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.


  1. ...a-HA! "Pochoir"! And now I know a legit way to save my bacon and put in a tiny area of light grey that I carved out by accident on a reduction print. I was about to chuck the whole run of the first background pass. Thanks! And thanks again for all of your progress posts.

    1. It was a revelation to me, too, when I learned about pochoir. Indeed, there are some printmakers who use the technique exclusively, which seems astoundingly labor-intensive to me, and I'm a reduction linocutter!

  2. Retreating quietly into my one-cut, one-colour cave...

    1. If it helps, I think I'm going to do a set of single-color pieces some time this winter. I need a break from these overly-complicated things.

  3. LOVE Pochoir!!!! Glad it was taught while at Anderson Ranch.

    1. Jean is a genius, isn't she? :-) Was your week spectacular?