Category Archives: Color Theory

Deciding which color layer comes next

Deciding which color layer comes next is a very serious decision for printmakers. Especially those of us who create using the reduction method. In the past, I have used test sheets on less expensive paper, or the reverse sides of spoiled prints, to make my color decisions.Each of these strategies has a problem.

Less expensive paper can cause ink to behave very differently — often sitting on top of the surface rather than being incorporated into the paper. Further layers don’t print the same way as on my good Rives BFK. The reverse side of the spoiled prints have a particular texture which actually interferes with the next inking of the block and creates problems for the actual edition.

Creating color test strips for layers

My latest linocut has nine color layers, so accuracy has been important. I now print color strips as I go along to help me. I save the long narrow pieces of paper that remain when you tear down paper for an edition. I use a similarly sized piece of linoleum for my test block.

test color strips

My color test strips for recent linocuts have nine layers of ink, and evidence of lots of testing.

After I print the first layer of ink on an edition, I ink the lino scrap the same way as my block and print it onto my scrap paper. I leave a bit of white paper at the top so I can hang the scrap paper with the edition to dry. When I am deciding on the next color, I use my palette knife to “draw down” some of the color over my first printing layer. I keep in mind that the layer using the knife will be a bit darker than when it is actually printed. When I’ve decided on a color, I can wipe off these draw downs.

linocut topography warm colors

Pandora’s Paradise. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 12 x 12 in (image size) Edition of 12, $300.

Nine color layers mean lots of testing

In Pandora’s Paradise, you can see the color decisions I made for each layer. After I print each layer, I make sure to ink and print on the paper scrap in the same way. For this linocut, I used a modified blend roll, using the heel of my hand to blend some complimentary colors. (Read more about this in a previous blog.)

Occasionally I have a color that isn’t exactly what I expected, but as we know from color theory, how it appears will change with the next color. I just remember to print each new color on my color strip, and eventually I find my way.

 

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Getting your hands dirty is sometimes necessary

The gleaming white borders of my linocuts mean that I am fastidious about keeping clean hands and fingers. But on rare occasions, getting my hands inky becomes necessary. In one of my latest linocuts, I am using many transparent layers, and needed to join contrasting pinky orange and a cerulean blue layers.

I use rubber brayers to apply the ink, but need to solve the problem of the hard and unblended edges.

 

I know that a blend roll combination will yield a sort of greyish-brown, which I really don’t want. So instead I’m using a technique that I learned from printmaker Karen Kunc. Kunc is able to get many different colors and fading techniques from one block by using the heel of her palm.

Dab with the outside heel of the palm

 

When I use the heel of my palm, I am blending the inks slightly, but I am also removing some of the ink as well. This makes the unwanted blend of contrasts less intense when it is printed.

Reducing unwanted blending

Here is what the block looks like before I printed it. This isn’t an exact technique, but I find that if it is used in the middle of a linocut, or at the end, any variation is not noticeable.

My palm blended layer after printing.

I still have to be careful to keep the white edges clean!

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Why are some inks more opaque than others?

Why are some printmaking inks more opaque than others? I’m currently working on a commission that won’t be unveiled until after it is delivered to its new collector. Without giving away the details, I found myself needing to shift from a middle blue tone into much darker greens. Enter the yellow opaque ink…

Gamblin’s Relief Ink Hansa Yellow Light is quite opaque.

Opacity vs transparency : not all inks are the same

After using Gamblin’s relief inks for a while, I intuitively know that yellow, napthol scarlet and titanium white will be the most opaque. Other inks like quinacridone red and phthalo blue will be very transparent. For me opacity means that it will cover up the color underneath more completely, and combine with it less. Even with opaque ink straight from the can, you will never get the color on the paper that you see on the glass. They aren’t completely opaque.

I wanted to answer the question of why some inks were more opaque than others. It was remarkably difficult to get such an explanation without jumping off into a discussion of physics for which I was not qualified.

Getting to the why of opacity and transparency

Mixing in some transparent blue didn’t make my yellow much less opaque.

Two on-line sources got me closer to an explanation of why inks vary in opacity. Why Some Paints are Transparent and Others Opaque, a page from Natural Pigments on-line store, has the most complete explanation. The Anatomy of Paint: Pigment and Binder from Essential Vermeer 2.0 has a discussion with a bit less physics.

The answer has three variables

Relative Refractive Indicies

Remember that all pigments whether naturally gathered or industrially created all start out as a powder. The powder is combined with a binder to allow the pigment to be applied to a surface. With printmaking, burnt plate oil (a heated version of linseed oil) is the binder.

Both pigments and binders have a rating for their ability to refract — or scatter — light. The more similar the number, the more likely the created ink will be transparent — or not scattering the light. Linseed oil has an index of 1.479 so pigments that have a very similar index will allow the most light to pass through, appearing transparent. Other pigments like zinc oxide, have an index of 2.00, and therefore appear opaque — not allowing any of the light through.

Particle Size

In my previous post on gold ink, I noted that my favorite one — Charbonnel’s Etching Ink Gold — had almost noticeable particles. It is very opaque, and this makes sense because the light is being refracted off the (larger) gold pigment particles, and can’t make its way down through the ink layers to the white paper.

Imagine all of those light particles struggling to make it through to the white paper!

Distribution of Pigment

This variable is obvious to me, as I liberally mix transparent base into my relief inks to increase the transparency of any color. Even still, I can never achieve the transparency of a phthalo blue with the yellow or white inks. This is probably because of the above two variables.

You can see that this mixed ink is fairly opaque because I can’t see any of the support buttons that are beneath the glass on the table,

I’m not sure I completely understand refractive indicies, but I do get a kick out of imagining the light rays trying mightily to penetrate my layer of ink and make it to the white paper.

Now back to my commission and to some new work. Science class is concluded.

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Printmaking sometimes takes an eternity

Printmaking can sometimes take an eternity. Or this is how it seems. My first art professor impressed upon me that unlike reading a book which can be skimmed, or writing a paper during an all-nighter, making art takes the time it takes. This fall, I have found this to be true. I decided to create a linocut concept that had twelve layers of ink, the most I have ever done.

On the Far Side of Forever, an aerial inspired linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. On the Far Side of Forever. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 16 x 21in (image size), 28 x 37in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

I wanted to create imagery that asked the question — what if aerial views were like topographical maps? To answer this question, I created both horizontal (above) and vertical (below) compositions. I imagined the views a hawk or turkey vulture might have, if they were flying around in a topo-filled world.

The Grand Eternal Show, a topographically inspired aerial view linocut.

Elizabeth Busey. The Grand Eternal Show. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 21 x 14in (image size), 31 x 23in (framed size), edition of 13, $375 unframed.

Creating similar but not the same

To make these works harmonize, but not be the same, I used different views of the topography so that the largest shapes are repeated. I also wanted to find a way to make the layers not be completely homogeneous. To do this, I started both series with some loose diagonal color fields as the first layer of ink. I even reversed the location of each color for the different linocuts.

First layer of linocut has rough inexact color fields.

The first layer had rough, inexact color fields.

Carve this, not that

One of the more difficult tasks was remembering where to carve for each subsequent layer. Once a layer was carved away, I could not go back and touch up the linear marks that divided it from the others. Each time I printed, I also printed the line marks to keep them a consistent tone throughout, even if the color was somewhat different.

The last layer — the lines alone — required some strategy. I could leave them with the darkest tone only, but this meant that the darkest areas were not well differentiated from a distance. So I went to my old friend, gold ink.

Getting serious with pigment

I had been using a very old gold ink from Handschy, and wondered if another ink would give me more brilliance. I ordered some Charbonnel gold etching ink on a whim, and now was able to give it a try. As you can see from the video, this ink does not have the viscosity of most relief inks. I wanted to keep the pigment as intense as possible, since it was going to go over fairly dark blues and greens. The addition of some burnt plate oil allowed me to gradually roll out the stiff ink.

Gold ink on the last layer of the topography linocut.

The last layer need to print clearly. The thick gold etching ink did the job well.

While the ink looked too thick on the glass, and didn’t make that velvety sound I usually strive for, it did adhere to the linoleum well and printed evenly on the ink-saturated paper. With one layer of ink, the gold sheen can be delicately seen, especially in the problem dark areas. I wondered if more gold would be better, and printed another layer of gold immediately. This gave me more gold reflection, but meant that now your eye was confused about what was important. I wanted the work to be more about the layers, with the lines playing a supporting role. So I stuck to one layer of gold ink.

The feeling of satisfaction I had upon completing these two linocuts was one I haven’t felt in a long time. For this, I am eternally grateful.

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Metallic inks put the shine on

Art-making is compromise.  Those who say that you can make whatever you want are simply mistaken. Art making is a compromise between what you have in your imagination, and what you can accomplish with your materials. In reduction printmaking, this compromise has to do with the number of shades, colors or details you would like versus the amount of ink your paper is willing to accept. Apply too much ink, and you are finished.

What is an overzealous printmaker to do? In many of my linocuts, I turn to metallic inks to finish the piece, even if I wasn’t quite finished myself.

silver and gold metallic inks on a carved linoleum block

A blend roll of gold and silver metallic inks are the last layer on my latest cloud linocut.

Why metallic inks are different

Metallic inks are different from other printmaking inks. The pigments are not ground as finely as other colors so they can reflect light. Gold inks are simulated with combinations of copper and zinc (yielding a sort of bronze) and silver inks are made from aluminum. As these inks dry, the metals rise to the surface.

How shiny these pigments appear depends on the surface on which they are printed. On my very absorbent Rives BFK, the inks aren’t too shiny unless they are the last in a series of ink layers. With the above inked block, these inks are going over six other layers of ink, so the paper is nearly sealed. If you printed on a very slick surface, the results would be shinier. If a very reflective result is required, you would need to resort to foil printing — a fascinating technique with which I would love to experiment.

cans of metallic gold and silver printmaking ink

Cans of metallic inks can bring a shine to any situation.

Mixing brands of ink — apologize later

Gamblin –the maker of my other relief printmaking inks — does not make metallic inks. I have had my Handschy gold and Kohl & Madden silver inks for years. Straight out of the can they are very dark and strong, so I mix in some Gamblin Relief Transparent Base and some tack reducer to get the strength I need. So far my mixing of different ink brands has not resulted in a visit from the ink police.  I also use a bit of metallic ink to make an ink less transparent, without adding white — which can lead to too-pastel colors.

I just applied a layer of metallic gold and silver blend roll to my latest cloud linocut, and I think it is finished. It is a diptych, so I am working on just the right way to display it on-line.

In the meantime, consider if a little metallic ink might help you put your shine on.

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Change the color and change the meaning

A few blogs ago I shared some images of the altocumulus undulatus clouds I snapped early one morning. While I loved the shape of these clouds, I don’t find their white to light blue coloring terribly compelling in an artistic sense. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was steered toward the blue greens when printing over orange and yellow. The final result is Harbinger in Teal.

Elizabeth Busey, Harbinger in Teal, Reduction Linocut, 18 x 28 in, edition of 24, $450.

Altocumulus undulatus clouds result from wind shear — an abrupt speed or directional shift that signals a change in the weather. Where I live, a weather change is often brought about by violent storms, and some people link strong storms with blue green clouds. So I embraced my uniquely colored clouds as an illustration of how the world feels to me at times.

Things are unsettled, changes may be coming, and it is not clear if they will be disastrous, or merely different. All we can do is watch the clouds, and hang on.

Hanging on while looking for hope

I took a break from the studio recently to visit Asheville, North Carolina and the surrounding countryside. With the radio turned off and a ban on reading the New York Times on my phone, I was able to capture some images that I found hopeful…

 

 

Hope really is an action, not just an emotion. Continuing to be hopeful in the face of the alternatives takes perseverance.

Keep looking for hope, and if you find some, please share it. The world needs lots of hope.

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Embracing Artistic License…or Why Clouds are Green

In creating art, sometimes the materials dictate the direction of the work. In my latest linocut of rhythmic altocumulus undulatus clouds, my vision was for a glowing orange sky. I did not see the entire work as orange, but rather transitioning to some sort of blue. Herein lay the challenge and the realization that I was not in control.

Teal skies are the result of printing blue over orange.

One color determines the next

Even when I mixed my purply blue with some white, when I printed over my orange, I got a teal. But as I stared and pondered my perceived problem, I was reminded of the colors of my mother’s opal ring… colors that I enjoy.

Fiery opals contain some of my favorite colors.

So I decided to keep the teal green skies — as I had no choice in the matter. If Toulouse Lautrec can give people green faces, or Marc Chagall can make blue horses fly, why couldn’t I have green clouds?

Green clouds actually do exist

When I am printing blend rolls in my clouds, I am fastidious in preventing the yellows and the blues from mixing. This would usually result in a strange spring green. But my blueish green clouds are actually a real weather phenomenon. Meteorologists disagree about the causes of these green clouds. Some hypothesize that it is the result of sunlight refracting through hail in the clouds. Others suggest that it is the leading yellow sunlight shining on storm clouds. Sometimes green clouds are seen with severe weather, and sometimes not.

For now, I will embrace the opalescent teals of these clouds and print a few more layers to complete the work. It is spring in the midwestern United States, so I will also be listening for the sirens and looking for green clouds.

 

 

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Reading signs in the clouds

My love affair with large linocuts has been tested this summer. In June, I began a 25 x 40 inch linocut of a large severe thunderstorm, fully intending to complete it in a month. Over the course of two months, I have used an engraving bit to texture every inch of this block — change occurring at a glacial pace — which is completely the opposite of a fast moving storm.

©Elizabeth_Busey_Breath_of_Hermes

©Elizabeth Busey. Breath of Hermes. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK Heavyweight. 25 x 40in (image size), Edition of 6, $600 unframed.

(more…)

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Even printmakers get the blues

The carving and printing of my monster cloud linocut continues. While most of the colorful land has been printed, the monochromatic clouds make up the majority of the work. I’m trying to capture the moody pre-storm clouds with a range of blues. Blues are one of those pigments that have always given artists fits, and I am no exception.

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(Detail) Three blues down and a couple more to go to complete my moody clouds.

Midway through the clouds, I have had two Gamblin Artists Colors to choose from: phthalo blue and Prussian blue. Both pigments lean toward the green side, which is challenging when working with clouds. Prussian blue, when intense, actually leans toward black.  I’ve had to use both quinacridone red (a cool red) and napthol scarlet (a bright orange) to drag the blues away from the green side, and into the blue-gray.  It also doesn’t help that the tint base I am using is slightly warm (tending toward a yellow.)

Gamblin used to make an ultramarine blue relief ink, but has stopped. I don’t know the reason, but today’s synthetic ultramarine pigments are said to be at risk of discoloration in more acidic environments. I had previously relied on ultramarine blue for any blues that were neutral or leaned toward indigo…

Attachment-1 (1)

Is it a canyon or a cloud?

There is one piece of hope, not for this linocut sadly, but for the future. A blue pigment called YlnMn was discovered by accident by chemist Mas Subramaniam and his lab at Oregon State University. It has now been licensed for commercial use, and the lab has given it to some local Oregon artists to try out. You can see a printmaker use the pigments here. This new blue, which tends toward neutral blue to cool (purply) blue is stable and non-toxic to manufacture. I know it would be a wonderful addition to my printmaking palette.

Another interesting characteristic of this new pigment is that it reflects a large amount of infrared light, making it perfect for roofs that can keep buildings cooler. Can’t wait for blue roofing materials to hit the market either.

There is hope for our blues, too!

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The completion of a temperamental linocut

Vexing. This an apt description of the weather in my part of the world. Wide swings in temperature, plus punishing storms make for unpredictable living. Two weeks ago I wrote about similar trials in layering inks. After giving the linocut an entire week to dry, I soldiered on, armed with metallic inks.

Tempest Intermezzo

©Elizabeth Busey. Tempest Intermezzo. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 14 x 28in image size, edition of 14, $350 unframed.

I first printed a gold layer, which faded as it approached the horizon, over the patchy purple. Thankfully metallic inks are very opaque and tend to cover a multitude of difficulties. Another deeper blue went on the clouds, which did not share the inking problems. But I was concerned that the clouds might not tolerate too many more layers… (more…)

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