Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What's it All About Wednesday: Wave Runners

"Wave Runners," reduction linocut
16" x 12," edition of 12

Birders use the term “life bird” to describe their first encounter with a species that's new to them. (There are also year birds and state birds and county birds and yard birds and, well... you get the picture.)

My lifer northern gannets were spotted almost 20 years ago in the Firth of Forth, off the coast of Scotland. I was in a little crab boat, headed for the Isle of May Wildlife Sanctuary, five miles from the mainland. The weather was wet and windy; our boat crossing was a bit rambunctious and our landing particularly sketchy. But my strongest memory of that adventure was a sudden splash off the port side, which turned out to be not a compatriot tumbling overboard, but a diving gannet. Several more birds plummeted into the sea around us while I stood there gaping at the spectacle.

Not far from the Isle of May is the Bass Rock, breeding ground for 150,000 northern gannets. On this side of the Atlantic, the largest colony is at Bonaventure Island, Canada, but I've caught glimpses of one or two individuals in the Gulf of Maine. Thousands of gannets pass the Schoodic Peninsula near Acadia National Park in the autumn, headed to southern waters for the winter.

My own experience wasn't nearly as dramatic as this clip from Nature's Great Events with David Attenborough, but it was memorable nonetheless.  (The footage is spectacular, but be advised that it ends on a somber note.)

As subject matter for prints and drawings I find gannets extremely challenging. The shape of the head alone has given me hours of consternation. But when I think about gannets I think of the word wild: They are at home in wind and waves; they raise their young in huge breeding colonies on rocky cliffs. The surprising and strange aerodynamic shape of their wings, folded back for dives of heart-stopping intensity, seems otherworldly (and distinctly uncomfortable).  What better inspiration could there be for a linocut than the memory and mystery of these Wave Runners?

Monday, December 12, 2016

So... now what?

Linocuts at Ann Korologos Gallery

The journey to the other side of the mountain (literally) is complete.

And by "literally" I mean literally. Not figuratively, which is what many people mean when they say literally, a misuse which has somehow been legitimized by respected dictionaries. Argh.

But this is not a vocabulary blog, and I digress.

I went over the Continental Divide and came back again. I live in the Rockies. This is normal. (Literally.) The return trip was a wee bit more adventurous weather-wise than I prefer when traversing high mountain passes, but I'm home and it's all good.

The reception and "Rosebud" demo at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt went well; it's always fun to help people wrap their brains around the linocut process. And I don't think I've ever had a more festive arrangement for talking to visitors:

Stockings hung by the chimney with care. And above the mantel? A slideshow of work in the gallery, so everyone gets to be over the fireplace from time to time. (And yes, that's "Dinner Party" up there at the moment. What? Did you think I wouldn't wait until one of my own pieces came up?)

So far today I've been catching up with administrative tasks – bookkeeping (rah), correspondence (RAH!), packing work for shipping. I even managed a little bit of end-of-year paper purging, although there's waaaayyyy more to do.

It's time to head back to the studio and I'm faced with the question of questions: Now what?

Do I start right away with a new big piece? Or maybe produce a couple of small things? Do I want to work on another bird? Or a landscape? Or something for the "Underfoot" series? Or maybe none of those things. Sometimes the hardest part of the work is deciding which of the vague ideas wandering around inside my head needs to be tackled next!

So I'll go push around some sketches and sift through some photos, and see what happens. Because, as Picasso is reputed to have said, "Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Rosebud, Part II: More Cuteness. Can't help it.

Little Rosebud is the devoted companion of a good friend who moved away this past summer. I miss both of their smiling faces around here, so it was delightful to work on this demonstration piece and think about them as I did so.

No demo would be complete without a scary "ugly duckling" stage, and while this isn't the worst one I've had to contend with, it was hard to give up work on Rosebud's face to put in a background color.

I briefly considered doing something flashy for the background... maybe a blended roll... maybe two. However, you and I both know that if I started down that path I ran the risk of making this too complicated and less effective as a clear example of reduction printing. Restraint was difficult, but I managed it. Somehow.

Rosebud reduction linocut, Step 5

Blue. Just plain old blue for the background. Step 5.

Of course I wanted to jazz things up at least a little, so for Step 6....

Rosebud, Step 6

I left a border, but let Rosebud break up the boundary with her lovely doggy shoulders and some of her tousled, furry head. Subject-breaking-a-border is a design element that I've always liked for adding a little more dimension and presence to a simple piece.

Almost finished now. One more dark. I think.

Rosebud, Step 7

Geez, is that cute, or what?

I thought about calling it finished at this point, but decided that a little touch of color would be fun.

Rosebud, Step 8. Finished?

There was, however, a minor complication to this decision. I couldn't carve anything more out of the block, because Step 7 is the one I'm going to print at the demonstration*. (I pulled out one print at Step 6 to save for this purpose.)

The most logical thing to do would be to wait until after the demo, when I could carve away all the material around the collar shape and have a nice, straightforward print step. But, nooooooooo. Impatient Sherrie wanted to put this color on all of the other prints in the edition now.

Of course this means using a mask, but the shape is too small and fussy to make an accurate one. Instead I cut one that was only "approximate" to protect the rest of the image and spent time carefully wiping extraneous color out of areas of the block that the mask didn't cover.

The funny thing is that once the red was printed I was no longer sure that the Step 7 dark was dark enough. But, again, I have to leave the block at Step 7 until after the demo, so this decision will have to wait until next week.

I had so much fun with Rosebud that I'm thinking about doing a few more furry pets in a small format like this. There's a big, complex image in my not-too-distant future, but it could be a nice change of pace to make a few more prints like this one.

Until then, I've left one little Rosebud print pinned to the studio wall, where her silly cuteness makes me smile every time I look at her.

* Artist Talk and demo: Saturday, December 10 at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, Colorado.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Can a demo be cute?

Darn right it can. This one will be.

I've been preparing for my Artist Talk and demo at Ann Korologos Gallery this coming Saturday.

To help visitors understand the reduction linocut process, I like to have a print mostly finished before I arrive at a hands-on presentation like this. For these destined-to-be-a-demo pieces I also pull out one print at each color pass so people can actually handle them and compare the changes.

For a demo it can be helpful to present a simple image, maybe 4 or 5 colors, but you know me. The fact that I've kept it under 10 is some sort of minor miracle.

The final reveal will, of course, be saved for another post, but here are the first steps of "Rosebud." (It's not what you think.)

Rosebud linocut, Step 1

This is a very small piece, just 5 x 6.5 inches, so it went very quickly. Not quite three days, start to finish. Well, finished enough. Here we have a nice light blue and some odd white shapes for the first step. Any guesses yet?

Don't worry, it will actually be fairly obvious by Step 2:

Rosebud, Step 2

Something furry with a button nose, apparently. This ink was a transparent gray.

Rosebud, Step 3

And another transparent gray for Step 3. At this point, however, I decided I wanted to lighten things in the hairs of our subject's chinny chin chin. It's as good a reason as any to have an example of selective inking and masking to show visitors, right?

Rosebud, Step 4

I masked the area below the mouth and printed a slightly warmer white. It looks clunky, but a lot of it will be covered up by subsequent color passes.

At this point the strangest thing started to happen. I started giggling as I worked. A small piece, a small edition, no pressure? After the last few intense months it was a joy to just play around, and who can't smile at this subject? (And believe it or not, it's already half finished at this point.)

Stay tuned for Rosebud, Part II.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Coming up! Collectors' Holiday at Ann Korologos Gallery

"Shadowplay," reduction linocut, 18" x 18"
©Sherrie York

Lest you think it's all red wine and bon bons around here, now that I've met that end-of-November deadline....

I am delighted to announce the Artists' Reception for "Collectors' Holiday - Works on Paper" at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, Colorado.

Please join us next Friday, December 9th, from 5-7pm and then visit other area arts venues that will be open for ARTB2F, ArtWalk Basalt's Second Friday event.

And that's not all! I'll be presenting a talk and reduction linocut demo at the gallery on Saturday, December 10, from 10:00-11:00 am. (And, yes, I did make another new print this week as part of that demonstration, but you'll just have to wait to see it.)

Come on out and discover for yourself why the best gallery in Aspen... is in Basalt!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Burning the midnight roller

I've been working since mid-August for this exhibition deadline, creating 5 complete editions in 3 1/2 months.

A new image begins with 24-30 fresh sheets of paper. Well, really it begins with an idea and some reference and a sketch and block prep and paper prep, but let's just talk about actual production for the moment.

Five images multiplied by 24-30 sheets of paper equals 125-150 prints.

Five images with an average of 13-14 color passes each. That's 65-70 carving stages. Fourteen color passes multiplied by (let's say) 135 prints? That's 1,890 individual passes through the press.

I am SO glad I didn't have to baren print all of these. Especially the big ones.

On small linocuts (8 x 10 or so) I can sometimes carve and print 2 or 3 colors in a day. The larger (18 x 18) pieces, however, can require a day or two of carving followed by a day of printing for each stage. Even if I could carve and print one color every day I would need a minimum of 70 days for production, not including prep time and the oh-so-necessary problem-solving time. That's a tight squeeze, given this particular ticking clock.

By last week all I wanted was to be finished.

Of course good ol' Murphy and his blasted Law stepped into my path just as the end seemed to be in reach. Shadow shapes in the chipmunk's white fur had been printed in the early stages, and it turned out they were not dark enough. This is where the image stood at the end of the previous post:

Step 11, reprise

Of course those furry shadow shapes were completely removed from the block more than a week ago, so what to do?

There seemed to be only one solution, and that was to use a second block to overprint the blue. Ooph. That's going to slow things down, alright.

The most accurate way to get my half-finished image transferred to a second block would be to print the first block to something non-absorbent, like mylar, and then print from the mylar to the second block. But that's so much work! And I'd have to wait for the ink to dry on the block before I could proceed. Nope. Not a good option.

Because I needed to match only a small portion of the image and not the entire block, I decided to employ the "Sherrie Wings It Once Again" method.

The second block

I made some adjustments to the template I'd cut for all those earlier newsprint masks and traced it directly on to the second block, measuring carefully to be sure it was in the right place. I didn't want a hard shape against the chipmunk's backlit fluffiness, so I carved some little suggestions of fur along the belly edge. (Kind of a waste of a perfectly good block, but I can cut off the uncarved portions to use for smaller prints.)

I inked the block with a transparent blue, and cut yet another mask.

Second block inked and masked

Step 12 printed

Better. The color in this photo isn't very good, but if you compare the shadowed whites of the chipmunk to the previous image they are darker blue.


Well, onward after assessment. At this point I needed to do something about the excess of brown in the trunk. It detracted from the chipmunk and flattened the image out. I wanted more gray, but I didn't want the overall feel of the stump any darker than it already was. Bye bye, transparent ink. Hello, opaque ink.

 Luckily this was the easiest mask ever, since the color was destined for the stump only:

Step 13 mask

Yep. Just slap a piece of paper across the top of the block.

Step 13 printed

So, so, so close now.

Just one more dark. A transparent color will interact differently with each area of the print, but also pull everything together. I hope.

Step 14 rollup

Here's a nice licorice green made from scraps of other inks. Fingers crossed that it plays well with the stump, the background, and the darkest parts of the chipmunk.

Step 14, final.
Kind of. Sort of. Not really. But close.

Oh, thank goodness. Finished.

Hm. Or not. Something about the chipmunk still seemed... wrong.

Oh, (Expletive)! The reflection in the eye is too bright for the shadowed side of the face!

The good news is that it was nothing a little pochoir couldn't fix, so I mixed up a nice transparent blue-violet and....

"Paws Pause," reduction linocut, 8" x 10," Edition of 20
© Sherrie York

Embiggenable with a click.

NOW it's finished. I'm not sure if we call that 15 steps or not, but it's done. On Saturday I took a good high res photo (which is the one you see here) and uploaded the aforementioned photo to the exhibition website. Deadline met.

It felt strange to wake up Sunday morning and not have some stage of the work dominating my thoughts, as it has been since August. Today the prints are dry enough to start cutting mats and preparing frames, because of course I'm not really finished until the work is delivered.

Since Sunday I've been catching up with many, many things that were pushed to the back burner in this last critical month, but I'll be back in the studio in a couple of days. After all, I do have a demo to prep and an idea for big lino that I want to work up... and maybe I'll do a couple of small pieces before the year's out... and there are the spring deadlines to think about... and...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Murphy was a printmaker

You know Murphy. He's the guy with the law that says "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

Things haven't really gone wrong, they're just getting more complicated than I wanted. It's amazing to me that the last linocut, which was 18 x 18 inches in size, was completed in 10 color passes. This one, which is only 8 x 10 inches, is threatening 13 or 14 passes. Ooph.

Blah, blah, blah. Let's get on with it, shall we?

Step 8

The background in my reference is very nebulous, very vague, which is a nice thing if you're a painter, but a little more challenging in linocut. I like the simple background, but how can I create a softer abstract effect in a hard-edged graphic medium?

In Step 8 I carved a few little hatch marks and then printed a blended roll from a sort of olive green to yellow.

For Step 9 I carved more little hatch marks and then lined up a blended roll with colors that I can only describe as "basic camouflage." I don't really know how it happened. (The little pile of minty toothpaste green at the top of the photo was not involved.)

Camo colors, anyone?

Of course it was all very transparent, so gave me something like this:

Step 9 printed

I had sort of hoped that would be enough for the background (optimistic fool that I am), but before I could make that judgment I needed to reprint the darker rust color that was stripped out of the chipmunk a couple of passes ago.

Step 10 rollup

Once again, I only want the color on the critter, so a sloppy inking and another mask were employed.

Step 10, chippy-only mask

And the color looks a little better. It cost me time and a color pass, but I'm glad I did it:

Step 10 printed

Of course now it's clear that I need at least a few darker bits in the background, but I didn't want to put another mask across the chipmunk and strip the fresh color again. So I did quite a bit more carving and printed a flat transparent gray across the entire block.

Step 11 rollup

Step 11 printed

Okay. Now the balance of dark is better but unfortunately the shadow color in the chipmunk looks completely washed out! Time out while I try to decide if it's worth cutting a second block to overprint some shadow areas.

(Full disclosure: At the time I am typing (Friday the 25th) the entire image and edition are complete. The deadline is three days away, but I was so desperate to be finished that I worked several 14-hour days in row. Sorry you'll have to wait a few more days for the outcome, but I couldn't write blog posts and print at the same time. Think of it as time travel. Backwards to go forwards. Or something like that.)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Two steps forward, one sideways

Why, yes, I am rushing this one. Which is SO not a good idea. I end up doing things that can cost me extra time, so a bit of a slow-down is in order, even if the deadline is in just a couple of days.

Things moved along quite well for the second brown tone in the chippety-munk. I debated whether to allow this color in to the stump, but as there are several more gray tones to go over it, I decided it was okay. (And of course I used the same mask as in the previous post.)

Too-cute chipmunk linocut, Step 6

Contrast is looking good, but there's some work to be done in the background, so I decided to put a base color there. Because the goal is to suggest vegetation, I need to swing the colors in to warmer yellows and greens. I think the first color added to the background needs to be slightly opaque, so I pulled out my scraps of that ugly bond-paper-green* that I've used a few times recently and added some yellows to it. The result was an odd yellowy greeny chartreuse-y color. Why not?

(*You are correct. I did mix entirely too much of this color the first time, which is why it continues to be employed in any situation in which I think I can get away with it.)

Step 7 rollup

Of course I don't want this color in the chipmunk or the stump, so another mask needed to be employed. Luckily the "discarded" half of the previous mask was just what I needed.

Step 7 mask

It worked a treat. However... because I did this color pass immediately after the previous one, the newsprint mask stripped some of the rusty-brown ink off of the prints. I expected this, but not quite to the extent it happened. Two steps forward, and then the sideways step: I'll have to hit the chippy with another brown before I add its final darks. Not a huge deal other than time, and in fact I think I might mask out the trunk and put the color only on the critter.

Step 7 printed
The clock continues to tick. The piece has to be finished and photographed by Monday. I am SO ready for a break, Monday is the carrot I hold in front of myself as much as it is the relentless drumbeat in the back of my head.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Chippety-munk

Yes, there's a furry critter lino in progress, and thanks to another furry critter I can only think of it as a chippety-munk. If you've not met Chet Baker, Boston Terrier, you really should. Tell him I sent you: Chet's Facebook page.

Step 4 was refreshingly straightforward: a transparent gray that actually looks gray. I'm feeling good about the value range so far, but after this pass I started engaging in typical avoidance behavior. Washed dishes. Answered email. Straighted tools. Posted the owl print on social media. Why should this be?

Step 4, transparent gray

Because with the next pass, straightforward will be a thing of the past. I want lighter greens and yellows in the background, but I don't want those colors to influence my critter. Neither do I want my chippety-munk's impending browns to influence the background.

You guessed it. It's time for another mask.

Step 5, ink rollup

Thankfully this mask allows me to do some sloppy inking, so my transparent pumpkin-ish color could indulge my need to color outside the lines.

Step 5 mask

Mask in place, ready to print. (Weird light from the window makes the color look very brown, but I promise it's that transparent pumpkin from the previous photo.)

Step 5 printed

Ah, nice! And I only screwed up one print by forgetting to put the mask in place. Oops. That one moves to the head of the line to serve as color tester now. Otherwise, so far so good!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Yes! Another one already!

The deadline that I've been whinging about since August is almost here... just one more week to go! So there's no rest for the printmaker, she's got one more edition to finish.

The good news is that this linocut is a small one, just 8" x 10," so carving and printing move along at a significantly faster pace than for any of the recent large images. The bad news is that I took these first few photos in really crummy light. Just for this post, though. Promise.

Off we go, then!

The first pass was a very pale sort of creamy color. The goal is for it to look like a warm off-white, since the subject of the piece will be back-lit.

What's it gonna be this time? Step 1

Step 2 was a transparent blue ink which, because it layered over the warmer tone, appears grayish. Totally okay. I meant to do that. ;-)

Look! You can tell already that it's some sort of furry thing. Step 2

Step 3 was another transparent blue, this one definitely reads as blue. So far everything looks good value-wise, and this blue should work well for some shadow shapes to come. And hey! The subject is already clear.

Step 3

Chipmunk! It's been ages since I've done anything with fur instead of feathers, and both the subject matter and the smaller size are contributing to a sense of fun that's been missing for a while. There's light at the end of the production tunnel, and I'm feeling relatively confident that it's not just another oncoming train.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Linocut in Progress: The end, and what came after

Alrighty, then. It's time to print the strange leaf concept: Darker at the top of the image, a wee bit lighter towards the bottom. I have imagined that the last light on the horizon would allow a little more color in the lower section of the image than it would against the darker sky. Getting too crazy about it could detract from the overall quiet mood, however, so it required a delicate touch.

So, hey! Why not a gray-to-pukey-bond-paper-green blend? That seems reasonable. (Snort)

Step 9 rollup

Because I wanted the light green to hold up against the already-printed darker tone, I needed it to be a bit more opaque than the gray. To that end I pulled out a green with some white in it that I had mixed for the earlier flower print. It was entirely too opaque as it was, so it took a couple of tries to get the right balance of transparency vs. coverage. I wanted the printed color to read lighter but not obnoxiously so.

Step 9 printed

I used the same mask that I cut for the previous step to keep the gray-to-green ink out of the tree trunk, branch, and owl. Well, it was mostly the same mask. I modified it to allow a little of the dark color in to the upper portion of the owl's head. (Read: I chopped off a chunk.)

I hoped that doing so would accomplish a couple of things: 1) Soften the transition between the top of the owl's head and the leaves behind it, 2) put a little base color into the pupils of the owl's eyes so the next color would adhere nicely, and 3) give me an idea of just how dark the last (I hoped) pass should be.

I was more or less satisfied with the leaves at this point, but wanted a few of them to get one more hit of subtle dark when the last pass was printed. The final carving stage defined the darkest overall color in tree, bird, and leaves.

The Step 10 ink was a solid transparent dark, made by adding some blue and brown to the leftover transparent gray from the previous pass. Et voila!

"Watching and Waiting" reduction linocut, 18" x 18"
© Sherrie York •

And now it's time for a confession. 

Printmaker readers are probably aware that the first few prints in a run tend to be a bit light. It takes a while for a nice ink base to build up on the block, so I always consider the first sheets as "testers." (In my commercial printshop days we called it "makeready.")

But this time the first color pass didn't settle out as dark as I thought I wanted. I panicked, and in the middle of that very first color run I adjusted the inks to a richer blend. Once the second half of the run was finished, I planned to go back and hit the first prints with a second layer to make them all match.

However. Once I printed the remaining sheets I wasn't sure I was going to like the more color-saturated version. Should I proceed with the plan to reprint the first prints, or should I let myself take an experimental approach, even with the huge deadline looming?

I took a deep breath and opted to continue with two different versions.

Because I work with so much transparent ink, the first color pass affected every subsequent color pass, and I ended up with two small editions instead of one big one. Here's the more color-rich version:

"Watching and Waiting" reduction linocut, 18" x 18"
Version 2
© Sherrie York •

I ended up with 9 prints like this, and 12 of the first version. I'll title both editions the same, and distinguish them with V1 and V2, or something like that.

But here's the kicker: I can only present one edition or the other at the exhibition for which this image is intended. Which to choose? What do you think?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Linocut in Progress: The eyes have it

By now it should be clear that this linocut features an owl and a tree, and that night is falling. The theme is established, but it's time to work out some of the details. The eyes. It's time to do something about the eyes.

Great horned owls (for that is the species in question) have yellow irises, but of course I don't want them to be glow-in-the-dark yellow. I also don't have any desire to run the entire block through the press two dozen times for these small shapes. Time to employ some "pochoir," or stenciling technique.

The use of pochoir was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, frequently as a method for hand coloring prints. Back then the medium of choice was usually gouache, not printing ink, but hey! It's the 21st century now.

I mixed a small batch of a yellowy, slightly transparent ink and cut a small eye-shaped stencil from a piece of transparent mylar. It's hard to see the stencil itself in the photo, but here it is in place, with one eye "pounced" directly on to the print and the other eye still to be done.

Googly eyes in pochoir.

It's a technique that goes fairly quickly when there's such a small area to cover. Once the pupils are printed even less of this color will show, but the result so far? Creepy-eyed zombie owl.

Step 7 printed: Creepy-eyed owl

Now it's time to pay attention to the leaves on the tree. Green, most likely, but not too bright. It is dusk, after all.

Since I don't need this green to be everywhere on the image, some rough inking around the owl should be sufficient. Like this:

Selective inking for Step 8

Of course I don't want my sloppy green to influence the owl or the trunk of the tree, soooooo....guess what? Another mask! This one covers any "overrun" of ink and it protects the prints from the un-inked areas of the block when I run them through the press. The green looks bright on the block, but it's quite transparent and it will be influenced a great deal by the brown already printed.

Step 8 mask

Step 8 printed

Okay, then. I'm not completely sold on the leaves, they are a little too "flat" for my liking, printed all one color like this. Naturally this means I'm going to complicate things for myself one more time.

I'd like some of the lower leaves to have a slightly lighter tone added, and the upper leaves to have a darker tone added. And I'd like to do it all in one pass if I can. It should be an interesting (read: confusing) carving exercise, since it means this color will serve as the mid-tone. Some of the shapes I leave behind will print lighter and some will print darker. Ooh. I'm giving myself a headache already.

Linocut in Progress: (Lucky 13th) Final Step

 I am off next week to head up the Arts & Birding session at Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine , so I have been feeling the pressure to w...