Monday, August 29, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Ink Behaving Badly

The printmaker's version of Murphy's Law: Technical problems mount in proportion to imminence of deadline. Seriously. You might want to get a cup of coffee before you start reading. This is going to take a while.

Snow scene reduction linocut in progress: Step 9

With the snow shadows finished it was time to tackle the trees and background. I was not at all worried about needing to do this... some opaque white would help change the tone and define the trunks and I'd be off to the races. Or not, as it turned out.

Time out for an ink-related rant. You can skip to the next photo or cover your eyes for a few paragraphs if you'd rather not watch. It ain't pretty.

What's it been now? Two years? Since Daniel Smith, formerly makers of the best (in my experience) relief inks in the US, decided to abandon their original customer base, printmakers, in favor of painters. They didn't even have the courtesy to tell anyone they were going to stop manufacturing ink until they were completely out of some colors. Like white.

I stocked up on what was still available, and since I'm using so much transparent base (manufactured by Graphic Chemical), my pigmented inks have been holding out okay. I did, however have to look for a new white right away. My first try was a Hanco ink, which I did NOT like. Too lacquer-y, and a B@#%^ to clean up. I settled for a Graphic Chemical white, which is more buttery. I don't love it, but it works. It's still hard to clean up.

Of course I forgot that I had used up all my GC white just before I left for the summer. I do, however, have a jar of Gamblin white that I ordered some time ago, just to give it a try. Now is apparently the time to do so.

Argh. The Gamblin relief ink is like soup! It's wayyyyy too loose. "Okay," thought I. "I'll stick a little DS black in it to make a gray. That should help, right?" Nope, still too loose. Somewhere I have a bag of mag carbonate to add tack, but I can't find it. Not enough time to order the GC white... what to do?

In the end I pried open the Hanco white and added a wee bit of it to my now three-manufacturer ink stew. It did firm things up enough that I thought I could give it a go. Might have been a mistake.

Look at that blotchy, uneven coverage! Argh!

After I got my panic under control I decided to "strip" the prints, just in case the problem was a result of too-wet ink from the previous layer.

"Stripping" removes excess ink from prints by running them through the press (or under your hand) and offsetting to a clean sheet of newsprint. Like this:

Stripping step 1: Uninked block on the press, cover with clean sheet of newsprint.

Stripping step 2: Place the print down on the sheet of newsprint,
run through press as usual.

Stripping step 3: Gently separate prints and newsprint, excess ink is removed.

After I stripped all the prints the coverage was a little bit better, but not a lot. I decided to soldier on, mostly because I don't really have much choice at this point. This piece has to be finished. I did a little carving, added some brown to my pale-gray soup and got this:

Snow scene reduction linocut in progress: Step 10

Meh. Not great. It's all a little darker than I wanted, but I am using NO transparent base here and these whites are just not cutting it. I'm also getting fill-in on some of my thinner lines. Aggravation level = High.

I'm getting weird texture across the print.. which I have decided isn't horrible for tree trunks, but I wish it were something I knew how to control. One more color now, and hopefully the trunks will be mostly finished.

Snow scene reduction linocut, Step 11

This time I did use transparent base in a blue-black. Tonally it's all okay... there are some really dark bits to go in at the end, but overall this is okay. But the quality of the ink is pretty unpleasant. Here's a close-up. The texture is heightened because I held the print at an angle to the light, but you get the idea.

Thursday deadline looms and the printmaker's Murphy has the upper hand. I'm going to let these sit this morning and then probably strip them all this afternoon to get rid of the bumpy ridges. Hopefully I only have two (possibly three) more layers to go.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Linocut in Progress: Where were we?

Apparently there were 6 layers of blue on this snow scene linocut when I left for parts east at the beginning of July.

As a reminder, here's where things stood when I shut the door on the studio:

Step 6 recap

With almost two months to hang on the rack undisturbed, all of the prints-in-progress were of course quite dry. I was marginally worried about this, as it's possible to have adhesion problems when previous ink layers are TOO dry ("dry rejection"). I added a small amount of Setswell compound to a bit of the last purple-blue ink I'd saved from June (!!!), added a little bit of black, mooshed it all in to some additional transparent base, et voila:

Step 7

Everything went so smoothly that I tried to go ahead and print another color yesterday. The results were less than perfect, so rather than carry on and risk trashing too many prints, I cleaned everything up and went to bed. Or tried to go to bed. I'd had a weird craving for iced coffee in the afternoon, which I indulged and then regretted. There are reasons I don't drink much caffeine.

This morning I indulged not in iced coffee but in "pajama printing," which I haven't done in ages. I rolled out of bed, threw my apron on over my pjs and set to work.

It was all more challenging than I expected! Like a scene from some warped version of The Three Bears, the first color I mixed was too dark, the second too light. However, Goldilocks did not strike printmaking "just right-ness" on the third try, either. Nor on the fourth. I trashed several prints and did a lot of scraping and stripping and reprinting before I finally settled on this:

Step 8
The differences might be hard to identify at first, but look in the middle distance. The tree trunks are now in front of the snow bank, and there's a slightly darker bit even further back.

Now I think it's finally time to be done with blues, hooray! The next step might be the "ugly duckling" stage, as I will have to lighten up most of the tree trunks before adding more darks. In all I think it's coming along okay... and I'm hoping to be finished with it by next week. I need a brand-spankin'-new piece for a September 1 deadline, and this is (hopefully) going to be it!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Back to Colorado, back to work!

It's been about a week since I returned from Maine to Colorado. The journey itself was epic, as I ended up being awake and in motion for about 36 hours straight. Ooph. My last flight reached Denver just before 1:00am local time (so 3:00 am by my east-coast-regulated internal clock) and there was still the 3-plus-hour drive through the mountains to go!

Luckily I had a friend willing to drive my car from Salida to Denver at that hour and we made the trip back through the mountains without mishap. My one consolation for all this late-night travel? We made the drive accompanied by the peak of the Perseid meteor showers! Once we cleared the light pollution of the Front Range, the sky was clear and the moon had set.  We stopped for about 20 minutes or so at the top of 10,000-foot Kenosha Pass... amused to find almost two dozen cars already there. (You have to understand that Kenosha Pass is probably 90 minutes from Denver and at the top of South Park... the gateway to a whole lot o' nothin'. It took some effort for folks to get up there.)

I wish I had some nice photos to show you... but hey! It was DARK!

We pulled in to Salida and I unloaded the car just as the sun came up, and then of course I found myself unable to go to sleep. So I just stayed up. Went to the grocery store at 6:00 am. Refueled the car. Started the laundry. Tackled all the little things that need to be done when you've been away for a long time.

And then it was back to the studio STAT! I had another workshop to prep for AND the deadline for Project Postcard at the Woodson Art Museum was fast approaching. Linoleum crumbs were hitting the table almost before my socks were out of the dryer.

I finished two small hand-painted linos and got them shipped to Wisconsin, but since the images for Project Postcard (which takes place during the opening weekend of the Birds in Art exhibition) are supposed to be secret, this is all I can show you until mid-September:

With that task accomplished I tackled the prep for a day-long Illustrated Journal workshop at the Rocky Mountain Land Library's Buffalo Peaks Ranch. It seemed reasonable that preparations for such a workshop should include doing my own journal entry, so I spent some time with all the "weeds" that are blooming in the construction site next door. I haven't managed to sort out their names yet, but here are the brave flora holding their ground amidst chaos:

Embiggenable with a click

The workshop was yesterday, starting with a chilly and overcast morning that quickly gave way to blue skies and perfect temps. By the time I headed home the wind was up and the rain began just as I pulled back in to Salida. In all it was a perfect Colorado summer day: A little bit of many kinds of weather... and sketchbooks.

Clouds and cloud shadows over Buffalo Peaks Ranch

This week it's back to work on the snow scene linocut that I started in June, a show application, a show DEADLINE, and hopefully a day afield with the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas. (More sketchbook... yay!) I need to balance my urge to cram as much summer as possible into these last days of August with my need to address the looming deadlines... not so easy when I want to be everywhere at once. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Maine Event, 2016 version, Part II

Dang. My time on the east coast is all over already... almost.

Plenty of things have happened in the two weeks since I last checked in. A couple of days after Ed Week ended at Hog Island Audubon Camp I traveled to Canton, Massachusetts (Boston-ish) to facilitate workshops and present a lecture at the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon (MABA).

As soon as I arrived we mapped out the locations in the estate house for a temporary exhibit of 2-dozen of my linos. This is a fancy way of saying I taped little pictures of the pictures onto the walls and then let Owen the facilities manager install the show.

I had a nice turnout for the Friday evening lecture, including friends from Worcester, MA I hadn't seen in a few years! (Thanks for making the trip!)

The next day I facilitated a one-day linocut workshop. The participants got through a single color "test print" so fast that we tried a 2-color reduction in the afternoon. It was a crush to get it done, but we did! I didn't have a plan for it, so didn't have a good registration system ready for them, but we still managed a few good prints.

The very next day I headed back to the island, where preparations were underway for Hog Island Audubon Camp's 80th anniversary celebration.
There were lots of little projects to wrap up before the event, and a few BIG projects to finish. Eric and Adrian finished a gorgeous new sign for the mainland sanctuary entry, which had to be hauled across the narrows from the island and up to the top of the mainland hill.

Here it is, all installed and gorgeous.

Meanwhile, I was trimming and taping and gluing 72 pieces of paper to 12 pieces of poster board to present first drafts of an island history display for the Fish House (community meeting building).

Of course there had to be some drama in the midst of all the preparations.

There's an insanely popular webcam mounted at an osprey nest right in the midst of the main camp buildings. (Cam link here.) This year the osprey pair had three chicks, which by the end of July were energetically exercising their wings and standing at the edge of the nest preparing to fledge.

August 1 Cleo and I were here having supper when we heard a big kerfuffle outside and I saw something large and dark fly past the kitchen window. (The osprey nest is very near to the dining hall.) At first I thought perhaps a chick had finally decided to take its first flight, but something struck us as not-quite right, especially in the calls of the adults. We discovered that a bald eagle had swooped in and taken one of the chicks! A second had escaped by deciding it was time to fledge (nothing like bailing out for the first time with an eagle bearing down on you) and the third had "pancaked" itself... getting as flat as possible and avoiding detection in the pandemonium.

The drama caught the attention of media everywhere, including NPR and the Washington Post, so it was quite the deal. The video IS pretty darn amazing, but I find the vocabulary used to describe it really annoying. "Vicious" "Attack" "Cruel." (Sigh.) Animals eat each other, no malice involved. It was sad, of course, that it was one of "our" chicks, but the world is not an easy place. The clip is here

Despite all the hoopla over the osprey chicks, the 80th Anniversary party was great fun, with good weather, good food, and good friends. Dinner was, of course, our traditional (every week) lobster boil followed by cream puffins. (Probably the most-photographed dessert in history.) But Cleo and her team went above and beyond, creating a sheet cake in the shape of the island, with a big Gojira-esque puffin roaming the ocean of blue frosting. Cuteness overload.

Where there are celebrating Puffineers there are ukuleles, and in the morning a hootenanny broke out on the porch of the Bridge.

The very next day camp started up again, and we're filled with Family campers, ages 8 to 79. Our fourth and final Artist-in-Residence for this season, Sean Murtha, arrived on Sunday and is already at applying paint to canvas and exploring his home for the next two weeks.

But the Hog Island experience is over for me this year, and I'm slowing trying to fit all my stuff back in my suitcase for the trip home on Thursday. It's always hard to leave this community and this place, but I'm looking forward to getting back in the studio and getting some work done. (And maybe even getting back to a regular blog schedule, eh?)

See you all from another horizon soon...

Linocut in Progress: The Finish and the Rescue

 In the first post about the process of this linocut I mentioned that I was distracted and unfocused during the time I worked on it... whic...