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.


  1. Reading this I could actually feel your frustration and panic. There's nothing worse than having problems in conjunction with a deadline. I hope your final ink runs go without a hitch. Wishing you calm nerves, steady hands and success.

    1. Thanks, Melody. It's aggravating, that's for certain! I'm to the point where I'm afraid to even try the next color, but of course I will have to! Thanks for the cheering section.

  2. I haven't forgiven Daniel Smith either. And like Melody, I too feel your pain. Still hoarding some tubes and hoping that magically someone will step in where DS left off.

    1. That's a good way to describe how I feel about DS, Wendy. Unforgiven. I still get all hot under the print apron every time I think about their email that said "We are returning to our manufacturing roots and only going to make PAINT," when, of course, their REAL manufacturing roots were INK.

  3. Sherrie, I still have some DS inks, including white! Look up my private FB message and let me know.

  4. breath! deep breaths :) it doesn't look that bad, the texture works really well for the trees. I know its not what you want with the crappy ink, but its not a big disaster :)

    1. Thanks, Jen! I know the prints aren't trashed (at least not yet), but of course it's aggravating when things don't go as planned. Wait. Did I just use the "P" word? Who plans? What am I worried about? How can plans go wrong when I don't make them? ;-)

    2. plan? you? o.0

      nah, must have mis-typed ;)

  5. I had a question about stripping that got attached to the post below, so I'm going to run the clarification here:

    Stripping can lighten the pulled-up color, so in this case I ran it with newsprint between registered plate and registered print so that it would only strip the areas where I was going to put ink next.

    If you want to strip the entire print, then there's no need to worry about registration and blocks... just stick newsprint on top of your wet print and run it on through (or rub with your hand/baren).

    If you're using a press and NOT running it over the block, then you'll either need to build up a pad of newsprint or adjust your pressure to accommodate the height under the roller.

    1. Thank you Sherrie
      I hadn't thought about differential stripping before.
      I really hope you make your deadline... but I'm also selfish enough to be learning so much from your sharing.
      cheers :-]]]]]]]]]]]

  6. I feel your ink pain, especially with Gamblin's white. (While I like its mixing characteristics, I tend to think of Monty Python's cheese sketch: "Well, I'm afraid it's a bit runny." ;-) ) I wish I'd thought of stripping my own prints when I ran into that viscosity trouble on a reduction print, and now I know! Thanks!

    Do you think that if you'd had the magnesium carbonate handy that it would have fixed the initial situation? I have a packet; haven't used mine yet.

    1. Hey Holly... I'm not sure if the mag carb would have helped, but I was willing to try it. (Read: Desperate enough to try anything.) I bought it ages ago but usually I'm trying to loosen ink rather than stiffen it, so I haven't had cause to try it. Some day when I'm not pressed for time (no pun intended) I might mess around with it in the Gamblin ink. I have an entire can of it, might as well find a way to use it.