Thursday, April 14, 2022

Linocut in Progress: The image is done, but the adventure is just beginning!

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 9 revisited

In my last post I tried to explain my concerns about the visually too-light appearance of the bird's heads.  

I'd been watching (and, let's admit it, agonizing over) this phenomenon of visually-changing value since the first stages of the print, and at this point I decided something needed to be done. But the portions of the block that created the birds' head shapes have long been carved away. To make an adjustment to the value I either have to cut a second block for just those shapes (tedious, time-consuming, and difficult to register) OR... do a little pochoir action. 

Pochoir it is! 

Pochoir stencil

I placed a sheet of clear acetate on top of a print and traced the shapes I wanted to ever-so-slightly darken. I cut these out with a sharp Xacto blade, and used this stencil to "pounce" color directly on to each print. I don't seem to have taken a close-up photo of the "before" and "after" stages, but I think when you see the final image you'll be as relieved as I was that the heads did not disappear. We'll call this brief, undocumented, side trip into another technique.... hmm... Step 9 1/2, shall we?

So! Problem solved (hopefully), it's on to Step 10! 

Step 10 rollup

The nice thing about there being so little material left on the block at this stage is that I could do some spot inking with two different dark values. The shadows in the rocks, sand, and birds' legs are a lighter, warmer, more transparent color than the details of the birds' faces, which are not-quite-black. 

Ready to roll. The final pass?

Step 10 printed

Hmmm. I do not have a sense of triumph here. It's nice, but something is missing. Some little bit of oomph or sparkle or... something.

I think the birds need some bling. Something small. Tiny, even.


I know. 

How about some tiny, tiny bits of bright orange in the legs and beaks? Yep. I think that's it. Pochoir to the rescue again! 

Tiny pochoir bits, Step 10 1/2

Did I mention these bits would be tiny? So tiny. But in the end, so necessary.

"Companions," reduction linocut, 12" x 12", edition of 12

Yep. NOW it's finished. And the intended recipients for the first print of the edition have seen it and approved, so I can tell you now that it's an image to celebrate a wedding! This pair of plovers is headed out on a new adventure... sometimes across smooth sand, sometimes tripping along rocky shores... sailing through gentle waters or holding on tight over wind-swept waves. Wherever the path takes them, they'll travel it together, and I wish them success and delight every step of the way! 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Linocut in Progress: Look! More gray! And ominous foreshadowing

It's a bit funny. This image had so many similar passes of subtle changes of gray values that I sort of lost track of how many stages there actually were. Looking through my photos I sometimes couldn't tell if I was on a new color pass or if I'd taken the same shot at the end of one printing day and the beginning of another. In some ways this image had started to feel as though I, too, was wandering across the uncertain and shifting terrain of a sandy beach. 

I'm pretty sure this was Step 7. The print has gotten to that nail-biting stage when I think it's getting close to the end, but with every new color pass the goal seems to move farther away. Not quite right yet. It's not quite right.

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 7 printed

It's time to get brave and head for some darker values. But not TOO dark yet. The challenge is always that while each new value added to the image doesn't actually change the colors already printed, visually our brains adjust and color/value relationships change. 

Not sure what I mean? Look what happened with Step 8:

Step 8 printed

Look at how pale the birds' heads appear now. They aren't really any lighter than they have been all along, but adding a darker value around them makes them appear lighter.

This is probably accurate from a biological standpoint, but from an aesthetic one... hm. This is always a tricky balance for me... what is true to the "logic" of the scene vs. what is true to the heart of the scene. Piping plovers are pale and they do blend in with their beach habitat. But in this case they are also the main characters in an unfolding story of partnership and adventure. They are a calm oasis in a busy world, and I don't want them to get lost. I was worried that once the really dark markings were in place, their pale heads would visually disappear. 

I decided to procrastinate this decision by making one more, slightly stronger in value, color pass. This would give me a good idea of how the final, darkest color pass might affect the overall image.

You can see there's not a whole lot of material left on the block at this stage, and the ink is a transparent dark warm gray.

Step 9 rollup

Step 9 printed

Hm. Yep. I think I'm going to have to do something about those heads. But not until next time! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Linocut in Progress: The Unbearable Lightness of Grays

Okay! Things are getting really exciting now, because we're going to use... um....

More gray.

Sure, it's that sepia-infused warm gray. But it's gray. These next couple of steps were so similar that there didn't seem to be a reason to take photos of ink roll-outs and inked blocks, because they all looked pretty much the same through the camera. So without further ado, here's Step 4 printed:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 4 printed

Even if the color isn't dramatic, we can definitely see some details starting to emerge, particularly in the sandy substrate and background stones. Step 5 brought more details (look at all those tiny chips of lino in the sand), and a slight overall warming of environment.

Step 5 printed

It's always interesting, and, I admit, a little aggravating, to see how much the visual relationships of the values (lights and darks) can change with each color pass. For example... I was worried that the shadows in the front of the faces of both birds were too dark in Step 4, but if you look at that and then flip to Step 5, you can see that the dark beaks and first suggestion of the dark "forehead" band make the shadows fall in line. 

Oh look, gray ink... 

Just for fun, here are Steps 4 and 5 hanging alongside each other in the studio... and... oh! I had forgotten! There was a very slight cool-to-warm shift in the gray from top to bottom of the image, created with a blended ink roll. It looks far more dramatic on the inking slab than it does on the prints.

But, okay. Now we need to really start thinking about a hint of color. These birds are piping plovers, a species considered either threatened or endangered throughout much of their range. They are tiny little birds, mostly gray (!) and white with some dark markings around their heads, but they also have yellow-orange legs and a bit of yellow-orange in their beaks. Can't forget that! 

Step 6 rollup

I wanted to print the yellow-orange at this stage, because I wanted to maintain some brightness, and subsequent gray layers will only make this harder to achieve. The tricky thing was that I wanted to contain this color only in the small areas of legs and bills.. AND a skinny little ring around their dark eyes!  Even my little 1-inch brayer left ink where I didn't want it on the block, soooooooo....

Time for a mask!

Step 6 masks

I am suddenly reminded of the 1960s-era kids' game, "Operation." (Yes, dating myself here.) The game board was the cartoon shape of a male character on an operating table. (Who thought this would be a funny game concept?) There were cutouts in the shape of "ailments"– a "funny bone," a "wrenched ankle," "spare ribs."  The cutouts were ringed with metal, and the "ailments" were small plastic pieces set into the cutouts. The entire thing was electrified with a battery, and the goal was to remove the parts with a pair of tweezers without touching the metal sides and triggering a buzzer. 

So silly.

ANYWAY! This mask made me think of that game... you can keep your opinions about my mental state to yourselves, thank you very much.

The masks did the trick, though. See?

Step 6 printed

The yellow-orange seems alarmingly bright and discordant, but surely I'll be able to bring everything back into harmony. Right? Right?

As with most of my linocuts, this is the point at which I started to think, "Oh! I might get this done in fewer than 10 passes!"

(Sigh) But of course I was wrong. So, so wrong. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Linocut in Progress: Special Project!

Nope, it's no April Fools Day joke! I am finally going to give everyone a peek into what I've been doing for the last month. I'm sorry that I didn't do this as the piece was unfolding, but one of the things I am discovering in my experience of the not-quite-post-pandemic universe is that I still lack the capacity for multi-tasking that I used to enjoy. 

Yes, that's right. I'm blaming it on the pandemic. It has nothing to do with an impending milestone birthday. 


I hope to make up for my delayed process description by taking this back a step further than usual. Yes, indeed, I am showing you some preliminary sketches. What?

Long-time readers (and there are some of you out there who have been with me since 2006! Gluttons for punishment, you are! But, thanks!)... 

Wait, where was I? Right. Long-time readers will know that I rarely show preliminary sketches when describing the process of creating reduction linocuts. This is partly because I like the element of surprise as work unfolds in blog posts, but also partly because, well, I don't actually do too many preliminary sketches. Most of my compositions are cobbled together from a couple of different photographic resources. I usually create a line drawing based on those references, transfer it to the lino, and worry about working out the details as I go along. 

Probably I could save myself hours of later agony if I would think things through more carefully before jumping in, but what would be the fun in that? Think of the boring blog posts! "This is what I decided ahead of time and this is what I did." Yawn. 

But this project was different, because it was a request from a collector for a special occasion. The request included suggesting some elements of a location I've never visited, which made it tricky and required a couple of tries to get right, compositionally. So... pictured above are some of my early ideas. The drawings are rough, but it was an interesting exercise. 

In the end we settled on a square format. (I love a square format.) There was a fair amount of carving in the first stage, because the design includes a zigzag of white from top to bottom, but for the first color pass I also cut a newsprint mask to contain the blue in a specific area of the block. Did I take a photo of that mask? No, of course not. (sigh) But there's the first pass, printed:

Reduction linocut in progress, Step 1 printed.

So we were off to the races. Most of this image is going to be a subtle dance of grays and tans... because the location is a beach and the inhabitants are piping plovers. So let's jump in with the first gray.

Step 2 rollout

By golly, there are a lot of too-dark grays up there in the right corner. Some of that was on purpose because I knew I'd need them later, but that first dark was WAYYY too dark. I'm working with a new-to-me brand of transparent base, and discovering that I have to use a much lighter hand for some reason. 

(Side trivia for US printmakers: Does anyone recognize from the tube the brand of black relief ink being used here? Yes, I do still have a small stash. And I'm still bitter.)

Step 2 printed

Here's Step 2 printed, and already I think you can get some orientation for the overall composition. The square format is defined, and the location of the birds is clear. That odd blue swatch makes a little bit more sense... and hopefully will resolve more over time.

So let's see what's up with Step 3! Oh, look. More gray. This version has been warmed up a little bit with some sepia in a lot of transparent base.

Step 3 rollup, and hey! The full block revealed already! 

Here's Step 3 printed.

Step 3 printed

It looks alarmingly dark already in this photo, but it's really not. Taking photos of subtle gray steps... well... the camera always wants to beef up the contrast. 

But, hey... we're off to a good start so far. Don't let it lull you into a false sense of security. I know I didn't. 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...