Saturday, March 30, 2019

Linocut in Progress: The long wait and the quick finish

Two-and-a-half weeks ago I was working like a madwoman, trying to wrap up this chipping sparrow linocut before I left for the two-week filming adventure in Florida. I really, really, really wanted to be finished... to let the prints sit and dry for two weeks while I was away and be able to jump right in to something new when I returned.

But, alas.... I got this far and no further:

Linocut in progress: Step 13

I know! It seems so close, right? And it was! Infuriatingly close. All that was left were some little bits of spot inking... final darks in the birds, lighten up a few bird feet, and warm up the piece of rebar and the pole in the background. One day's work! But alas, everything was just that much too wet, and my first attempt to print was met with the disaster of wet rejection, so I cleaned up... packed up... and resigned myself to finishing when I got home from Florida.

Of course it was too much to ask to be able to finish this thing immediately. I had to take down a show up in Rockland and take care of a bunch of business-related tasks (read: paperwork with deadlines)... and...(dare I admit it?)... dig my car out of the mud.

Yes, it's mud season here in Maine, and I made a grave miscalculation about the condition of the ground in front of my house yesterday. I pulled in close to unload the show... trying to avoid (literally) 24 trips back and forth across our muddy parking area carrying artwork... but when I tried to pull out again... well. Let's just say the car spent the night somewhere other than where it usually does, with one tire just about up to its lug bolts in gloppy wetness.

But this morning my team of three strong women managed, with superior problem-solving skills and no small effort, to extract my mud-caked vehicle and I was finally able to get to work.

The final three spot colors... whew!

There were three main areas that needed the spot inking treatment: 1) warm up the rebar in the background, 2) lighten the sunny side of the birds' feet, and 3) last dark eye stripe and maybe one more dark in a few shadowy bits of the birds' backs. Fortunately all of these areas were enough separated from each other that they could all be inked and printed simultaneously! Last color pass!

Again I'm short on a title.... "Snow Fence, No Snow," perhaps. Final pass, step 14

And here it is! Huzzah! I'll give it some quality drying time while I decide what to tackle next, and in the meantime... I have to prep for more shows! Eek! The crazy season is already beginning! Maybe I should throw some metaphorical mud under the wheels to slow things down a bit. I've already had enough of the real stuff.

Using up a few more of my fifteen minutes....

Oh, another of those dratted masks! Photo by Kelli Park.

A few weeks ago I spent a nice morning visiting with writer/photographer Kelli Park here at my studio. The resulting article came out in yesterday's Times Record, ticking a couple more minutes off my allotted fifteen minutes of fame. Kelli did a really nice job, and took the first photos of me at work in my Maine studio (nearly a year after I moved in to it!). Fun, eh?

Linocut printmaker in natural habitat. Photo by Kelli Park.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Time Out for Filming!

Me... trying to get comfortable with the idea of being in front of cameras. EEK!

Sorry to leave you all high and dry with the sparrow linocut-in-progress, but things were just not dry enough for me to tackle the last color pass before I went to Florida.

Florida! Where spring is so far along that the sandhill cranes already have good-sized chicks. I spent two weeks working with filmaker, photographer, and (IMHO) technical genius Drew Fulton, who is producing a complete Learn Linocut online course for me. There is still much to do: editing the 5+ terabytes of footage, writing the accompanying course document, organizing the online community for course students to interact with each other. We anticipate a mid-July release... don't worry, I'll tell you all about it when it's ready!

A three-block multi-block linocut demonstration for the course...

This morning I'm back in Maine, trying to catch up with all the tasks that accumulate whilst one is away from home and studio. Tomorrow I have to drive up to Rockland to take down a show, so it will be the weekend before I can wrap up those darn chipping sparrows, but they WILL be done before Monday.

The surprisingly nice thing about being back in Maine, where it's still gray and brown and snow lingers in the shadows is that it feels like I get a second spring. This is good, because from now until October things really ramp up.... and being in Florida, where it's practically summer already, was making me a bit panicked about time.

I've got three exhibitions opening in the next three weeks and fresh work to get to galleries in both Maine and Colorado. Plus I'm preparing for a solo exhibition at the Museum of America Bird Art in Massachusetts! Drew was kind enough to include an interview with me in our shooting schedule, which will narrate a video piece for that show. We shot it the last day of my trip, delightfully outdoors instead of in the studio. Well, it was delightful until the bugs started biting. Thanks for not being perfect, Florida. It could have made my return to Maine a bit awkward if you had been.

Filmaker Drew Fulton, lured into position in front of the cameras for a change.

PS: Lest you think we were all work and no play, we did take breaks to go birding in some of the great forest and park spaces around Gainesville. And of course we saw 'gators. Because, you know. Florida.

Black-crowned night heron

Common gallinule (formerly moorhen, formerly gallinule)

American alligator. A big'un.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Linocut in Progress: More chocolate, STAT!

Ya know, I never used to really care all that much for chocolate. Sure, I like a chocolate chip cookie once in a while, but ginger cookies are better. Ditto ice cream: vanilla (better: ginger) over chocolate every time.

But in my advancing years my relationship with chocolate has become a bit more... um... needy. In the beginning I told myself that dark chocolate was good for me, because... you know, antioxidants. These days, however, chocolate has become the go-to vice when things aren't going quite right in the studio.

And this week I ran out of chocolate.

Part of the rising studio stress level has to do with the fact that I am leaving in three days for Florida, not for vacation, mind you, but to film what I hope will be a solid and complete linocut course. I would REALLY prefer to have this current piece finished before I go, but it's not being particularly cooperative.

For a while (a short while) it seemed as though things were going to move along smartly. After all, the next color pass was going to be quick and easy. (Hint: Don't let the words "quick" and "easy" enter your mind. Ever. They will only disappoint you.)

I wanted to get the brown undertone on the wings and backs of my cadre of chipping sparrows, so I cut some newsprint masks and jumped on in. Except that getting the brown right turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected. Thank goodness I already had five (count 'em, five) reject prints moved to the front of the queue as testers. In the end I had to roll my eyes at myself, because visually this color looks remarkably like the warmed-up backsides of the fence posts. Could have saved myself a step somewhere along the line. But I didn't. Good thing I had some chocolate.

But okay. It's done, and once I sorted out the color the printing did go quickly.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 11

It was nice to see the birds starting to look like birds instead of blobs, but then it was time to start beefing up the contrast with some darker values. I mixed up a darker transparent gray and immediately tried to print the next color pass. After all, there's only a little wet ink on the backs of the birds... it should be okay, right?

Wrong again! That little bit of wet ink rejected the next color pass and made a mess, so nothing to do but clean up and wait. Where's my chocolate?

Thankfully it only took a day for everything to dry enough to carry on. I decided I needed to enliven the fence posts, so I rolled a transparent gray-to-blue blend, top to bottom.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 12

Okay. Contrast looking good. Color variety okay. In some light that pale green disturbs me, but nothing to be done about it now. (Sometimes it appears grayed-down, as I wanted it, but in some kinds of light it seems alarming.) 

So what now? It seems like it's getting close, but there are still some subtle details to do in the birds, and some more differentiation between the foreground fenceposts and the background. And a little more dark in the upper background. There are some places where I'd like to change the color temperature again, but I am afraid that might be asking too much at this point. Can I do everything I want to do with just one more transparent gray pass? I don't think so. But I might be able to do the gray pass and then some spot inking. Or maybe the other way around. Or maybe I should try to do more with the fence posts. Or maybe... 

(sigh) No clear end in sight, and I'm all out of chocolate. But, oh! Look! There's a box of brownie mix on the shelf....

Monday, March 4, 2019

Linocut in Progress: and then in reverse

Moving right along with this sparrows-and-snow-fence linocut in progress! Well, sort of. There's been one step forward and one a bit backward.

The forward was simple enough. If you've been following along you know that I warmed up the fence posts in the last color pass. Here at color pass number nine I deepened the shadows with another transparent blue.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 9

The blue was rolled across the entire block, so it toned down the shadowed sides of the birds' rusty caps, deepened the shadows of the fence posts and birds, and added another value in the background. All good, except that there were two small things bothering me.

1: In the foreground the four fence posts on the right side of the image have darker lines through them. I had wanted these to be a little warmer than the rest of the tones in the sunny side of the posts, but along the way they just got too dark.

2: The shadowed sides of the birds are a little too purple. Our fence-sitters are chipping sparrows, and their bodies are a light gray. Yes, they will look less so in shadow, but I just felt that I need to pull them back a bit. The solution seemed to be some spot-inking and masking.

Spot inking

The tricky part is that it meant getting out some opaque white ink... which I don't do very often. I mixed a nice gray for the birds... and a mostly-white for the fence posts.

It wasn't on purpose that the fence-post white was a wee bit pink. Despite my best efforts, apparently I wasn't able to get my little 1-inch brayer completely red-free at the last clean-up, so some pink tone snuck in there. (One of the reasons I almost never use red.)  It wasn't a problem, though. I didn't want this color to appear white... and wouldn't be able to get back to pure white on the print, anyway. A hint of red won't hurt anything, and might even keep the color a little warm.

The two areas in question were separated enough to allow for spot inking, and then....

And yes, another mask

Of course I cut some masks. This one served to contain the color in the areas I wanted it and protect the rest of the print from contact with the block, just in case some previously-printed areas weren't entirely dry.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 10

These changes are quite subtle, but I feel satisfied that they needed to be done. We're getting close to the end now. The backs, wings, and tails of the birds are brown, and then I think one... mayyyybbeee two more transparent blue passes and it should be done... fingers crossed!

Linocut in Progress: Wrapping up the loon

Alrighty, then! Let's wrap up this loon linocut so it can swim off to new horizons. We've finished with blues, although because I a...