Thursday, October 30, 2014

Linocut(s) in Progress: Birds Everywhere! And in other news...

The little sparrow reduction print continues with its ugly duckling stage. Maybe "ugly" isn't the right word. More like "disharmonious" or something.


It just ain't right. Yet.

Sparrow linocut, Step 8
A second blend... and those questionable wavy shapes. Hopefully they'll be less obnoxious once I go on to the next step.

I took a little time out from this yesterday because after 8 colors in three days things were getting a little "rejecty" (That's a technical term. Trust me.) There's plenty of carving to do before the next color can be printed, so it's not like I'm sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

In fact, I'm so psyched by the possibilities now that I have a press, that I've embarked on another experiment.

This here is an 18 x 24 sheet of linoleum with 18 (count 'em) little bird images drawn on it. I've wanted to do some small sets of hand-colored prints for a while... My poor, neglected Etsy store needs some love!

The idea is that once all 18 of these images are carved for single-color prints I can ink the whole thing up and print them simultaneously on a full sheet (22 x 30) of watercolor paper. Chop 'em up, color 'em, et voila!

Of course a really smart printmaker would have put all the birds facing the same way so that the image could also be printed as a single large piece... which I intend to do one of these days. But little prints are the goal at the moment, so these are set up instead in a way that will make them easiest to carve. (Facing out as much as possible around the border, so I can just turn the block to work on each image.)

It's a heckuva lot of carving, but it will be a nice thing to work on in between other projects. I've got ANOTHER more complex reduction print in the drawing stage. I'd like that one to be at least 18 x 18, so I will need to have a solid registration system in place before hand. But there's a lot of drawing to do there first, too... so don't hold your breath.

In other news.... Guess who's got the cover of this month's Colorado Central Magazine! Here's a hint: It's me. Or rather, it's my lino. Looks nice, don't you think? The latest issue isn't up online yet, but here's a peek at the cover. I'm not ready for winter, but I'm definitely ready to print some new winter linos!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Entering the ugly duckling phase

Carrying on with my first piece on the new press, I've realized that I should have given a little more thought to what to do if the process actually worked. I assumed it would take me a little longer to sort out this temporary registration system than it did, and now I'm seven passes in with no particular plan about where it's all going.

Oh, well. Some things never change.

I had errands to do yesterday, so the prints had a day of rest. I had two ideas about the next step, neither of which I pursued. Instead I printed one more brownish tone.

Sparrow linocut, Step 6

Most of this will get covered up, but I wanted to add a little subtlety to the face and underparts of the bird. Mission accomplished.

When everything seems to be working so nicely it's hard to head into the "ugly duckling" stages that often follow. From here I need to start working the background before the darkest bits are added to the bird, which means all the lovely harmonious tone is about to get disrupted.

Sparrow linocut, Step 7

Rather than continue to emerge, our little bird is now pushed back in to oblivion. But I shall endeavor to a) remain calm and b) try to figure out where to go from here. I started carving a few shapes in to the lower portion of the image and am somewhat regretting that decision, but I'm committed to it now.

There's another small hiccup in the forward motion department. For probably the last ten years I have used Daniel Smith oil-based relief inks exclusively, and DS has announced that they will only sell paint from now on. By the time they made the news public some colors of ink, most notably white, were already sold out. And as of today, I'm out of white, too.

A printmaking colleague has recommended the Handschy (now Hanco) opaque white, which I have on order, but which hasn't yet arrived. I think I should be able to move forward without it, but it's one more "new" variable to add to the learning process. Yippee.

In the meantime, expect things to get uglier before they get prettier. But also expect me to continue my happy dance, because I'm having oodles of fun getting to know Presston.

AND, I want to give a shout out to the fine folks at Takach Press, Presston's mothership. I've been using Takach brayers for a couple of years and love them, but before I went out to Nevada to pick up the press I sent ecstatic and probably delirious-sounding emails asking for moving advice. They responded quickly and generously with suggestions and offers for continued help once I got settled.

I have discovered that one of Presston's pressure settings goes out of adjustment more quickly than the other, so late on Saturday night I sent off another email, not expecting to hear anything until the work week began again today.

Nope. At 9:30 on Saturday night I received a detailed message diagnosing the problem and offering clear options for fixing it. Seriously. Presston is 15 years old this month. When was the last time you contacted a company about a 15-year-old piece of equipment and had a response other than "Sorry, we don't support that [model, product, version, software, manufacturer] anymore."? So refreshing. Thank you, Takach, for your professionalism. It is very much appreciated.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Press experiments, Part 3: Or maybe I should just say "Linocut in Progress"

Ask me how much fun I'm having working on the new press. Go on, ask me!

[Insert reader query here.]

I'm having a blast, thanks for asking!

There's not much to report in the technical department this time around, since I've now put down two more colors without mishap. I did start to have a little issue with ink tack towards the end of the 5th color run, but with five colors in two days I'm not surprised. No real problems... I could just feel things getting a little tacky when I pulled prints off the block. Some Setswell would have fixed it right up had I needed to make more prints.

So here's where we are– Color 1: gray, Color 2: gray, Color 3: blue....

Color 4: A sort of pale ochre. The weird texture is an artifact of the photography... a little ink glare and some rogue shadows. I haven't figured out a good set up for photo-taking in the "new" space yet.

First press print in progress, Step 4

Color 5: A light brown for shadows in the ochre-y areas. Again with the funky shadows, sorry. But hey, birders! Any guesses what our species might be?

Linocut in progress, Step 5
Time to think about what's next. There are two small areas of the bird that will require spot inking, and I'm considering some sort of color blend in the background. But which to do first? Always a question in reduction prints!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Press experiments: Registration, Part 2 - Pins and Tabs

Not being able to print when there's a 450-pound wheedling child in your living room is some unique form of torture, I think. Deciding to try a pin-and-tab registration system is one thing. Having to wait for aforementioned pins and tabs to arrive in the post is another thing entirely.

I had just about settled on carving some single-color images so I could at least play with pressure settings and paper when a happy little parcel arrived with today's mail. Hooray!

About a million years ago I worked in a commercial print shop. I set type and did layout via the paste-up method... yes, I am that old. A good friend of mine was our shop stripper, which doesn't mean what you think it means. The stripper took my pasted-up layouts, shot and processed film negatives of them, and then "stripped them up" for exposure to metal lithographic plates. And guess what? He used pins and tabs just like these to do the job.

There are several references to using pin-and-tab systems on the interwebs, this one by Maurice Fykes III is available as a PDF download on the McClain's website. It's a good explanation, but I didn't particularly like the idea of having to secure my lino to bookboard for the entire printing process, mostly because it seemed like clean-up between each color would be a pain in the neck. I also know of instances where printmakers adhere the pins directly on to their lino. This works really well for bleed prints (image goes over the edge of the paper), but I want to find a way to make prints with nice, clean margins.


Enter Registration Experiment #2. I have a mat with an 8 x 10" opening, the size of my unmounted lino block, to which I have adhered the pins. Like this:

The mat should have been wider so the tabs would fall farther from the top of the block and give me a wider paper margin, but for the purposes of this experiment it will be fine.
Once the pins were stuck to the mat board (with clear shipping tape, nice and strong), I started attaching tabs to paper. This is a little tedious, but not horribly so.

Once I had twelve sheets of paper taped up I was ready to print. I started over with a whole new block and all new paper, just to make things easier on myself.

So imagine, if you will, going back and printing the two steps I showed you the other day all over again. And then imagine my initial dismay when my first attempt to print the second color with this new system FAILED. Ugh! Seriously? Is this not going to work?

But I stayed calm and tried the next sheet. Perfect. And the next one? Perfect. In fact that first sheet was the only one that gave me problems, so I suspect some wretched pilot error on that one. Second color a success, so on to the third!

Great. All of these worked, no problem, so I think I'll give colors 4 and 5 a go tomorrow if I can.

The matboard jig is okay, but I don't think it's a long term solution. The board will wear down and eventually the block won't sit as squarely. I'm used to the feel of particle-board-mounted-lino against pine, but don't really want to continue with the thickness that I've been using for handprinting.

Luckily the carpenter at the local lumber yard is accustomed to my odd requests and will happily let me dig around in his scrap pile until an alternate idea presents itself. There are lots of ways to do this, and I just need to find the one that suits me best.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

First tests on the new press!

FINALLY I got to spend some time mucking around with Presston this afternoon! Presston, if you haven't been following along, is a 30 x 60 Takach etching press, acquired just last week.

Up to this point I've been printing my linocuts entirely by hand-rubbing with a baren and spoon. I've got a reliable system down and I enjoy fairly consistent results. But in the last year I've started to have some rather serious pain in my wrists and neck from all this repetitive motion and pressure, so it was time to do something different. Serendipity brought Presston and I together, and now it's time to get to know each other better.

To be honest, I've been a bit nervous to start. I've only made two small reduction relief prints on an etching press before and I don't really know what I'm doing. What if, after all this effort and expense, I find I can't make it work for me?

But this afternoon I finally quit stalling (and finally got far enough along in an illustration job that I don't feel guilty walking away from it for a bit), and made my first foray into press-assisted print.

Ooooh. Fun.

I was delighted to find it really easy to get the roller calibrated, and even more delighted to find both sides completely synchronous.

I considered starting with a single color print, and that probably would have been smart... but I was more excited to print than carve, so went ahead and jumped on in to a reduction piece. It was a good and not-so-good decision.

The good news is that my very first pull was perfect!  Even ink, correct pressure, beautiful impression. The press bed has a nice grid and guides on it, so I thought I'd just try to tape off some registration marks and eyeball it. Why not? I pulled 20 lovely first colors in pretty short order.

You might be able to see a ghost of the drawing here... something I didn't anticipate but can correct in subsequent prints. I draw my images on the block with a Sharpie permanent marker, and usually when hand-rubbing I have very little transfer of Sharpie to the print. With Presston's firm hand I had lots of transfer, but in the future I think that if I draw the image and sand it down a bit before inking it should help.

Encouraged by this initial success I thought I'd go ahead and try out my seat-of-the-pants registration system.

THIS is going to need more thought.

I pulled 8 prints and only got one in good alignment, so clearly I need a more thoughtful registration method. I have another 12 first color prints on the rack, but I'm undecided about carrying on until I can sort out something a little more efficient. I think I'd like to try a pin system, but I haven't ever used one and don't quite know how to set it up. But I'll figure it out! I'm really excited about the possibilities once I get a new routine in place.

So time out for some more research. This first experiment was with unmounted lino, which I think will eventually be the mainstay. But my hand-rubbing registration jig requires mounted blocks, and I have a goodly pile of them that will need to be used at some point. (Plus I have some large single-color images on mounted blocks that I never finished editioning because I needed to give my wrists a break. Presston will make short order of them once I get a system in place.)

It felt really good to work in my "new" space today... so far the set up seems completely functional. As always, I wish I had more horizontal work space, but one does what one can in the space available. A sign of how much fun I was having? I totally forgot to stop and eat dinner.

Stay tuned for future experiments.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Epic of Presston

Mission accomplished! After an epic journey that despite flawless execution somehow took two days longer than expected, Presston is settled in his new home.

I had intended to take loads of photos, but there are only so many view-out-the-front-of-the-moving-truck shots that one can tolerate. My picture-taking started out well enough:

I so rarely fly west, it was a surprise to find myself over
my own valley. That's Twin Lakes and the Forebay
in the center, and I think the controlled burn at O'Haver Lake
in the background.
And yeah. Snow.

My intrepid companion in adventure and I left Salida at oh-dark-hundred last Monday and drove to Woodland Park to leave my car and catch a ride to the Denver airport. From Denver we took a bare bones flight to Las Vegas ($57!), where we were met by the indomitable Suzanne Hackett-Morgan of the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

Suzanne and the Barbie Jeep drove us to Pahrump, Nevada to pick up a very large rental truck, and then we were off in to the Mohave desert to collect Presston and some other equipment. At this point I think G started to wonder just what he'd agreed to.

The schlepping team: Suzanne, David, Greg, oh SHOOT, 
I forgot his name, Dane, and Richard.

In Beatty Suzanne rounded up some help and we moved Presston, two tables, a cabinet, a drying rack, a hot plate, and other miscellaneous stuff into the truck. This is a far simpler statement than it was an activity. Presston alone weighs over 400 pounds and it was 90 degrees in Beatty... a cooling-off for the locals, but an abrupt return to summer for someone who had just left snowy peaks.

Last light from the Barn, click to embiggen
 But we managed to finish up and to get some other items schlepped out to the Goldwell Barn, just as the last light disappeared from Death Valley.

Suzanne treated us to dinner at the Sourdough Saloon, where we met some local characters and where I found the coolest door latch in a women's restroom in a bar ever. Well, maybe not ever. But certainly in a long time. Not that I spend much time in bars. Or in bathrooms in bars. Oh, nevermind.

We stumbled to bed (from fatigue, not bar offerings), and the next morning saw oh-dark-hundred AGAIN. Gas station coffee and breakfast sandwiches in hand we headed east. It looked like this:

And a little while later, it looked like this:

The good news is that those thin clouds became thicker clouds and we had overcast skies for the next two days of driving. Not so picturesque for photography, but certainly nice and cool for desert travel.

We ended up driving for almost 15 hours on Tuesday, arriving in Albuquerque, New Mexico well after dark and unfortunately also after they closed northbound I-25 for construction. Tired and cranky AND having to find a new route across town in a 16-foot truck? Definitely a trip low point. But we made it, found a place to stay, and were satisfied to only have a 4.5-hour drive the next day.

Wednesday we were in Colorado in time for lunch in Alamosa, and then the final push for home. G and I unloaded the tables and made some decisions about how to set up the living-room-now-studio-space, and then gave up for the day. (I had a plan, but of course it completely changed once we had the actual equipment.) Thursday it rained all day, but we finished sorting equipment and studio, put some items (like a huge drying rack that I can't fit in my space just now) in to storage, and welcomed a cadre of young men from the Salida High School cross-country team to help schlep Presston into place. (The scariest moment for me.)

Definitely NOT the hot, dry Mohave. Headed to Colorado Springs
for the last steps of the journey.
We were not quite finished yet, though. Yesterday (Friday) I had to pick up my car on the way to returning the truck in Colorado Springs and a piece of equipment that we brought with us for Colorado College had to be delivered. And of course I had to go cheer for the cross country team at their District meet in CaƱon City on the way home. I owed them that, at least.

So now it's Saturday, and although there are still some shelves to install and some lighting to sort out, the studio space is looking good. Presston dominates the scene, of course, as he should.

click to embiggen these funky phone-camera panoramas

For me the rest of today will be about post-trip bookkeeping, email triage, and a desperate trip to the grocery store. (And probably a nap.) But from time to time I'll get up and wander to the studio... find a little more dust to clean off of Presston... and start to find my way to a new working method. It's a new era for this printmaker!

OOPS! I almost forgot to mention that Presston made at least part of his journey on the infamous Route 66. The one photo I have from the trip that isn't from the window of the truck! (It's from the gift shop of our stop for Second Breakfast, but hey...)

Monday, October 6, 2014

P*-minus 48 hours and counting! (*Press)

An older field drawing to keep you company.
By the time this posts on Monday morning, my friend G and I will be on our way to the airport and our rendezvous with Presston.

It's a complicated journey: drive to Colorado Springs to leave a vehicle (2 hrs), catch a ride to DIA (2 hrs), fly to Vegas (2 hrs), catch a ride to pick up the rental truck (1  hr), drive another hour to Presston's current location to load up. Hopefully we will sleep like logs and then begin the 1,000-mile drive back to Salida Tuesday morning. We'll unload here, then continue back to Colorado Springs to drop off additional equipment and return the truck. And THEN back to the car and home to settle back in to my space and try to figure out how to work a whole new way!

In theory we'll be back in Salida just about 48 hours after we leave, but it's hard to say. This sort of epic road trip seemed a lot easier 20 years ago. I already want more sleep. But...ooooooh! I'm getting a PRESS!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I'm the Featured Artist at Artsy Shark!

It was nice to wake up this morning to a message from Carolyn over at the Artsy Shark website. I'm today's Featured Artist!

In addition to featuring the work of artists in a wide variety of media, Artsy Shark provides lots of great articles and inspiration about many facets of this crazy ol' art business. Stop on in and check it out!

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...