Thursday, November 20, 2014

Linocut in Progress: How It Ended, or, Even After 18 Years There's Still a Lot to Learn

Yep, I started dabbling in relief prints probably 18 years ago...settled down to focus on them about 10 years ago... and I still have a lot to sort out about this engaging and sometimes frustrating medium. Especially since I'm in the process of sorting out an entirely new way to work. New equipment, new registration system, new paper, new ink. Nothing like throwing ALL the variables into the mix at once.

This piece has definitely been one of those learning experiences... with a completely ironic twist at the end. But first....

Step 8: The geese appear
Step 8. A straight-up transparent blue over the entire block. No, really. Here's a detail of a section of cloud:

I was satisfied enough with the color, although it wasn't really what I had in mind when I started. But by this time I was having some rather acute registration problems that I just couldn't straighten out.

The first problem was that the prints had all developed a curl, which made it just about impossible to get them to lay flat on the block. Hm. I work my paper dry... but I'm also working in a small apartment, with humidity from shower and laundry just a few feet away. But I don't think that's it. I think it's too much pressure. This lovely press has such a light touch that it doesn't feel like too much pressure, but I'm also still getting that problem of good registration at one end and not at the other. The paper isn't embossing... but nothing seems to be slipping, so pressure adjustments seemed the likely culprit.

 I nudged the pressure down a wee bit and printed. Nope, not enough. Again. Nope, not enough. Again. Nope. Just for grins I tried running one through the press the other way around. Big mess, as one might expect. But at this point I was pretty desperate. More ink, less ink... still problems. What. The. Heck.

And then... another major dope slap. Because suddenly the print is getting slightly embossed and it seems like maybe the lino is stretching.

I've always had trouble wrapping my brain around camera settings. I understand that less is more when it comes to aperture, but in relation to speed? I just could never keep it in my head. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, then, to realize that what I had been doing was not loosening the press ever-so-slightly... but tightening it! Smaller number isn't less pressure, it's more! D'uh!

I figured it out in time to save just 4 prints, but by golly I did figure it out.

 But here's the kicker. Remember those early reject prints? I kept them in the rotation all the way through.

The one that was too red? Moody. Rich. (Although you can see registration blur on the left side.)

And the REAL kicker?

This was Reject 1, pulled out in the very first pass. I ran the background on it twice, trying to get the ink coverage even on the block. I liked it, but thought it was too dark too early in the game.

Then the aborted attempt to use that icky white, which made chalky rather than luminous color. But it DID serve as a good undertone for the subsequent color passes, and this image, although entirely different from the others and not at ALL what I was aiming for, is really quite lovely. In fact... despite its registration issues it already has a new home with the first person who saw it other than me. (The weirdness along the bottom is an artifact of the light and slightly warped paper.)

So there you have it. No matter how much I think I know about this process, it will always pose challenges. But it will also produce lovely surprises, and that is what keeps me coming back for more.


  1. Keep notes. All of these "duh" moments are those learning experiences that will be the answer to future problems.
    The one's that work do work. It's a complex print and you were juggling too many variables as you point out. I'd be happy with ANY good print after that kind of adventure.

  2. Indeed, Andrew... that's one of the benefits of writing this blog... Illustrated notes!

    I do also keep a studio "journal." I'm just not very consistent about it. I also do a fair amount of scribbling in the margins of prints that haven't worked out. But that means I have to go back and find them if I want to learn something.

    So my blog is a notebook I can find! At least as long as I have internet service. ;-)

  3. I too like the last print on your blog.Im not a printer but find your blog posts interesting, wish I was younger but found out about all these things too late.

  4. To Penny I would say - jump in it is never too late and relief printing can be done on a budget in very little space. This unsolicited advice is offered by someone who decided to learn violin at 75 (it is going well -) And, Sherrie - I keep notes like you - often in the margins of prints. To solve the problem of locating the notes later I keep them in an acetate envelope with the completed edition. It helps if and when I can remember on which print I had the aha!

  5. Sherrie - would it help to think of the numbers on the micrometers as representing the distance between the roller and the bed? Smaller number = tighter squeeze.

    But now that you've taught yourself how it works, you'll probably never forget!

    Really beautiful print, after all that!

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your helpful suggestions and good cheer!

    Penny, welcome! And yes, never too late to start printing. Relief prints are great because you don't need much equipment or space to get started.

    Sharri... what a great idea to keep the notes with the edition! I tend to put all the scribbled-on rejects in a drawer by themselves, but that makes finding messages harder.

    Mary... yep... I just need to change the object of my "smaller=less" mindset from pressure to height! I'm not even sure how I got off track in the first place... It was like looking for your glasses when they are on your head, or something! ;-)

  7. wonderful to see the variations of your lovely print!