Monday, March 28, 2011

Settling down on a blustery day

It's the end of March. How the heck did that happen?

Saturday's field sketching workshop at Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory was great fun, although when I first got up that morning I was a little worried. It looked like this:

RMBO's Old Stone House Education Center
Atmospheric and lovely, but potentially challenging for a class that wants to be drawing outdoors. Thankfully it evaporated by mid-morning, as fog in the arid interior is wont to do, and we got to spend some time enjoying the early signs of spring.

Sarah exploring the details of new green grass two hours later.
I'm finally home for a several week stretch and it feels like coming out of an odd dream. Today I've been on my feet all day... charging from task to task and trying to wrestle my life back into some sense of order. No, really.

Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, the first hour-and-a-half of footwork was done on my usual morning walk. Getting outside for a bit is imperative, even (or especially) with piles of stuff everywhere in the studio and ridiculously changeable spring weather out of the studio. We're having a doozy of a day here, moving minute by minute through sun and clouds, ferocious wind, and even some snow showers.

Yes, that's snow on the left and sun on the right.
Frantz Lake, Salida, this morning.
The rest of the day has been errands (accountant to pick up taxes, framer to pick up work, post office to ship aforementioned work to a show, blah blah blah) and administrative tasks, but OOOOH! Look what arrived in the post:

I (Heart) weird chunks of wood.
Uh huh. It's a weirdly-shaped piece of wood. And I'm excited about it. It's going to be my contribution to the City of the World Monumental Collaborative Puzzle Print! (If that's not a mouthful, I don't know what is.) In short, over 100 printmakers from around the world have each received a small piece of one of five large wood blocks to carve and return to the organizer, Maria Arango. She will reassemble the bits and print them all together as five enormous prints... which each participant will receive. Amazing, eh? Personally I think Maria's insane, but she's organized projects like this before so I guess she knows what she's doing. Maria is documenting the process at the blog link above, and I encourage you to check out all the work she has done to get the project to this stage.

Hooray! Writing a blog post means I've been sitting for a little while, but it's time to jump up and get back to it. There are prints to be made, by golly!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Yeah, I decided the blue was a little too dark. Too bad, really, because it meant an additional pass that wouldn't have been necessary if I'd been paying better attention.

So now it's time to get nervous about a bunch of tiny little color bits in the middle of the print. Registration? I think it will be challenging.

And of course there will be another interruption before all this is through, since I'm off again this weekend to teach a field sketching workshop at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory's headquarters at Barr Lake State Park. (There's still room in the class, so if you're in the Denver area, come on out!)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blue + Yellow = Blue! Hooray!

A nervous moment this morning when I lifted the corner of the first blue-over-yellows attempt...

Who says you can't print blue over yellow? Click to embiggen.
Yup. That'll do. Actually, I might make another blue pass tomorrow... the value seems a skosh darker than what I want, but I need to wait until it dries more before I decide. Sherrie-the-Impatient's need to get this blue down this morning when yesterday's yellow was still tacky made for a little more color lifting than was... erm... entirely necessary.

I was so nervous about this step that my original design called for a lot of this blue to get covered up in subsequent passes. Now I think I might fudge the design and try to hold a little more blue, just because I like it so much.

So... for those of you wondering if I sold my soul or something to get this to work... the short answer is no! I'm working with oil-based inks, and the addition of copious amounts of titanium white to ultramarine blue made it opaque enough cover the yellows. I used no transparent base at all.

I would have liked to have the blue transparent... I love the luminosity of transparent inks over the bright white Hosho paper... but this is not an image for which I wanted to carve multiple blocks. I lose interest if things get too complicated and if I can't do a certain amount of "impulse carving" along the way. Now that I know this works, though... I'm already thinking about other images.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trying to find a groove

It's definitely a funky time here in the Heart of the Rockies. My schedule has been as erratic as the weather, which really doesn't do a darn thing for my productivity. Last weekend's out of town workshop was followed by one day of catching up and one day of nose-to-the-grindstone working before heading out of town again for three more days. This weekend has been all about catching up again.

The schedule calls for me to be away again this coming weekend, although I won't know for certain about that until tomorrow. The to-do list is getting longer rather than shorter. Does anyone else feel like they want the hour "lost" in the recent time change returned immediately?

I did get the fourth color pass carved and printed on the current linocut today. The evolution of this image is feeling extremely disjointed... I'm not at all sure where it's headed. Which, come to think of it, is how I feel about a lot of things right now. Hmm. Maybe disjointed is the groove?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Winging back from a workshop

Wow! Did we have GREAT weather for the Monte Vista Crane Festival, or what? Sure, some stout wind from time to time, but the skies were clear and temps moderate and the sandhill cranes completely cooperative. Saturday morning's sketching class was great fun, full of enthusiastic participants whose names all ended in "eeee". Almost. Once we declared Tina's new moniker to be "Teenie," she joined the ranks of Sherrie, Kathy, Nancy, Bonnie, Lindy, Peggy, and Colby. Thank you all for a great morning.

As with photos of autumn aspen trees, I have to wonder how many pictures of gray birds in yellow grass against blue sky I really need. But I keep taking them, anyway.

Tomorrow it's back to work, and carving on the linocut already in progress.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring ahead? Not with THIS print.

There's a pile of stuff by the front door, ready to be schlepped to the car and then south to Monte Vista tomorrow. I'm delighted that the weather seems to be cooperating for Saturday's field sketching workshop... although I'd be even happier if the word "breezy" weren't in the forecast. (When the National Weather Service says it will be "breezy" around here it usually means hold on to your hat. Or sketchbook, as the case may be.)

The progress of the current linocut seems to be stretched out by a sudden flurry of other activities: workshops every other weekend, contract jobs getting off the ground, logistical planning for events this summer. Getting the third color down yesterday in the midst of all the other stuff was really satisfying.

I also spent a little time mucking about with the new baby press. I'm not yet completely in love, but I've heard that happens sometimes with new arrivals. Bonding is not always immediate.

I tried a little woodcut, my first since last summer's seminar at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. A small scrap of thin plywood served as the block, but I can't say I was satisfied with it as a matrix. Too splintery, and too much "plate noise" in the background. I am enjoying the experimentation process: using different papers and different combinations of blanket, tympan, and press pressure. In this case I was also making bleed prints, which I never do in lino.

After this weekend's workshop I'll only be home a couple of days before heading out again. Could this be the most protracted print production ever? Our clocks might be springing ahead this weekend, but linos are definitely dawdling.

Field Sketching and Book Building Workshops at RMBO

This weekend I'll be teaching a field sketching workshop at the Monte Vista Crane Festival. If you can't make it to Monte Vista, how about Brighton, Colorado? Field sketching and handmade books at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory's Old Stone House, March 26 and 27. Details on the RMBO blog or my "Upcoming Workshops" page above.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Slow progress

Well, March has certainly come in like a wild beast... a lot of thrashing about and general chaos. Progress on the linocut-formerly-known-as-a-yellow-rectangle has been slow... I seem to be easily overwhelmed right now.

Pushing forward is the key, regardless of discomfort, so here we are. This piece is a shot in the reduction printing dark for me, as two colors from now I want an ink layer to read as blue, not green. Logic says it's not possible... and I am prepared (at least a little) for utter failure. The best way out is through, ya know? It's a challenge I need to solve for future pieces-to-be, so I have to start somewhere. It's too complex an image for me to feel at all comfortable with the idea of separate blocks.

Speaking of wild beasts and slow progress... 25 minutes up the pass from here it looks like this today:

CDOT road cam. Yes, there's a road there somewhere. And a drop off the mountainside.

Although down here in the valley we've still had naught but damp flakes. I'd really like to wake up to a nice, wet blanket of snow tomorrow... followed immediately by blue skies and warm temps so my sketching workshop at the Monte Vista Crane Festival can go outside on Saturday!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dancing with Elvis

Yeah, I think the "baby's" name is Elvis. As in Press-ley.

I've been twitchy as heck to put Elvis through his paces, but there were a few other things I needed to do first.

First I thought I'd like to try making a little registration jig similar to what I use when printing by hand. (I know some other registration systems for working on a press, but want to see if this will work.) I got out some Davey board (book board) and my straight edge and set to work. Patience and planning are two of my, shall we say, under-developed skills, so there were some things about the way I put this jig together that will need to be revisited at another time. But it was good enough for experiments.

Then I needed to hunt down something to use as a tympan. I ordered an entire set of etching blankets with the press, but for making relief prints on dry paper I wanted something rigid, rather than something squishy. Thankfully I've been carrying around a 9 x 12 sheet of plexiglass for about 20 years, thinking some day I'd make a monotype plate out of it. A few months ago I gave it to the Darling Man. Yesterday I took it back. I filed the edges so they wouldn't be sharp on the press, and voila! Just what the printmaker ordered.


Somewhere around here I also have an old photo developing tray that's perfect for soaking paper, but I haven't tracked that down yet. (It's both fortunate AND unfortunate that I'm finally justifying some of the "stuff" that I've been carrying around all these years.) For now plastic kitchenware will suffice for paper soaking.

Blotters cut to size? Check. Miscellaneous odds and ends of paper corralled and torn down? Check. Newsprint sheets torn down? Check. Let's experiment!

I used one of the unmounted linocuts from the map icon project as my test block... it was a good size and it was ready to print. I tried lots of printing variables: dry paper, wet paper, with a tympan, with blankets, in the jig, out of the jig, thick papers, thin papers. (Making copious notes the entire time, of course.) Totally fun, and completely klutzy.

It felt like learning a new dance... and I was the partner with two left feet. Over time my hand-printing routine has become second nature: This goes here, that goes there, and we're off across the dance floor. Today I kept moving things around, trying to find the best arrangement of tools and materials. It's going to take a while to get the logistics worked out.

After a while, though, my movements became a little less stilted and I felt a hint of rhythm in the process. As much as I love printing by hand, I also love the feel of a press...even this little "baby" one. The first time I turned a great flywheel... 30 years ago now... it felt right. I was in love with all of it: the weight of the press bed, the slight resistance as roller met plate, the gentle nudging to get things started and the physical action of turning the flywheel when the press took over the work. Printmaking is a finesse sport. A ballet. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Looky here: An inked block printed simultaneously with blind embossing. Cool.
Of course I still need to get back to that yellow rectangle from last week... a print that will be done by hand the "old" way, since that's the way I started. It feels as though my dance card is full, with the comfort of familiar steps and rhythms and the romance and mystery of a new dance partner. Pardon me, I need to go. I think they're playing my song.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Not storks. Cranes.

Sandhill cranes loafing in the scope. Well, actually, they're loafing in the field in the Monte Vista and the shot is through the scope. You know what I mean.

Yes, I'm forced to be a good businesswoman today and catch up with odious tasks like taxes, rather than coo over the new baby in the studio.

One more (not so odious) task to check off today's list is a quick reminder that I'll be teaching another half-day field sketching workshop in just under two weeks. Come on out to the Monte Vista Crane Festival in the San Luis Valley, see some sandhill cranes, and spend Saturday morning March 12th on a sketching adventure with me!

If you do, I might even show you my baby pictures.

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... whic...