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.
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.
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.
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?
Were you one of those people who saw the Internet-featured dress as blue and black? Or were you in the white and gold camp? This was an example of color perception being relative — that color isn’t fixed, but changes depending on many factors. This makes finding the right next color layer a challenge for me. I have spent the last week or so sneaking up on the colors that I imagine for my next cloud-themed linocut. Here’s a portion of the linocut in progress:
I’m exploring the effect that the setting sun would have on a blanket of clouds. I wanted the brightest parts to be either completely white or a warm yellow. The task then was to choose colors that will provide the dimensionality of the clouds, and then the dark (by contrast) blue and purple sky.
Intuitively, I want the lowest parts to have purple shadows, and the upper part to have a dark-greyed teal. But how to get there is the question. Purple over the yellow yields a rich brown, a color only associated with tornado clouds. I use this color chart to give me ideas of which way to head. I created this chart on the ill-fated election evening of the Bush vs. Gore election. Hour after hour we watched to see if a winner would be declared, and instead watched the newscasters flounder about in confusion. Mixing these watercolors kept me grounded.
My color challenges are two-fold. My sense is that the colors in the clouds should be transparent, so what color is beneath will directly affect the next color layer. In addition, what a color is next to greatly affects our perceptions. My favorite college art class (besides printmaking) was a color and composition class. Using a box of colored papers we were asked to create demonstrations that would fool the eye. Here are my two best examples:
In this example, the challenge was to take two different colors, and using different backgrounds convince the eye that it was seeing the same color. The colors I used are at the top, and then shown on top of two other colors. The illusion is helped by keeping the stripes away from each other.
In this example, the blue green paper is the same on each side, but your eye is challenged by the different color fields of purple and yellow.
I have probably two or three color layers left on my present linocut. Not much carving, but adding layers will more fully define the clouds and hopefully provide some more depth. To get to the darkest colors I may have to employ some more opaque ink, now that the cloud body is finished. I just hope I can accomplish on paper what I have had in my mind all along…