Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Into the subtle blues...


Despite the uproar that is the holidays (even for those of us grinches who don't necessarily feel celebratory), I have been spending a little time in the studio. I have three subtle color passes with which to catch you up (wow, that was a sentence), and if you don't have time to read a narrative right now the summary goes like this: Step 4: Okay, Step 5: Disaster, Step 6: Back on track. Hopefully. 

It's a mildly cinematic arc, and from time to time I wonder if I shouldn't turn Brush and Baren into a vlog, but for now you're stuck with old skool still photography. And honestly, hair-pulling isn't one of my better looks, especially on video.

STEP 4! 

Time to get away from subtle grays and engage the subtle blues. Yep, it's time to work on the water. The overall tone of this image is going to be soft and subtle all the way through to the end, I think, so we're sneaking up on these next stages. 

As you can see in the upper edge of this photo, it took a little bit to find a blue that felt just right, but I got there eventually. 

On the press you can barely see that the block has any color on it...

And the resulting print stage is similarly... um... not dramatic.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 4 printed

In fact, in this photo you can barely tell there's any blue at all... but, trust me. 

This step was achieved before the winter solstice, and the prints hung on the drying rack for about a week before I could get back to them. When I finally did... disaster struck.

I use a LOT of transparent base in my ink mixing. For probably close to a decade now I've been using the Graphic Chemical 1911. It's not a relief printing ink, specifically, but it can be worked to a good consistency, and it has served me well. From time to time, however, I've received a batch that might have been a bit old... and took a lot more effort to get into shape. 

At the conclusion of Step 4 I had used up the last bits of my open can of 1911, so for Step 5 I cracked a new one, from a shipment I received maybe a month ago. I was alarmed to see that there was some discoloration and skinning along one edge, but thought I could work around it. This turned out to be a bad decision.

Second can. Worse than the first.
It's hard to explain the problem, but the short description is that although the ink seemed to work to the proper consistency, I couldn't get it to roll out evenly OR transfer evenly from block to paper. I tried changing the press pressure a bit, since the ambient humidity had changed since the last session and the previous ink was very dry. I also added some Setswell, which loosens the body of the ink and helps with adhesion. I tried and tried and tried, and soon I was halfway through the edition with very mixed results. I did finally get to something sort of workable and finish the run, but it was painful. 

And yes, I did open a second can of 1911. And it was worse. 

I cleaned up and turned out the lights and walked away. 

Here's what the linocut looked like at the end of Step 5, though. Mostly.

Step 5 printed. Painfully.

The next day I went back to carving, because that's what one does. But it was clear I needed to solve my ink problem. I do have a third can of 1911... but it's from the same order and I have no reason to believe it's going to be any better. 

I dug around through all my ink stash, and voila! I found a small tube of Cranfield's transparent base. I bought it to try some time last year, but had never used it. 

The base is very loose right out of the tube... much softer than I ordinarily like, but it mixed well with my pigmented inks (some of which are also Cranfield, so no surprise there) and rolled out nicely. And in fact the entire color pass went off without a hitch. Whew.

Step 6 printed. Without problems. Whew.

So. The good news is that I seem to have a solution for my problem. The bad news is two-fold. First... I don't have any more of the Cranfield base, so forward motion is stalled. (But I do now have some on order.) The second problem is that the Cranfield product is almost twice the price of the 1911. (sigh) But what price does one put on lowered anxiety levels in the studio, eh? 

There are some small details of the birds' beaks that will require some spot inking and masking, so probably this will be a good time to turn my attention to that step... and of course I need to carve for Step 7. Yes, I'm going to experience some more delay with this piece, but it could be much, much worse. And I'll start the new year with a new solution for my transparency needs, so that's a positive! 

So, friends of linocuts, Brush and Baren, crazy studio antics, and... well... me... Thank you all for sticking with me through the last couple of very strange years. Here's hoping that the new year brings us all more opportunities to see each other in person and to share some joy and laughter and beauty. See you in 2022!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Linocut in Progress: And we're off! In a blaze of... gray.

And here it is the middle of December! How the heck did that happen? 

I've been flailing around a bit since the completion of the merganser linocut, not certain what I wanted to do next. I do have a list of "requests," thematic ideas that have been mentioned to me or that I want to explore, but somehow none of them grabbed my attention. Oddly, it was something quiet and (yes, yes, here's that word again:) "simple" that came to the front of the line. Let's see how it goes, shall we?

We're having a couple of gray days here just now... a skiff of snow, but not really enough to measure. A mere dusting. That's fine with me... I'm sure there are plenty of snow days ahead and I am happy to wait for them. And since the first two (and probably three) color passes on this image were grays, well... it just seemed appropriate.

Yep. That's gray, alright.

So. It's gray. It's very transparent. And we're working with that format that I just can't seem to get away from! Long and skinny, 8" x 24." Even with just one color pass, though, I'm guessing there are a few bird geeks enthusiasts out there who can already identify the species. 

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1 printed

Off to a good start... a little more carving and... let's print another gray! This color was made from leftover scraps of the first color with a little tiny bit of warmth added by using a skosh (technical term) of sepia. (And this gray ink, BTW, was actually a leftover from the merganser linocut. Another reason to love traditional oil-based inks.)
Step 2 printed, more gray. Can you tell what they are yet?

So here's that second, warmer gray printed. Have you identified the bird species yet? I'll give you a hint: They are in their winter (non-breeding) plumage. 

Still not sure? Okay. Let's print another gray, but this time... ooooooh. Let's cut a mask. Because not cutting a mask by the third step just wouldn't be, well... Sherrie enough.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a newsprint mask!

Intriguing, eh? I did manage to keep it not too fussy, and the trickiest part of this entire step turned out to be finding the appropriate gray. Again I wanted to warm it up a bit, so I started with the leftovers of the previous pass and added yet another skosh of sepia. 

Pick a gray, any gray.

Aaaannndddd.... here we are, all printed.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 3 printed

Have you identified them yet? No? Here's another hint: they used to go by another name. The new name is a bit boring, but descriptive. 

From here I'm moving on to some pale blue-grays. (Because: water.) The entire image is going to be much more subtle (I hope) than the merganser piece, with a softer and less contrast-y color palette. At least that's where I think we're headed. Only time and rolling out some ink will tell.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Finishing the merganser

 Ooph. This has been "one of those" linos. Every time I thought I was about to be finished, I discovered I was not. But now it really IS finished. Well, probably. (Wince.)

When we last left our hero, she was living under the delusion that she had but two steps to go: correcting the color on the bird's beak, and "one last dark." The phrase "one last dark" should probably always be written in quotes, and when uttering the words aloud one should employ air quotes. At least when one is me. 

First to the beak. For which I have no documentation whatsoever, because I was too aggravated to remember to take any photos. Actually, no. It looks like documentation-wise I will show you the alleged "last dark" step first. 

We'll call it Step 16.

Reduction linocut, Step 16 printed

This probably was Step 16, since images I have of this stage do not show the adjusted beak (and, as we will see at the end, cheek color). The color was another transparent gray over the entire block... this time a little cooler than the previous sepia color pass. It was supposed to be (quote it with me now) "the last dark," but despite putting my fingers in my ears and singing Coldplay to drown out the nagging in my head, I sort of knew I was going to have to revisit this. But! On to the bird's head, which was also contributing to the cacophony. 

A merganser's beak is really quite red, but when turned into the light it can appear more pinkish. The problem is that the side of the bird's face doesn't really appear to be as light as it should be to suggest a pink bill. So there are two problems to solve with teeny, tiny shapes. Probably NO ONE but me will care about this. But I do. So I must tackle it.

It took almost an entire day, I kid you not. Wrong colors, wrong shapes, wrong values. Ugh. So, no. There are no photos of me mixing and printing and stripping the color back out and changing it and trying again. (I did even try a red-red, but ICK!) I'm still not convinced I got it entirely correct, but it got to the point where I just had to walk away. (And eat some supper... maybe that would help?)

Anyway... here's a little detail of the more pale cheek and the pinky beak color. Seriously. I spent an entire day on that. And what do I call it? Step 17? Steps 17 through 47? We'll call it 17 (cheek) and 18 (beak) and move on.

After supper I walked back into the studio and looked at the prints hanging on the drying rack and felt my heart sink. 

Yes. It absolutely needed "one last dark." 

By this time I was so over the process (it happens sometimes) that I decided I would just power on, stay up, and get the thing done once and for all. I went at the block with a vengeance... using my largest sweep tool most of the time, and getting it down to the just smallest bits of necessary dark.

Like this.

Step... um... 19? block. "One last dark."

I'm pretty much committed to this being the last stage now. I mean, how much more lino can I carve away and still have anything to print? Thankfully....

Step 19... The last dark. No, really. I'm serious this time. No quotes.

See what I mean? Definitely needed it. 

So, she's done. Kind of. 99.9% done. I am disturbed by the too-dark (oh, now it's TOO dark!) eye. This is a not-too-complicated fix... I can strip back a tiny bit of the color... but it's a tiny shape and delicate areas around the eye are still wet, so I will wait a day before getting in there with a pin-head sized piece of paper to pull off some ink. 

The other thing she will need is a title, although at the moment the front runner is "Why do the things I think will be straightforward always turn out to be the opposite," and that's too long, even for a piece this size. (Which, by the way, is 18" x 18"– about 46 x 46cm for those of you using a modern, reasonable measuring system.) (Another potential is "Out of the Blue," but we'll see.)

Thanks for sticking with me through this one. The big question to answer now is, "What's next?"

Monday, November 15, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Crawling towards the finish

It's been a busy few weeks, with reasons good (a visit in Massachusetts with bird artist colleagues at the outstanding exhibition of friend and fellow artist Cindy House) and not so good (paperwork) keeping me away from the studio more than I'd like. But progress is being made, even if it's hard to see.

My last post celebrated the widening of the green palette of this image without applying any more green ink, and that happened one more time before I went on the road for a few days. Here's where things stood after the application of another transparent gray layer, for Step 12.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 12

This was feeling pretty good, but a few alarming things were happening. The first was that the bird's head had gotten too dark, and the second was that the warmer reflections of the bird's head in the water had lost some of their oomph.

Yep. It's a job for spot inking and masking. (sigh) Fussy things like this seem so much more tedious when the end of an image seems like it should be near but keeps getting farther away. Nothing to be done but carry on. 

Here's Step 13, such as it was. Luckily the prints had been drying for 5 or so days while I was away, so this casual approach to both inking and masking was no problem.

Step 13 mask and spot ink in place

Here's the lightened head and reflections. Perhaps a little too far in the other direction, but never fear, I'm going to cover most of this back up. 

Step 13 printed (Glare-y photo, sorry) 

Yes, that's what I said. Lighten it all, and then swing it all back the other way again. I did some small amounts of carving.. tiny details that probably 90% of viewers won't even notice, but I needed to know they were there. And then another spot ink and masking adventure.

Step 14 mask and spots

Here are Steps 13 and 14 side-by-side. You would have spent an entire day doing this, too, right?

 Steps 13 and 14 detail

I admit I was quite grumpy when The Day of Steps 13 and 14 was over. It was a lot of work with not much to show for it. The one good thing about printing small shapes over a small area with small amounts of ink is that the prints were dry enough the next day for me to do something a little more satisfying and meaningful. So... a layer of transparent sepia went over everything. It looks alarmingly dark on the block, but trust me. There's a lot of transparency there.

Step 15 rollup, sepia

See what I mean? NOW we are finally getting close. At least I think we are. I thought we were close three steps ago, but that's how things roll around here.

Step 15, printed

So what's left? The bird's beak needs a color adjustment... it should be redder than this. That's not a huge thing, but it will take time to do correctly. And then I think one last dark for that last bit of contrast... just a few spots in the water and the bird. Don't quote me... but I think I should be obsessing about the next project by Wednesday. ;-) 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Greens... without using green!

It's been one of those weeks. As I mentioned in my last post, a couple of weeks ago I finally broke down and bought a new computer to replace the ten-year-old one that had ceased updating and was starting to have some issues. The new machine sat on the floor in its box for an entire week before I was brave enough to set it up, because I knew the cascade of issues I was about to unleash. 

It's been another week where many hours were lost to transferring a terabyte of information between incompatible machines and installing additional memory chips and downloading new software. But as of last night I think I am finally more or less functional... still some loose ends to tie up, but the major headaches are hopefully behind me. 

It was just as well that I had that distraction, because after the steps you're about to see, these prints became just too wet to forge ahead. I tried... and made a mess... so had to walk away and deal with a techno headache instead. Wheeeee.

But once again I'm getting ahead of myself in the storytelling. Let's see where we are right now..

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 10 on the press

The goal for these next few steps was to add some value changes to the green without making it any brighter. The best way to do that seemed to be to use a transparent warm gray... it's a mix of a skosh (technical term) of black and another skosh of sepia in a whole lot (the anti-skosh) of transparent base. And hey! Let's roll it over the entire block, no masks required. 

Step 10 printed

Not bad, not bad. We were headed into the olive-y realm with the green... and that was okay. Plus a hint of definition was developing in the bird. 

Works for me. Let's do it again! More carving, more black/sepia/transparent base.

This time, however, I wanted to avoid letting the bird's head get any darker... so I cut some funny little head-shaped masks.

Step 11 on the press

Yes, a good call. We're seeing some subtle value changes in the water and a bit more in the bird, but the head hasn't gone too dark. Seems like we're* on the right track. 

(This would be the printmakerly royal "we." You, me, the tools, the ink, the paper, the weather...)

Step 11 printed

Step 11 on the left, Step 10 on the right.
It's like one of those "spot the differences" puzzles we did in grade school.

I was starting to feel really excited to finish up the water... one... maybe two... more passes with a gray to create darker values in the green... and then the finishing touches on the bird! Yes, let's go!

Or not. I tried to print the next color pass, but the prints were just too wet and the new ink layer printed speckly and gross. Nothing to do but clean it all up and walk away for a few days. (How lucky that I had Computer Hell to keep me occupied instead, eh?)

It's possible that I'll be able to get back to it tomorrow. Everything's still a bit tacky tonight, but hopefully by tomorrow afternoon the prints will be dry enough to get that next color pass down. I had hoped to have the entire thing finished before I run away from home for a few days this weekend... but it's not looking promising at the moment. But we're getting close! "We" need to catch that bird before she swims away!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Moving away from the blues

Alright, then. Enough of these infernal and eternal blues! It's time to print something else. 

Which honestly will only create another blue, but it won't be a bright one and it will set the stage for some other things to happen. Because, Readers, we're printing a transparent gray. 

Yep. Just gray.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 8 rollout. Thrilling, eh?

It doesn't look like much, but it's very exciting because it's printing over everything, including the bird. No masks at all! What will happen?


Step 8 printed. Yawn.

Yeah, not really exciting after all, eh? In fact most of the toned-down blue created by this gray ink will get covered with subsequent colors, but I think it was crucial to tone things down a wee bit at this stage. Because just you wait... ain't nothing subtle going to happen next. 

We're printing... green!

And not just any green. A weird yellow-y green, because of course there's lots of that pesky blue on the print already and it's going to influence whatever I put down. I want the green to stay on the warmish side for now, so alarming chartreuse-y hue for the win! (I hope.)

Step 9 rollout. Don't be afraid!

It's something, isn't it? This is actually the improved color. The first one I mixed was entirely too brilliant lime in attitude and made things look like a circus. This color looks bright in the rollout and on the block, but the hope is that it will cooperate with the already-printed tones when laid over the top of them. 

Of course I didn't want to take any chances with this color in the bird, so a new mask was required.

Step 9 mask

NOW something exciting is happening, eh? Just look at the difference from Step 8 to Step 9! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Steps 8 and 9 side-by-side. Wheeeeee!

Believe it or not, most of this bright green will be covered by other colors, but it was important to establish it as the undertone for things that will be happening next. In fact I think the next color pass will probably be another gray... but we'll see how I feel after I spend some time staring at this stage hanging on the wall. The prints are quite wet now, so a little drying time will be necessary before anything more can be added. 

Step 9 printed

We're going to have a stretch of rain here on the coast for the next couple of days... so what better time to hunker down in the studio? 

And honestly, I need to get away from computers for a bit! I finally bit the bullet and bought a replacement for my 10-year-old desktop machine... but of course the transition from my old system is not smooth. I've had to order cable adapters to get the two machines to talk to each other... and of course the cascade of software that no longer works is also giving me headaches. I'm sure once I get it all sorted out I will be a happy camper... but... OOPH. It's almost as tedious as four (or was it five?) layers of blue ink. 


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Linocut in Progress: It's time for masks!

We're just a week away from All Hallows Eve, so it's time to be thinking about masks! Well, it's time to be thinking about masks no matter what celebration might be approaching... because we're making a reduction linocut with some crazy contrasting color and we need to be sure we're putting our best face forward. (See what I did there?)

For Step 5 I got into the spirit of the season (Spirit! Get it?) and mixed up a rather pumpkin-y color. Thankfully this color will only appear in small areas of the finished image, so I could just do a little spot inking....

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 5 spot inking
And to be sure that ink was contained even more, I cut some newsprint masks. It's always a bit tedious to cut masks, but at least I kept the shapes simple this time.

Step 5, mask in place

I'm not sure whether the result should be called a trick or a treat. Possibly just an alarming foray into the ugly duckling (or in this case "ugly merganserling") stage.

Step 5, printed

After that little digression into a complementary color it was time to go back to... blue again. Still. More blue. The goal is to put some subtlety and interest into the reflections of sky in the water. The tricky thing is that eventually every other... water stripe, I guess we can call them(?)... will actually be reflecting trees, not sky, and will be green. It's not too troublesome to put green over blue, but I don't want the values to get too dark too soon. Nothing for it but to add another transparent layer, though. 

Step 6, rollup

I debated for quite a long time about whether I wanted to run this blue in the background of the upper fourth of this image, but in the end decided to cut another (even more simple... hooray!) mask for that section. Whether or not this will turn out to be a good decision remains to be seen.

Step 6, mask

But it was a simple rollup and a simple mask, and Step 6 moved along at a nice pace. 

Step 6, printed

I apologize for the thoroughly bad photography. I am often trying to shoot sample photos at less-than-optimal times of day... and these are looking quite dismal. 

So let's go ahead and throw in yet another step, with a photographic representation that looks a little better. Bring on Step 7!

Yes. We're at seven steps already and we're still messing about with blues. This is mildly annoying to me, even though it's no one's fault but my own. But I'm aiming for a subtlety that apparently requires stealth and a certain amount of slow sneaking up on it. At least that's my excuse for now.

Back to blue we go, although this time we're going for a bit of a blended roll.

Step 7, rollup

Some darker values closer to (and in the shadow of) the bird, fading to not much at the bottom of the image. Let's give that a try.

Step 7, printed

Okay, I think we'll settle on that. It's all a bit bright now, but I think that can be remedied with a transparent gray pass next time around. Let's give these a couple of days to dry and see what sorts of new problems we can make for ourselves, shall we?

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Finding Blue

It seems as though every linocut I make goes through a phase in which I spend a lot of time carving– but when I print the next color pass, not a lot seems to have changed. 

And yes, oh perceptive reader, we are at that stage.

Carving, carving, carving. Print some blue! This blue:

(Oh wait... perhaps I should mention the roughly bird-shaped mask first.) 

The creature-to-be in this image has a rusty-red head, some of which appears bright and coppery in the sunlight. From our highly-developed understanding of color theory, we can predict that an undertone of blue in those areas might not be conducive to creating the warmth we intend. Therefore: mask out the bird shape to avoid printing blue in that area. Capice?

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 3 printed

So here's our nice transparent blue printed. It's okay... but I am ultimately going for a much brighter blue in some of the water reflections. It does appear that something has happened at this stage, but not nearly enough to justify the amount of time I spent carving. Oh, well. 

It seems like a really simple statement ("For the next stage I want a brighter blue"), but holy cow did I have trouble getting to the right one! I should have taken a photo of the multiple different blues I mixed (most of which are now wrapped up in wax paper for use on another day). I've got at least three prints that have been moved to the "tester" section of the print queue... wrongly-blued sheets that will be first up for future color passes.

ANYWAY.... I decided to keep this blue out of the upper third of the image entirely, which precipitated another round of mask cutting. 

I also decided that I wanted to minimize the amount of blue ink in a few areas of the water that will reflect the bird's head, but rather than cut a lot of finicky little masks, I just wiped these areas right before printing each sheet. 

At the end of Step 4 printing it looks like this:

It's a lot of blue, but by the time I'm finished less than half of what we see now will remain. At the moment I think the next step will be to put down those bright copper colors previously mentioned so I can carve those bits out of the block and forget about them. I do need to put at least one more blue in the water... and then... whee! I think I can do some greens! Yep. Lots of green to come in this one. 

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Linocut in Progress: Yes! Back to work.

Here it is October. 

'Way back in August I remember telling people how happy I was that my schedule was going to slow down in September. Workshops over... the peak of the summer gallery season waning... time to get into the studio! 

What I didn't realize was that I wasn't going to be changing velocity.... only trajectory. I've still been quite busy, just in a slightly different direction from how I spent my summer. 

Which meant September escaped, and now it's October. And although I'm afraid of jinxing it by saying so, things finally do seem to be settling down a bit. I'm ready to refocus... into the work of exploring some new ideas and new linocuts. 

And I'm not easing back into it. Oh, no. That would be too reasonable. I'm going straight for a large 18 x 18-inch piece. Just because.

Step 1 rollup

I spent (read: wasted) a lot of time agonizing over the quest for a Great Image Idea. I haven't worked on a proper reduction print since May, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to ramp up in a hurry. Honestly, I am a horrific boss... the kind I would never wish on anyone else... the kind with unreasonable expectations and poor people management skills.

Luckily my only employee (me) put her foot down and demanded that SOMETHING be started... Great Image Idea, or no. So that's how we got to rolling out a transparent gray on what you might be able to tell is an image with some water in it. And yeah, there's a bird there, too. Here's what Step 1 looked like:

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 1 printed

It's been raining here off and on the last couple of days, so the light in the studio is a bit poor, especially when it comes to photography, so apologies in advance for the questionable bit you're seeing here. (The blueish tinge in the lower left, for example, is not the ink, but a shadow of me.)

It was so satisfying to get that first color pass down, though. When I haven't printed in a while I can convince myself that there are a hundred reasons why I'm not very good at this (and put pressure on myself to find a Great Image Idea before I can start again). But finally printing a first color pass on paper almost always settles me down.

Step 2 rollup

So... Step 1 printed, I immediately carved for Step 2. This was going to be a subtle shift in color temperature without much change in value, so again a quite transparent ink. A smidge of cobalt blue in a big pile of transparent base did the trick. I managed to mix EXACTLY how much ink I needed this time, which almost never happens. I was getting nervous about 3/4 of the way through the print session, worried that I was going to run out of ink, but I managed to scrape together (literally) just enough for all 23 sheets*. 

(*I don't usually start with an odd number of sheets of paper, but I accidentally prepped an extra, so went ahead and used it. 'Cause, you know. It's been a while. I expect a higher loss percentage when I'm out of practice.)

Step 2 printed

 Again we have some questionable photography happening. The color is probably better on the right side of the photo, but you can see the slight contrast of shapes better on the left edge. This is not a blended roll... the warm left edge is an artifact of uneven artificial light. 

Surprisingly, I think the next color pass is already going to drop us into the realm of some more dramatic color. There is already a biggish decision to be made at this point, however... there's definitely some masking in my future, but how much and when is yet to be determined. Stay tuned!

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...