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.)


  1. OMG! I'm sticking to one-color prints! I don't think i could stand this crazy process!!

    1. Oh Ivy, don't worry! It's just me making it harder on myself than it needs to be! Trying new inks at the same time as everything else is really a silly idea. ;-)

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, it's a weird one. I fixed the color problem yesterday and the block STILL bled a little yellow when I cleaned up after a new color. Not on to the prints... it just came up when I was cleaning the block after the new color.


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