Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Birdy bits

Linocut in progress: Step 12? Maybe?

So here's the thing....

I have been doing so many passes on this current linocut... most of which have involved various iterations of gray and blue and green... that I have completely lost track of where I am. For example, I have this photo of a rollup with grays and blues... but I'll be darned if I can figure out if I have a photo of the result of this color pass. I might have forgotten to take one.

Obviously, it's beyond time to take a break from all these crazy grasses and start doing something with the inhabitants of our weedy pond.

There are some fiddly little bits to work on, and while this sort of work is usually something I tend to avoid, I am ready for some steps that take less time to envision and execute. 

So let's spot ink a few bits of birds! The adult bird has a wee bit of yellow in her bill, and the chick(s! Yes, there are two of them!) have some sort of buffy color in the lower half of their faces. 

Linocut in progress: Mini-step 13 spot inking

Easy enough to roll up, but this messy sort of inking will affect the ink layers to come, so I will also need a mask.

This one is cut from plain newsprint. It's not too fussy, just enough to get that color roughly where it needs to be while protecting the rest of the print. The ink lines on the paper are guides to show me where to place the mask each time. 

Mini-step 13 mask

Here's a detail of the result:

Mini-step 13 printed detail

And a look at the print overall:

Mini-step 13- printed

Now that I am committed to making some progress on the birds, things are going fairly quickly. I think there was gray color pass that went over the entire block... but maybe not. As I said, I've lost track. I do have photos of some of the little "mini-passes" that have started to build up the birds:

Mini-step 14

Aha! You thought I was joking when I said there were two chicks in this image, but I would never joke about a thing like that. Now we can at least see where they are! We can also see a few "halos," places where inexact masking let some color creep into edges where it's not wanted, but I didn't worry about this when I was printing earlier stages because I knew that the later details of these birds would cover those halos with dark ink in another color. You'll just have to trust me on this one.

Now that I've mapped out the basic shapes of these birds (specifically, where the beaks, heads, and eyes are), it's time to figure out how to suggest some details. 

In real life I think that merganser chicks this small have some whitish spots on them... but I've made the rather controversial (in my own mind, at least) decision to leave them out. At this size and this (implied) distance I don't think they would be easily seen in the wild, and in the print I think they would only confuse things and look like mistakes rather than field marks. 

ANYWAY... The next mini step made me laugh... since the small mask I used on the female's head looked like a bad wig. Her crest needs to be more brown than gray, so why let extraneous gray in to that area?

Mini-step 15

Whew. That's enough for one day, don't you think? In truth I've already done a couple more of these mini-passes, but you don't expect me to show you everything all at once, do you? Where's the fun in that?

Stay tuned....

Monday, February 20, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Okay... what, now?

Progress continues to be slow on the current reduction linocut, but there IS progress. 

I'm still struggling with the balance of blues and greens, so of course for the next color pass I went all out...  There's a bright green blended to blue in the lower third, a straight blue across the middle, and a gray-to-blue blend in the upper third of the image.

Reduction linocut in progress: Step 10 rollup

All that bright color looks SO alarming in the rollup!  But remember... these are transparent colors, so they will be affected by everything else underneath them.

Like this...

Step 10 printed

Okay, phew. I think we're finally getting somewhere. I think the grasses are close to being finished, which is good because I really need to get those birds sorted out!

But not yet. Here's the rollup for Step 11. Yes, eleven, and I'm still messing around with the grasses. But at least the color is getting more simple. A straight blue and a straight gray...

Step 11 rollup

Step 11 printed!

Yes, I think the background is really getting close now. The upper third is 95% done... maybe just a few more tiny darks at the final stage, but I'm going to take most of the material out of that portion of the block now. The grasses in the center third are mostly done, also... it's just that I still want to get the darkest bits of the water to look a bit more blue.

The bottom third will have a few more darker shapes, but it, too is getting close. Which is a good thing, because 11 layers of ink are a LOT. Many layers of ink can add unwanted texture to a print, which can make it hard for subsequent layers to adhere. Also... drying times can get soooooo slow... subsequent passes can slide... or reject... or even pull up bits of paper if ink is too tacky. 

Which is why I have been doing a lot of stripping.

Wait, what? 

Yes, stripping. When I print a new color pass, I immediately take a sheet of clean newsprint, place it over the wet print, and rub it with my palm. This lifts excess color but doesn't remove it entirely. It does tend to lighten the newly-printed color a bit, so the contrast is less strong, but it speeds up drying time and evens out the print surface a bit. I don't always do it, but on this particular print I started using the technique after maybe the third color pass. One more step to an already-many-stepped process, but you do what you have to do, eh?

So. Goals for the next color pass: Finish the water. Finish the grasses? Define some details of the birds! There are a few light shapes that will probably have to be masked in before I can get to the details, which will be mostly gray and brown. Onward!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Creative cliffs and carving confusion

Nope, I haven't fallen off the face of the planet, although some days it definitely feels like I'm hanging on by my fingernails. It certainly doesn't help that I feel like I'm on a printmaking cliff with the current reduction linocut in progress. I move a little bit forward and then spend a long time pacing back and forth, staring into the abyss.

Which seems a bit dramatic for something that ultimately will be just ink and paper, but, hey. It's where I'm at right now. 

Part of my utterly convoluted path is driven by attempts to accomplish somewhat conflicting tasks with each color pass. I've already mentioned the challenge of horizontal shapes of one color that intersect with vertical shapes of another color. I'm also trying to increase contrast and color in some sections of the block (namely the lower third) while keeping the color and value range quiet in other sections (namely the upper third).... while also keeping it all coherent. I don't want the finished image to look like a parfait of unrelated color bands. 

(sigh) Remember the good ol' days of single color prints?

Linocut in progress: Step 8 rollup

So here we are with the rollup for Step 8, a good example of me getting in the weeds. Literally. 

In the top of the image I want to add another subtle value without adding color. Okay. A transparent gray. But I will ultimately want the bases of those same grasses to have a little more color and contrast to help them settle into the whole image, so I want to keep them in a green range. That's a blend for the larger roller, gray-to-green, which can then be flipped around to cover the middle section.

In the foreground I want a little more contrast and warmer color, so that calls for a more browny-gray rolled across the bottom edge. Separate brayer.

Add of course I'm still masking the birds. 

Step 8 printed

Okay, onward.

At this point I REALLY wanted to get that last dark blue into the water so I could take out all those horizontal shapes in the middle and be done with them. So I decided to just be brave and mix up a dark blue, as well as a darker dull green.

It was a disaster. 

When good color goes bad

I hated everything about this. Nothing to do but clean up everything and start over. Block. Rollers. Ink slab. More than an hour to reset it all.

Step 9 rollup

I decided that I needed to get those green grasses across the center established more before I could move on to the final blue. Ugh. Will this never end?

The warm gray/brown color from my previous attempt was just too dark, so I added more transparency. I also made rich olive-y green that I blended with it on the larger brayer. Rolled across the top, then flipped to roll across the bottom. Plain green on the smaller brayer across the middle.

Step 9 printed

Okay. It's better, color and value-wise. Surely I'm making some progress now, although of course it all still feels too green. 

But look at the block now. It is a confusing mess. How am I going to keep track of what I need to carve away next?

Do you know what I'm supposed to carve out now? Me, neither.

Aha! Have I ever shown you a MAP?

People ask me all the time how I keep track of what I am supposed to be carving, and my answer is usually that I make it up as I go along. (Which is true.) I have a drawing on the block... I look at what I've printed so far... I look at my reference drawings and photos and whatever else I'm using and I make decisions about what to carve away next. 

But every once in a while that seat-of-my-pants method comes back to bite me in... well... the seat of my pants. Or what is IN the seat of my pants. You know what I mean.

It's at times like this that I am super happy to put a little technology to work for me. I take a photo of the print at its current stage. I download it to my computer and flip the photo horizontally so I am looking at the current stage of the print in the orientation of the block. Because, remember– The print itself is a mirror image of what I'm carving on the block.

Making a carving map

My flipped photo is then computer-printed (not printmaker-printed) onto paper. The color doesn't usually match that great, but it doesn't matter. I get out the colored pencils and draw on my printout... and since I'm adding darker marks to the page, these bits that I am drawing indicate the parts of the block that I will KEEP for the next stage of printing. Everything else will get carved away. 

Whew. I hope that makes sense!

On we go. Will I finally get to add some blue in the next color pass? It's a mystery to all of us, quite frankly. A real (ahem)... cliffhanger. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Not looking like much!

The current linocut in progress is an odd one, to be sure. It seems like I carve and carve for hours, and then when I print it barely looks any different than the previous color pass. Am I in some sort of weird loop in the space-time continuum? 

Don't believe me? Take a look at this:

Step 6 rollup

Blues! Nothing but blue ink, over the entire block. Of course these are transparent blues, so the greens will still look green. Like this:

Step 6 printed

See? It all still looks very much like the previous two or three passes. But I was feeling pretty good about everything at this point... although still troubled by what to do about the grasses in across the middle that are still blue. But, hey. Carve now. Worry about color later.

Step 7 rollup

But of course I did have to worry about color eventually. I've an idea now that I'd like to keep the background grasses less contrasty than the foreground... so had an idea that I could use a green-to-gray blended roll to keep the background grasses green, darker the blues of the center section... and then keep the tips of the foreground grasses light while darkening the bases of them. And there's NO blue ink in this color pass.

Step 7 printed

See what I mean? Although if you flip back and forth you will be able to see the subtle differences.

So now it's back to carving again. The things that are bouncing around in my head as I do this?

- It's probably time to start some carving to define the bird(s). 

- Will one more transparent gray finish off the background grasses in a suitable way?

- How MUCH contrast should I aim for in the foreground grasses? And should the next color pass be of warmer temperature?

- How will I resolve the water/grass intersections in the center portion of the image? I think there's only one more little bit of dark blue value to go, so can I get away with shifting to some paler greens first? Or should I go ahead and do the dark blue across the entire center, then carve away the last of the water, and probably have to resort to using some more opaque color in the grasses there? Will this opacity look out of place when everything else is so transparent and luminous? 

So many questions! 

But, as before... the first thing to do is carve away the areas that I know I would like to remain the color they are, so I'll solve the what-to-put-on-top-of-it questions later. (I did mention that avoidance was one of my better skills, right?)

Monday, January 16, 2023

Linocut in Progress: Thinking about the little things....

Okay. Music-facing time is imminent. Actual thinking is required, and there's no way around it anymore. Problems with the current linocut in progress must be solved.

But first! Let's add some more color! Because although resolving the green-across-the-middle issue is still an issue, brightening of the top and bottom of the image seemed like a good way to dodge the problem for one more color pass. 

But slow down, there! One thing we do NOT want to do is put more color layers on the bird(s), where they will only complicate later needs. Time to cut some masks.

Making masks

It's just a bird shape, right? Shouldn't be too complicated. But of course there are some blades of grass that DO want some more color in them, so those areas need to be left printable. What we have here are four individual little pieces that must be cut out (x 24) and placed on the block for each print pass. (Remember Sherrie's mantra: That will make things more complicated and tedious? Let's go there!)

It's difficult to tell from the photo, but to make the masks I put a piece of clear acetate over the block and traced the shapes onto it. I then used this for a pattern to transfer the shapes to newsprint. In the end I think I cut 14 of each of the shapes, because most of the time I was able to use the same mask on two prints in a row. 

Step 5 rollup with masks in place

Here's the inked block on the press with masks in place:

On the press

And here's the Step 5 print:

Linocut in progress: Step 5 printed

Okay. That's pretty good... although I am aware that masking the bird(s) is going to be a thing for a little while longer. At least until I can get the greens-across-the-middle problem solved. 

But oh, those grasses! I think I mentioned before that the photo I'm looking at for inspiration is very fuzzy and washed out, with no distinct shapes. (It was taken from a distance with a lot of zooming in.) Relief printing, by its very nature, is a process of carving distinct shapes. My challenge here is to decide which parts of these grasses to emphasize and which to leave indistinct... and then to figure out how to do "indistinct" with distinct shapes. I dunno. Am I explaining this well? It's muddled in my head, too, so perhaps not. 

ANYWAY. It's easy to get lost in all of this, so as I am carving I am using a trick learned 'way back when from the delightful printmaker Jean Gumpper

A green map!

My tendency is to just jump in and start carving, but as I said, this piece is making me slow down and think. (How rude.) For the next stage of carving I have taken to working out a bit of a map. As I make decisions about what I want to carve away, I first use a colored pencil to define the shapes ON the block. This way I can keep track of where I've been and consider areas carefully. The pencil color was chosen as a bit of a reminder, too, that what I am thinking about is the areas I wish to remain the brighter green. 

So I guess I'm sort of making myself a "carve-by-number" map, eh? Hey. Whatever it takes. 


Saturday, January 14, 2023

Linocut in Progress: No, really. I'm still here.

December. It's a thing. And it's a thing that I am glad is behind us. 

Hooray for a new year.!.. one which I hope will bring a bit more cheer than the last few have. It's hard to tell at the moment, since winter has finally arrived in Maine. Well, sort of. We've been on a rollercoaster of too warm with too much RAIN... with brief forays into a wee bit of snow and entirely too much ice. We're in a gloomy patch right now– gray, windy, rainy... with the dreaded freezing rain in the forecast for today. Ugh.

So, hey! I should be in the studio, right? 

And so I have been. Let's catch up, shall we?

The current linocut in progress has turned out to be more challenge than might have been wise this time of year. It's got some tricky color shapes to work out... horizontal marks in one color, vertical in a different color. And the image is inspired by a super-fuzzy, washed out photo full of indistinct shapes that I have to interpret as actual shapes. It's a lot of thinking for someone whose brain is as fuzzy as the photo these days. 

But, onward.

Linocut in progress: Step 3 rollup

Step 3! Let's do some color! Here's where the horizontal-one-color-vertical-another problem is already obvious. I've done a blended roll here, blue to green. While I have a roller wide enough to cover this entire block (18 x 18 inches), I don't really have the space in this studio to roll it out. I'm making do by using a smaller roller to run the blend in one direction and then turning the block to run it in the other direction. Get it?

Step 3 printed

Okay. The water is getting close, but you can see the problem here. There are grasses across the middle that will also want to be green (vertical), but of course I don't want green (or too much green) in the horizontal water shapes. The image is entirely too fussy for me to get excited about cutting masks for all that, but it's a problem I still haven't quite solved for myself. 

One of my best skills is avoiding big decisions, so let's pretend it's not a problem and go back to carving. 

Step 4 rollup

In fact, let's avoid the green problem by going back to gray instead! Yes, good plan. Here's the rollup for step 4, managed the same way with a smaller roller. Actually, TWO smaller rollers, as you see here. The larger one is only 8" wide, so running the blend from each end leaves an un-inked section across the middle. This gets filled in with the smaller 4" roller. Because adding as many steps as possible to each color pass is also one of my best skills. 

(For print equipment geeks out there, these beautiful brayers are made by Takach Press. They will set you back a pretty penny, but they are worth it. A joy to use. )

So, here we are with the printing of Step 4:

Step 4 printed

I am really looking forward to being finished with the water, but we're not quite there yet. I'd like to brighten up the greens a bit... and I can't forget that there are bird(s!) to keep track of, also. I predict masking in the future of THOSE shapes, at least. Stay tuned!

Linocut in Progress: Birdy bits

Linocut in progress: Step 12? Maybe? So here's the thing.... I have been doing so many passes on this current linocut... most of which h...