This is only a test

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.

What follows is a quickly photographed series of a study of a sea fan, complete with the commentary running through my head… (One thing I have noticed is that the earliest layers don’t photograph well, despite using our best camera, grey card and tungsten light. You will need to use your imagination.)


Layer 1: gold to light orange flat.
Layer 1 — How do I want my highlights to look? Would they be white, or just a lighter shade? I used a rainbow roll of golden yellow to a warmer orange for the base. Then I carved away a bit on one side of the fan’s sections with my Foredom drill for the highlights.


Layer 2: more gold…tiny highlights are revealed.

Added another layer of yellow — no rainbow roll. I don’t want the sea fan itself to be too dark!

A close-up of layer 2.

Uuugh! I should have carved away more of the block. The scrubby marks that the Foredom drill makes are filling in and don’t leave as much highlight visible. Maybe I should have gone with white…

Layer 3: a very light teal begins to reveal the pattern.

Layer 3: To give the sea fan depth, in addition to the highlights, I also wanted some shady contours. I used my Foredom to carve away most of the sea fan form, but not all. There are still scrubby bits in the middle and on the side opposite the highlights. There isn’t as much light below the sea, so I added a very light teal to reveal the pattern.


Layer 4.1: too green!
Layer 4.2: more blue, but opaque

Layer 4: Time for the real color…I carved away all of the sea fan and got out the inks. The one on the left (this is one of my practice sheets on the reverse of a spoiled print, thus the orangey test smudge) was printed with transparent teal. Yikes! I needed to get to blue, and it would take a lot of ink to do it this way.

The image on the right has opaque teal (teal mixed with some titanium white.) You give up some luminosity to get more color coverage. This is a better color, but the image is completely flat…

Layer 5: rainbow rolls to the rescue.

Layer 5: Ah the rainbow roll, solver of many problems… I printed a strong blue to clear on the top, and a purple (really!) to clear on the bottom to create some variation in the light. Maybe there is hope. But the image is still pretty flat. I’m wondering what is happening off in the distance, aren’t you? And can I successfully print a color strong enough over the blue?

In a future blog post, I’ll reveal my experiments in the distance. But for now, I have learned several things in developing this sea fan theme. These include:

1) When I want highlights, nothing works like the white of the paper.

2) When using a rotary tool (which makes shallower marks than my knives) go deeper and larger than I think I need. These fill in quickly.

3) In thinking about the sea fan, perhaps a better choice would be to print the water first (carving away the highlights of course) allowing the water to keep its transparency. This would mean the fan would be a much more brilliant and opaque color, which might not be all bad…

4) Perhaps something in the distance might be much lighter than the water… or would that make sense? I might need to run two separate series to test this.

5) The reason the sea fan is interesting, it turns out, is that it is this incredibly intricate form, hanging out in the blue ocean, surrounded by other amazing forms. By itself, it doesn’t hold my interest in the way necessary to deem it “frame-worthy.”

So much learning, but now I’m excited to carve some background for this test, and plan another sea fan linocut that will benefit from all I’ve learned.


2 Replies to “This is only a test”

  1. So interesting to read about your process, the ones that don't quite work are even more important than the ones that do! Your point 5 is something I've struggled with too.

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