Thursday, December 27, 2012

Milestones and Mark-making

In the midst of December's chaos Brush and Baren quietly passed its sixth blogoversary. 764 posts, 200-plus subscribers, and many more lurkers after I first clicked the publish button I am gratified and humbled that so many readers have come along for the ride.

I've made some good friends here in the blogosphere... most of whom I haven't yet met in person. But how nice it is to imagine that wonderful "someday" when I will share a delighted laugh and a hug with the flesh-and-blood people behind posts that have made me smile, and ponder, and laugh, and appreciate, and most of all work harder at my craft.

One of the earliest connections I made was with the amazing work of Katherine Tyrrell over at Making a Mark. Katherine maintains some of the most extensive online resources for artists that I've ever found, and she's a darn good artist herself. I've never been able to figure out how she manages to do it all, but I'm very glad that she does.

For the past year Brush and Baren has been sporting the "Going Greener Gong," an honor bestowed through the annual Making a Mark Awards for art bloggers. I'm going to have to retire the badge in a few days, to make room for the next proud recipient. But gee whiz! Yesterday I learned that my little magpie linocut made the short list for this year's Making a Mark Prize for the Best Portrayal of Nature. Wow.

Other prize categories include portrait, still life, and place... and I urge you grab yourself a cuppa and take some time to explore the offerings.  There's some fine, fine work there, and I'm pleased to be included. You can view all the nominated work and participate in the voting on the Making a Mark page here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do we call it a lino-coot?

I tried several iterations of "one last ink color" before settling on this beauty:

Makes you want to run right out and paint your entire kitchen, doesn't it? Okay, maybe not.

I did decide (at Wendy's suggestion, thanks!) to try a blend from the side rather than the top of the image. In the end this color was so subtle that the blend from color-to-nothing didn't really show, although blending one edge into straight transparent base did keep a hard line from forming down the middle of the image.

And here's the result. I had done a bit more carving in the green reflection, so this slightly darker addition put a bit more life in the flat areas. Not overpowering, but enough to give us somewhere to look other than just at the bird.

I'm going to call it done. I have this sudden urge to title it "Lino-coot," but I suppose that's a bit obscure for those not in the printmaking "know." I'll have to think of something else. 

It's nice to have a drying rack full of freshly-pulled linocuts for the holiday... especially since this 8" x 10" image was practice for something coming up. Here's a hint: I ordered 36-inch-wide (!!) unmounted lino this morning. Merry Christmas to me!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It begins with a coot

So here we are in the first day of a new cycle. Several new cycles, in fact. Here in Salida the winter solstice occurred just ten hours ago, and it's time to set things in motion for the year ahead.

But, hm. I have a bit of unfinished business from the previous cycle. This silly ol' coot linocut.

When we last left our chubby buddy, he had just received his red eye and forehead shield, some shadows and some green reflections in which to swim.

A day or two later he got his final application of dark and looked like a full-fledged adult bird. By golly.

And now indecision has crept in. The inspiration for this image comes from a blurry photo I took some time ago. In it, the green reflections are rich, dark, and pine-y. So I tried that.

Hm. Not quite what I hoped. The dark reflection seems to compete too much with the bird. Not to worry... if you look at the right-hand edge of the darker print you'll see that it's torn. The tear happened early on, so this particular one has been a "tester" throughout the entire process. I only pulled this one dark version, and all the rest of the prints still look like the one above it.

But I've been stalled here for a couple of days. I think the darker green is too dark, but I have this nagging feeling that the green reflection is just too bright and flat. I think I'm going to try a blend that has a little more oomph at the top edge of the image and lightens towards the bottom. I did aim to do that with the dark green test, but the gradient wasn't pronounced enough, I don't think. I have another "tester" print in reserve, so I'll see what I can come up with.

What do you think?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Red eyes and transparent ink magic

This morning I mounted some larger lino blocks, still psyching myself up for a couple of more ambitious pieces. I've got water-loving birds on the brain...

In the meantime, things continue to creep forward on the coot linocut.

Though you can rarely see this feature in the field, adult American coots sport a reddish eye and forehead "shield." They are tiny little things and not visible at a distance in either the field or on the print, but I wanted them anyway. It's a job for a little stencil and a stiff brush.

It's a bit more challenging to see what's happening here because I had clear rather than matte acetate at hand. If you look at the corner where the overhead lamp is reflected in the acetate, you can get an idea of what's happening. The clear acetate sheet has two small holes cut in it... one for the eye and one for the shield. I "pounced" the color directly onto each print with a stiff brush and a light touch.

And here is the result with the stencil removed. Get it? Got it. Good.

And now for the magic.

It's time to get some countering dark values into the water, and maybe a little more subtle shading into the bird. The dark values I need to add in the water are green, reflecting a pine tree, but I don't want the bird to start looking "pine-y." Enter our pre-school color theory education.

I mixed up this fabulous blue color. Rather bright and garish, don't you think? Suitable for perhaps balloons or clown costumes.

But I have this wonderful, fresh tub of transparent base, remember... and transparent base is a marvelous, magical thing. There's a healthy scoop of it in this blue. I inked the entire block with this transparent blue, which you can see on the left-hand side of the photo.

Here it is, all printed up! A little too subtle for the camera to show what's happening in the coot, but his shadows remain blue and the water reflection sure enough is green. I love magic, don't you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More progress on the coot linocut

Things are moving ahead in the studio this week.... a little erratically, perhaps, but they are moving.

A recap of where we were a few days ago:

The third pass on this reduction linocut gave the water ripples more variety, but I decided it wasn't quite enough. I did some more carving and then applied another ochre-to-green pass on the right side of the imge.

More interesting, don't you think?

So now it's time, as I suggested before, to spend a little time with our buddy the coot. It's a funny sort of business here because he's mostly backlit. In case you're not familiar with the American coot, it's a dark gray bird with a black head. I find it challenging to hit the right value in cases like this... There are still some very dark reflections intended in the water and I don't want the bird to either stand out too much or get lost in the dark-to-come. Hm.

This first gray seemed a little wishy-washy, but I tried not to worry about it too much. Hardly any of it will remain in the final image.

Today I added a darker gray, and I flip-flop between thinking it's good and thinking it's too dark. Subsequent passes will decide whether I do, indeed, flip or flop.

Everything's a bit wet now, so there will be a pause of a couple of days before much more happens with this piece.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shows are up, ink is down!

It's good to be home after a wild couple of days on the Front Range, especially since we are finally getting our first real snowfall of the year today. Even though these flakes are not particularly moisture-laden, we appreciate every one of them here in our drought-stricken state. The local ski area, which typically opens the third week in November, has had to lay off all its workers (including management) for lack of snow. Fingers crossed that they get a boost today.

Friday night's opening at Abend Gallery was packed with art-lovers (and some buyers, too, by golly). Thanks to everyone who came out for the opening and for yesterday's demo session. So fun to see some friends I hadn't seen in ages... including Joseph, who I think I last saw 30 years ago! Amazing.

It was all so busy that I of course forgot to take any photos until just before I cleaned up my demo area. Not very interesting to look at, eh?

The show is up through December 29, so catch it if you can.

With all the yakking that went on with friends old and new I almost lost my voice, and I ran out of time to do any printing during my demo! It was so fun to explain the process and to let people handle blocks and tools and samples that time just evaporated.

I did, however, get all the carving done for the next step in the current linocut, so this snowy morning was perfect for a little ink-slinging.

This step added some color to the left side of the block (right side of the print). Here you see the block inked with a blended green-to-yellow-ochre.

And here we have the printed pass side-by-side with the previous stage of the piece.

This image is 8" x 10"– more than twice the size of the magpie – but I think it will be finished more quickly. (Not as many color passes planned.) I've been mentally incubating a larger piece and I'm getting ready to jump in soon. A trip to the lumber yard for a big piece of MDF on which to mount some lino is in order!

Three passes for four colors.
Until then, it's back to the carving table. I believe it's time to start showing some love to the little coot. (Coot. That's his species, not a comment on his personality.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Yellow. And a demo-to-be...

Only the second color and already the jig is up on this linocut. Yeah. Another bird on the water. I just can't seem to help myself. The water patterns are so fun to carve!

Tickled pink (yellow?) am I that yellow-over-blue ink still reads yellow. I've done it the other way 'round (blue over yellow), but this time the blue needed to be the lighter value. Seemed risky, but it worked. Whew!

And guess what! If you're in the Denver area you can be among the first to see what the next color pass looks like because I'll be working on this piece during the free public demonstration session at Abend Gallery this Saturday, December 8. Fourteen artists will be on hand to share their working methods, but I can just about guarantee that I'll be the lone printmaker in a sea of painters. I'd love to see some smiling faces showing some printmaker love, so come on down!

If you can't make it this weekend, demonstrations are scheduled at the gallery every Saturday in December, in conjunction with Abend's 22nd Annual Holiday Miniatures Show. I'll only be in attendance on the 8th, but that shouldn't keep you from checking out what everyone else is up to. And there will be some fine work to ogle, too. I can think of six little linocuts, for example....

22nd Annual Holiday Miniatures Show
Abend Gallery, 2260 E. Colfax Ave, Denver
303-355-0950 | 800-288-3726
Demonstrations: December Saturdays, 11am-3pm

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New lino on the bench

Doesn't look like much yet, does it?

I'm using Awagami Kozo paper, which is a lot more translucent than the old-standby-gone-bad Hosho. But it seems to take ink quite nicely and– really– what more could you ask? (Okay, okay, I know... plenty.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Print nostalgia with Linotype:The Film

In one of my former lives I worked in a commercial print shop. I did paste-up with hot wax and an X-acto knife, and I set type on a machine something like this one:

Thanks, Marcin Wichary and Wikipedia.

This might be a newer model than the one I used, because it appears to have a slot for 8" floppy disks, and ours used cartridges of some sort. But you get the idea. A single line of type appeared on the screen... not in the font one was using... just a pixel-y little line that disappeared into the techno-ether once a certain number of characters were typed. For you youngsters out there, each letter was flashed onto photosensitive film, then processed chemically to paper. Until the type galleys came out of processing, one didn't know if the entire paragraph had been accidentally typed in boldface. Our machine didn't have a "Save" feature... so mistakes had to be typed and processed all over again.

I had a love-hate relationship with that machine. Mostly hate. And I was delighted when "desktop publishing" appeared, allowing me to see entire pages of type at once and to make corrections quickly and easily.

But as a printmaker, and a relief printmaker at that, I often feel a nostalgia for the "good old days" of wood or metal type. I have a few pieces that I've found here and there– and one of these days when I get Presszilla into a workable space of her own I hope to invest in some complete alphabets– but I've never personally set type by hand. (Well, there WAS that rubber stamp set I had as a child... The one with tweezers and tiny individual letters you set into a frame.) As a type geek I'm a dilettante, but I think my days as pilot of the beast above give me enough street cred to be delighted by Linotype: The Film. My own copy arrived here mere days after the DVD was released...

I hope you have a few minutes to take a look at the trailer, and if you have an opportunity to see the entire film, I encourage you to do so. It's great fun... and if you don't believe me, just ask Etaoin Shrdlu. (More clips are available on the film's website.)

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Finishing the magpie linocut

Start-and-stop-and-start-again is never my favorite way to work on a piece, but sometimes that's just what happens. This 5-by-7-inch linocut was started more than a month ago and has only now reached its final stages.

The delays this time were not due to lack of materials or technical difficulties but to contract projects and holidays– both of which are now happily behind us.

So where were we?

We were here, at the Belly Shadow Redux.

The image was definitely showing signs of heading where I wanted it, with the magpie hiding in the foreground shadow. I decided the middle distance leaves were still too flat, so the ninth pass was a transparent blue-gray.

Okay, good. That put a little life in the middle ground and deepened the foreground. It also started to swing the magpie into the blue-black range instead of green like everything else.

Now a few brown "lowlights" (as opposed to highlights) in the branch and twigs. (Perpetual glare from the left on wet prints. Sorry.) A brief moment of uncertainty followed, when I wondered if perhaps the brown weren't too much. But there was still one final pass to go.

Another transparent blue-black brought the magpie forward, toned down some of the brown bits, and put one more layer of value in the bottom foreground. By golly, I think it's finished.

Sometime in the last week or so a title popped into my head, but it's gone right out again. Until I find it again... ssshhhh! Don't look now, but there's a magpie. Right there. No, there. Hiding in that shrub.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We interrupt this linocut

Yeah. Illustrations due. Can you tell by the state of my work space? Those are watercolors and brushes (shudder) on my table, and reference photos everywhere. The print bench lies in sad, lonely darkness. I should be done with this project at the end of the day and then we can get back to printmaking, okay?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back in the shadows


Success! I think.

Here we have the second  linoleum block all carved and hanging out with the original reduction block. Since the belly shadow (or BS, as I like to call it) is a transparent blueish gray I figured it would be just fine to let the color interact with the entire bird body. I inked most of the right-hand side of the second block and printed away....

It took a while to settle on the "correct" value for this pesky magpie belly, but I think I've got it. We'll know for sure after the next pass. There's some brown to go into the branches, a few dark values to go into the foreground leaves and one more darker pass to the bird before it's done.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Change of approach

Okay. So my efforts to shadow a magpie belly via stencil didn't work out last week. (How many people get to A) write a sentence like that and B) expect that a significant number of people who read aforementioned sentence will know what it means?)

The whole fiasco came about because I was being a cheapskate. Worse yet, I was a cheapskate in a hurry. I didn't want to "mess up" a second block on this little piece, nor did I want to take the time to carve it. Result? I am several days further behind, I've trashed a few prints, and I will end up carving a second block anyway.

The good news is that it gives me a chance to show one way to transfer an image to a second block. I'm sure there are other, better ways and I'm looking forward to hearing what other printmakers do, but here's how I tackle it:

It starts out like any other printing day: inked linocut block in the jig.

But I print onto something non-absorbent... in this case tracing paper. I want the ink to stay on top of the paper.

I slide a blank block of identical size into the jig. (This one has a stain on it from the previous belly-printing attempt.)

I place the printed tracing paper face down onto the blank block in the jig and rub with the baren again.

Et voila! I now have a second block which reflects all the carving of the first and is in register.

Since I'm mostly concerned with the bird on the second block I didn't take too much time with the transfer of the leafy areas of the design. I could have done so with a little more effort, but we've already determined that I'm stuck in a laziness feedback loop on this piece.

The downside to this transfer technique is that I have to wait for the ink to dry on the second block before I can get carving, but I did add a drop of cobalt drier so that shouldn't take long.* I don't like adding drier as a general rule, mostly because it's nasty stuff and I don't like the smell, but in this case it wasn't going to stay around long on either paper or block or tools to be too offensive.

So while I'm waiting for ink to dry I'm pushing around sketches and looking at photo reference and trying to come up with a new image to work on. I'd like to get after something larger now, although once again I've scheduled myself for a demo and need to have something to work on in a couple of weeks. At the rate things are going, it might be this piece. But then again....

(*It was, in fact, dry enough to work on in about an hour.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Impatience Wrought

Most of the time I love that reduction printing is a labor-intensive, time-consuming process. I enjoy putting the image on the block. Carving. Preparing paper. Mixing ink. Mixing it again. Inking the block, pulling the print. It's fun to watch the image slowly resolve... and nail-biting when you're just not sure you got the colors or the values right. Satisfying when you get to the end and it all works out okay.

Then again, there comes a point in some pieces when I start grumbling. "If I were a painter, I'd be done with this by now. In fact, I'd probably be done with THREE paintings by now."

Guess where we are with the magpie linocut.

There are a couple of problems. The first is that the shadow on the underside of the magpie's belly is too light. I'm trying to suggest that the viewer has discovered the bird in the foreground shade, escaping from the summer heat and bright light of the background. The magpie's belly is white, but in shadow it appears more gray, and even reflects some of the green of the leaves. There are also a few bright white spots where the sunlight gets through.

Clearly it needs to be darkened, but the block material that printed this original too-light gray was carved away long ago.

So here are the choices:

1) Forget the darker belly/shadow idea and just let the bird come forward. (Easiest, therefore least likely solution.)

2) Pochoir ("pounce") the color directly onto the print. (Too large a space to cover delicately. At least for my skill level with the technique.)

3) Carve a second block. (Stay tuned, we might yet come back to this because I tried option 4.)

4) Cut a stencil, use it to ink an UNCARVED second block, and print from the second block.

Option #4 it is.

I cut a piece of mylar and traced onto it an outline of the shape I would like to have print gray. I used a print-in-progress and the already-carved block to determine this shape.

Here you see the cut stencil placed over the already carved block to check that it lines up.

And here it is on the UNcarved block, ready for inking.

So far, so good. I used a small brayer to ink the block, but the stencil has some very thin shapes that the brayer couldn't reach, so I used a stiff paintbrush to make sure ink got into all the corners.

Everything was going fine and I was already composing my triumphant blog post in my head when I realized that my prints were still kind of tacky from the last ink layers. Perversely confident in my ability to burnish just the inked belly with olympic-level motor coordination skills, AND impatient to get this image finished, I plowed ahead anyway.

And promptly trashed three prints. The too-tacky ink on the print adhered to the dry areas of the second block as I rubbed, and when I pulled the prints back they left chunks of paper behind.


I knew this could happen, but sometimes I just don't want to take my own good advice. Will I know better next time? Of course. Will I make the same mistake again? Oh, probably. I said I love printmaking. I never said one word about actually learning anything. ;-)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yay! Back to work!

Naturally the tint base showed up when I was out of town for a couple of days, but today I was able to get back to work on the little magpie linocut.

I'm at that "darn, I should have done that section differently" stage of this piece. I'm liking most things about it, but the shadow on the magpie's belly, which looked so dark 4 stages ago, barely shows up now that the dark values around it are in place. (Sigh) This is the aspect of reduction printing that can be a bit frustrating– There's no going back to "fix" it, unless I want to carve another block or do some other sort of magic. We'll see what happens in the next pass...

From here it's just some dark branches and then the dark of the bird. And resolving that shadow, maybe. But everything is very, very wet and drying slowly, so I expect it will be at least Wednesday before anything more can be done.
A comment about comments:

If you're a regular reader of blogs and like to join the conversation via comments, you know that some time in the last year Blogger changed their "prove you're not a robot" system to something wholly frustrating.

So... in the interest of keeping readers safe from the annoying sales pitches and spammers who target blogs, I'm going to try a new approval combination. No more "Captcha."  I'll screen every comment myself so yours might not get posted right away, especially if I'm on the road, but hopefully this will keep the swearing-at-the-screen to a minimum.

This has been a public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog reading.

A new comment about comments, one day later:

Okay. Well. I've already had to dismiss 7 or 8 spam comments TODAY by not using the Captcha feature, so I'm afraid we're going back to it. If you're having trouble, absolutely feel free to email me. I might not always be able to answer the same day, but I will get back to you!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A little more magpie

I've managed to eek out one more color pass using the scraps of previous inks, this one a straight green roll. Now all there is to do is drum my fingers on the bench, waiting for the new cans of base to arrive.

Well, no, that's not entirely true. I'm off in a few minutes to deliver two linocuts and one woodcut/linocut hybrid(!) to the juried "Colors of Change" show at Coutura Design Inspirations in Colorado Springs. I don't have the slightest idea what to expect from this venue or exhibition, but I'm hoping that they'll integrate the work into the design showrooms. It's always fun to see pieces in an "actual" environment (even if it's staged), because that's really how we live with art: Over the sofa or next to the bookcase.

The exhibition opens tomorrow evening, 5-8 pm.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Printmaker abhors a vacuum...

.... or a least an empty can.

But there's good news in the studio: Yesterday I received notice that two cans of tint base are indeed enroute, so this sad state of affairs will not prevail.

Encouraged by that thought, I scraped the last bits of base onto my inking slab and mixed up the next color pass for the magpie linocut-in-progress.

My (necessarily) miserly approach to ink mixing was problematic at first, and I rolled up colors too harshly opaque and contrasty. I pulled two prints and then decided to scrape ink slab, block, and roller and try again. I eventually settled on another tan-to-green blend.

From here I think I'll start bumping up the contrast in the foreground. My intention is to settle the magpie into some foreground shadow... But we all know about roads paved with good intentions!

Where we were on the left and where we are on the right.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tweak and roll

Time to tweak the color temperature a bit on this linocut. I mixed up this nice tan color... transparent on one end of the roller and a little more opaque on the other. (A function of that unfortunate can of transparent base going AWOL.)

Because all the inks have been so transparent, the color in application doesn't look tan at all, but it still keeps the palette a bit warm. I'm liking the feeling of light so far, but my intention is to make the foreground feel "shadowy." I'm not at all certain how to pull that off, but not knowing what I'm doing hasn't ever stopped me before.

Color pass four on the left, five on the right.
The good news is that I spoke with the manufacturer of the missing tint base this morning and they assure me that although my distributors are backordered, they have plenty to send me early next week. So there's still hope this will wrap up in time to make the framing deadline.

Here's the lovely thing about all this tooth-gnashing over ink modifiers, though: Several artists have chimed in with offers of help: tracking down alternate sources, suggesting alternate materials. I shouldn't have been surprised– most artists, especially printmakers, are a generous breed– but I was. Thanks for the reminder that we might be flung far and wide but we are a community. I needed that.

Linocut in Progress: The Third Act

Time to wrap up this linocut ! And we are wrapping at warp speed (see what I did there?)... because there are deadlines. Exhibition deadline...