Saturday, May 30, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Or perhaps I should say linocut in bloom!

Blue columbine. Delicate... showy. And the quintessential symbol of summer in Colorado. I had plans to be back home in the Centennial State right now, but of course that's all been scuppered by the pandemic.

Instead I am in Maine, which is celebrating the bicentennial of its statehood this year.

There are wild columbine which grow here also, but they are the smaller red ones. Nice. But not the blues. (To be fair... these aren't open yet...)

Not being able to visit my home state right now also means I've had to postpone some artist talks and workshops and demos that were scheduled there. Disappointing on so many levels.

BUT! Through the wonders of technology, I can at least try to make up for a little of it. I decided to start a small (6 x 8-inch) linocut of columbine, AND I am making a point to document all the stages of its development with photos and video. The goal is to create a virtual demonstration that will be shared with the good folks at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, where I was supposed to present a program this week. In the meantime I can keep you up to date on progress, least.

To begin with, here's a drawing I made, based on some reference photos I have from... wow! More than ten years ago.

I decided that compositionally I liked the flowers facing the other way around. This will seem confusing when you look at the block, because the image has the same orientation as the drawing. But remember that it will print in reverse... so forwards is actually backwards.

I could have made this even more confusing by explaining that I first scanned the drawing into the computer and flipped it backwards so that when I printed it on paper and flipped it facedown on the lino to transfer it would come out right way around again. Which is really the wrong way. But don't worry. I won't tell you that.

Step 1! Carve away any areas to remain white, and print a lovely pale lavender-blue.

Reduction linocut, step 1, printed

Step 2! Oh, crud. Those yellow centers. Spot inking already! Oh well, at least it's a small piece and there are only two areas that need yellow. A little carving, a few newsprint masks....

Step 2, newsprint mask for spot inking

Et voila! Yellow contained and printed.

Reduction linocut, step 2, printed

That didn't take very long, so I went ahead and carved and printed for the third color pass. Another transparent blue-y lavender.

Reduction linocut, step 3, printed

As you can no doubt tell by now, I'm doing a little "frame breaking" with this composition. It's been a while since I used this particular design approach... something leftover from the days when I did a lot of page design as a paste-up artist. (Paste-up! Who remembers paste-up!?!?!)

So far things seem to be moving along nicely. I don't have any real concept of where I'm going with this once I get the blooms sorted out. In the back of my mind is the knowledge that I will want some greens in here, and I've already compromised that a bit with so much lavender.

But that's the trick with reduction printing. One needs to decide where one wants the "purest" color early on. Layering greens over this lavender-y color will mean I won't likely get "pure," bright greens. But layering the lavender over the green would have been less appealing... I'm highlighting the blooms more than their greenery, so they get priority in the order of layers.

It all sounds good in theory, but sometimes reality throws a curveball. We'll see what happens in the next few color passes!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Scoter-ing to the finish

Well. It's finished... but I'm honestly so confused about how I got there that I'm not sure I can describe it in a way that makes sense. Let's see, shall we?

I had to go back to the previous post to see where I'd left off. Oh, right. Step 7 was the fiddly details of the birds' faces... yellow in the males' bills and pale cheek patches for the females.

Step 8 brought on the drama! Hooray! Finally some darker values to kick everything up a notch. I rolled up a transparent sort of licorice green....

Linocut in progress: Step 8 rollup

And cut some newsprint masks to contain the color...

Mask in place, ready to print

Here's a side-by-side with Step 7, just to get us re-oriented.

Step 8 above, Step 7 below.

At this point I thought, "Easy peasy! All that's left is to warm up the bodies of the females with a brown and then print a black for the bodies of the males. A little spot inking and I'm done!"

But then impatience struck, and I made a right headache for myself.

When there isn't much raised surface left on the block the press roller can jump up and down as it hits empty and raised areas. This can cause smears and slippage and just overall poor printing. To avoid the problem I decided NOT to carve away the areas that were printed in Step 8, but to keep them from printing by using another mask. This is generally a fine idea... except that the previously-applied inks need to be dry enough on the actual prints not to be stripped off by the newsprint mask.

Step 9, ready to print!

Guess who didn't wait long enough for the prints to dry.

I printed the first test print. The newsprint stripped off a little color. Okay. Not bad. The second print had slightly tackier ink, because I had adjusted the intensity of color and inking in the previous color pass. Hm. That stripped off quite a bit more color.

I stopped. I thought about it. I decided it wasn't that bad... and went on.

The next day when I went back to the studio I realized I had been wrong. The stripped color was now entirely too light, and the darker birds seemed to float in space, disconnected from their background. [Insert inappropriate language choices here.]

Nothing to do but reprint Step 8... which I could do because the whole problem was caused by not removing that material in the first place. So much for being almost finished! I carved away the shapes of the female birds so they wouldn't cause the same problem, and printed Step 9b.. which was really Step 8 all over again, if you can follow that. (sigh)

Unfortunately I was so frustrated with myself at this point that apparently I didn't take a photo of everything resolved. But once the prints were appropriately DRY I cut one more mask and printed the small areas of black on the male birds.

Step 10... which is sort of 11, since I had to print 8 twice. Get it?

 The differences between the dark brown of the female birds and the black of the males is extremely subtle, but I'm satisfied that I took the time to do it, even if hardly anyone but me will ever notice.

So... here's the final image... embiggenable if you click on it. It still needs a title, but at the moment all the ones I can think of are rather grumpy.

Needs a better title than "Sherrie Got Impatient and Made a Mess,"
which is the current frontrunner.

What's next? I think I'm going to try to focus on some smaller images for a little while, and I'm going to get back to finishing up work on my online linocut course! Yes, it's been a long time coming... I have a thousand excuses for why it's taking so long... but I'm trying to get past them all and wrap up this project. At least it doesn't involve waiting for ink to dry.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Linocut in Progress: A little bit of excitement and a little bit of fiddly...

Things continue to move slowly in the studio, but they ARE moving. Part of the slowdown is continuing problems with my own focus... but part of it is that the season is changing and drying times are slower.

Yep. It's warm enough to have the windows open and to forego a fire in the wood stove. Well, most of the time, anyway! There is still the occasional chilly morning that requires a little help in the temperature regulation department, but otherwise my wood-burning method of dehumidifying the house is over until next fall.

And, I confess, I've been playing a bit of hooky and taking walks to look for spring migrants. The disruption to all of our lives caused by the pandemic is still very much a problem, but the bright light has been the ability to get out and pay attention to the changing of the season in ways I have not previously been able to. Because, you know... usually I'm running around like a headless chicken this time of year, delivering work to galleries and facilitating workshops.

But I digress....

I'm closing in on the current lino in progress, although, as usual, I've added another step to the process. I had a vague hope that Step 6 would finish off the water... but not quite...

Step 6 roll out

It took me a ridiculously long time to get this color sorted out. I wanted it to lean towards a gray-green... but with all that underlying blue it was a struggle to hit it right. I'd get the hue right but the value wrong.. or vice versa. Of course in the photo it all just looks blue, but trust me... there's a little more variety in it than it appears.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 6

That problem solved... it was time to work on the small details of the birds' heads. I think by now you can see that there are five of them.. two females and three males. The males need a chunk of yellow on their beaks and the females need some light gray patches in their cheeks. With some fiddly masking and spot inking I did get there... but it was rather tedious and I didn't remember to take any photos until after I had finished and cleaned up.

But here's where we are now:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 7

And here's a closeup of just the birds:

Step 7, detail

Okay, then! I am hoping I can wrap this all up in another 2 passes, although I might also need to do a little spot inking in two areas. That would technically be two-and-a-half passes, which still qualifies as less than 10, doesn't it?

As for the excitement I promised in the headline... here's a little video reveal of Step 7. Because... fun!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Linocut in Progress: Back to blue...

Oh, wait. We never left blue. Blue blue blue. Azul. Bleu. Blauw.

We're going to get away from it soon... but not just yet.

I lost a little studio time last week to mucking about learning to make short little videos for the spring World Migratory Bird Day celebrations, for which I made the poster art. After a few days I was reasonably adept, but you know that the next time I have to do it I will have forgotten it all and will have to start over.

BUT.... never mind. I am back to work in the deep blue sea of the current linocut.

Step 4. Not much to say here except that it was a medium transparent blue.

Step 4: Inked and ready to print

I'm starting to strengthen the separation of larger light and darker areas in the water, which is satisfying.

Step 4 printed (embiggenable)

I felt pretty good about it at this point, but decided I needed one more intermediate value of blue before I do the darkest bits. This pass was also transparent... a very gray blue.

Step 5 printed (embiggenable)

Yes, okay! That feels pretty good. I think just one more color pass overall in the water, and then the birds (maybe 3 color passes?) and then it's done! It's looking promising for a fewer-than-10-color-passes finish... stay tuned.

Monday, May 11, 2020

And speaking of migration... Birds in Art 2020!

"A Tern of the Tide," reduction linocut © Sherrie York

It's been a season of disappointment, as workshops and exhibitions everywhere have been cancelled. But this past week brought a spark of delight as I learned that "A Tern of the Tide" has been accepted for the 2020 edition of the Woodson Art Museum's annual Birds in Art exhibition.

Birds in Art is the one of the most prestigious exhibitions of wildlife art worldwide, and I am always humbled and honored when my work is selected. 

The show opens September 12 and will run through November 29.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

It's World Migratory Bird Day!

It's migration season! All around the world, creatures large and small are on the move. In truth, migration isn't just "a spring thing" or "a fall thing," because the diversity of migration strategies is as broad as the diversity of animals that migrate! Short distance, long distance, elevational... North to south, east to west. Some ocean creatures even migrate vertically, living at different depths of the sea at different times of year.

Personally, I love the spring migration of birds. After a long, gray winter, it's so fun to suddenly see bright flashes of color in the landscape. Today a Baltimore oriole came through my yard for the first time, and yesterday I saw yellow warblers and common yellowthroats.

This year migration seems extra-delightful. It's a reminder that even if human movements are restricted at the moment, the rest of the natural world is going about business as usual.

In a typical year, today is a day that would see hundreds of events across the globe celebrating World Migratory Bird Day! Back in January, when I revealed the poster art I created, none of us knew that we'd be gathering digitally, but the folks at WMBD have gone all out to bring us a virtual festival! All day long they'll be streaming programming on Facebook!

I put together a couple of short videos that they'll be sharing on their social media channels today, but you can get a first peek at this one right now! In it I share a look at how I created the art for the poster, and a short demonstration of the reduction linocut process.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Linocut in Progress: The third color pass... for Print Day in May!

Alrighty, then! It seems like there's some actual progress happening in the studio! Amazing.

The new linocut in progress is another long, skinny format.... the same dimensions of the harlequin duck piece that I finished back in March before the world went topsy-turvy.

This image has a fair amount of white in it, also, so there was some carving to do before I printed the first color. Here's the pale, transparent blue first pass:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1
Again.. these funky skinny formats are hard to see, but these images are a little bit bigger if you click on them.

As often happens, the first color pass seemed like it might be too dark, but I decided to just charge ahead, pretending to be confident that the contrast will sort itself out once some darker values are set down.

The second color pass was a transparent gray made from scraps of the blue plus a little packet of a sort of lavender-gray that was leftover from the Canada goose piece finished a couple of weeks ago.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 2

So far so good. These first two colors still seem a little dark, but the next color pass should sort that out. It's going to be quite a bit darker, and visually that should appear to lighten the previous.

But first! Saturday was the annual Print Day in May celebration, and printmakers all around the world were busy working in their studios and sharing images of their activities on social media. I decided to be brave and a present a short LIVE program on Facebook... because... why not? I knew I wanted to share a little information about my process, but I also wanted to be able to print during the program. I carved like mad on Friday to be ready to print the third color pass.

Hey look! It's me in my studio... with Presston! (He's the big steely-featured beast next to me.)

It took me a few minutes to sort out the audio and commenting controls when the live broadcast started, but once I got going it was fun to share what was happening in the studio, and really fun later to hear from folks far and near who had tuned in. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to hang out with me!

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 3

And, whew! Printing went smoothly.  As I had hoped, the blue and gray of Steps 1 and 2 now appear less contrasty and more connected to the white areas, and oooh.... what's that? By golly, I think I see the silhouettes of two birds starting to appear. (Secret insider info: There will be more than two birds in this image, but can you tell how many yet?)

So now it's back to the carving table. It feels like I might be able to get through this print in fewer than 10 color passes... but then I thought that on the last image and didn't quite make it. However it goes, I feel like I've got a good start, and I'm looking forward to moving this along this week.

There will be a few distractions, though.. as this week we're also gearing up for World Migratory Bird Day! The official day is May 9, although WMBD celebrations take place all year long in different parts of the world. Unfortunately many events have had to go virtual this spring, but the folks at WMBD and Environment for the Americas will be working hard to share lots of fun information online. Who knows... you might even see a thing or two pop up from me next weekend... stay tuned!

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...