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! 


  1. I must being trying pretty hard, I fall all the time :p

    for all the hassle you had with this edition it turned out wonderful :) good contrast between the bird and the foliage :)

    1. Well.. I suppose if you're going to fall a LOT you should get some cushions under you. :p

  2. Thank you for your entertaining description of your ultimate success. You're still my hero.

  3. Most peeps don't realize how much work goes into a block print. So many challenges, so many ways to mess up. I remember a quote "printmaking is fun because it takes a simple act of drawing and makes it as complicated as possible." Nails it!

    Great job - it looks beautiful as all your prints do!

    1. Thanks, Lynn! And, yes! I tell people all the time that if there's a complicated way to do something, that's straight where I go. ;-)


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