If only every mistake could be fixed with Bondo

The English language needs a word for that chilly feeling of regret that washes over you, followed by the hot flush that confirms that you just made a terrible mistake. In relief printmaking, this comes when you have carved away a portion of your block that you had not intended. This happened to me recently, and after I discarded the possibility of having a toddler-style tantrum on the floor, I turned to Google.

Thankfully, me eyes soon rested on a blog post by Erich Neitzke on how to use Bondo to repair a linoleum block. My only experience with Bondo comes from my childhood, when I would help my father use Bondo and fiberglass mesh to patch our 1967 Volvo. After reading Erich’s blog, I headed to the hardware store to give Bondo a try on my block.

Can of Bondo
Yep, they still make Bondo. You shouldn’t need the fiberglass kit.

My trouble came from my carelessness when using a mask or frisket to block out part of the linoleum. A mask is simply a packing tape covered piece of tracing paper that physically covers part of the block so the roller can’t deposit the ink. The result is an ink/no ink line. The actual mask that I created was slightly different from the lines on my tracing paper drawing, but I had forgotten this, and merrily began carving away the incorrect lines. This would mean that there would be a strange white space between my yellow sky and purple mountains. There was no way to glue back the pieces of linoleum with Superglue, which only works on minute areas where the linoleum is somewhat attached.

Masking tape around the mistakenly carved linoleum.
Masking around the area means that you will have less area to sand later.

Armed with my Bondo, I first masked around the area I wanted to fill with blue tape. I mixed a small amount of the white compound from the can, with a tiny amount of the brick red paste from the accompanying tube. I used a Dixie cup as a container and a popsicle stick for mixing and spreading. Make sure to use gloves and have proper ventilation. (Don’t do this inside.)

Bondo is spread over the area.
Press the Bondo firmly over the area, and don’t scrape down too deep. You want it to be a little bit higher than the block at this point.

I quickly spread the Bondo firmly into the channel I wanted to fill and scraped down some of the excess. You will want to leave a raised mound that you can sand. Bondo cures, rather than dries, so I was able to start sanding after an hour.

The linoleum has been patched by Bondo, but must be sanded.
Remove the masking tape. Now it is time to gently sand by hand.

After removing the masking tape, I began sanding with 220 paper. I was careful not to sand too far down, as then I might get small lines around the filled area that might print. This patch will work if you have relatively small areas to fill, or if you fill in several steps. It might be hard to fill an area that is not surrounded on most sides by linoleum.

Pencil marks now show the correct place to carve.
The correctly carving marks are transferred to the block, with a written reminder.

After the sanding, I carefully transferred the correct marks to the block, and reminded myself where to carve. It is always better for colors to overlap slightly than to have those unsightly white lines. You can always carve away more later.

After two colors, the Bondo area is still holding well. My diptych of cumulonimbus clouds was saved. If only other problems were so easy to solve with a simple patch and some sanding.

Avoiding linocut regret … true confessions

The past week has been all about clouds and heat. My visit to the Des Moines Arts Festival was positive, but as always it was punctuated by lots of heat and threatening clouds. Luckily clouds are inspiring to me. Here are some that lit our way as we drove east back to Indiana…

skies over iowa
Traveling at over 70 mph meant that my Iphone could only capture this scene in a diffused impressionistic manner. I think it works for the image.

Back at home, I have been working hard on the plans for my large linocut inspired by another cloud scene. I worked to complete the drawing I had started before I left for Iowa — inspired in part by the lines and curves of a Georgia O’Keefe painting. One of the benefits to doing a full-sized study is you can see what your linocut might look like, and watch for mistakes.

I’m sometimes willing to start just from a pencil outline, and allow the design to develop as the printing progresses. I’m not willing to do this in the case of this large linocut. Perhaps it is the size of this linocut, along with the corresponding risks including the cost of the block (about $60), the paper (about $120), and my time that are giving me pause. I hung my completed tracing paper study on my hallway wall one evening, and the next morning had the terrible feeling that it was not right. Back to the drawing table…

graphite stick
My creation tool for large studies is a 9B graphite stick. The flat back end is useful for laying in tones without creating lines.

After another entire day of work, I came up with another version which I think works better. I spent lots of time looking at the values needed to make this a good composition, as well as what patterns I wanted to highlight in the work. When the two are hung together, I felt the bottom study was much more successful.

do over skies
A tale of two studies. I think the lower one works better for my purposes.

I’m still deciding about the horizon line. In the actual photograph, the horizon is made up of deciduous trees. But perhaps a more Iowa-like horizon would provide a better complement to the curvaceous clouds.  Now it is time to decide on the colors scheme for the clouds…

Even though I lost a few days of work with my do-over, I’m happy to realize my large mistakes on tracing paper — rather than after a month of carving and printing.

Where do you try to catch your mistakes? Any stories of linocut regret?

And the clouds revealed…

Elizabeth Busey. Hope Despite the Evidence.
Linoleum Reduction Print, 17 x 25in, 2013.

In the last post I related the saga of my ruining a block and having to start over. This print is the final result of a new block, new paper and many more hours of carving. On the previous block I carved away those crucial corn stalks that extend over the water. Without them, I don’t think your brain would have been able to make sense of things.

Continue reading “And the clouds revealed…”

Blessings of a do-over

When I describe my printing process to non-printmakers, I often stress that because I am using only one block, if I make a mistake or I don’t like something, I can’t go back. In truth, there are many times when I don’t like something, but I just continue and see if another color layer can make it look different.

I’m working on a new print that has clouds. I had originally wanted to carve the clouds in a sort of engraving style, where you could see my carving marks. Kind of like Gustave Baumann’s Malapi. Sadly I didn’t achieve this, as my clouds looked more like a dust-up of cute cottontails. But I couldn’t go back, so I began to carve the block for the next layer…and I carved away the wrong area.

Continue reading “Blessings of a do-over”