Saturday, April 27, 2019

Linocut in Progress: A new tool in the printmaker's fixit kit

In the previous post I outlined a few ideas for dealing with a green that was both too yellow and too dark on the current linocut.

As a reminder, here's what the print looked like at the previous stage:

Step 6: The Problem Child

What was NOT included in my list of potential solutions was giving up and starting over. Novice printmakers frequently ask me if I ever abandon an edition before it's finished because I make a mistake. My answer? "Not anymore."

I can think of a few times when I walked away from editions in the middle of production. Most frequently this was because of technical problems... I was getting the ink too thick or printing unevenly, which caused problems on subsequent color passes. Once I gave up because the paper I was using was blowing so much loose fiber that I had to stop and clean the block after rubbing each and every print. Once or twice I got all the way to the end and had fewer than 5 good prints. And I can remember pitching a stack of almost-finished small prints into the trash because my original drawing was bad, and no amount of ink was going to fix that.

It happens. But these days, unless I am having serious technical issues, I try to work with whatever creative issues come up. There's a lot of ink and paper and time involved in printmaking, and I've learned that very few things are completely unsalvageable. Sometimes all they need is a re-think.

The Cranfield Traditional Relief Ink line has something called "Mixing White," in addition to their "Opaque White." I didn't know what a mixing white was, so I bought some. It turns out that it's a kind of nice, semi-transparent, NON-CHALKY white. Hmm. Could be useful.

Since I have so many "testers" (read: bad prints) in the line-up, I thought I'd go ahead and experiment with this mixing white. I rolled it out all by itself... no additional transparent base, no other pigmented ink. Just the white.

I cut some more bird-shaped masks, just to keep ink build-up out of that area, and then gave it a try.

Block rolled up with straight mixing white, bird-shaped mask in place.

Well. Whaddaya know.

Reduction linocut in progress. Step 7, the fixit step

That's pretty fine, don't you think? The value of the green is lighter and it's less obnoxiously yellow. And the bonus? The "mixing white" was an easy clean-up! Opaque whites can be really hard to clean off of blocks and brayers without a lot of elbow grease, but this little gem was no problem.

Whether or not it's leaving a white residue on the block I don't know yet, but I can't imagine that it will cause the problems that the yellow residue did at the beginning of this print, if indeed it leaves any.

Whew! Forward from here, with a new trick in my creative problem-solving arsenal. Although ARGH! I'm leading a workshop tomorrow morning and leaving town for a week on Tuesday, so I'm not convinced much more will happen before then. I hate leaving us all in suspense, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Linocut in Progress: Progress, Problems, and bad Photography

First: I've been told it's bad form to draw attention to failure by apologizing for it before anyone has noticed, but, hey. Brush and Baren readers deserve better photos than these. Even if they're not getting them at the moment.

Why this photographic ineptitude? Because I just don't have a consistently good spot for photographing work in progress in my current space. Especially at night, which is when I've been taking aforementioned (and belowposted) photos. So... apologies. And onward.

Linocut in Progress, Step 4. 

Step 4. How the heck did we get to Step 4 already? It hardly seems possible, but sure enough... here is a second blue pass, adding more interest to the background sky. So far, so good.

Except for the small issue of that first yellow. You might (or might not) remember that I carefully masked the area to print in Step 1. It worked great, but when I was finished printing and cleaned up, the yellow residue spread into other areas of the block. (You know how it goes... you're wiping something up, it spreads out, you wipe some more. Normal. No biggie.) But surprisingly it became a problem.

I still blame Daniel Smith. How many years has it been since they discontinued their ink line? Four? Five? More? Because I use so much (Graphic Chemical 1911) transparent base and so little straight-up pigmented ink I've been able, for the most part, to keep working with my stash of DS inks. I've been forced to experiment with a few other ink brands from time to time, but I've been thoroughly grumpy about it and haven't committed to anything.

However, when we were filming for my upcoming online linocut course, my producer rightly pointed out that I should be using inks readily available to students. I know a lot of artists have switched to the Caligo SafeWash, but I hear horror stories about slow drying times AND I am suspicious of water-miscible oil inks and paints. How do they make them water miscible? No doubt they add detergents or something.. and I just don't like the idea.

So I've been experimenting with the Cranfield Traditional Relief Ink, especially since it comes in nice, small tubes. In general I'm finding these inks surprisingly transparent straight out of the tube, which is both good and bad. I find the viscosity is a bit thin... requiring a lot more time to build up good color on the block... but printing has generally been okay.

The problem is clean-up. I know a lot of people switched to water-miscible inks because of the ease of clean-up, but I've never really had much problem cleaning up regular oil-based inks. Well, maybe the Hanco white... which is horrible... but that's another story.

The Cranfield inks seem to clean up easily, but they leave behind a stubborn residue of color. This became a problem when I printed the gray after the yellow... because a yellow stain just kept coming off the block into the sky area! I stopped to clean the block some more... no luck.

By the time I sorted it out I had six trashed prints on my hands. I was irritated, but figured the first two worst offenders would have been destined to be "testers" anyway. The others I hoped would be less obvious when I printed the second blue... but no such luck. So I decided I'd print a third blue... not in my original "plan*," but okay. (*Long-time readers will know that I don't ever REALLY plan.)

Reduction linocut in Progress, Step 5

I tried a darker blue at the top of the image, blending to nothing below the bird, but I didn't like it. I decided to just carry on as-is with a straight transparent gray across the entire block and conceded that I'll either have a half dozen losses from this run, or I'll figure out some other sort of fix.

It's possible I should have just stopped there for the day, since it was already getting late and the light was fading in the studio. (And it's been raining here for almost a week, so it's extra-gray in there in the evenings.) But I wanted to cheer myself up, so after clearing all the lino from the sky around the bird I mixed up a nice green.

Masking out the bird... no green there!

See? Perhaps a bit scarily bright, but other colors will go over it, so okay. There's no need to have that green in the bird, so a mask protected that area of the print.

Step 6... hey, where did my green go?

It all seemed okay, although maybe a little dark, so I cleaned up and went to bed.

This morning, by the light of a sunny day, my green seemed too yellow. How did that happen? If anything, over the blue it should have gone more green. Hm. And definitely too dark.

My problem-solving options, as I see them, are:

1) Run a lighter, more opaque green over the top of the current green before I go on...

2) Design something interesting to do with a second block to print over the top of everything before or after going on...      OR... and this is a tricky idea...

3) Consider this my mid-tone green. This means I would carve away the areas where I want to keep this color, then print a lighter color, then go back to thinking about the next darker color. I have done this before, with marginal success, but it can be really confusing to remember what's what.

Of course I could always decide that I'm fine with this yellow-green as my lightest green tone and go on from here, too.

So I'll let the prints sit for a day and take on some other tasks. I do have another block already carved and ready to go for a different image, but we'll see how I feel about that after I go take a walk. We're getting one day of blue sky before the rain starts again tomorrow, so clearer skies seem like just the thing to clear my head. (And perhaps my mental color palette.)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Printmaker's Day (including a new Linocut-in-Progress)

It's been a rainy, foggy, blustery day here in midcoast Maine, not unexpected for this time of year and certainly not unexpected for... my birthday! How many times have I had a birthday blizzard? A lot. Today's rain, by comparison, is no big deal.

Luckily the weather held off last night for my opening at the Green Lion Gallery in Bath, and I was surprised by a number of friends who came out to see the show and then help me celebrate with a birthday-eve dinner. (You know who you are... thank you!)

When I woke this morning to rain lashing the windows I was delighted! My plans for a perfect birthday? A fire in the woodstove and ink on the table.

I had two new linos drawn and paper prepped. One of the images requires a lot of white space, which I have carved away already, but it's going to be a larger format than I've printed before and I have a little trepidation about it. When in doubt, start the smaller one!

One good reason for starting the smaller one is that the first color pass required only a spot-inking of yellow with a mask to contain it.

Linocut in progress, Step 1
Step 1 printed

An exciting start, eh?

Of course the carving for this step took about 5 minutes, and then I was ready for the second color. I mixed a transparent gray...

Step 2 printed

Not significantly more interesting than the first step, I know. But hey! Can you tell what it's going to be yet?

Carving for the third pass took at least four times the amount of effort as the previous color! (Snort. You do the math.) With things moving along so quickly I decided to go ahead and print a third color.

Step 3 printed

If the first yellow blob didn't immediately solve the mystery of subject matter for you, perhaps the state of things after the blue pass will start to provide some focus.....

Carving for Step 4 now will take a bit more time, and two full layers of ink (the first one hardly counts) will take a day or two to dry in our rainy weather, so I don't expect to print again for a couple of days. I have some small linos to hand-paint, frame, pack, and ship to Colorado this week, so probably I'll fit those tasks in between carving sessions.

It's been a fine day to begin my next trip around the sun. (Which I know is out there, even if I can't see it for the clouds.) Onward!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Exhibitions Everywhere!

Gosh, time is just escaping. I've got two new linocuts drawn up and ready to roll... paper is prepped... and one of the images even has its first color pass cut and ready to print. But am I printing? NO! Because check out this crazy two weeks of exhibition madness (and then go check out the exhibitions themselves if you're in Maine!).

"The Quiet Hour," reduction linocut © Sherrie York

Conserve the Call
Portland Public Library Lewis Gallery
Portland, Maine
Now through May 25
(group show, I have one piece in the exhibition)

"Interlace," reduction linocut © Sherrie York

In All Seasons
Boothbay, Maine
Now through June 8
(solo show, 22 pieces in the exhibition)

"Passing Through," reduction linocut © Sherrie York

Sherrie York - Linocuts
Bath, Maine
Opens this Friday, April 19, through May 13

Whew! That takes care of April, but watch this space for announcements of shows coming up in May at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, Colorado and the Stable Gallery in Damariscotta, Maine.

Linocut in Progress: Let's wrap this up!

 Okay...  Remember that cartoon in which a couple of scientists stand at a chalk board filled with complex equations, at the bottom of which...