Friday, November 16, 2012

Linocut Surgery and Other Procedures

As a printmaker, I constantly have to make decisions about my artwork in terms of concept, composition, color, and technical printing issues. Sometimes the solutions to the challenges presented are simple, and some a little more involved. Here are some examples of ways I had to figure things out using my latest prints as an example.

#1: Figuring out color and masking out part of an image.

I made my editions "Ecdysis I" and "Ecdysis II" using a new technique for making images and choosing colors. I got the idea from the artist Mariann Johansen-Ellis. She has lots of informative printmaking videos on her website, including the technique of Lino Mix and Match. I started out making a few different background patterns that I printed in many different colors, sometimes printing more than one on top of each other.

Then I created my carving of a snake, and printed it over the background patterns. Because of this experimental approach, I decided I would print two different editions using the different background patterns because I really liked two in particular (pictured below: the two prints on the left.)

 But, I decided I didn't like the way the carving texture looked around the snake (see below). It was distracting, in my opinion. I decided to mask out the texture using a piece of newsprint.

I took a piece of newsprint that I had already printed the snake on, and used it as a guide for cutting out the areas I wanted to mask. 

 I inked up the plate as usual and placed it on the etching press.

Then I flipped the newsprint over and placed it on top of the areas I didn't want to print (the blue lines on the newsprint are from another test proof I had made on that side of the paper).

 After I had printed onto my final paper, I removed the newsprint mask so I could re-ink the plate and repeat the process for the next print. You can see how the paper caught the ink below.

The finished prints!

Lesson Learned: Sometimes you can find your way to the best colors by experimenting instead of planning it out ahead of time. And my newsprint mask was a pretty simple solution and I will use it again.

#2: How to perform linocut surgery.

Sometimes when I am carving a print, I am just not happy with something I've carved. Such situations are tricky, because it is hard to "fix" something you've already carved away. But here is a solution that is much like "linocut surgery." Warning - I do not recommend this unless you are patient and have a very steady hand.

So here is my plate. Just as I was almost finished with carving, I realized that the thumb on the left hand is much too small in comparison to the other fingers. I was annoyed with myself because this was something I should have caught during the drawing phase, not when I was in the middle of carving. Oh well, these things happen.

I put a piece of tracing paper over the area and drew in the new thumb. Then I cut it out and placed it over the plate.

Okay, so I ended up having to make several thumbs because I couldn't get it exactly right. But I'll spare you the details and tell you what I would do next time: First, using a razor blade, cut out the area you want to re-carve. Make sure it is in an area that will more easily blend in with the rest of the carving.

Use the cut-out piece as a template for your new piece. Trace it onto another piece of linoleum. I find it helpful to carve around the outline leaving some extra leeway (it is always easier to carve away if it is too big), then use scissors to cut it out. Then I place the piece over the cut-out area in my linoleum plate and check it. If it's too big in areas, I cut it down bit by bit with a razor. This stage is important, because you want it to fit in the missing area as snugly as possible.

Here is the new piece that I fit into the plate. It is black because after several attempts, I used a scrap piece of linoleum that was already inked on the surface. Then I placed my tracing paper drawing over the thumb and transferred the details (the thumbnail and creases) using yellow transfer paper. I then carved the new thumb.

The finished carving! I haven't printed this one yet. I also need to carve a second plate because it will be a two-color print. In the past when I've printed linocuts that have had surgery, I have to be more attentive when inking and printing. Sometimes the new piece will pop up a little higher than the rest of the plate, or print a little lower. I hope that this one goes well!

Lesson Learned: Linocut surgery can be tricky, but worth it if you are patient and have a steady hand! Best to make sure you are happy with your drawing before transferring it to your plate, to avoid such complicated procedures.

Challenge #3 - What do you do when you're not totally happy with your final print?

Here is a version of my print "Terrarium." It might be hard to see, but this print has a "salty" look (the ink coverage is thinner, making more of the white paper underneath show through), and the color of the soil is an orangeish-brown. Also, there are horizontal lines over the green-striped background. Whenever I print an edition, I proof, or test, my prints by mixing up different colors and printing on different papers. But sometimes I think I like something prematurely. Making a linocut is different than making a painting because I create the image before knowing exactly what color it will be, or before knowing what my imagined color will look like exactly on the paper. When I experiment in the printing studio, it can sometimes be a shock to see the image in color. It can take awhile to adjust to what I imagined the print would look like. But I choose a final color scheme and then I become so engrossed in the printing process and getting each print to look similar that I don't question the visual choices I've made.

In this print, I wanted a sort of vintage look to the color scheme and printing. But after I had printed about 40 prints and brought them home, I showed my boyfriend the final print and some of the proof variations I had made. There was a proof that used a more vibrant reddish-brown ink and was printed with a thicker layer of ink than the edition I had just printed. He said he liked it better. This agonized me immensely, because I actually liked it better too. The other prints just looked flat and faded in comparison. After a day or two of worrying that I was being too picky or perfectionistic, I decided I would reprint the entire edition because I didn't think the print did my image justice. So I did it. It wasn't that bad. And since I was going to reprint it anyway, I decided to remove some of the brown horizontal lines from the green-striped background so it would look a little cleaner. Here is a print from the new edition:

Lesson learned: Proof at least one day in advance of editioning, so I can come back to the studio with fresh eyes and be more confident about the choices I've made the day before - or decide I want to change them.

So there you have it, the way one printmaker finds solutions to some of those fun little printmaking challenges. You may decide to do things differently - the way you solve art "problems" is what makes you  unique as an artist!


  1. Thanks for blogging about your processes Aijung! It helps me to see your thinking/artist's process in my own work. You're awesome!

    1. Thanks Malory! what are you working on these days?