Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What's-It-All-About Wednesday! "Dinner Party"


"Dinner Party," reduction linocut, 18" x 18", edition of 18

Well, hello there! I'm a little bit leery about making the following statement, a little superstitious about "jinxing" things, but I think I am finally coming out of the long, dark tunnel that has been the last few months. 

In a making-art-for-a-living life there are always ups and downs. Ideas, and enthusiasm for them, wax and wane. But this year? Wow. This year there has been a whole lot of wane

The good news is that I've started to kick around some new ideas and putter around in the studio again. In fact today I started to draw up a new lino and prep the paper for it. That hasn't happened in a while. 

There's nothing yet to show for the effort, however, so while I'm stirring that particular pot I thought it would be nice to thaw out the periodic "What's-It-All-About Wednesday" posts. And since I've been seeing a lot of buffleheads around lately... well... let's take a look at Dinner Party.

This piece is a couple of years old, but it remains a favorite. Two pair of buffleheads have come together to ride the swells and search for a meal; in fact one of the females has already found a tasty appetizer. 

Small and feisty, buffleheads are constantly in motion. Back in Colorado I always had a heckuva time deciding exactly how many buffies were overwintering on my local pond, since I could never be sure I was seeing all of them on the surface of the water at the same time. Pop up! Down! Up! Down! Constantly.

It's challenging to suggest all that busy-ness in the sort of stop-motion view of an image on paper, but I tried to do so by ramping up the color and texture of the water and by giving the birds very alert postures. They could all dive back down to the underwater buffet line at any moment. 

Interestingly (I think), buffleheads are cavity nesters. That's right. A bird that spends all of its time on and in the water... raises its young in holes in trees. And if you've never watched day-old ducklings leap out of a tall tree... well. You owe it to yourself to spend some time on YouTube, at least. 

Because they are so small they can (and do) take advantage of old flicker holes, and they will also use nest boxes. Here in the United States most of us have to be content with seeing them only in the winter, however, as the bulk of their breeding range is in central and western Canada, up in to Alaska. But this time of year you should be able to spot them in fresh or salt water across the entire lower 48 and down in to Mexico. In fact, I've been entertained by a number of rambunctious dinner parties in my Maine neighborhood recently, both off the coast and on inland ponds. 

It's been a while since we've been able to engage in similarly energetic human parties, but those precious gatherings will return. And when they do, I imagine they'll feel just as celebratory as a gathering of buffleheads. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

It's an... updated website!

 Yes, I know, I've been away too long. Blame it on a dumb ol' virus that's been messing with my motivation to get in the studio.

But all is not lost! I've been working on other projects, including the redesign of my website! Hooray! It's a bit overdue, and I'm glad to finally have it up and running. I hope you'll take a few minutes to pop over to and check it out. Thanks!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the Harlequin Ducks

By now I really should know better than to make pronouncements like "I think I'm all done cutting masks for this image." Because, of course, after the last color pass I felt the current linocut needed just a little more oomph in the color department. Something a little brighter, and maybe a little surprising, but not obnoxious. Something, perhaps, in the water.

Almost all of the lino has been carved away in the areas of the block that represent water, but there were a couple of sections still intact that could be interpreted as the shadows or reflections of the birds in the waves. In order to contain the color, though, I had to (wait for it)... cut some masks. Which I said I wasn't going to do anymore. But I did. Like this:

Step 13 mask

I mixed a lovely turquoise as the color to be corralled by this mask. The inks I used are a bit transparent straight from the tube, so I knew they wouldn't appear this light and bright on the prints, but there was still an anxious moment when I pulled the first one. 

Step 13 rollup

Whew! Okay. Subtle, but there. Just enough. I can't really explain why this step felt so important, other than a vague feeling of too much sameness in the overall image. It's a tiny thing, but I felt much better for having done it.

Step 13 printed

But NOW we are definitely done with the mask-cutting. One more color pass remains. A deep almost-black will add just a bit more depth and detail...

Step 14 rollup

And, voila! Here it is. This is a direct scan of the final image, so the color is pretty good and the light is finally consistent. I've uploaded this at a decent size, so be sure to click on it for a better view. 

The Lazy Eight? The Crazy Eight? Eight is Enough? Step 14, final
Image 8 x 24 inches, Edition of 18
UPDATE: Final title: "Swell Gathering"

Once again all that remains is a title. There are eight birds, well, seven-and-a-half if you want to be technical about it, so that seems an obvious starting point. But it feels like there's probably something to be said about the comfort of a "pod" of sociable companions, too, so I'll keep thinking about it. 

What's next? Don't know yet. I'm back to work on the content for my online linocut course, which I'm trying to get launched before Christmas, so that's taking a fair chunk of time. And I am frequently distracted by the pesky red squirrels that have finally figured out how to get to my bird feeders. 

No matter. A little puttering about along the shore, in the woods, and in the studio, will no doubt turn up something to challenge me again soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Pulling things back together

Maybe it's too soon to celebrate, but I think that newsprint mask-making time might actually be over! After isolating the two female ducks and establishing their overall body color, it's time to pull the image back together with some unifying color passes. 

Step 11 is a rich, transparent blue that will create shadows in a few areas of the females and bring the overall tone and value of the male birds back into line.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 11 rollup

And here's where it landed us:

Step 11 printed

It's starting to come back together, but the females are still visually overpowering the males. It's time to really focus on those handsome boys. Here's the roll-up for Step 12, an even richer blue-gray. You can see that the farthest-distant female is almost completely removed from the block, and just a few shadow textures remain in the closest bird. Additionally, all the water except for a few details around the birds and a couple of waves in the foreground has also been removed.

Step 12 ink rollup

Aaannndddd... hooray! A nice day and some indirect light outdoors, so I was able to get a decent photo of Step 12 after it was printed. I also uploaded this shot at an embiggenable size, so you can click on it to get a better look at where everything stands. 

Step 12 printed, embiggenable with a click

We are really close now. I think I only need one more pass to finish up the birds... but I am undecided about whether I should mess around with two little sections of water that haven't yet been carved away. It might not be necessary to put a different color on them, but it also might be just the right little zing! if I do it right. We'll see what I decide when I get there...

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Grace and awkwardness

When we last left our heroic linocut ducks, things had gone from harmony to disharmony with the application of the rusty-orange bits in the males of the species. I did promise you that the next step would bring things back together a bit, and so it did. A bit. 

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 8 printed

Yes, 't'was a nice transparent blue applied to the entire block that seemed to set everything back on the right path, but of course it wasn't to last long. There are two female ducks in this group, and their plumage is brown, unlike the strong blues and oranges of the males. It was time to give them a little attention.

In order to keep the brown colors contained I cut another newsprint mask, and did some spot inking of a light brown. Here it is, on the press and ready to print.

Step 9 mask

And here's the result. Again I apologize for such lousy photos this time... I promise that when we finally do get to the end there will be a proper image of the entire print.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 9 printed

Because this first, lighter, brown was of a similar value to the blue of the males, this step didn't seem to go too far astray. But don't worry. I'm gonna awkward this up right proper with Step 10.

The Step 10 ink was a darker, lush brown. Spot inked again, and masked again. I could use the same mask pattern as the previous color pass, since any areas that would retain the lighter brown had, of course, been carved away.

Here we are again on the press, mask in place, ready to print.

And here's that result. Quite clunky-looking now, isn't it? The overall value of the females is much darker than the males, which at this stage look a bit like ghosts of their selves-to-be. But never fear! These next few steps should (I hope) bring a little grace back to this raft of harlequin ducks... and give me a little reassurance as well. 

Step 10 printed

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Linocut in Progress: The maybe-not-ugly-but-certainly-not-attractive duckling stage

As I mentioned in my last post, it's time to move away from the pleasant and harmonious color scheme we've had so far and put in the contrasting orangey parts of the male ducks. 

Since only small areas of the finished image will need these orangey shapes, I can use a combination of spot inking and masks to move the process along. I used the same piece of acetate as before, placed it over my carved block, and traced my new shapes in blue instead of pink.

Another mask pattern

Again, I used this pattern to create newprint masks... like this: 

Step 6 mask, ready to print

It took a couple of tries to get the first of my two orangey colors right. This paler color will be the highlighted areas.

Step 6 ink rollup

Before you see this next photo I have to apologize for the continued poor quality of my in-progress images. Now that the sun has made a seasonal shift it's difficult for me to find a spot in the studio with natural light for photography,  so these have all been very dull and and strange, with glare from artificial lights... But hopefully you get the idea...

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 6 printed,
embiggenable with a click

Awkward little shapes, but sufficient for now. I did just a tiny bit of carving and then used spot inking...

Step 7 rollup

and the same newsprint mask....

Step 7 on the press with mask in place. See what I mean about dodgy light?

And heeeeerreee's Step 7 printed. The orange looks particularly harsh in this photo, but it's not nearly this bright. And a lot of it will be obscured by future color passes, anyway. 

Reduction linocut, Step 7 printed,
slightly embiggenable with a click

Thankfully the next color pass will be a blue-gray that should start to pull the image back together again, because all these awkward-looking prints on the drying rack make me feel very uncomfortable. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Duck masks, but not masked ducks

Alrighty then! So far this new linocut has been proceeding in a fairly straightforward manner... a couple of flat color passes and a blended roll. Nothing too tricky.

But now it's time to bring the birds a bit forward of the background. The next color pass needs to place a blue-violet into the shadowed areas of the birds without getting too much darker in value and without interfering with the background so far. 

Time to cut a mask. For ducks. But not masked ducks. Which are an actual species. But not the species that is the subject of this linocut. Oh, nevermind.

The first step was to place a piece of clear acetate over the block and trace the shapes in which I wanted this new color to appear. I didn't want to have to carve a lot of fussy details at this stage, so I aimed to simplify the shapes and keep the mask-cutting to something that wouldn't make me pull my hair out. 

Step 4 mask pattern

That seemed alright, so I traced it on to newsprint and cut out about 10 masks. I planned to reuse each mask 2 or 3 times, so ten seemed sufficient, but in the end I had to cut a couple more, as the masks didn't hold up as well as I hoped.

Step 4 masks cut from newsprint

Here's the block all inked up with a transparent blue-violet, mask in place, on the press.

Step 4 ready to print

And here's the result. There's a much clearer sense of the birds and the overall image. So far, so good, I think. 

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 4 printed

On to Step 5! The changes here are subtle, but extensive. A lot more carving has been done in the water, and the white markings on the birds' heads that are in shadow have been carved away. The Step 5 color pass was a solid, transparent blue over the entire block. No mask required. 
Step 5 printed

It's all looking pretty harmonious, so you know what that means! It's time to mess it all up. There are some small details in the male ducks that need to be a sort of rust color, so I need to tackle those before moving on to the rest of the water and the dark shapes of the birds' bodies. Time to make more duck masks. But not for masked du... oh, nevermind.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Duck duck duck!

When we last left our hero she had just finished a lino and purchased a car. There were a few loose ends... like titles for both the vehicle and the print edition. The automotive title is coming eventually (ongoing pandemic = slower processing time), but the lino got its new name ("Low T'Eiders") and will soon be posted on my website

So of course it's time to get something new underway. I had a piece in a long, skinny (3:1) format sketched out before I started the eiders, but decided maybe the world wasn't quite ready for yet another linocut of harlequin ducks. 

And then I decided that although the world might not be ready... well... who's doing the work, eh? Me, that's who. And I am always ready for more harley ducks. So that's what we're doing. Look away if you must.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1

This time I thought it would be fun to push the color a bit, a decision which might end up looking great and might end up looking like a disaster zone. But, hey. I run the risk of a very public crash and burn every time I start documenting a new piece... so why not? I started out with a transparent green.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1 printed.

Yep, that's green. Could be fun, could be a nightmare. Let's move on. 

Color pass #2 was a bit more predictable... a transparent blue.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 2 rollup

The printing of this color was straight up and basic... just roll it and go. Because the blue was so transparent it created a sort of... well... a blue-green, of course. 

Step2 printed

For the third color pass I decided it was time to make things a bit more interesting by creating a blended roll. I rolled out a transparent light blue and a deeper transparent blue-violet.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 3 rollup

Alrighty, then, that seems like a good start. 

Step 3 printed (embiggenable with a click)

Those first three steps moved along fairly quickly, but now things have to slow down a little bit. These birds have bright white markings on their heads and sides, but I want them to appear in a sort of dramatic cross-light, so many of those white markings are in shadow. For this reason I didn't carve all the white shapes away in the first step, but now I need to address them before they become too dark in value. They will be a blue-violet color, which they more or less are right now, but I want them to be slightly different from the blues of the water. 

The best way to do this will be to cut a mask and do some spot inking, so that's where we're headed next.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the eiders

Alrighty, then! In the space of 48 hours both my quest for a new car and my quest to finish the eider linocut were resolved. More or less. There remains the obligatory shuffling of papers for the car and the equally obligatory shuffling to find a title for the image, but at least things have moved on to a new stage.

Step 10... AKA the expected-to-be-final-but-then-alas-not-quite-final step. I mixed a bit of sepia into all my scraps of greenish and ochre-ish brown ink and rolled the resulting deep brown across the entire block. 

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 10 rollup

The result was good, but not exactly right...

Step 10 printed

...which meant there was one more pass to go. I'm sorry to admit I didn't take a photo of the last ink rollup, but here's the carved block after I had finished printing.

Final carving stage

The birds' heads and backs have been mostly carved away, as well as swathes of rock weed in areas that are shadowed, but not completely so. It seems like there's a lot of material still left on the block after 11 stages, but believe me, a lot has been carved away. It's just been in tiny bits at a time.

The final color was the previous brown with a good amount of Prussian blue mixed in to give it a coolness that seemed appropriate for the deeper shadows.

And... heeeeeeeere's the final image. (This is a scan rather than a photograph, so the colors are closer to correct. The photos always seem to be a bit lurid.)

As-yet-untitled reduction linocut, 12" x 12"

All that remains is to find a title for it. Female eiders camouflaged out in the open are a common sight here in Maine. The birds are similar in color to the rock weed that is exposed at low tide... its slippery fronds making it treacherous for human beings and other predators to traverse the rocky shore. Lingering at Low Tide? Perhaps. 

I've already got another large-ish lino in the long, skinny format drawn up, but it might be time for me to tackle some smaller images. I am undecided. What I DO know is next on the horizon is finally pulling together my online Learn Linocut course! I've promised my producer than I'll have the written portion...well... written... in the next couple of weeks, and final feedback on the video portion. The goal is to have everything ready before the holidays... so if you know someone who wants to learn the process I should have at least some of your holiday shopping solved for you! 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Slowly

Of all the headaches associated with this, the weirdest year ever, the one that has been depriving me of the most sleep (lately) is the ongoing quest for a new (to me) car. My current ride is 23 years old... going on 24. While it was never a practical vehicle for me in terms of cargo space (it's a sedan... not convenient for hauling around art), it has been completely reliable. The engine still wants to go, but after 200,000 miles everything else is wearing out. 

I started looking for a replacement in February, but then of course everything shut down for a couple of months. When I started looking again in May I found few vehicles available and prices elevated (as they have become with just about everything). I can't tell you how many hours of my life have been lost to car hunting and research... online... driving around. There have been a couple of vehicles that looked promising but in the end were disappointing... with entire days lost to driving back and forth. 

The search has reached critical stage... and it's occupying most of my brain cells... so it's been really hard to find momentum in the studio. But I did get another color pass down this week, and I think there's just one... maybe two... more to go.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 9 ink roll up

Everything about this piece has seemed strange. The color palette, the time it's taking, my distracted attention. After the last color pass I really started to worry that the whole thing was going to fall apart, so my goal for this step was to try to create a bit more cohesion. I mixed up two rather odd inks... a greeny-brown and a reddish-brown. The red-brown was used somewhat loosely across the birds, and the rest of the block was inked with the green-brown. Both colors were very transparent, so they reacted with all the colors printed below them.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 9 printed

Oooookay..... That feels better. Hard to say if I will be able to resolve it all in one more color pass, but that's the goal! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Project Postcard in the time of pandemic...

'Way back in March, when everything started to go pear-shaped, many organizations with big annual events on the horizon were obliged to peer into the murky future and make decisions about the rest of the year. Each change or cancellation was painful, but one of the toughest ones for me was the weekend shenanigans events at the Woodson Art Museum's annual Birds in Art exhibition. 

Birds in Art is one of the most prestigious wildlife art exhibitions in the world, and I have been lucky enough to have my work selected again this year. The exhibition is always a beautiful celebration of all things avian, and the gathering of artists from around the globe for the September opening is a highlight of every year.

This year the exhibition will open to the public on schedule (with precautions in place, of course) on September 12. But there will be no "Artrageous Weekend" festivities... no gathering of the tribe. (Insert sad face emoji of your choice here.)

But some activities will still go on, albeit in a different format. Each year Birds in Art artists donate 4 x 6-inch art "postcards," which are mounted on the walls of a secret room. Anyone who wants to play pays $50 for a chance to go in to the room for 1 minute and select a piece that appeals to them. Signatures are all on the back, so there's no way to know for certain if a piece is by a particular favorite artist. 

Funds raised through Project Postcard are used to buy work from the exhibition for the museum's permanent collection, so it's win-win-win! Buyers get a little artwork gem, several artists get their work purchased, and the museum gets new work for their collection. Full disclosure, I myself have had work purchased for the Woodson Museum's collection through Project Postcard, so I am always happy to contribute. This year the museum is having to forego the "secret room" aspect, but the clever staff have worked out a "contactless" system. Hooray! 

Here are my two submissions for this year; distorted, of course, to keep them at least a semi-secret for a few more days until they're winging their way to new homes. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Still in the ugly zone....

Is it just me, or have all the social media platforms decided to change their interfaces at the same time? Blogger, Facebook, Instagram. It seems as though they've all moved the controls, changed the appearance, and simultaneously conspired to cause user irritation. 

Maybe I'm just being ultra-sensitive, because if you follow me on either FB or IG, you know that last week some nefarious human being created an Instagram account impersonating me and subsequently spammed many of my followers. It caused no end of headaches, since it is impossible to reach a real human being at any of these companies anymore. I don't want to rattle on about it, but as a public service announcement I just want to say BE CAREFUL OUT THERE. I never send my readers any private messages asking them to follow links or donate any funds, and I immediately delete messages I receive under the same circumstances. Stay vigilant! 

But enough of the soapbox, let's talk lino

There have been a lot of distractions in the last couple of weeks. Between the IG woes, an online course, and a live workshop (my first since last autumn!) studio time has been erratic. But then again, so am I right now. Erratic, I mean. 

So where are we?

Right. We're at Step 6 already! There are four subtle layers of color in the background water area, and in my last post the print had just entered the Ugly Duckling Stage with the application of Step 5. I'm afraid we're going to be in this questionable stage for a while longer, so I hope you've got plenty of popcorn and don't mind a cliffhanger.

Step 6 was a straightforward orangey-ochre applied to over the entire block. It went a little way towards unifying some of the blobbiness that started to appear in Step 5, but not much.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 6 printed

The seaweeds which cover the intertidal zone all along the Maine coast range in color from a sort of orangey-ochre to an ochery-green to a blue-gray and a green that's almost black. I find these colors really tricky to mix effectively, especially when I'm layering transparent color.

For the next color I mixed a fairly dark, transparent green-black. I wanted to dull some of the rusty orange from the previous pass, and "cool" it down a bit, without getting too dark.
Step 7 ink rollup
The tricky bit is trying to anticipate how colors will interact. On the block this color looked very dark and gray, but on the print.....

It produced a rather nice brown.

Step 7 printed

In general this is all feeling okayyyyyyy..... but I don't like how dark the birds' heads have become. And I want to start developing some of the cooler-toned rockweed that's mixed in with the more ochery bits.

This looks like a job for SOOP-er Weird Color Woman.

How about we roll some plain opaque white over the upper parts of the birds and a nice, somewhat opaque, blue-gray over everything else? That ought to do... something. Right?

Step 8 rollup: Spot ink white and blue-gray

Well. It's definitely done... something.

Welcome to the Ugly Duckling Stage, Part 2.

Step 8 printed. Hmmm.

Believe it or not, I'm actually not panicking at this point, although maybe I should be. There's a bit of wet ink glare in this photo, so it's hard to tell, but I am happier with the birds' heads. Not much of the gray color will remain in the final image, I don't think.... but it has put down an interesting base and will create some nice highlights in the darker rockweed to come. Well, that's the theory, anyway!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Ugly duckling stage already?

Alrighty, then. What the heck is going on in the studio? Stuff. That's what's going on. Linocut stuff. Whether's it's good stuff or bad stuff, I can't really tell yet, because, yes, Virginia, there is an Ugly Duckling Stage (henceforth known as the UDS), and we are in it.

But let's see what happened right up to the time of entering the UDS, shall we?

There was still a little work to be done in the background, which, as you might have guessed, is the watery region of this image. For this last bit I rolled up a transparent blue and a teal-y color to create a subtle blended roll.

Color rollup for Step 4: transparent blues and greens

With three layers of ink already on the print, it was important to think about minimizing the impact of additional bluey/greeny colors where I didn't need them, so for this pass I cut a newsprint mask to cover the foreground subjects and keep that area of the print clear.

Like this:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 4 printed

Yes, indeed, those are silhouettes of bird shapes against the watery horizon. They have a little bit of a dark halo around them because the newsprint masks weren't spot-on, but it's okay because the next color pass will cover all that up with an opaque white. The new white won't look bright and pristine, but I am only aiming to lighten the overall value in the birds and combat the cool undertones. The real business that's getting started now is the foreground: rocks, barnacles, and rockweed. The rockweed's underlying color is a warm yellow ochre, so I'll blend that with the white to create a nice transition. I hope.

Step 5 ink rollup, white to ocher

Aaaaannnndddddd........ Here we are, squarely in the UDS. (That's Ugly Duckling Stage, if you've forgotten already.)

Linocut in progress, Step 5 printed

I should probably note that in addition to a rather unsightly collection of colors, there were also some printing issues with this particular sheet. This was the first or second print at this stage, and I was having a little trouble with both press pressure and amount of ink on the block. Things evened out after this, but of course I neglected to stop and take a photo.

At any rate... I'm now committed to a tangle of vegetation and birds, so the next carving stages will be slow and complex. Fingers crossed I can find my way back to some harmony by the time I reach the end, because right now things look rather.... well.... Ugly. Ducklings not required.

Linocut in Progress: The Third Act

Time to wrap up this linocut ! And we are wrapping at warp speed (see what I did there?)... because there are deadlines. Exhibition deadline...