Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Linocut in Progress: It's the little things

Time is ticking away, but so is progress on harlequin duck linocut-in-progress. In fact, after a marathon weekend of printing the finished piece is hanging on the drying rack in my studio. It's no fun to just barge on through to the end in a single blog post (well, maybe it is for you, but remember...  dragging out the drama of a lino is sometimes the best fun I have all week)... so here's a look at the next... um... three steps.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 4

The male harlequin duck (aka most of the ducks in this image) is largely a rich blue color, with a rusty cap and sides and crazy black and white markings. Ultimately I'm aiming for a strong effect of back light for these birds... so details of color will hardly be visible... but across the tops of their crowns there are some tiny, bright rust areas.  I didn't want the influence of the rust color across the entire block, so I cut a mask, did some spot inking, and printed this sort of rusty ochre color. Unfortunately I neglected to take a photo of the mask, so you'll just have to imagine it.

OR... you can extrapolate from this mask, which was used on the next step:

But I've gotten a little bit ahead of myself here. After the rust bits it was clear that I also needed to warm up and lighten a few areas of bird backs, as well as the faces of the three female birds in the foreground. I mixed a very pale tan from a semi-transparent sepia and opaque white inks. Like this.

It was unnecessary and undesirable to have all this opacity interfering across the entire block, hence the mask of the previous photo.

And the result. (This photo slightly embiggenable if you click on it.)

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 5

The next step would add a ton of drama, so I was anxious to jump on in. Unfortunately anything mixed with white takes a bit longer to dry, so I had to cool my heels and spend an entire day catching up with other work. SOOOO hard sometimes!

In fact I did try to print prematurely... got a mess of wet rejection on my testers (as I figured I would)  and cost myself an extra clean-up session without the satisfaction of actually getting anything done. But at least I had my color mixed and ready to go for the next day.

Step 6 color rolled up.

In this photo the color looks black, but it's really a lovely deep blue-green. Transparent, as always. It was rolled up over the entire block... my assumption (and hope) being that the rust-colored areas that hadn't been carved out of the block after Step 4 would be darkened but stay warm.

It's hard to tell from the photo, but it worked.  It was all so close to being finished at this point, except for one rather major problem.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 6 printed

The shadowed whites are not shadowed enough.

This is a problem because their current color was the very first one printed and those shapes were carved out of the block long ago. This is one of the things I find most challenging about reduction printing. Each color and value printed is visually influenced by subsequent colors printed around and over it. The blue-violet printed in Step 1 seemed like it would be dark enough, but by the time I got this dark printed it was clear that that first color had been too, too pale.

What to do? Bwah ha hah ha! Wait! You will have to wait to find out the solution, because creative cliffhangers are sometimes the most fun I have all week.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Linocut in Progress: Feeling Ducky

Ah, deadlines! It seems like spring is full of them. Some of the furor is about mundane things. Since I moved in to my home and studio here in Maine last May this is the time of year for car registration and inspection, insurance renewals, and for making sure I've got someone lined up to bring me some wood for next winter's heating.

It's also the season for a number of major museum exhibition deadlines, and for the opening of new seasonal shows at galleries. 

But this year I've got a REALLY big deadline looming. In less than three weeks I'll be delivering work for a major solo exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton, Massachusetts. At the moment it looks like I'll have 45-50 linocuts on exhibit, representing my printmaking career from some of my earliest experiments... right through to brand new work created this year. 

In fact I've got one more piece in process to debut at this show. Harlequin ducks! I was so excited to realize that I now live in a place where I can see "harley ducks" in the winter, because their colorful, graphic plumage seems to have evolved with printmakers in mind. 

Of course for my first harley duck piece I'm not going to celebrate the color of these handsome birds! (What?) Instead I've been getting really excited about the idea of a group of birds backlit in water so bright it's almost white. 

Which meant the first step of this piece involved a lot of cutting away of a lot of lino. Luckily, I was having some challenges with the recently-finished blackbird piece, so I could work on the harley carving whenever the blackbird wasn't cooperating.

I also started printing while the blackbird was still in progress, which was a little bit of a space management challenge, since the duck piece is fairly large: 12 x 24 inches. But hey, I'm all about sorting out complications... since I'm so good at creating them.

The first color was a transparent blue-violet that would ultimately only be kept in the shadowed white markings of the birds. 

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 1

Pretty fun, eh? I was happy with the arrangement of the birds (good thing, since it can't be changed now), and satisfied that I got pretty consistent ink coverage over this long, thin print. This is the first time I've tried to print something longer than 18" on my press, but it all seemed to go smoothly.

Step 2 color rolled up and ready to print.

I didn't want the water to be that sort of lavender color.. something more blue and perhaps even a bit "seafoam" would be nice against what will ultimately be very dark bird shapes. Over the lavender it would look more blue than green, but I hoped the color temperature would be okay.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 2

Okay! So far so good. I like that color for the water... but I do need a few areas to be a bit darker without changing the color temperature. Time for a nice transparent gray.

Step 3, transparent gray rollup

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 3 printed.

Alrighty, then. Things are looking rather... alarming... at this stage, but we must keep in mind that this teal-y color is only going to remain in the water, not the birds, and it will (hopefully) appear less... like 1980s wall paper when the next colors go down. (The images of the print so far can be viewed slightly larger with a click...)

The next two stages will be a bit fussy... with some rather extensive mask-cutting. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Linocut in Progress: Mistaking my way to the finish–or–Oh no! Not another learning experience!


This particular linocut is going to go down as the best example of what NOT to do that I've had in a long time.

Mostly it's a problem of rushing! I've got a huge show looming and I want to get this piece and one other finished by the beginning of June... two weeks away! So I've been working weird hours and poor light and not waiting long enough for things to dry and...

Well... look at what I mean.

Step 11 was fine. Another– darker– transparent gray over the entire block.

Step 11, transparent gray rollup

That should create the final dark in the foliage and the second-to-last dark in the bird, right?

Step 11, printed

It all seemed reasonable. It also didn't seem like I needed to take the time to cut away all of the foliage for the last step, since I could just mask out everything but the bird. I cut away some of the plants nearest the bird to keep the edges clean, rolled up a fairly opaque black, put the mask in place, and... @#$%.

Step 11 was still too wet and the mask stripped away the color from the print. Plus the black was just too harsh.. too much contrast with the foliage. The bird looked like a cutout pasted onto the scene.

I had two choices: Stop and wait for the Step 11 ink to dry more (the better solution).... OR carve everything out of the block except the bird and hope I could mix a black of the correct value to print (the faster solution). With all of the other material off the block I wouldn't need a mask, so it wouldn't strip the still-wet Step 11 ink.

Since I really, really, really wanted this print to be finished, I went for option 2 and carved away everything but the bird. A nice, semi-transparent, darker gray-black and it was ready to go.

Step 12 rollup.
I had better get this right, because there's no going back to tweak the foliage now!
Step 12 printed

It seemed pretty good, so I continued to print all those "testers" at the front of the queue. I pulled the registration tabs off each print as I went, convinced that this was the end. But then...


You can't see it in the photo, but the red of bird's epaulette runs beyond the shape along the top edge. I had printed the shape a little larger than necessary to avoid making it too small and risking an uneven edge... the final black would cover it, right? Right.

Except that it doesn't, exactly. From a distance you can't see it, but up close there's the ghost of a red shape under the black and it disturbs me. (Sigh.) What to do?

I don't want to make the entire bird darker... I'll be back to the problem of too much contrast between the bird and leaves... and I don't have the leaves on the block anymore to make any corrections there! I decided that perhaps a small blended roll along the right side of the bird could be good... just enough to darken the side of the face and the area just above the epaulette and the edge of the wing. I carved a bit more into the bird to keep the shape interesting and...

Rejection... on so many levels.

Wet rejection. Some of the new ink clung to the print, but most of it did not. AND... some of the Step 12 ink peeled up off the print and stuck to the block instead. So. I saved myself zero time, plus I now have no fallback position for correcting the foliage because all that material is removed from the block.

AND... I don't have my testers available anymore because I already took the registration tabs off of them.

I will still get good prints, although the edition will be smaller than I wanted.

The moral of the story? Rushing is never a good idea.


I forced myself to wait a few days, and shifted my attention what I think will be the last new piece for the upcoming show at the Museum of American Bird Art. I hate waiting when something is so close to finished... and in fact looks finished except for some nit-picky problem that probably only I will ever notice. But you know I can't let it go... it has to be fixed.

To my great relief (printmaking pun not intended... or maybe it is), the prints were finally dry enough last night to put one more transparent gray into the bird.

Lucky Step 13. Finished... and who can tell the difference? Only me.

It's foggy and gray again today, so this natural-light photo is a bit questionable, but trust me. The problem of the bleeding red line is solved and there are a few more tiny details in the feathers. And it's FINISHED.Whew.

In the end I think the edition will only have 10 of the 20 prints I started with. Most of the rejects occurred in the first two steps of the process, when I had so much trouble with residual bleed from the yellow ink. 

But now I know a little bit more about a new brand of ink, I've discovered another printing pitfall to avoid, and I did manage to walk away from a too-wet print before I destroyed the entire edition. I also learned a nifty use for "mixing white" ink. 

So, yes. I guess this print qualifies as one of those (@#$%!) learning experiences. 

Even after 15-plus years of printmaking I've still got a lot to learn... so if you're new to the process, don't despair! As a friend said to me decades ago–when I was standing terrified at the top of a mountain with skis strapped to my feet–"If you're not falling down you're not trying hard enough." 

So off I go... back to the studio for more falling down... and getting back up again, of course! 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Linocut in Progress: Almost There, or Not

Oh! Finally I am in the studio without the huge distractions of out of town meetings or show installations or framing or deadlines. Well. Sort of. I have a HUGE deadline looming that involves all of those things: my solo exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art in Massachusetts. But I do have (MUST have) a couple of weeks in which I am able to focus.

The morning after I returned from Chicago I marched straight downstairs into the studio, still in my pajamas, to take care of the small detail of the spot-inked red in the wing of the blackbird in the current linocut in progress.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 9

This was surprisingly difficult, although it shouldn't have surprised me since I always struggle with reds. It's a good thing I have all those "tester" prints, since I used all of them trying to get this color right.

But I got it eventually, and went to work carving for what I hoped would be the last pass on the foliage. My plan was to roll a transparent gray once again over the entire block... darkening the bird and the plant in one go.

Transparent gray roll-up

And it worked! I now have three values of green in the image, but only used green ink once, on the first pass. And the bird has a mid-tone gray that will work great for the final black pass. Nifty trick, eh?

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 10

Except that it's not ready for the final black pass. The foliage really needs one more darker value or when the bird is finished it will look like it's just cut out and pasted on there. It won't be cohesive and there will be too much value contrast. (sigh) One more intermediate gray pass will be necessary... so two more color passes before the print is finished.

I'm still aiming to finish this week so I can get the next lino on the press right away. These will be the last two new pieces for the exhibition... and then... wheee! Framing. <wince>

Monday, May 6, 2019

59th Art and the Animal

Last week I was in Chicago (or thereabouts) for the twice-yearly board meeting of the Society of Animal Artists. At the same time, the jury committee met to select the works that will be included in the 59th Annual Art and the Animal exhibition, which will open in September at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. 

It's no small thing to have work included in this prestigious show, so I am of course delighted to share that "Chasing Daylight" got the nod. 

"Chasing Daylight," reduction linocut, 12 x 18" © Sherrie York

Watch for more details about the show at the end of the summer. In the meantime... wahoo!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Linocut in Progress: Second Green, in absentia

Through the magic of technology I'm going to catch you up with what happened last week in Maine before I came to Chicago, the day before I go back to Maine and pick up from here again. Didja get that?

Linocut in progress, green roll up, paper mask, sunshine!

After the adventure of the previous "fix-it" pass I figured the extra layer of "mixing white" would slow down the drying time, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover I could procrastinate packing for a few more hours and print the second, mid-tone green.

I had saved the leftover too-yellow-green from the first pass at the locust bush (I think that's what it is!), so I pulled that back out, added a good dollop of blue and some more transparent base and voila! It looked about right. And, hey! It helped that the sun was shining enthusiastically into the studio and I could feel confident about how the color would appear on the print. I cut another set of bird-shaped masks and was ready to (ahem) roll.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 8

I am delighted (or perhaps relieved) to report that Step 8 went smoothly... good ink coverage, satisfactory color and value. The only troubling thing about it was that I then had to go back to packing my suitcase, knowing it would be more than a week before I could get back to work!

I think I can get this wrapped up in just two more color passes and a spot inking: Spot ink the red in the bird's epaulette, then a transparent gray over everything to create the third value of the greens and a mid-tone for the highlights in the bird's feathers. Theoretically that will bring me to the final black of the bird and I'll be finished... but of course theoretically is the operative word.

Tomorrow I'll be on the road (and in the air)... but look for me Tuesday with carving tools in hand and a determined-to-finish-before-Friday look in my eye. I've got another piece ready to go right after this, so the lino chips will be flying!

Linocut in Progress: The Finish and the Rescue

 In the first post about the process of this linocut I mentioned that I was distracted and unfocused during the time I worked on it... whic...