Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcome to "What's It All About Wednesday"!

"Early Snow - Ponderosa Pine"
reduction linocut, 18 x 12 inches
Or maybe I should call it "Why'd You Do That Wednesday." Either way, get ready for a little side trip down memory lane on Wednesdays in 2015. (Not every Wednesday, mind you. But some.)

For me the most important part of an image can be the story behind it. My work is frequently inspired by experiences I've had while hiking or camping or just hanging out along the river. I like to imagine the "whys" of observed animal behavior, or the "what happened here" of a newly-fallen tree or other anomaly on my regular walk.

But this particular linocut started with an idea and became a quest to create some larger images of iconic western trees. "Early Snow - Ponderosa Pine" was the fourth in the tree portrait series.

The funny thing about these tree portraits is the length of time it can take to find "the" representative tree for each one. Take this one, for example. I had in mind an image of the quintessential ponderosa pine: solitary, tall, and graceful with an arched crown. Such trees are everywhere, right?

HA! Not once you start looking for them. Our forests are full of ponderosa pines, but until I started looking for the "perfect" tree I didn't realize how few of them fit my stereotype. Many of our local pondos don't have the arched crown, or their crowns are broken, or they are part of a dense group and the character of the individual tree is hard to discern.

Worse yet, the "best" trees were often frustratingly out of range for me in my little, not-particularly-practical-for-mountain-living car.

The Quest for the Perfect Trees expanded to include a couple of friends, one of whom kept his eye out for weeks and then sportingly took me on a couple of four-wheel-drive expeditions to visit potential candidates. I am sure I heard triumphant music when this particular tree emerged from the gray of a light snowfall and seemed to say "you looking for me?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Swallows for the win

It's funny (in an annoying, frustrating, hair-pulling sort of way) how the steps that I think will be the "easiest" turn out to be the real challenges, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Case in point: These swallows. After all that mucking around with bits of green and the blends in the sky... a couple of browns in the branches and birds ought to have been no problem, eh?

Here's a nice transparent brown ink.

And here's the lovely gray that came out of it.

Swallow linocut, Step 9

I wasn't surprised it didn't look very brown, but I was surprised it was so gray! But I went ahead and ran it on the whole edition since I thought it might make a nice base to transition the OTHER browns on to. And a little gray in the branches wouldn't hurt anything.

Swallow linocut, Step 10

Now this is brown, but it took forever to hit the right value. Several prints were sacrificed to sort this out. My first attempt was WAYYYYYY too dark. (This image looks a little too red overall... the right edge of the branch is probably closest to real color.)

I also discovered a few things about the branch that I didn't like very well, but it's a little late to do anything about it. I'm going to keep those to myself and hope you don't notice them.

And finally...

Violet-green swallows need a title! Help! Embiggenable with a click, as always.
So now all it needs is a title. I chose these two bird postures because together they seemed calligraphic and reminded me of a Chinese character. Of course my Chinese is lousy (read: non-existent) so it took a while to figure out what it was. Ah ha! The number 8! Regarded as lucky in both Chinese and Japanese cultures, and there is also ashtanga yoga, the eight-fold path. There's something to be said here, but I haven't quite sorted it out yet. Ideas?

Ultimately this pair may have a destiny beyond this particular edition...but I can't say anything until I know for certain. You'll just have to come back later to find out!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Swallows in small bites (get it?)

With the background behind us (oh, I am a veritable treasure trove of puns today, aren't I?) it's time to turn our attention to the birds and branch. And by us and our I mean me. Of course.

Swallow linocut, Step 6

Both the male and female violet-green swallows can have green across their backs, although it's typically more pronounced in the male. (Who also has a green head.) No need to spew this color everywhere on the block, so a little selective inking put it where it belonged. More or less. I also employed a newsprint mask, as seen here on the next step.


After that sort of olive-y green I wanted a brighter green. David Sibley's bird guide describes the color as "emerald," so if it's good enough for David, it's good enough for me. Here you see the ink rolled up on both birds, but sort of squeaking out beyond where it belongs.

Enter the newsprint mask:


This mask serves two purposes (and perhaps more that I haven't yet discovered). First, it acts as a window through which ink will transfer to the print only where I want it, and second, it keeps the un-inked portions of the block from getting grabby with the slightly tacky, previously printed ink layers.

Swallow linocut, Step 7.
There's not a lot to see here, although if you squint you can tell that there are two different greens. Right?

And now for something slightly silly.

Male violet-green swallows sport some exciting color on their backsides, most of which isn't visible in this posture. But a teeny, tiny bit of purple is... and, well, even though it doesn't really matter to the print it DOES matter to the species, so I need to add it. The total area is about 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch, I kid you not.

Obviously it's not worth all the contortions required to do this step with the press, so a little application by hand was in order.

Swallow linocut, Step 8. If you can call it a step.

Seriously. That's all there is. And some of it will get covered with a subsequent color. But I couldn't leave it out entirely. That would be bad form.

Thankfully the noodling-around portion of this piece is now finished, so the next layers should be more fun and hopefully more dramatic. I thought there were only going to be two more passes, but it looks instead like three. We're getting close, though... AND... at the risk of jinxing the process... NO REGISTRATION PROBLEMS. So far.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Back to the Swallows

I've managed to finish painting a second sheet of tiny birds and have a third ready to go, but I wanted to get back to work on this swallow piece first. It's potentially an image with long-term ramifications which I'm not yet able to announce, and it needs to be done before the end of the month. So... it's back to the press.

Swallow linocut, Step 4

Hm. I fail to understand why this image looks so dark in Blogger. It's a lot cheerier in P-shop, and far less grainy. Weird.

Ah ha! It's the fault of Google, which now "auto enhances" one's images unless one turns the feature off. Just for grins, this is how horrible the image looked when Google "fixed" it:

Anyway... this step was a nice purple-to-blue blended roll. In the top photo you can see that I'm still having a little trouble with lap marks, although in real life it's not nearly as pronounced as it looked in the "enhanced" (snark) image.

Swallow linocut, Step 5

I considered leaving the background plain at this point... but that little bit of uneven color made me uncomfortable, so I decided to go for some subtle texture to visually break up the unwanted line. Yep, I think a little background interest was just the ticket to break up the unevenness.

From here all the background marks will be removed and the focus will be entirely on the birds. This makes me a little nervous from a registration point of view. Two greens and two browns and it will be finished... I hope I can hold it together!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Linocut experiments: Little hand-colored birds....

Okay, then! I finished painting the first set of little bird linocuts....


This first set took a little while... I wanted to keep the overall color palette cohesive so they could work as individuals or groups, so had to engage my brain cells. Hopefully the next sets won't take quite as long.

It's funny, but I felt a little guilty coloring these with watercolor rather than working them as full-on reduction prints. But my goal is to produce some inexpensive, "giftable" little images, so this seemed like a workable idea.

Here they are, all trimmed and ready to go. Almost. I'd like to have a few more sets done before I pronounce them ready to meet the world.

Once again, you may employ the embiggenator with a click.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Linocut experiments: It worked! Eventually.

The stars finally aligned this afternoon and I was able to tackle the printing of the 18 x 24 sheet of lino full of small bird images.

For this first large-scale printing I intended to print single color (black) and later hand-color these little critters, so out came the watercolor paper. And, hm... out came some problems.

I had suspected that my earlier efforts to recalibrate the press had not gone quite right, and the first print attempt made that abundantly clear:

Hmmm. That just ain't right!

Nope, that's not a trick of the light. That's a good impression in the upper right corner and a lousy one in the lower left. In this photo the leading (into the press rollers) edge is on the right, so clearly the roller isn't balanced. What I don't understand is the image also getting lighter towards the left (trailing) edge. Hm.

I messed around with the press adjustments and found what I thought would be a good balance. The second impression was more even, but still too light to satisfy me. I'm printing on Arches 140# cold press watercolor paper, so it has a fairly pronounced tooth, but I want a nice, solid black line. (Without cranking down the pressure enough to cause embossing.)

It seemed like dampening the paper might be the way to go, but I don't really have a set-up for working with wet paper. I've no good way to ensure even wetting... no blotters on hand...not even a spray bottle or fresh sponge! Oh well! I soaked some shop towels and gently wiped one side of the paper as evenly as I could.

(Ah, the smell of Arches watercolor paper. Snark. Could they make the sizing any stinkier? But I digress. )

 But a little water was definitely what was needed, because...success!

Embiggenable with a click...

In just about an hour and a half I had... let's see... 18 times 9... 162 little linocuts. Of course I have more to print, and I still have to paint them, and trim them, but, hey! Pretty darned exciting, if I do say so myself.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Linocut in Progress: Small steps

Well, my larger tympan-to-be arrived yesterday, but I didn't have time to mess around with printing the large lino. Today (Friday) and Saturday I'll be exhibiting in the Buena Vista Holiday Art Walk, so it will be at least Sunday before that adventure can happen.

In the meantime, I made a couple of steps on this new small linocut. I'm experimenting a lot with pressure adjustments and finding that the addition of even one more sheet of newsprint between the print and the tympan can make a big difference. I even experimented with adding a couple of pieces of newsprint under the block. Yep. Interesting.

Step 2. Try to ignore the weird smudge at the bottom. I tried to Photoshop out
a shadow of my hand and made a mess instead.
Good thing I'm a printmaker and not a digital painter!
For Step 2 I added a little bit of brown to the leftover transparent gray ink from Step 1. Gee, do you think it might be an image of birds on a branch? Nah, I bet it's a puppy dog.

Step 3
Step 3 was a transparent blue, giving a little coolness to some shadows, especially in the birds. Not much of this color will be retained, but I wanted a blue tone overall before tackling the big, scary hurdle of the background. I'm going to aim for some sort of rich blended roll... nervous about how that might play out.

Thankfully I'm not having the registration/stretching issues I had with the last print. The pressure is knocked back quite a bit, and I'm adjusting with thin sheets of paper instead of micrometer settings. So far, so good.