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 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.
I still have to be careful to keep the white edges clean!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With each passing year, I have been working to accept things as they are. My abilities in my rowing class will never match those of rowers who are twenty year my junior. I cannot make decisions for others who are now fully in charge of their lives. And when ink misbehaves, all I can do is try to finish the linocut, letting go of that elusive goal of perfection.
The World Turned Upside Down has been a two-month odyssey in perseverance and acceptance. If you read my earlier blogs, I wrote about ink overextension. With reduction linocuts (and perhaps with any multi-layered printmaking) the behavior of one ink layer completely affects the following layers. If the first layer does not print evenly, the following layers will not either, no matter what pressure you use, what ink concoction you create or whatever sacrifices you make to the printmaking gods.
This large linocut was printed on new, expensive Somerset paper. I purchased the paper in hopes of solving a texture problem I thought was perhaps related to the paper surface. Once my problems began, the paper was already committed, so I made the decision to go ahead with the print anyway.
This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. A block this size takes lots of time to carve and maneuver in the printing process. As I worked through the various ink layers, the textures that were appearing began to work with the image, with some areas having an interesting patina I could not have planned.
Acceptance is different from resignation. Acceptance is the mature recognition that you are not omnipotent, and do not have unlimited energies. It also opens up the possibility of something that you had not dreamed of, something serendipitous.
Being overextended — at the end of your rope — is a familiar human condition. Managing internal and external demands can be challenging. I met overextension while working on one of my large cloud linocuts, and the results have been challenging.
When ink isn’t quite so juicy
In many of my cloud linocuts, I begin with very transparent layers because I want to make a smooth transition from the white of the paper. I am working on another 25 x 40 inch cloud linocut, and ran into trouble as I printed the first light blue-grey layer. When I printed the first layer onto some very expensive Somerset paper, a strange chalky dry residue remained on the block. When I rolled ink over the block and printed on the next pristine piece of paper, the residue pattern then printed.
Exasperated, I tried cleaning the block, but the problem reoccurred. I tried adding more tack reducer to some of the ink, burnt plate oil to some more, but neither was successful.
Help from the internet
I use relief inks by Gamblin, so I sent a query through their website. Cecilia Hamlin reached out with some suggestions. The first was to clean the block with vegetable oil, and then with mineral spirits. Cleaning a block this size and weight is non-trivial, as it requires hauling the cumbersome block out to the garage. I also tried re-sanding the entire block with 400 grit sandpaper twice. Still no improvement.
I sent Cecilia photos of the ink on the glass and on the paper. Then the problem was made clear. She suggested that I had overextended my ink — using too little pigment in too much tint base. The addition of too much tack reducer also meant that the pigment did not disperse evenly, but rather clumped together and stuck to my linoleum.
Ink has a memory
On my latest layer, I followed Cecilia’s advice:
Start with the tint base needed and then add in color. Mix thoroughly. (I have a bad habit of not mixing as long as I should.)
Only then should I add the tack reducer, with a maximum of 10% of the total ink volume. I tried to use less.
The result seemed to be better. Unfortunately, the ink on the paper now affect how much new ink transfers from the block onto the paper. So you get these strange textures. The next linocut will be the true test of the new ink strategy.
In the meantime, I must use all of my creativity to salvage the current work. I’m already thinking of some radical measures to make all of the variation work for the image.
Patience and perseverance are the words for February in my life. What are your words?
Sometimes it feels good to break the rules. Printmaking has many of them — perfect alignment, clean edges, no brayer marks. I had tried breaking some rules by working with the dyed silk, and even though this experiment did not work, I couldn’t let my key block image go. So I’ve decided to break some more rules in the search for blended, variegated colors.
I’m a big fan of the montage — a device in movies used to move the story along. The characters grow, change and learn, all while accompanied by a great soundtrack. I need this for my studio. I am back printing my large (25 x 40 inch block) linocut, and patience has been required at every turn.
My image is a large cloud formation, over a small area of flat land. I couldn’t decide whether this was summer or autumn land, so I did some of each. With such a large block, I would hate to guess wrong. I used a frisket (or a mask for non-printers) to help me lay down some of the bright colors of the land which will contrast with the darker, more monochromatic clouds. This is not an exact process, as I discovered when I printed the first layer of blue. My measurements must have been off, because it overlapped the land in a small band!
My initial reaction was to try and carve away a thin strip or linoleum, but this a dangerous operation. I could carve away too much, and would then be left with an inexplicable slice of exposed white paper. Like a very itchy insect bite, I had to tell myself, don’t touch! This area will be covered by the darkest ink anyway.
More problems came as I printed the first and second layers of transparent blue. There is something about the combination of lots of transparent base and just a touch of pigment that leads to a gummy residue on the block. After every four prints, I had to clean off the block to prevent this residue pattern from transferring onto my paper. I have found that the first transparent layers of a linocut often look terrible, but are incorporated into later layers with no trouble. Again — don’t touch and don’t fret!
Wouldn’t a fast forward button and a great soundtrack be perfect right now?
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.
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… Continue reading “The completion of a temperamental linocut”
I began my Tuesday with the best of intentions. I had spent the previous afternoon carving away tiny areas in my most recent linocut. There is always this sense of excitement and expectation when I print the next layer — as it is hard to predict the effects of the carving and the new color.
In my latest linocut, I needed to transition from a very bright yellow-green to blues, and I knew from experience that unless some of the green was blocked by a more opaque ink, I would not get to the blues that I sought. So I had printed a white ink, tinted with blue.
Alas, when I gently touched the surface of the linocut, I could feel that it was still tacky and wet. A bit of the very light blue remained on my finger. Sometimes the last layers of a linocut dry more slowly…but in this case I think the culprit was the Titanium White ink. With no printing happening on this day, I decided to try and discover why it was that the white ink behaved so differently from my other inks.
Sadly, when I typed in a search of “why does white ink not dry like other inks” I didn’t get any useful information. Complex treatises from the commercial printing industry surfaced, with discussions about squirting inks and plasticity. Not what I needed. Continue reading “Uncovering the mystery of white ink”
There are many interesting phenomena in nature, and we are treated to images of them everyday. Internet-shared imagery zooms in and out showing us the incredible complexity of our natural world, and I am often inspired. The problem comes when I want to translate that inspiration into a linocut. Sometimes a fascinating idea becomes unsuccessful in the studio.
Many of my ideas involve intricate carving and numerous layers of ink, so I like to do a test when I’m thinking about a new series of work. I used the idea of a sea fan for a demonstration at my recent Open Studios, and decided to further pursue this topic. To get a good idea of what things will look like, I had to use a block larger than the card-sized one used for the demo. Patterns need a bit of space to develop.
My process of creation is a circuitous one. I often start with a particular visual idea — a pattern in nature that I find inexplicably captivating. I spend time thinking about composition, the types of tools I will use and the marks I want to make. I don’t spend too much time clarifying what the image means…