Monday, February 27, 2017

Linocut in Progress: Looking ducky (AKA: Splashing to the finish)

So finally we get to the ducks. Because the colors of the birds do not appear anywhere else in the image, the next few steps involved a ridiculous and annoying amount of masking.

With the body tone established in Step 9, it was time to put in the beaks. I used pochoir, a stencil technique, to put these tiny bits into place by hand.

Linocut in Progress, Step 10: Tiny beaks via pochoir
Embiggenable with a click, as are most images in this post

Back to spot inking and masking now. I next rolled up a transparent brown for the background drakes and the female. The foreground male got another hit of gray.

Spot inking, two browns and a gray.

All this un-inked area of the block can wreak havoc with the previously-printed colors, especially if those colors are slightly tacky. A newsprint mask protects the prints and keeps the new color(s) confined to their respective areas.

Mask on the block, on the press

This mask has already been used once or twice, so you can see a little of the offset from the prints. In a case like this, where there's only a little new color applied to tiny areas, a mask can be reused. Typically I manage 3-5 passes out of a mask before the offset on the print side and the fresh ink on the block side get too built up. There are plenty of cases, though, where I have to use a new mask for every impression.

Step 11 printed

More spot inking, more masking for Steps 12 and 13, one of which I apparently neglected to photograph. There are a couple more browns and a green now:

Step 12... or maybe 13

After a couple of days of that fussy stuff it was finally time to hit the whole thing with what I thought was to be the last color. This was a transparent warm gray...

Step 14. Finished?

I finished working at a very late hour, so it was hard to really judge where things were. The next morning I decided it needed just a little more oomph to manage the drama I was looking for. I rolled the entire block with one more transparent gray, this one with a green tinge.

NOW it's finished. I think. Embiggenable with a click! 

Alrighty, then! As usual, I've had a heckuva time getting a photo that managed the blues correctly.

It's still not quite right because the bright blue diagonals read as far too bright and the dark is too dark, but if I dry to tone down the bright blue then all the rest of the color washes out. (sigh) I need someone with better photography and/or P-shop skills to help me figure it out.

Here's a little detail of the foreground mallard: (Still incorrect color.)


It also needs a title! Holly B. used the phrase "Mallard Armada," which is a fun description. My inspiration for the image was a group of mallards at a small lake not far from my home. If one stands still next to the water for too long, the mallards assume handouts are in the offing and they make a beeline (duckline) towards shore. This particular morning the sun hadn't quite made it over the ridge yet... so the reflected sky is pale and the contrast sharp.

"Did Someone Say Breakfast?" "Handout Armada"? "Like Cows to the Barn"? I don't know... I'll have to think about it for a while.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Linocut in Progress: Although I'm probably the only one who can tell.

Believe it or not, there have been big things happening in the progress of the current linocut, but at this scale it will be almost impossible to tell. I'm going to try to show you anyway. (Any of the photos in this post can be slightly embiggened with a click, which might help a little. But not much.)

There's been some impatience among a few lurkers who want me to get on with the ducks, but a little more "faffing about" with the water still needed to happen. (Hi, John B.!)

After the previous step I rolled up the entire block with a transparent gray. (Step 7, not pictured.) I felt okay about how things were going until the next morning, when I decided that the blue printed in the diagonals was a little too bright.

Rats. Instead of moving ahead I was obliged to back up and hit some areas with an almost-white blue. Call it Step 7.5, I guess.

Linocut in Progress, Step 7.5 

Once I felt the blue was sufficiently toned-down it was time for another transparent gray, rolled over the entire block. Again, you can't really tell what's happening here, other than a slight increase in overall contrast, but this pass picked out a few details and set things up for....

Step 8

The ducks! Finally. There are four mallards swimming towards us, three males and one female. The previous transparent ink layers have made the foreground bird a little too blue, and the female needs to have brown undertones, so I did some spot inking and masking of the "duck blobs":

Step 9

There are lots of little color bits to add to the birds now, and once that's done I think there will be one more color pass. With luck I'll get the whole thing finished this weekend, which means in the back of my head I should be thinking about the next piece. Right?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Linocut in Progress: Predictable Working Stages (PWS)

There are some things about reduction printing that I find more or less predictable, given that I so often employ the Seat-of-Your-Pants Method of image development.

My Predictable Working Stages (PWS) usually unfold like this:

  1. The first few steps and color passes are cohesive and enthusiasm is high. 
  2. Four or five steps along I am obliged to print a color that upsets that cohesiveness.
  3. Doubt and anxiety rise, avoidance behavior begins.
  4. I find a way to print some OTHER color first.
  5. See Stage 3.
  6. I finally find my spine and print the scary color.
  7. I remain scared until the entire thing resolves at the end.

This image proceeded happily along Predictable Working Stage 1 until I finished the previous color pass and abruptly collided with Predictable Working Stage 2. PWS 2 gave way immediately to PWS 3: Avoidance behavior.

I did the laundry. I washed the dishes. I finally took the overflowing recycling to the drop-off center. I took some long walks, and voila! I found my way to Predictable Working Stage 4: Avoid the problem by printing something else.

Many carving hours later I printed a straight-up transparent gray:

Linocut in progress, Step 5

Satisfying. Everything was still cohesive and I had a better sense of the overall rhythm of the image.

And then I was on to Predictable Working Stage 5, which is essentially Stage 3 all over again. Avoidance.

I did some online research for another project. I went to the grocery store. I checked on the dog of a friend who is away for a couple of days.

The question at this point was whether to start work on the ducks, which are suggested by three blobs right now, or to cut some complicated paper masks and print a scary color.

I finally made it to Predictable Working Stage 6: Find a spine and print the scary color.


A collection of masks for Color Pass 6

But first I had to cut a lot of masks. The little ones will protect the "duck blobs" from the scary color, the others will protect large portions of the rest of the print.


Ink rollup for Color Pass 6

Naturally the rollup wasn't entirely straightforward. I decided the tone along the bottom of the print was too dark, so I rolled up some white. Scary bright blue selectively inked elsewhere.

Masks in place on the block

Block is inked, masks are in place. Time to print.

Masks stuck to the print. Do not panic.

Most of the time when I use masks they lift away from the block and stay attached to the print after I run it through the press. This is no big deal, it's just the damp ink holding it in place, but it looks like a mess. The little bits over the "duck blobs" can be tricky to remove without smudging ink, but a delicately applied Xacto knife helps me lift a corner to get them started.

Carefully lifting the masks from the print.

Seven masks to put in place and remove for every print really slows things down, but in the end it's worth it. The scary color is where it belongs and the rest of the print has been protected through the process.

Linocut in progress, Color Pass 6 completed

A lot of this bright blue will be moderated by the next color, but it's still quite scary to see these up on the wall. Yep. I've reached Predictable Working Stage 7:

Remain scared until the whole thing is finished.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Linocut in Progress: Slightly less vague?

When we last left our printmaker, she had spent several days creating print stages that were contenders for the "Most Boring Photo Ever Posted to a Blog" award.

I'm not sure we've fared much better in the photography department since then, although a lot has been happening.

Step 3 doesn't look very exciting from an image-development standpoint, but it does represent an interesting experiment. (Interesting to me, anyway.) I was ready to add a blue over the previous transparent pink and gray color passes, but I wanted the lower part of the image more blue than the upper part.

Linocut in progress, Step 3

I thought the solution might be to create a blended roll that changed opacity, rather than color. (In other words, ink that was more transparent at the top of the block and more opaque at the bottom.) It was a good idea, but after the first couple of pulls I decided the lower portion of the image had become TOO opaque. I ended up adding more transparent base to the lower color of the blend, which made the transition much more subtle but kept the water feeling luminous. The result looks like a subtle gray-to-blue blend, but it's really just one blue.

After that I "enjoyed" several days of rather confusing carving. For Step 4 I did use a transparent gray-to-blue blend, to keep the less intense color towards the top.

Linocut in progress, Step 4. (This photo you can embiggen with a click.)

Here's a detail of part of the right-hand side of the print after Step 4. This one is also embiggenable with a click.

Linocut in progress, Step 4 detail

So now I'm back to carving again. The good news is that this stage should go a little bit faster, as there are some larger sections to remove and not as many noodly shapes. I might turn my attention to the birds for the next few steps, and then the final darks should come along quickly. And hopefully the photography will get more interesting, too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Linocut in Progress: Vague beginnings

After several pre-printing hiccups I finally got my new linocut drawn up and on the press this week. It's another largeish piece, 18" x 18," and it's a return to one of my favorite themes: Birds and water.

Not that you can tell yet:

Step 1... can you see it?

If there were a prize for THE Most Boring Photo Ever Posted to a Blog, I bet this would be a top contender. It's a barely-visible square and it's pink.

This was the ink, but it was very transparent. Obviously.

Transparent pink for starters. 

Pink may seem an unlikely choice for water, but it's only appearing in a few spots and its purpose is to cut the brightness of the white paper, not to make the viewer say, "Hey! Look at those pink shapes!"

The second pass was a transparent gray... which you can almost see in this image. (Candidate for Second Most Boring Photo Ever Posted to a Blog.)

Step 2. Still boring.

From here I'll move on to some blues, which hopefully will NOT create a candidate for Third Most Boring Photo Ever Posted to a Blog. But you never know.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

When Good Ideas Go Bad

You know how they say trouble comes in threes? It turns out January brought trouble in multiples of three. Now that it's February, I'm hoping the universe has all this ridiculousness out of its system and will let me just get on with work.

Rather than bore you with the litany of things that went sideways, let me reassure you that a new linocut is in progress.

Unfortunately it's not the one with the mergansers.

The original inspiration.

Here's what started the whole thing... a photo of two mergansers in the Arkansas River near my home. I originally thought I had two females here, but a closer inspection showed that these birds have light eyes. Believe it or not, that's the thing that tells me I have two juvenile birds of indeterminate sex. In late summer/ early fall (this photo was taken the last week of August) adult females and juveniles of both sexes look frustratingly similar.

Anyway.

I liked the idea of the rust-headed birds against the green water of an overcast day. The obvious (to people who think about things like color theory) complementary red/green palette appealed to me, and the overall muted tone would be challenging. (Ha! I almost typed the words, "and who doesn't like a challenge?")

After shuffling birds and water (and that nearly-submerged rock) around for a while my composition seemed good, but when I scaled it up to the intended 18" x 24" format?

Boring.

Or at least not exciting. It might have been a pretty image, but it lacked a wow! factor, and that's what I'm longing for at the moment. I'm sure I will get back to the idea eventually, but for now I've gathered up my preliminary work and put it in a drawer. Back to the drawing board.

The good news is that I flipped through some more of my reference material and came across something that made me say... "Ooooooooh. Now THAT's an interesting idea."

I'm not going to show the whole thing to you, because that will take some of the fun out of the first few steps, but here's a peek at a portion of the block:


Yep. That there is a whole lotta stripes. Wheeeeeeeee!

Of course when I went to prep the paper for this not-quite-as-large-but-still large (18" x 18") bit of lino wonderment I discovered that the paper in the bottom of the stack was not the same as the paper in the top of the stack. Why is this a problem? Because I don't have enough sheets of either type for me to get started. (I told you January was out to get me.)

So the paper's ordered and I'll be spending the next couple of days doing all the REALLY exciting work of the artist: bookkeeping, correspondence, paperwork. This time when I type "Wheeeeeeeee" you'll have to read it whilst rolling your eyes and stifling a sigh. Because that's the way I typed it.

Come on, February... let's get it together, shall we?