I do not intend to be opaque

I started out my adult art study with watercolors, a most unforgiving medium. Watercolor requires immediate commitment with the knowledge that it is difficult to undo what has been done. Yes, there is white, but it is opaque, unlike most watercolors. I was taught not to rely on it to fix my mistakes.

I’ve carried my aversion to opaque white into my printmaking. For the first few years I used only inks thinned with transparent base, gradually building up my image. This had two consequences that I didn’t like. First, the initial layers were by necessity short on chroma. I rarely accomplished a brilliant yellow. Second, it made using a complementary or split complementary color scheme very difficult. No matter how much purple you put over yellow, you are always going to get some kind of brown.

But all that has changed. I’ve started using opaque ink in places where I want rich colors, and don’t need that brilliant transparency of the white paper shining through the inks.

water 2 layer
Two layers of transparent blue, including a rainbow roll provide the base of the linocut.

I chose this watery pattern from a close-up of the Mosel River in Germany. I knew I didn’t want the blues to get darker, and I needed to switch to a different series of colors. Enter opaque white. When mixed with the semi-transparent yellow, it melded with the blues to create an entirely new color.

opaque yellow ink
Opaque titanium white mixed with yellow doesn’t completely cover the blues…
water layer 3
The blues mix with the opaque yellow to make a strong green.

Now I had the color shift I wanted…but these were the last pattern markings I took from my expanded image. This happens to me all the time — what to do next — how do you test ideas? I have several test papers to experiment with color, but on the block, a mark made is there to stay.

using tracing paper
Tracing paper to the rescue.

Tracing paper is such a gift to printmakers. I taped a large sheet over the still tacky linocut, and used colored pencils (gently) to experiment with colors and potential mark making. I wanted this part of the water to look like velvet.

water layer 4
A transparent layer of olive-yellow green keeps the values close.

After taking a deep breath, I used my Foredom drill to make diagonal texture marks. A very transparent layer of olive-yellow ink gave me another color, while keeping the green areas from separating.

Opaque ink made this shift from blue to strong green possible. In the past I might have started with green, and tried to overprint the blue. But from experience, it is very difficult to get the true blues I desired this way.

A few more layers remain, and then perhaps some gold leaf. This linocut has been a mystery. Perhaps a good way to begin the New Year.

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