Friday, January 27, 2017


Merganser exploration under way

Slowly but surely I approach the big (18 x 24-inch) merganser linocut. Lino is trimmed and sanded. Composition is more or less determined. I'm thinking about color passes and their order. The first one or two will be straightforward... and then I suspect all heck will break loose.

I love mergansers, although I don't see them very often here in my patch outside of migration season. This time of year my glimpses of mergansers are usually confined to the river (as they will be in this lino), or flying overhead.

I've been familiarizing myself with common merganser head shapes, particularly those of the female, because she will be the main subject. I've been digging through what reference photos I have and also making some sketches from interesting-looking images I find on the web, just to see what my options are. For the record: merganser head shapes are ridiculous.

Female common mergansers have amazing rust-colored feathers on their heads, which can be raised or lowered and create all sorts of bizarre-looking shapes. Try a Google image search and you'll see what I mean.

I think the birds in my print will have fairly smooth heads, although I am toying with the idea of giving one of them a punk rock 'do. I like the one in the top center of this page for starters, but the lower left could be fun. The overall mood of the piece is going to be relatively quiet, though. (At least I hope it will.) Punk rock might not fit the theme.

This afternoon I'll start prepping the paper and hopefully make some final decisions about the composition so I can get it drawn up and on the block. It would be great to be rolling some ink by Monday.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Artist Residency Opportunity!

Every summer I am so fortunate to spend time at a place I love: Hog Island Audubon Camp, off the coast of Maine. The island itself is a 330-acre wildlife sanctuary, and the energy of the camp community can't be beat.

Long-time readers may recall that I spent all of the summer of 2015 on the island, wearing multiple hats during the course of the season. During that adventure I spent several weeks living in a rustic cabin, partly as Artist-in-Residence, and partly as the person who was going to help formalize the Residency program. Which we did.

The application period for the summer 2017 Residency season has almost reached its deadline: February 1. If you are an artist or writer... or know an artist or writer... whose work could benefit from two weeks of unstructured time in a great environment, I encourage you to take a minute to check out the Audubon Residency at Hog Island. I'd love to meet you there this summer!

(The Residency also has a Facebook page here.)

Hog Island view

The Writer's Cabin / Residency site

The Main Lodge / Residency site

Main Lodge interior

Evening light

Island sunsets are fantastic

Friday, January 20, 2017

Linocut in Progress: The cat is out of the bag. Or at least off of the press.

As usual, my assertion that I only needed 2 or 3 more passes on the little cat linocut was premature. If only I were able to restrain myself when I start down the "Oh, but it could be better if I did this" path...

Yeah. Like that will ever happen.

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 7

For Step 7 I cut away most of the background but left a border. The color pass was a transparent gray, but with all the other warm colors below it, it looks quite brown. To keep the tag on her collar clear I tried to remember to wipe the ink off that area before I printed. Ha. I probably forgot on every fourth one.

The same thing happened with Step 8. Sometimes I remembered to wipe off the tag and sometimes I didn't. After a lot more carving in the fur I rolled up yet another transparent gray. I did mask out the border, because I thought it was as dark as I wanted it. (Ahem)

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 8

Step 9 was really Step 9 and Step 9 1/2. I spot-inked the red in her tag, masked out the border, and ran another transparent gray across everything.

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 9

At this stage I had achieved my "only three more passes" goal and I thought I was finished. Once I pinned the prints to the wall and stepped back, however, I decided that the border was really too light. (sigh) It doesn't look too bad in this photo, but trust me. On the wall the whole image felt wimpy, and the border felt disconnected... as if the cat had been cut out and pasted over the background.

So I hacked away at the block and then ran yet another transparent gray pass.

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 10.

Aha! THAT's the ticket. I happily started pulling registration tabs off of prints and then... horrors! I decided that I really needed to put just a hint of color in her collar. It was easy enough to do, but on several prints I had to attempt the "eye-ball-it" method of registration, since I'd already pulled off the tabs. Most of those were color tests, so not particularly critical, but it was still nerve-wracking. I did a good, but not necessarily a great job.

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 11 and finished.

This is a scan of the final image instead of a slap-dash phone photo, so the color is a little more true. And, yes, my "three more passes" were, in fact, five.

But here's the funny bit. Somewhere around Step 7 I decided the block would hold up as a complete image all by itself, so I printed one. I kept it in rotation for a couple more of the transparent gray passes and hand-touched the eye, nose, and tag colors in. I should have done a bunch more, because I quite like it this way. What's really interesting is that you can see that I DID use transparent grays in all these later stages, even though they look much warmer on the full color versions.

"Alternate Bitsy," a test with its own merits.

So... I think it might finally be time to put on my Big Printmaker pants and start getting everything together for The Next Big Linocut. The image is going to require a full sheet of paper... that's 22 x 30 inches here in the States. I'm not even sure the clips on my drying rack will hold the weight of full sheets once they have ink on them, so assorted experiments need to happen before I ever roll out any ink. But I can feel the ominous rumble of its approach. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Linocut in Progress: Pussyfooting around

Never thought I'd use the word "pussyfooting" in... well... anything, to tell the truth. But I'm making a linocut of a cat and I'm sneaking around trying to avoid

On Sunday when the forecast called for 70% chance of snow and all we got was gray and cold and about 4 flakes, I decided to tackle the little bit of spot inking required for eyes, nose, and tag. It's important that the eyes not look opaque, so even though the overall tone of the print is a kind of beige, I'm still going to use very transparent color.

Transparent watermelon-y inks.

Just because it's transparent doesn't mean it's not going to be fun. Watermelon colors! I bet you can guess which is for the eyes.

Spot ink rollup

These colors only have to be in the smallest of areas, and luckily they are separated enough on the image that I can roll them both up at the same time. And print through a mask, of course.

Cat peeking through a mask. Why does this seem so typical?

Something about cat eyes peering out from two little holes just makes me think of every cat-in-a-box or cat-in-a-hamper or cat-in-a-sofa photo that runs across the interwebs.

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 4

Well, that was satisfying. The eyes seem just right... transparent and reflective. The tag eventually wants to be a darker red, I think, but this color is good for the highlights.

And then... OOPS! I apparently neglected to take a photo of Step 5! I wanted some subtle texture in the fur, so did a fair bit of carving and printed a slightly darker gray-brown. Sorry you missed it!

Once that was in place I decided it was time to do something about the background color. I don't often use reddish tones, being a sort of blue-green girl, so I decided I'd step out of my comfort zone and put a sort of dull red in the background. I cut a newspaper mask to cover all the cat, but of course I neglected to take a photo of that, too. Not very helpful, am I?

Mask in place, I took a deep breath....

Bitsy, reduction linocut, Step 6

I think I like it! Although I did notice that the color looks a lot like the light red of her ID tag, so I might have printed both at the same time... but no matter. It's the same number of steps either way, and the tag will ultimately be darker, anyway.

Two... maybe three steps to go!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A slow start to the studio year....

Inauspicious beginnings, that's what I've got here. Less-than-stellar exhibition sales and a case of the crud have characterized January thus far. We're also finally experiencing winter, so between weather and sickness my desire to get out for good, long walks has been thwarted, too. Harumph.

It's been challenging to get going in the studio again, motivation and stamina being compromised as they are. I have however, finished all my 2016 business bookkeeping and organized it for my accountant. (Note that I have specified business bookkeeping. Personal accounts are not even started yet.)

But I'm slowly getting my studio act together and once again there are prints on the drying rack. It's a another very small piece, since I'm still not quite ready to tackle that big one.

"Bitsy" linocut - Step 1

The first ink of the new year was a transparent ochre-ish color, and if you try I think you might be able to discern the subject already.

For the next step I wanted a sort of dull beige. But anyone who has ever tried to darken or dull a yellow with black knows why just slapping a transparent black across it wasn't going to work. Risk of weird greenish tone = high.

Instead I mixed up this lovely color:

Step 2 ink: transparent lavender

Yes. That's a transparent purple. (Let's call it lavender.) Which, amusingly enough, gave me this:

Bitsy linocut, Step 2

The subject is completely clear now, because for some odd reason my Sharpie pen drawing decided to transfer to several prints on this second color pass when it didn't on the first. I haven't ever had that happen before, so it's quite the mystery.

The third color pass was absolutely a straight transparent gray, just to change the value but not the relative warmth of the color so far. In this particular print the Sharpie transfer was really strong. Again, I don't know why it happened, and it sure takes the surprise out of the image development, but it kind of looks cool.

Bitsy reduction linocut, Step 3

The next step will be some spot inking and masking for eyes and collar and maybe the tip of her nose, and then? Lots of little furry cuts, I think.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

First week of January... It's time to think about the SUMMER!

We're "enjoying" a full-blown winter storm here in the Heart of the Rockies today. Howling wind, single-digit temps, horizontal snow.

So of course it's a great day to think about a sunny island off the coast of Maine, where I'll be an instructor for a couple of programs in June and July!

Registration is underway for all the programs at Hog Island Audubon Camp: Ornithology programs for adults, bird and marine studies for teens, family camps... and my personal favorites – Educators' Week and Arts & Birding. Scholarships and early registration discounts may still be available, so be sure to check out those links as well.

Program descriptions below, but feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I hope to see some of you on the island this summer!

2016 Arts & Birding guest instructor and National Geographic illustrator
Jonathan Alderfer helps participants understand bird and feather anatomy.

Arts & Birding 
June 11-16
Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and rhythms of life on an island on Maine’s stunningly beautiful rocky coast! You’ll find plenty of creative inspiration in the company of artists who share an enthusiasm for birds and nature and you’ll be able to learn from some of the country’s best photographers and artists. This program includes fun birding adventures, as well as more in-depth study in your choice specialty of photography or sketching/painting.

We’ll explore the island’s spruce forest, tide pools, and striking vistas, and take a boat trip to Eastern Egg Rock to see Atlantic puffins. The week includes opportunities to learn new skills through your choice of workshops on photography or sketching, journaling and painting. We will also offer longer blocks of time for you to immerse yourself in your art. This program is ideal for beginners as well as avid birders, artists and photographers. No experience or talent needed! Just a desire to experience and enjoy birds in fresh, new ways.

Hog Island tidepool
Island view as the tide recedes
Sharing Nature: An Educator's Week
July 16-21

Learn practical approaches and add inspiration to your environmental education curriculum during this action-packed program. Our experienced and enthusiastic instructors share their favorite approaches, methods, and activities for engaging both children and adults with nature.

Workshops using techniques in art, music, theater, journaling, and other disciplines will be presented, as well as a host of classic Audubon Camp field trips, including a boat trip to the restored Atlantic Puffin and Tern colony on Eastern Egg Rock, intertidal explorations, and hiking through Hog Island's unspoiled spruce-fir forest. These experiences provide a wonderful opportunity to be learning outside in a beautiful setting, while also considering how you can take back some of these insights and methods to your students back home. We'll be exploring citizen science, creating some inquiry-based lessons on birds and other topics, and demonstrating both low and high-tech methods of teaching.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Roll(er) in the New Year!

The studio is tidy, the recycling has been taken to the recycling center. The Yay Jar has been emptied and it's ready for all the good things to come. It must be a new year!

As my first act of 2017... I took a walk.

The Arkansas River, between Sands and Frantz Lakes, looking to the
Sawatch Range and the Continental Divide.

I had extra motivation for getting out early. Since mid-December our little Sands Lake State Wildlife Area has been hosting an extremely rare bird for these parts: long-tailed duck.

Handsome visitor, a male long-tailed duck

The long-tail is a sea duck, typically spending its winters in protected bays of the Atlantic coast. That's a long way from Colorado, and while it's not unknown for one to turn up occasionally on the big reservoirs of the eastern plains, a mountain bird gets a lot of folks' knickers in a twist. Luckily he stuck around for our Christmas Bird Count (December 17), and for the last few days I've been crossing my fingers extra-hard that he'd stay here until the new year. Hoorah! He did!

I've been a bit obsessed with this guy... he's so darn beautiful. He's been hard to photograph, partly because he tends to stay beyond the reach of my camera lens and partly because he's just so busy all the time. He probably spends as much time below the surface of the water as he does above it.

But I've got a few ideas for linocuts that I'd like to pursue, and now I can't decide if the subject of my next print should be the merganser idea I've been itching to start or Mr. Handsome Long-tail. Art world problems.

Since I'm stymied by indecision, I took time in the last few days of 2016 to make a small lino of my friend Sue's pug, Pipsi. These days Pipsi is a mature dog of many talents, but this print takes us back to her puppy days.

I've also got a little cat image drawn up and ready to go, so I can waffle about a larger piece for a few more days.

"Pipsi," reduction linocut, 5" x 5"

Whatever I decide to do next will have to wait until the end of the week, however. Tomorrow I'm off to Denver for the opening of the Coors Western Art Show. It will be a whirlwind couple of days, since I have to get back right away to get ready to leave again next week, but I'm looking forward to catching up with colleagues and collectors at this amazing event.

My work will be in the Club portion of the show, which means that after the opening it will be moved to the gallery at the National Western Club. Although the Club is "members only," you can still get in to see the work if you're visiting the National Western Stock Show January 7-22. Just ask at the Coors Show gallery and they'll let you visit as a guest.

My 2017 is roll(er)ing off to a fast start! Thank you for being part of the adventure, I hope the new year is a great one for all of us.

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...