You’ve got to know when to hold ’em … know when to fold ’em…

After a fall of experimentation, I have officially learned how NOT to print onto dyed silk. Economists talk about “sunk costs” — time and resources that have been used and cannot be regained. A month’s worth of work has been sunk. After licking my artistic wounds and engaging in some serious self-care, I now need to acknowledge all of the things I learned if only to avoid ever doing them again. Here’s a visual of what went wrong, and my interpretation that follows:

My dyed, glued and printed work, hopelessly warped and therefore impossible to register again.

Always test all of your materials before a big project

My first mistake was that I used untested materials in this linocut project. I had used a very lightweight silk for my Cope Hollow series, and blithely thought that if some silk was good, then a thicker silk would be better. I hypothesized that a slightly thicker weight fabric would be easier to control. It was easier to iron, but when I tried to adhere it with my combo of PVA and methyl cellulose, it stretched horribly no matter which way I worked with it. This lead to wrinkles in the fabric as it dried on the cotton paper.

Water was my Waterloo

Cotton rag paper like the Rives BFK paper that I use has no sizing, so it quickly absorbs water. I knew when I began this experiment that any water would make the BFK ripple. I did need some methyl cellulose (which contains water) in my glue mix because the PVA was too thick and dried too quickly. On my smaller Cope Hollow series, the amount of glue mix use didn’t seem to make the paper ripple terribly. But with a 10 x 33in block size, the increased amount of glue mix made the entire paper buckle, despite being dried amongst blotters with added weight. Making something multiplicatively bigger often multiples the problems as well.

Distance magnifies mistakes

I should have known that my registration set-up was going to be problematic. With my registration jig setup, some sacrificial paper is needed on one side for the attachment of the plastic tabs with masking tape. To most efficiently use my expensive paper, it made the most sense to put the tabs on the short edge. I learned many linocuts ago that it is very easy to misalign a long linocut because I’m placing the paper down from the side, and not head on. With the already warped paper, while I could manage to print the linocut in one color, I was completely unable to register the next color. Each attempt just got worse and worse, until I gave myself a studio time out and then decided to abandon the project.

Moving on and making plans

I still like the image itself, so one option I have is to cut another block the exact same size and use it to create the colors, printing my existing key block last. For now, I’ve put this block aside and have been coaxing some cumulus clouds from a similarly long block.

A section of a long linocut with towering cumulus clouds. No silk in sight.

Why is learning often painful and expensive? Thankfully there is always another linocut to distract me…

8 Replies to “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em … know when to fold ’em…”

  1. First of all, I love the clouds! And I really enjoyed reading about the process, and yes, the failures. We’ve all got them. Sometimes I save them, sometimes not. (By the way, I have ironed paper before.

    1. Oh believe me Sherri, if ironing would have worked I would have done that happily. I even tried using colored pencils to simulate the next printed colors…but it just didn’t work. More potential sunk costs!

  2. We learn our biggest lessons through failures, and I’m sure you won’t be forgetting this one soon. But if we don’t take risks, we can’t grow. Thanks for blogging about this experience. I’m sure many other artists can relate!

    1. Thanks Carolyn! I enjoy listening to the podcast “How I Built This” which interviews entrepreneurs who tell their stories. Hearing about their mistakes (often made at an entirely different scale) helps me to realize that a creative life must by necessity have experimentation and failure.

  3. I hear that if you don’t experience failure, you aren’t taking enough risks. Always learn so much, both about your processes and about life in general, from your blogs. oxox MKP

  4. Instead of wet glue try a product called Misty Fuse. It fuses with a thin web of glue, using an iron. It’s for fusing fabric to fabric but can fuse fabric to paper.
    Be sure your Silk has nothing in it…no softeners or soap.
    If you are trying to use any kind of weave other than plain weave Silk, or something with texture, stretching is possible.

    1. Thanks for those tips Mandi. I will save your message in case I ever get brave enough to go back to that finicky silk.

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