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.


  1. Your merganser heads are wonderful, so alive! How do you do that from photographs? Are you sketching with graphite and colored pencil. No smudges! I would love to have you talk more about your process.

    Can't wait to see the linocut in process.


    1. Hi Dory! I draw from life whenever I can, and that practice helps me better interpret what I'm seeing (or not seeing) in photos. And I was lucky in my younger days to work at banding stations and for environmental education organizations that gave me an opportunity to handle live birds. All of that experience helps to feed my work now.

      And, yes! Colored pencil and graphite... and trust me... there are PLENTY of smudges. I love a good, dark, soft piece of graphite, but these days in my sketchbooks I usually start with something harder, HB or even F, in an effort to keep the smudging to a minimum. Once in a while I'll still pull out a B or 2B, but my days of 4B in the sketchbook are long gone. On loose sheets of paper, however, it's a whole other story. ;-)

    2. Hi Sherrie,
      Thanks for the suggestion of starting with an HB or F pencil, I will try that. So many say they are using the softer B's, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Do you spray your loose sheets with fixative?
      Alas, no good way to get live bird experience but I'll keep practicing with our local mallards and hoodies once spring comes. (and youtube videos)
      Thanks again!

    3. I used to use the softer Bs, but of course they make a mess in the sketchbook. I don't spray anything... loose drawings just go in to a box when I'm done with them, and as long as I don't go rooting around in there too often they're fine. :-)

  2. this is the second time this week that a mention of these birds has come up. the other bird sighting turned out to be Goosanders but very similar looking birds

    1. Yes! Goosander! Same birds. One of my favorite sightings was in Scotland, actually. I was standing on a small bridge and a beautiful pair came out from under it, just below our feet. Beautiful.

    2. I haven't seen them sadly, they are/were up in Fife. would have loved to have seen them tho :)

      that sounds like a great experience :)

    3. Fife... um... I've been up around Anstruther and Crail... that's Fife, isn't it? On the way to the Isle of May. 20 years ago now, crikey.

    4. yep those places are in fife :) might not have changed much in 20 years tho lol