Sunday, December 30, 2018

Post-Christmas secret reveal!

Not long before the Christmas holiday I teased a post with a Photoshop-warped image of a secret project I was working on. Now that the surprises have been delivered, I'm tickled to share them with you.

It started with a query from a friend who gifts a special ornament to her husband every year. The aforementioned husband is also a friend and colleague, and 2018 was a rough year for him with health issues. The red-eyed vireo was a memento of a happy time in the midst of challenges... could I perhaps come up with something?

Of course I loved the idea... but what to make, and how? Certainly it had to at least start with a lino... but printed on to what? I'd long wanted to play around with printing on fabric, but didn't have any good way to do anything with the fabric after I printed it. My sewing machine is a 1940s-vintage that hasn't been used in more than a decade... maybe two... it seemed risky.

But then, kismet! I was in an actual fabric store with a friend right after Thanksgiving (What? I NEVER go to stores during the holidays.)... lo and behold! Sewing machines... 40% off! I was able to get a brand new Singer... not fancy but totally functional... for $70. Yeah. Had to do it.

First experiment: Red-eyed vireo ornament for Ted

It took a few tries to get the ink and press pressure sorted out for a good impression on the slightly-knobbly fabric, but I was pleased with the results and so were my friends.

Flush with success I decided to make some others for my own holiday gifts. This led to quite a few late nights as the project got bigger and bigger. In the end I had to limit the number I made... If I tell you that next year (!!??!!) I'll design a simpler shape to sew, you'll know where the biggest time sink was.

Chickadee-dee-dee ornaments. Hand-colored with permanent ink brush pens.

But here they are... a flock of chickadees. Maine's state bird, and the darling of Colorado habitats, so appropriate for friends both here and there. I definitely learned a few things in the making... the kinds of things that make me caution people to not expect mass production any time soon, but perhaps some will turn up again later in the year. You just never know.

Now... back to that snowscape linocut!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Linocut in Progress: No, really. Progress.

Progress on this linocut continues to be slow, but not for lack of effort! At the end of last week I was able to finally move away from blue ink and tone some things down with a transparent gray.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 5

That subtle little change was exciting, because it started to pull the trees away from the ground. And, hey! It's just one color, applied over fairly dry prints. I should be able to print again in a day or two, right?

Hm. Wrong. For reasons I can't quite fathom, this color pass just didn't want to dry. On Sunday the gray still felt tacky, but since I was just going to be spot inking a light green and using a newprint paper mask I thought I could go ahead.

Disaster! Some of the prints were drier than others (why this should be, I have no idea)... and although I printed the first three without mishap... on the fourth one the mask stuck to the print, and even though I did my best to peel it back slowly and carefully I had to spend the next 30 minutes picking little bits of newsprint out of wet ink. I never did get it all... so that print gets rotated to the front of the line as a sacrificial color tester from here on out. (sigh) Not wanting to risk more prints, I cleaned up... and then hauled the entire drying rack out in front of the wood stove.

Unconventional print drying methods

Now, one would think that a wood stove would make short work of stubborn ink, but one would be mistaken. That rack has been there for two days! And I even went through and hand-stripped some of the tacky ink! I really don't understand it, BUT... onward.

This evening I crossed my fingers and tried it again.

Transparent green rollup

Since I only need this lighter green in a few areas of the trees that are hit by sunlight I only inked half the block and then put in place the newsprint mask.

Mask in place on the inked block, on the press

Whew! There were two or three prints that tried to grab onto the mask a bit, but not so much that it couldn't be easily pulled free. The rest of them printed just fine.

Linocut in progress, Step 6

This is always a bit of a stressful moment... when the previously-harmonious-looking image moves in to the ugly duckling stage. Not a lot of this lighter green will remain, and my next question will be whether the next few color passes will address the tree trunks (grays and browns) or the darker green of the trees... or whether I will be working back and forth between the two. (Most likely.)

So... it's back to carving (and waiting for ink to dry). Such is the glamorous life of the printmaker!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Linocut in Progress: Dashing through the snow...

Well... maybe not dashing. Carving for what should be the last blue color pass took a loooooonnngggg time, but I finally got to put ink on paper today in the form of a light-to-dark(ish) blended roll.

Linocut in progress - Step 4. Embiggenable with a click.

Outside the studio it looked a lot like this, only without the contrast provided by sun. So okay... I guess it didn't really look a lot like this other than the fact that there was snow on the ground because it was actively falling from the sky. Forget I mentioned it.

I'm feeling pretty good about things at this stage. There's a temptation to do one more blue pass to deepen the shadows under the trees but I'm going to reign in that impulse. The next color pass will instead be a transparent gray, which might serve the same purpose as more blue in those areas. And honestly, the idea of finally getting to hack out large swathes of lino is so appealing after a couple of days of this kind of thing:


Of course this hasn't been the only project I've been working on... but it's the time of year when certain things just have to be kept secret.


All will be revealed in the next week, but until then... remember we only have 4 more days until the Winter Solstice. Why am I working on a snow scene when summer is on its way?

Friday, December 7, 2018

Linocut in Progress: The subtle steps

It's been a frustrating week of bureaucratic headaches, so studio time has felt extra precious and restorative. All the "stuff" of life– particularly the stresses of a self-employed life– can really crank the volume on the self-doubt up to eleven. Going to the studio can sometimes feel futile or worse, frivolous.

But if I can push past all that and pick up my tools...  Well. Let's just say it's interesting how the frustration can dial back to the level of background noise.

Progress on the current linocut continues to be subtle, but that will change soon. Here's the second step, another transparent blue, just a bit darker.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 2

This seems pretty good overall, but you know me. I have to complicate things as least a little or it doesn't feel like I'm working hard enough. I decided a graduated blue, light to dark, top to bottom, would add more interest and allow me to do more subtle things with the shadows in the foreground.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 3

I am continually frustrated by trying to photograph blues, but hopefully you get the idea. Both of these images have been uploaded a little bit larger than they appear in the post, so if you click on them you can flip back and forth between them in a larger format and get a better idea. Or not.

The next step? Whew. Lots of carving. Almost all of the snow shadows have to come out now, including lots of small bits between tree branches. There are also a couple of surprises getting ready to emerge from the background, and I'll be trying to work out my next color choices. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Linocut in Progress: Oh, those happy beginning stages.


There are few things more satisfying than starting a new linocut. Well, I suppose there might be more or different things for other people, but this weekend starting a new linocut was the most satisfying thing for me. And since this is my blog... oh... whatever. Let's just get on with it.

Since this new image is..... (drum roll) a snow scene, there was a lot of carving to accomplish before ink could roll. And before the carving there was a lot of drawing. Did I mention I found this satisfying?

This morning ink did roll, the first color was printed, and the new linocut is officially in progress. Even though this first color pass was quite pale (in fact I beefed up the contrast for this photo so you could actually see something) it already defines a lot of what's going on.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1


Fun, eh? What's even more fun is that there's a little surprise in this forest. I don't think it will be visible at the next color pass... maybe the one after that. But first... back to the carving table. Which is satis... oh, never mind. Just stay tuned.