Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the owl

Wahoo! (Or perhaps that should be wa-WHOOO, given that this is an owl...) Either way, it's finished before the new year, and that makes me a happy camper.

The final stages were all fairly subtle: more transparent gray layers!

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 9

It was getting so close here, but I wanted to give a little more emphasis to the foreground branches and the bird...soooo.....

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 10

I really thought that this would be the end, but the owl felt a tiny bit flat to me. I cleared out the branches immediately around the owl and also took some material out of the bird's back and wing, then inked up the owl only and did one last run of transparent gray.

Reduction linocut, Step 11, final

Taking a decent photo of this image is, as I feared it might be, really challenging. The camera wants to make everything more contrasty-y than it actually is and either too warm or too cool. This shot is close, but not perfect.

Now what it needs is a title. This little owl appeared in a tree next to a restaurant in downtown Salida in early May. Flammulated owls are creatures of coniferous forest (which we have all around us, but not in town), but they are secretive. Its blatant presence in the middle of the day was quite a surprise.

The day was overcast and gray. As I worked on this piece I imagined this little fellow out for a spring stretch and, confused by the overcast light, caught away from his usual perch as the day progressed.

I don't remember if it snowed later that day or not, but it wouldn't have been unusual. The non-feathered bipeds in the area, anxious for warmer days, might have responded to those tentative flakes with a grumble: "Not again," or, "Enough with the snow already!"

I'm not sure that a viewer would understand the reference if I called this piece, "Not again," so I'm still looking for a title. Suggestions, anyone?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Just a little color

Linocut in progress, Step 6

It's a good thing I made a big pile of transparent gray early in this process, since it saves me time both in thinking and in mixing new color. I added the tiniest bit of blue at this stage, and the printing was quite straightforward.

But for the next step all that changed. These branches sport leaf buds in an early spring stage: Still rusty red, although a few are starting to open. There's also a little "flame" to be added to the wing of the flammulated owl (Psiloscops flammeolus). Two slightly different colors, but they can be printed in one pass with spot inking.

Spot inking. Sorry it's upside down. The light was better from this direction.

Spot inking is a lovely approach when one only needs color in small areas, but it does pose some interesting challenges sometimes. 

All of these color areas are small and much of the un-inked block will come in contact with the prints. I've shown the disastrous consequences of this before, but if you missed it just know that whole layers can be pulled off of slightly tacky prints with a dry block. 

Soooooooo.... Time for another ridiculous mask.


It took a good chunk of the morning to cut multiple masks like this one, but once I had it ready to go the printing itself went smoothly.

Linocut in progress, Step 7 (2 colors)

It looks a little clunky here... the rusty color in the owl's wing looks particularly harsh. Time to whip out that transparent gray. Again.

Linocut in progress, Step 8

I love this pass. So much has happened with another transparent gray. The leaf buds are now two colors of rusty red, but I didn't mix another red! The owl is darker and the branches have a little more depth. The orangey color in the bird's wing is still a little harsh, but with one or two more gray passes I think it will fall back nicely.

Feeling pretty good about this now... methinks it will be done before the new year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Linocut in Progress: The owl emerges. Kinda.

Linocut in progress, Step 5

On the previous pass I warmed the image with a light transparent brown, and now I'm trying to subtly swing the whole piece back the other way. This pass was a transparent gray... just straight-up black in a big pile of transparent base.

It still looks quite brown, but except for the details of the leaf buds and some rusty bits in the owl I think everything from here on out will be layers of transparent gray. I might try sticking a hint of blue in it, but not much. I want the overall mood to remain overcast and quiet.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Small beginning steps, and then a big leap!

It's amazing how long I can avoid committing to a new linocut when I don't have a deadline looming. Ridiculous, really, since I am totally happy to be working once I begin. But becoming brave enough to make that first cut can sometimes take a while.

I wish I could remember who it was who said, "I begin when the pain of NOT working becomes greater than the pain of working." (Or some words to that effect.) I tried to Google it but just got a bunch of references to ibuprofen and morphine. Draw your own connections if you wish.

Sure enough... the pain of not working hit me last week, but I haven't made any posts because the first couple of passes didn't really show much. And, to be honest, I wasn't sure my idea was even going to work. But now I'm four passes along and fairly confident that I'm headed in the right direction, so....

Step 1:
Detail, first step of new linocut

See? I told you there wasn't much to show. But this is the reason I paced along the edge of the cliff for so long. The first marks are random white dots in a pale gray background. These dots will be there now for the entire print. Geez, I hope this works.

Step 2:

I carved a few more random dots and printed a slightly darker gray. I'm not sure now that the first gray was dark enough to make a difference, but okay... onward.

If you have a bright monitor you might be able to see the outlines of the subject. On a few of the prints in the run I had some bleed out from the Sharpie marker with which I drew the image on the block. I'm not worried about it because this will all get covered in subsequent steps, and the worst offenders get rotated to the front of the line as "test" prints.

Step 3: 

I decided that I didn't like the flat gray background, so added a slightly darker gray-blending-to-nothing in the top half of the print. This is a wretched photo! The bottom of the print is NOT blue, it's all gray. Which you'll see a little better in.....

Step 4:

NOW we are getting somewhere. The bones of the entire image are now in place... which for me is pretty surprising after only 4 color passes. At the moment I think the white dots might read a little bit like stars until one realizes that some of them are in the foreground.. carved in front of branches and bird. It's the beginning of a snow storm! Just the first few flakes.

I was afraid of putting in too many snowflakes, but now I think I should have done a few more. Oh well, next time!

It was kind of a scary commitment for me to remove so much material from the block at this point, but it was a great opportunity to fall in love with the widest "sweep" gouge in my new Pfeil tool set. I am really, really happy with these new gouges. There are a couple that will take time to find regular use for, but so far I am smitten with 4 of the 6 in the "B" set.

There will be a pause of a couple of days now: Friday to deliver work to an exhibition and Saturday to chase around for our annual Christmas Bird Count. But I should be back to work on Sunday and... fingers crossed... I am hopeful that I can wrap this one up before the end of the year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Return from the dark side. Almost.

I'm still deep in the mysterious zone known as "I-printed-a-lot-for-a-long-time-now-I'm-not-sure-what-to-do-with-myself." But there are signs I am emerging.

Yep. Them there be fancy schmancy new tools what just arrived yesterday. (Clearly my usual habit of crafting articulate English sentences is still on walkabout.)

And this might or might not be a photo
of a copy
of a photo
that I might or might not be using as reference
whilst I might or might not be drawing up a new lino.

You just never know.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Process notes: Registration

If the contents of my inbox are any indication, one of the biggest challenges for new printmakers is the question of registration. For those readers for whom the question of registration is What is it? rather than How do I get it?, registration is the process of getting each color layer lined up exactly where it should be.

I think we're all familiar with registration that goes awry, even if we don't know what to call it. Probably most of us at some time or another have picked up the Sunday paper and found our favorite comic strip distorted... perhaps the blue ink is improperly aligned and all the images have an offset blue ghost. That's bad registration.

There are probably as many ways to approach registration as there are printmakers, with some techniques better suited to hand-burnishing and others to press printing. I thought it might be helpful to show you 1) what I've used for hand-printing, 3) what I now use for press-printing, and 3) some links to other techniques that you might find helpful.

When I was hand-rubbing all my prints I worked on mounted blocks and over the years developed a jig system that worked really well for me. I wrote a post about it several years ago which you can find here: The Linocut Jig.

Two sizes of registration jigs for hand-rubbed prints, mounted blocks

But everything changed a year ago when I brought home Presston, an etching press. It is possible to print mounted blocks on an etching press, but I didn't really want to mess around with type-high rails and trying to figure out how to register a mounted block.

I tried a couple of different ideas before I hit on the pin-and-tab system I'm using now. It has its limits, but so far I'm content with it.

1) The jig: I cut a piece of matboard with an opening the size of my unmounted lino. The mat itself is wider on one end to accommodate the pins and still allow for a good paper margin.

2) The pins: 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. My pasted-up layouts then went to the camera room, where the camera guy made 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 for pin-and-tab systems on the interwebs. Some will tell you to secure your lino to bookboard, but that seems like a clean-up headache to me. 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 at the moment I like making prints with nice, clean margins.

(Note: Ternes-Burton sells pin-and-tab sets, but I found that I wanted shallower pins than the ones included in sets. I'm using the 1/4" x .055 size)

3) The tabs: The slightly tedious bit in this system is setting up the paper (and then taking it all apart again when the prints are finished). Once I have all my paper trimmed to size I turn each sheet face down on the jig, snug up to the pins. I affix tabs to the pins, and then tape the tabs to the paper with blue painter's tape. So far the blue tape stays stuck through the entire print process... it does pull up some paper on the back when the prints are finished and the tabs are removed, but I allow for this with a wider margin on one edge of the paper.

And, voila! We're ready to go. I was worried at first about running the metal pins through the press, but I haven't had any problems because 1) I'm using the most shallow pins which, even attached to the mat, are not any higher than the lino block, 2) before I run the print through the press I place a stiff cutting mat over everything including the pins, and 3) I'm using the lightest possible pressure setting. I get NO embossing of the paper. But I'm keeping a watchful eye to make sure there are no problems over time.

Other techniques:

McClain's Printmaking Supplies has a very helpful one-page PDF describing the Japanese kento technique here, and another page about using their registration board here. The registration board is something you could easily make yourself with their description. (McClain's has all SORTS of great instructions that they include with their products.)

Maurice Fykes III has an extensive description of a pin-and-tab system available as a PDF here.

Three different techniques are described in Michael Merry's Introduction to Printmaking blog here. The blog appears to be the website for an entire printmaking course, so there are lots of other useful links there as well.

Northwoods Trekker has an interesting modification for a pin-type system made from an inexpensive hold punch on My Printmaking Journey, and there's another similar version in a thread on the Wet Canvas Printmaking Forum.

If any readers have links to other systems that they'd like to share, I'd love to see them in the comments.

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...