It is not always about the color

Several collages are in process in my studio. One was recently banished to the framing room, because I felt it wasn’t going in a positive direction. For a long time I couldn’t articulate why. Finally I experienced an epiphany: it is not always about color.

A detail of a monoprint collage in process.

I have been using more brightly colored base monoprints for recent collages. After working with some brightly colored maps and other monoprint patterns, I sat back to assess the progress. All I could think of was “Meh.” Clearly “meh” is not a feeling I want for a potential viewer, so I was doing something wrong.

Were the colors not harmonizing? Were the maps and textures confusing? I finally put the collage away in frustration and began something new. But I can see the offending work every time I walk down the stairs to my family room. It looked pitiful, sitting there unfinished, unloved.

IPhone 6 to the rescue

Black and white view of the same collage.

When I photographed part of the work, and put it into black and white, I could see a potential problem. Many of the tones are very similar, even though some are patterned and others plain. When you take the color away, things look very different.

I’m forced to take up painting

Areas of white Masa are still quite translucent.

Now I had to think of solutions to my problem. I considered the monoprint patterns I have been using, printed on thin Masa paper. The paper itself is somewhat translucent, especially in areas that are left white or have very light ink printed. The oil-based ink also seems to add to its translucency. When glued over a darker monoprint base, these pieces lose their lightness.

To combat this problem, I flipped over these patterned pages and painted a white acrylic wash over the areas that were printed on the other side. I used titanium white thinned with water that had wetting medium added. With a large foam brush I painted quickly and hung them to dry. Because I am using matte medium as my adhesive, I reasoned that these surfaces would bond together nicely. So far they have.

The result is that many of the oranges, yellows and whites are brighter. I will still need to be cognizant of my tonal values. Perhaps my eyes have a black and white setting…

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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. Continue reading “I do not intend to be opaque”

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Uncovering the mystery of white ink

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.

Titanium white
Was the culprit the Titanium White?

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”

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