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.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Linocut in Progress: The owl emerges

As I mentioned in the first post about this current linocut, I waited until I felt semi-confident the piece would work before I started posting about it. And guess what? The next two stages were the point at which I decided it was safe to go public.

Steps 5 and 6 were mostly about carving. And carving. And carving. There are lots of details in the tree trunk and the feathers of the bird, I'd say 4 or 5 Star Trek (TNG) episodes worth of carving for each step.

"Night Watch," (Changing my mind about the title)
Reduction linocut, Step 5

Here you can see some of the trunk detail start to emerge, as well as some of the feather details in the bird, mostly around the face. Apparently I didn't take a photo of the ink rollup for either of these steps, but 5 was a transparent brown, and 6 was a transparent blue-black.

Reduction linocut, Step 6

The biggest surprise at this point? I think I might finish this in just 10 passes. That hasn't happened in ages! The advantage of trying to imagine a low light situation is that it's keeping me from going overboard with color subtleties. There will be some dark greens in the leaves, another dark in the tree and bird... and of course those yellow eyes need to be addressed. I didn't do them earlier in the process because getting the tone right will be a function of all the color around them.

But optimism has arrived. The next few days will tell me if it's justified. ;-)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Linocut in Progress: In which things get even weirder

Two steps and a half dozen colors into this print I was sure it was going to be a spectacular disaster. For Step 3 I did a huge amount of carving, including removing large chunks of the background. Now and forever: Gone.

Which is, of course, why I did this crazy rollup:

Night Watch reduction linocut, Step 3

Yep. That's a bunch of straight-up opaque white with a blob of transparent purple in the middle. It's what you would have done, isn't it?

Of course the white wouldn't look white and the purple wouldn't look purple once printed...

Step 3 printed

Yeah. More weird.

But at least I now had a sense of the overall image and could start thinking about more relative color and tone. Most of the gray created by the white ink will be covered in subsequent passes, but it's good to have it for a few of the "brightest" areas of the tree.

Step 4 involved some carving in the tree and quite a bit more carving in the owl. I wanted to warm things up just a bit so I mooshed together a bunch of ink scraps from the previous print and came up with a sort of dark ochre, middling transparent.

Step 4 rollup

Yeah, no reason anything should go wrong here, either. (Rolls eyes)

Step 4 printed

Huh. Whaddaya know? First glimmers of hope appear. I might actually pull this off. Maybe. Possibly. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Opening this weekend! Mountain Oyster Club Show

I am delighted to announce that I have two linocuts in the 47th Annual Mountain Oyster Club Show, opening to the public on November 20 in Tucson, Arizona.

An online preview of all the work included in the show and sale is available on the MO Club's website.

 "Fleeting" and "It's April - No Foolin'" made the journey south a few weeks ago. If you're in the Tucson area, I hope you'll stop in and check it out. Show continues through January 13.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Linocut in Progress: The Night Watch Begins

Despite my lack of blog posts, I HAVE been working on another large linocut. It feels like a bit of a tightrope act, though, so I've been reluctant to put it out in the blogosphere before I was sure I had a handle on it.

I'm still not sure. I told someone the other day that what I'm doing is sort of like inviting a bunch of people to a big dinner party, and then deciding to serve a dish I've never made before, with unfamiliar ingredients.

And did I mention the party starts in an hour?

Let me 'splain.

From somewhere in my rather questionable brain the idea of a night scene emerged. Not a sunset behind silhouetted foreground shapes, but a scene with a dramatically dark background and a discernible subject in very low light conditions. Not full dark. Maybe sort of dawnish or duskish.

The trick is that the reference I'm using was gathered in the smack-dab middle of the day. High contrast. Lots of bright areas. Converting it to a night scene? Must be out of my mind.

Which is why I started like this:

Night Watch reduction linocut, Step 1

Yeah. Purple-blue-yellow blend. Make sense to you? Me, neither. But that's what I did.

Joking aside, there was a real reason I did this. Two of them, in fact. 1) I wanted a nice, clean yellowish color across the bottom of an image that will be dominated by blue tones and 2) the main subject of my image contains a good bit of white. But of course I can't make my whites WHITE in this imagined scene. Blue should do it, but trying to nail this hue and value in the very first pass was a bit stressful.

Once all these lovely blended squares were printed I started to do some carving of my subject... taking out those "white" shapes. Halfway through that effort I realized it was premature. What I REALLY needed to do next was to print a really dark blue into the upper portion of the background.

Like this:

Step 2 rollup

Ooh.. purdy. The dark blended to nothing towards the bottom because I wanted to preserve the already-printed yellow.

Of course this was too dark to put in the body of my subject, so I cut a little mask...

Gee... what's in gonna be?

Way less complicated than any of the masks I used last time around, eh?

Step 2 printed

Probably you can already guess what the subject will be, but so far it seems...weird. Just...weird. Stay tuned.