the first time, and yesterday I saw yellow warblers and common yellowthroats.

This year migration seems extra-delightful. It's a reminder that even if human movements are restricted at the moment, the rest of the natural world is going about business as usual.

In a typical year, today is a day that would see hundreds of events across the globe celebrating World Migratory Bird Day! Back in January, when I revealed the poster art I created, none of us knew that we'd be gathering digitally, but the folks at WMBD have gone all out to bring us a virtual festival! All day long they'll be streaming programming on Facebook!

I put together a couple of short videos that they'll be sharing on their social media channels today, but you can get a first peek at this one right now! In it I share a look at how I created the art for the poster, and a short demonstration of the reduction linocut process.

Linocut in Progress: It's all heating up...

And I mean that quite literally. It is HOT here on the coast of Maine just now-- the kind of heat that makes this formerly-of-the-high-deser...