Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Linocut in Progress: When to wave the white flag of surrender?

Ridiculous, that's what it's been. I have had my printmaking behind summarily kicked by what should have been a fairly straightforward image. But it's done now. (At least I hope it is.) And I can finally get on with the rest of my life. Such as it is.

It's the darn face, you see. My reference image is a photo I took a couple of years ago, when a spanky male long-tailed duck showed up on our small local lake in the Rockies and spent December wowing the locals.

I was obsessed with this bird and took a lot of really cruddy photos. His favorite place to hang out was, of course, the middle of the lake, so most of my images were poorly-lighted and blurry. I loved the idea of of the wave pushed ahead of the bird, but in my super-high-contrast reference one side of his face was completely "blown out" white, and the shadow side was almost black. But hey! I can figure out the face and make a lino out of that, right?


When last I checked in with you I had just created a second block to try to repair the problems of the first.

Since it's been a while, here's a reminder of where we were:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 13

I had decided to create a second block because I felt the shadowed side of the bird needed to be darker (and bluer).

Second block, masked

And here's that second block, all inked up for what I thought would be the ONE color pass. The newsprint masks were used to protect the prints and keep any stray ink out of places it didn't belong... and it kept me from having to take the time to clear all the material from the background of Block 2.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 14

Okay. Better. Now I can go back to the first block, right? Well, sort of. The long-tailed duck has this great patch of a sort of ocher-y-greeny color on the side of its face. It's too light by a long shot. I should have fixed this before I did the new shadow, but I didn't. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is one of those times when my lack of planning came back to bite my printmaking behind.

I couldn't use Block 1 for this, because that area had been removed several steps back. But I had that second block, so I cleared out all but the face color and printed only that shape.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 15

It looks a bit frightening here, but value-wise it's closer to what I need. But now the dark shape just felt flat and boring. No problem. Some details of the eye on the shadow side and getting the rest of the dark portion of the beak in would fix that, right?

Of course this required going back to Block 1, because I had removed the eye area for the previous step on Block 2. (Are you confused yet? You should have seen ME.)

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 16

Hm. It's a little better... but not great. That side of the face still feels really flat. And the eye needs a darker ring around it. But what to do? I decided to make a small, slightly darker, shape around the eye. It took a ridiculous number of tries to get this shape and color right, but I think it helped. Can you see it?

Reduction linocut, Step 17.

Detail of blended area
I honestly don't remember which block I was on at this point, but I still wasn't satisfied with the flatness of the shadow side of the face. I decided to borrow a technique from Japanese moku hanga prints, "bokashi." Bokashi is used to add a blended or gradated color to a print. In my case I was working such a tiny area that I applied the ink with a brush rather than a brayer.( Moku hanga printmaker Annie Bissett uses bokashi to good effect in her work.)

This is getting really fussy, but I couldn't think of another way to resolve the problem. I suppose technically this is Step 18.  Well, 18 and 19 together, because this detail shot shows the last pass at the eye and bill as well. But the softer, sort of "smudgy" color around the eye felt better to me.

At long last I went back one more time to Block 1 to finish the eye and bill... and I went ahead and put some more color in the wave, too, because why not? Here's a shot of the finished piece.

Slightly embiggenable with a click, this image.
It needs a title, but so far all I'm coming up with is "Print That Should NOT Have
Taken This Long to Finish."

It's such a simple image that it seems ridiculous that it should have taken so much time and effort. There were several times when I thought I should just walk away from it and start over, but it's been a loooonnnnggggg time since I waved the white flag of surrender and gave up entirely.

But in the end I'm more or less satisfied. I do see one thing I'm tempted to change, but as that would require cutting a third block I have decided it's time to move on. What's next? No idea, but I bet it won't be a duck.

Or will it?


  1. I really like this print!
    I must admit to going 'eeek??' when I saw the strip of green that was to become that delicious see-through wave. Another triumph!!

    1. You're being generous, Jane, but thank you! It seems more like luck than triumph, but I'll take it. ;-)

  2. Wow. This one made me happy to be a planner of reduction prints. I have to admit that as I go larger, I am trying to capture my inner Sherrie York and just have an "idea" of what my layers will be. Any way you do it, it is so fun and challenging and therapeutic. Much love!

    1. Wendy! I so admire your patience and ability to plan. Part of my problem here was that time to work on it was a bit of catch-as-catch-can, so it was hard to keep track of where I thought I was headed after the last work session. If I'd had at least made notes.... but no. That would be too practical.

  3. It is so gratifying to read all this and know that other printmakers paint themselves in logistics corners too! And yet — you doubled-down and pulled it off. I tell my students that half of block printing is problem-solving, whether you do in pre-planning (preferred!) or on the fly. Printmakers who can do it on the fly rock.

    Looks great, and wow! That glass-green, transparent bow wave with his refracted ducky legs is amazing. : )

    1. Oh, Holly... I am the QUEEN of logistics corners. They are my best thing! (HA!)
      But yes, basically printmaking is one long exercise in problem-solving. Usually it's because I've created the problem in the first place, but you know....

  4. looks great :D 18/19 passes, can't remember if that is a record or not ;)

    1. Believe it or not, the record is 21, but that was on purpose and most of those colors were tiny little details. Of course, 3 or 4 of these "passes" were pretty small, too. I swear my next piece is going to be really simple.

    2. simple? so only 10 or so passes then? ;)