Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Little bits

After my last update I spent several days wrapping up an illustration project, but yesterday went happily back to the carving table and created lots of lino crumbs.

As luck would have it, however, all that carving didn't really have any bearing on what was printed next.

The area around the pelican's eye will be yellow, but it's a tiny shape... barely 1/8" wide and 1/4" long in an image that's 18 x18 inches overall. To ink up the entire block for that tiny shape would be a ridiculous waste of time and ink, so instead I decided to apply ink directly to the prints via pochoir, or stenciling. 

Applying ink via pochoir, or stenciling

Here I have cut the shape out of a piece of clear acetate. The black lines are marked on the acetate stencil to help me place it correctly. Ink is pounced directly on to the prints with a small stiff brush.

Et voila:

Pelican linocut, Step 3

I cut a second shape and applied orange in the same manner:

Pelican linocut, Step 4

Next, I carved some very small bits out of the face and then printed a yellow-orange. The shapes to be printed were much larger, so this time I used my acetate sheet as an inking mask instead of a stencil. I placed the mask over the block rather than over the print and rolled ink across it. Then I ran the block through the press as usual.

Pelican linocut, Step 5
One or two more small areas remain to be worked in the bird's beak, and then the color work for this image will be finished! Everything else will be shades of gray. Geez, I hope this works.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Linocut in Progress: I bet you can tell what it is already.

Why yes, I do have important exhibition jury deadlines looming. Why else would I tackle another largeish (18" x 18") reduction linocut with ridiculous amounts of carving in a short time frame? Because, hey! Life is apparently not stressful enough.

I did, however, learn a few things from the last image, namely to avoid a blended roll as first color pass. This time I started with a nice, straightforward, nothing fancy, transparent gray.

Step 1

The irony is that it LOOKS like a blended roll in this photo. Blame a night shot under artificial light.

But I bet you can guess the subject already, even with just one color. (Non-North-American residents are exempt from this bet.)

Step 2

The second pass was also a straightforward gray, but OOPH. The carving? Not so straightforward. Three eyeball-crossing days of tiny mark-making! I think, however, that this was the most complex stage. At least I hope it was.

This piece is going to be the antithesis of the previous print. Where "Wild Dreams" was all about color, this linocut-to-be-named-later will sport many shades of gray. The exception, of course, will be brighter bits in the subject's beak and face and feet.

Progress will be erratic the next few days, as I have to turn my attention to a contract project. But my mind will be with this calmly cruising critter. Deadlines? What deadlines?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What's it All About Wednesday: Usurper

"Usurper," reduction linocut

The vernal equinox has come and gone and bird geeks like me are eagerly scanning the skies and the shrubbery for arriving migrants. A couple of weeks ago I made a quick trip south to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the spectacle of sandhill cranes on a migration stopover. It's an annual rite of the season, but while there's nothing like the calls, dancing, and flight of cranes, it's the arrival of swallows that says "spring" to me.

Once or twice as I drove around the refuge I thought I caught a glimpse of a swallow, but I was never certain, since much of my attention was focused on avoiding a run-in with other bird-gawking drivers.

I haven't yet seen a tree swallow here at home but I expect them any day now, swooping, chattering, and generally bringing a ruckus back to my winter-dormant walking route.

They'll also be creating a little drama for folks who have put out bluebird nest boxes, because such boxes are often usurped by tree swallows.

Bluebird (intended) Box 03, of which you see a corner here, is attached to a fence post on my walk route, and while there are plenty of bluebirds around I have never seen it host anything but tree swallows. The male swallow stands guard and his chatter – half cheerful, half scolding – is a daily confirmation that regardless of human intention he is exactly where he is supposed to be.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Linocut in Progress: An anticlimactic finish

I hardly know what to write for a narrative here. I have four steps to show you, but the differences are so subtle that I'm afraid of putting everyone to sleep. Perhaps you all should have a cup of coffee before reading further.

Step 8

I guess this step shows some obvious change from Step 7 in the previous post. At this point I was trying to deepen the value change from top to bottom without going too far, too contrast-y. This was a pale blue to deep blue blend. All very transparent, of course.

Step 8 blend.

Looking okay, but I wanted more depth of color... so no small amount of carving later I printed this.

Step 9

Why, yes. It was another blue-to-blue blend. However did you guess?

But it still wasn't feeling quite rich enough.... so....

Step 10

Surprise! Another blue-to-blue blend, although these inks had some black added all the way through. It's hard to tell from these small images... the easiest place to see the differences is in the bottom third.

So all that was left were the darkest bits of the sleeping birds.

"Wild Dreams" reduction linocut, Step 11, final. At least I think that's the title.
This one is embiggenable with a click.

Now here's the rub. Since it took me a while to figure out how to work with the extra-large inking roller, several of the prints had first layers that were too light. I kept them in the rotation and printed them along with all the others. As a result, I have two slightly different versions of the same image. Here's the other one.

"Wild Dreams" linocut, alternate version. Also embiggenable.
So I dunno. What do you think?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Four quick steps

Time to turn my attention to the birds. Small, but I hope intriguing.

Because the birds take up so little real estate on the block there isn't any point in inking the entire surface of the lino. Reasons? 1) Avoid build-up of ink layers where they aren't needed, 2) save ink, 3) save time, and joy of joys 4) save cleanup.

But there's a little prep work to do before printing can happen. First, I have to cut what I call an "inking mask."

Inking mask cut from mylar

An inking mask allows me to roll out ink only where I want it on the block. (More or less, this is never a completely accurate system.) In this case I have cut the silhouette of both birds from a sheet of clear mylar or acetate. Easy peasy.

However, if I were to run the block through the press with just this little area inked, I run the risk of the "dry" areas of the block pulling existing ink layers right off the prints.

Enter the "printing mask."

Printing mask in place on inked block on the press bed.
(The metal pins at the top of the image are for registration.)

A printing mask is a sheet of newsprint large enough to cover the entire block, with a hole cut in it to expose only the inked area of the block. The print is placed face down over the newsprint.

Depending on how large the area is and how wet the previous ink layers are I can sometimes use a newsprint mask more than once, but sometimes I have to cut a mask for each print in the edition. If you look closely at this photo you can see where slightly damp ink from a print has offset to the newsprint. Better here than stuck to the block!

I used these masks to complete the next four color passes in relatively short order:

Step 4: white (to make a gray)

Step 5: yellow

Step 6: rusty orange

Step 7: gray

The birds are not completely finished at this stage... they need an additional dark... but I didn't want to set that until the surrounding values were finished.

From here it's back to the water, with a lot of carving to be done before I can print.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Starting to look like.... something. Maybe.

I'll bet you can guess what I did this past weekend...

Carving, silly. Of course!

I also worked on some contract illustrations, which meant I didn't get around to printing until Monday, but hey! We've got some extra light later in the day... printing can go on and on and on now.

Step 3 was a straight-up transparent blue, rolled up with my regular 8" Takach brayer instead of the mondo roller. I wanted to counter some of the lap marks and such from the earlier blended rolls.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 3
Step 3 printed

Feeling pretty good, still. There is at least one more color pass to go in the water, probably another blended roll, but I haven't decided if I should do that next or go on to work on the birds. With this pass it should be clear where the birds will go. Small grebes afloat in the tempest.

I really am flying by the seat of my pants here, even more than usual. Just for the sake of amusement, I thought you might like to see the reference photo that is inspiring this piece:


Yep. This is it. I put my phone up to the eyepiece of my spotting scope... dialed all the way in at 60x zoom. The purpose of this shot was species identification, not linocut reference. In the field I thought perhaps those were horned grebes, but they are unusual in my area and they were soooo far away. Once I downloaded the photo I was able to scale up the shot and confirm the ID... at which point I decided I quite liked the rhythm of the water and the birds asleep in the swells. There's not much to work with here in terms of color or detail, but I'm hoping the idea will carry the day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Another blended roll

Much fussy carving was finally completed and the great fun of a great big roller began again.

This time the blend was just two colors, yellow and green. The ink was so bright as I rolled it out that when I looked away the whole room looked odd for a few seconds. It seemed maybe a little risky, but remember that these colors were going over a blue-to-purple blend and had lots of transparent base in them.

It's so bright! Where are my sunglasses?

The inking went a lot more smoothly this time than it did with the first blend. I think that next time I use a wide blended roll I might first print a very thin solid color, just to create an even base for subsequent colors. The second pass always seems to behave better than the first.

"Dreaming Deep" linocut, Step 2

I'm pleased with it so far, but not entirely sure where to go from here. The pattern is already very "busy," but it definitely needs at least one, possibly two more passes to give the water some depth and variety. And there's the little matter of two birds afloat on these storm-tossed seas. Well, actually, it's just a breezy day on the local pond, but I won't tell if you don't.

I realized I keep talking about this big roller, but I haven't shown it to you!
Here's my work surface, all cleaned up and ready for carving to begin on Step 3.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Linocut in Progress: Still carving

But getting closer.

Mucho lino
While you're oh-so-patiently waiting for some actual progress, did you know there's a lino-centric group on Facebook? Such a wide variety of work by linocut printmakers around the world! Check out Linocut Friends.