Monday, February 20, 2017

Linocuts on a die-cut machine!


I belong to a fabulous Facebook group called Linocut Friends: a very talented and generous group of people, always encouraging newbies and sharing new tips and tricks. Well, recently it was discovered by one of our members, that a little die-cut machine called the XcutXpress works very well as a small tabletop press!  In the following (rather lengthy) step-by-step, I share my very positive experience with it! (links at the end)

For years, I've been enthralled with pysanky, the art of wax-resist egg dyeing used by Ukrainians on their Easter eggs. Some examples have a lovely simplicity, while others are exquisitely ornate. I even bought a pysanky kit years ago, but was quite intimidated by it. I recently decided to do my own humble little version of pysanky on this reduction linocut of an Easter egg, using repeated motifs, etc.

It took quite a few sketches to get to this first stage on tracing paper...I was going for natural elements (sky to earth) and trying to create some interesting patterns.


I used these wonderful mounted lino blocks from McClain's. The lino cuts like butter and you can order it mounted—the fabulous thing about this mounting is that they set the lino in a bit from the edge. so you can grab it while inking and printing without touching inky edges, etc.!
I used these wonderful mounted lino blocks from McClain's. The lino cuts like butter and you can order it mounted—the fabulous thing about this mounting is that they set the lino in a bit from the edge. so you can grab it while inking and printing without touching inky edges!

Because I wanted that repetitive pattern to be almost abstract in its shapes, (and being fairly proficient in Adobe Illustrator from my days as a graphic designer), I then "drew" it in Illustrator. This is also a great way to explore color choices, line thicknesses etc. And, especially when you're planning a reduction print, it really helps to plan the whole process in Illustrator or Photoshop, where you can separate out layers, etc. I wanted a really accurate transfer to the lino block, so instead of using tracing paper, I printed it on my laser printer and placed it face down on the lino and ironed the back with a warm iron. It took a few tries but it did work! And the toner residue didn't create any problems with inking later.

(And before we go further, I want to mention that I rather like the occasional stray mark here and there on a linocut print. I am not striving for perfection here. Good thing, huh?)

Some of these are be out of chronological order, as I want to show the printer set-up at this point. I won't go into elaborate detail about the printer itself, as others have done that much more thoroughly, but I will share a few initial points of interest:

The prices are already climbing. I got the last one on Home Shopping Network a couple of weeks ago at $99.99 plus tax and shipping. They're more than that now, but still WAY below the price of a tabletop etching press.

It may look like a plastic handbag in the photos, when it's folded up, but it's actually quite sturdy and heavy.

You're limited to prints that are 8.5"wide.

Adjusting the pressure knob on top is everything. Play with different settings and papers before you do any "real" printing. This is a quick shot I took of my initial "play" session when I unboxed it last week:


To keep the block in place, and to keep the rollers from having to go up and down over the block, I made a frame out of balsa pieces from the art supply store, cut to the desired lengths and affixed to the bases with foam tape.  (I used the shallower "cutting pad" of the 2 bases that come with the machine, so that the overall height would fit through the press.)

Jumping a bit forward, this photo shows the last layer set-up (I had  a few prints on longer paper, so I added a balsa block above the lino.) This also shows my new Ternes-Burton pins: I don't know why I EVER tried to register any other way. Period.


So, back to the first layer: I cut out everything that would remain white (the paper color), and printed the yellow layer. 



I used Caligo Safewash Relief inks. Yes, they dry slowly, but nicer ink makes a huge difference, and it really takes a very thin layer of ink to get full coverage. I own the 3 process colors, (which are a bit transparent) and their opaque white. If mixing colors isn't your thing, they have a lovely selection. Nicer gouges (I received these Pfeil gouges for Christmas) make a huge difference too. Pricey, yes, but I figure they more than pay for themselves: I didn't have one throwaway print in the bunch!

The tabs from the Ternes-Burton system make it easy to hang the prints to dry, using string and paper clips. I waited 3 days between layers on this project.

Next,  I carved away everything that would remain as yellow, and printed the blue-green. I never get tired of lifting that paper and seeing the result!

I didn't take a photo (sorry!) of my "sandwich" as I ran it thru the press. I would attach the paper's tabs to the pins, lift it up, slide the block in, lower the paper and lay the felt on top.


Time to carve the last layer (an almost-black blue-green). 

Because it was pretty detailed, I needed to use tracing paper and a graphite stick to check my work as I went.



And here they are! Not a bad one in the bunch....I mean, edition, of 14.

* * * * * 

Paper: I sampled a number of different papers on this project; in a future post, I will share my thoughts on their performance.

* * * * * 

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments—I know that this was a very quick overview of this process; here are a few very helpful links:

Watch videos by Colin Blanchard: the "pioneer" in linocut printing on an Xcut:
    https://youtu.be/oRmAgpzslnU
    https://youtu.be/pbgT_Xjyoz4

The machine:
    https://www.amazon.com/docrafts-Xcut-Xpress-Die-Cutting-Machine/dp/B00GFM3NII

The carving tools (I have Set C):
   http://www.pfeiltools.com/en/products/linoleum-an-block-cutters/set-of-6-linoleum-and-block-cutters.html

The lino block I used:
    http://www.imcclains.com/catalog/blocks/linocut.html

The ink I used:
    http://www.imcclains.com/catalog/ink/Caligointro.html

Ternes-Burton registration pins and tabs
    https://www.ternesburton.com/

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"The most beautiful book of 2016"


"Burr acorn", Prismacolor colored pencil on Stonehenge Kraft
(click to enlarge)

When I draw things found in  the natural world, it forces me to really look closely at them, and I can't help but be amazed at the fascinating patterns that I see. The concept of the Fibonacci sequence, and the golden mean are well-known, but the science behind these patterns goes way beyond that.

I recently came across a review of Philip Ball's book, Patterns In Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way it Does, and I knew I had to find it. It's a pricey volume, so I found a pristine, new Publisher's Weekly called this book "the most beautiful book of 2016",  and I couldn't agree more.

The acorn in this drawing is from the Burr Oak. We were visiting Texas for Christmas, and my daughter brought a handful of these into the house one morning. (Everything is, indeed, bigger in Texas!)



Monday, January 2, 2017

Armchair eagle-watching

"Sauces Canyon - 2016", linocut, 6" x 6"


I recently realized that I'd never written a post about this linocut that I did last year. It's based upon an image that I grabbed from the webcam footage of a nesting bald eagle out in California's Channel Islands National Park. My son is a wildlife biologist and works with the Institute for Wildlife Studies' bald eagle project out on Santa Cruz Island; this print was his birthday present. 

It's particularly timely that I started writing this post now: thanks to new-and-improved webcams, we can see that this season's nest building is getting underway! I hope you'll take a minute to check out the footage; seeing these natural wonders up close is something that not many people are able to do, but we can share in the experience thanks to today's technology!


Here's the screen shot I grabbed while watching the live video...amazing, isn't she?

Then, I did a drawing, simplifying the image. (Oops, forgot to save that!) In a reduction linocut, you don't use separate blocks for each color, you carve away parts of a single block between each layer. At the end, you're left with just the block for the last color; there's no going back to print another edition in the future. 

To start, I carved away the parts I wanted to stay white (the paper color) before printing the first of 5 layers - this blue-green that you see in the upper right of the final piece. 


Then, while those dried, I carved away the area stays THAT color and printed this medium green...
and so on.  (Sorry for the bad lighting...)



I'm still relatively new to block printing, so things didn't line up perfectly on all the prints, and "real" linocut artists would frown at my somewhat splotchy coverage, but I think it adds to the rustic, outdoorsy feel that's appropriate here. I made a little "stamp" to add the yellow beak, so actually, it's a 6-color print.

In the end, all I'm left with is this carved-up block:

and this! (The best of only 8 that were worth keeping.)

I can't wait to see what happens in the nests this year!