Friday, April 24, 2020

Starting a new linocut: Business as not-quite-so-usual

While human communities around the world remain in isolation, nature's wildlife communities are going about business as usual.

I had a birthday at the beginning of this week, and to celebrate I took myself and my sketchbook out for a walk on a nearby trail. Maine's landscape is still very gray and brown, but there are signs of spring everywhere. Skunk cabbage is one of the earliest blooming plants... its strange maroon flowers appearing even before its leaves.

Skunk cabbage in bloom...

The eastern phoebes are back, also, and busy reclaiming their nesting spot under the eave of my front porch. Earlier this season my landlord added a gutter to my roof because snow melt and rain were dripping on to my steps and causing serious icing problems. It's not a pretty solution, but the phoebes seem to appreciate the snazzy new perch that was added while they were away.


In the studio the progression of the season has been a bit bumpier. The phoebes might not be affected by the emotional, physical, and financial distractions of a global pandemic... but the rest of us sure are! Personally I find myself able to work only in fits and starts, with serious focus issues.

With all that's going on, I was thrilled to take a walk the other morning and discover inspiration for a new linocut! The weather down at Pemaquid Point was wild... sun, then clouds, then snow and wind... and the seas were fierce. There weren't many birds about, but then... oooooh! A group of more than a dozen black scoters appeared, bouncing in and out of the waves as they fed near shore. Black birds, bright yellow-orange beaks, and rich blue water? Yes, please!

I had so many potential combinations of birds and waves that it was hard to choose what to do first, but I finally settled on a composition and set to work on the line drawing.

line drawing for new linocut

I don't usually share this stage of the process on Brush and Baren because I like the element of surprise as an image unfolds. But, hey! This time I already told you we're doing scoters and waves. Talk about a spoiler.

When I have the line drawing finished I transfer it to the lino. In this case the image involves a fair amount of white, so I have carving to do before I can print the first color. I've already trimmed and tabbed the paper, so everything's ready to roll.

It's a relief (printmaking pun intended) to have something to work on again. Thanks for sharing the journey... at appropriate physical distance. Be well, everyone.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the geese....

Spoiler Alert: Nope. I didn't finish in ten color passes.

Like all of us, I've been trying hard not to dwell on the challenges of life during a global pandemic. Everyone's got challenges, and everyone is trying to find their way through unfamiliar territory. The greatest issue for me right now is that March was supposed to be the start of my busy teaching season, and of course all my workshops are cancelled for an undetermined period of time. Galleries remain closed, as well... all of which is wreaking havoc with that minor life detail known as income.

But when I can push those concerns aside and focus on today, then I can say that I really appreciate having the unexpected time to do a few things around the house and to work in the studio. Because, hey! It's only the end of the first week in April and I've already finished 3 new linocuts!

When we last left our heroine, she had turned her attention to completing the birds and their reflections. It was hard to call the water finished, to be honest. So simple.... so quiet. Shouldn't I put some big, dramatic... something... in there?

No.
Birds.
Focus on birds now.

Step 9 ready to print. Spot ink and mask.

So here's Step 9, all inked up in a transparent brown and ready to print. I'm using a newsprint mask here to protect the already-printed areas from any potential stray bits of color. I didn't remove all of the background material on the block, both to hedge my bets about whether I was going to need another color in the background and to support the prints as they travel through the press. If the press roller were to dip down into uncarved background and then have to jump back up on the the beak of the first adult bird.... well. Slipping... crunching... mooshing. All sorts of bad things could happen.

Reduction linocut, Step 9 printed.

This was feeling pretty good. I liked that the birds were starting to show some form and the overall feel was still very peaceful.

So I mixed a darkish, transparent brown-black for what I thought would be the final color pass, number ten. You can see there's not much to print in the birds... and you can also see the material still left on the block that will support the roller. And you can see why I need a mask, since there's so much color outside the bird's necks.

Step 10 rollup (Yes, there was a mask, but no photo of same)

Of course I neglected to take a photo of the mask at this stage, but it was basically the same one I used in Step 9. Here was the print at the end of Step 10. Is it finished?

Step 10 printed

Well... bummer. I don't think so. It's okay like this... but the morning after I printed Step 10 I still felt that the darkest bits of the adults (and maybe a little section of the twigs that have the stray chick's attention) need one last bit of oomph.

Step 11 spot inking. Hardly anything left!

And we're talking little bit... because there's hardly anything left on the block to take ink. This color looks completely black in the photo, but it's really a leftover scrap of the Step 10 color with a tiny bit of black added.

Step 11 masked

New mask to contain the color. Probably one of the easiest masks I ever cut. Amazing.
And here it is, all finished!

"Come Along, Dear..." Reduction linocut, 12" x 18"

The title of this piece was known long before I even drew it up in the lino... in fact I've been thinking about this concept for a couple of years. It's a quiet family outing... the adults are creating very few ripples because they are moving slowly to accommodate the speed of their offspring. One curious chick is distracted by a twig. A parent lets the little one wander for a bit... and then gently encourages the young explorer to rejoin the group..."Come along, dear." 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Big changes, quiet mood

As if it weren't difficult enough to focus right now, the weather gods have elected to grace us with rainy, dreary weather here on the coast of Maine. I find it extra challenging to get anything done when the whole world is insisting I take a nap in front of the wood stove.

But somehow I've managed to move this print forward in the last few days. The previous orangey-brown color pass was a bit alarming, and I didn't want to have to stare at it for too long, so I rolled out a nice transparent purpley-gray (I have such great color descriptions, don't I?) and ran it over the entire block. At last.

Hey! There are some birds in this linocut! Step...um... 7

That's okaaayyyyy... but somehow it still feels a bit too wishy washy. Ethereal would probably be a kinder word. I'd probably use kinder words if those nap gremlins weren't whispering in my ears. Again. Now. Constantly.

After a bit more carving in the foreground water I was ready to print Step 8. You can see from the roll-out photo that I'm using a variant of the previous purpley-gray color, but with a little twist. The darker-looking ink is semi-opaque, while the lighter is a much-more-transparent version of about the same hue. I did this in part because I felt the background was looking a bit "splotchy," and an ink with a little more oomph would (I hoped) even things out. I did not want the foreground to go dark, however, so the more transparent ink was applied to that area.

Step 8 ink rollout

I dunno. I really like this color. Maybe it's just the influence of the weather this week....


Oops! I realized after I had cleaned up that I took this photo without the block on the table!

Okay, I think that might be it for the water. Maybe. Mostly. (Wait, did I say the print was looking wishy washy? Clearly it's not the print.... it's me!)

I'm definitely going for a softer mood with this image than the last two bird/water pieces I've completed, and that kinder, gentler tone is turning out to be less-comfortable territory for me. Sometimes I find it hard to resist the temptation of big visual drama. But I'd like this piece to feel quiet and gentle... without getting too sentimental.

Step 8 printed... on to the details of the birds!

At any rate... here's where we are at the end of Step 8. There are still many details of birds and their reflections to do, but I might be able to pull them together in just two more color passes. What do you think? Can I be three-for-three in finishing a reduction print in ten passes or fewer? Stay tuned!