Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Project Woodcut

Monday morning, August 2. Day One of Transforming the Landscape with the amazing Jean Gumpper.

After a get-acquainted session with fellow workshopmates, faculty, and staff, we all picked up our pencils and color tools and some scraps of paper and headed out to a lush little creek behind the Anderson Ranch Arts Center campus.

Time for "Project Woodcut."

You know... kinda like that crazy Project Runway show. (Which I've only seen because I recently stayed in a condo that had cable.) Short time limit, narrow parameters, race to the finish. Our version did not (thank goodness) have the drama of personality and high stakes of potential big money. But it did go something like this: 15 minutes to collect sketches and color samples. Minimum 3 color woodcut print in an edition of 8 due by 6:00pm.

Epic. Especially since we also had bits of instruction worked in to the day as things came up. How to prepare and carve wood plates. How to mix transparent inks. How to ink up the plate. How to register for a bleed print. How to run plates through the press. How to clean up and then mix the next color. How to think about the effect of transparent inks on each other. How to keep carving tools sharp.

Did I mention it was epic?

It was so high speed that I didn't have time to take many pictures, but I do have a few to provide a glimpse of the day.

Here are my sketches from the 15-minute reference-gathering episode:

In the end I opted for the sketch of fireweed on the right because the shapes were big and simple and I had no idea how it would feel to carve wood instead of lino. It was a good choice, if a bit literal and timid. Our print size was only 3 x 5 inches, so it seemed crazy to get TOO detailed.

The first two colors were pinks, as you might have guessed, but the third was a bright lime green, which since it was transparent gave me this:

Orange! Which is what I wanted for the stems, but a nice surprise. (Surprising in that it worked out, I mean.) Jean had an extremely handy piece of old-school graphic technology which doesn't seem to be available any more: a Pantone color overlay fan book. The transparent-on-mylar kind, not the solid-on-paper kind. If you have one... oooh! I know some printmakers who would give their firstborn to get ahold of it. (Well, I know at least one who is presently searching hard.)

Anyway, the overlay book made it possible to try different transparent colors to get an idea of what might happen. I don't think I ever would have picked lime green over pink to get orange, but there you have it.

The fourth color (after the 6:00pm, 3-color deadline) was light green again, more opaque so it would stay that way, and then a fifth color, a darker green. By that time it was almost 10pm and I was more than ready to crash. Unfortunately I was also so wired from the day that I hardly slept, which became a theme for most of us the rest of the week.

On Tuesday we went on another source-material-gathering expedition and started a second print, about which more later. The sixth and last color didn't go down on this little thing until Wednesday, but OOH! I think it made the piece, don't you?

We printed on a variety of papers... very interesting to see how differently the inks responded to each surface.

So there you have it. My first-ever woodcut, concept to execution in one day (plus a little more). Yippee! At the end of the day, with what few brain cells I had still functioning, I made a list of seven Things I Had Never Done Before in Printmaking. (There were also a few Things I Haven't Done in 20 Years, like use a press.) Any day that has seven never-before-attempted skills added to it is a darn good one in my book. My mind was reeling, my feet were killing me, but oh! What a day.


  1. Oh Sherrie, you make me laugh out loud ....often. I've just read the "Orange" episode out to my other half but I think I need to introduce him to your blog so that he can giggle first-hand. Sounds like you had a great week! :0

    Ann L

  2. Great first day. I am realizing that the hardest part of reduction printing is reducing the palette to under 5 colors. My last was 9. Need tips if you can solicit some.

  3. "So there you have it. My first-ever woodcut ..."

    How much wood would a woodcut cut ...

  4. Wow, that does sound intense. No wonder you couldn't sleep! But oh how exciting, too. You know you're attending a great workshop when you are dead on your feet but don't want it to end! I'm so glad you got to do this!

    Fireweed is one of my absolute all-time favorite wildflowers. Nice choice for your first woodcut.

    Thanks for your helpful comment over on my blog. I think you may be right about the snout being the problem with the painting, not the eye/ear placement.

    Now go rest up from your workshop. Studies have shown that getting lots of sleep after learning something helps the learning "set" in your brain.

  5. Hello! I happend to find your blog and I want to tell you that I really like your linocuts. It is a long time since I made linocuts myself but I am really inspired by your beautiful pictures. I am going to follow you blog and have signed up for your newsletter. I look forward to following you, and think that you can inspire me a lot even though I dont make pictures like yours.

  6. Ann, glad to provide comic relief! ;-) Must. Keep. Laughing. or it might all seem like too much!

    Oh, Wendy... I'm having the same problem. My early reduction pieces were all under 5, and then I got more interested in color and... well, it all just got out of hand. The fireweed was SUPPOSED to be 3 colors and I ended up with 6. My only solace is that pretty much everyone in the class when over 3.

    Jeff... if a woodcut could cut wood.

    Gabrielle! I'm so glad to hear that my like-a-stone sleep right now is good for me in workshop-processing ways. I don't know if it's the cooler weather (probably) or what... but I'm sleeping really well right now.

    Lena... Welcome (välkommen!)! I am so glad to meet you and to see the work you are doing! I have bookmarked your blog and will be back soon. Thank you!