Tuesday, September 30, 2014


In the middle of a marathon to finish the last three colors of the drive-in print, and thought I'd take a minute to talk about color.

Color is very important to me, as an artist and as someone who likes to eat and sleep under a roof (I'm an ink technician for a printing company by trade). I almost gave up on reduction printing a few years ago because I couldn't get the colors to do what I wanted them to (see for an example). One can often tell a reduction print by the muted, muddied colors that are the result of colors affecting the colors printed over them. Instead of giving up, I've made it my mission to overcome this issue.

One of the things I do before starting a print is to get a good idea of the colors I will be using. I then mix some test colors, overprinting them to see how they play off each other. I use screen printing to do this step, so the results are not necessarily transferable to woodcut. But it does give me a pretty good idea of what I want the final color to look like. Once I start printing with a block, I usually print one or two extra pieces, so that I can use them as color proofs.

The picture to the right is my color palette for my next print. Any guesses on what the subject might be?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy Blues

Another productive weekend in the studio saw the addition of the two blues that make up the Chevy on the left. The first blue was tricky -- I wanted it dark, but not so dark it was black, and blue, but not so blue it stuck out.

The second blue needed to be lighter, but still be subdued enough to give the impression of darkness falling around it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Red All Over

Traditionally in printing, commercial and art, the convention is to put the lightest colors down first. This print has been a bit different. For example, I began with dark gray and moved to the lighter grays. There were two reasons for doing this, the first being that it is easier to take out a fine line than to cut around it. I try to avoid doing the "easy" thing because it actually often ends up either causing bigger problems or ruining the job outright. Having done this particular print a few times already, I knew that dark to light was the way to go. The second thing that led me down the dark-to-light path is that I knew I was going to have to print the rainbow roll as the fourth state. If there were going to be coverage issues, dark gray showing through the blended sky would not work for this print (whereas they were okay for the duck print).
Why not print the rainbow roll first? I could have done that, but again, if the purple or pink had showed up anywhere on the movie screen, it would have looked like moths had eaten through the picture to reveal the sky behind it. Not what I wanted.

So, with two blues and two yellows ahead, I need to plot out my colors carefully. The ink is laying down very nice, so I'm not concerned about coverage too much at this point. If there was another gray on the agenda, I might be tempted to print that next just to give me a clean base on which to build the cars. But there is not a gray. But there is a dark red, and I have chosen to use the dark red as my base. On the dark red will sit a dark blue. The dark blue will support the light blue on top. In an odd choice, but one that works, will be a dark yellow (which will have a greenish tone). Then a lighter yellow on top of that.

The key to a vibrant reduction print is understanding color and how to use the colors underneath to the best advantage of the colors on top.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Premium Blend

Working in the larger format is a fairly recent development. Up until a few years ago, I worked almost exclusively in 5x7 image areas. The few attempts at larger 9x7 blocks always seemed to end in disaster. After I bought my press, I gave the larger size another try, and never looked back.

Unfortunately, I have been wary of using the rainbow roll on the larger blocks, mainly because the brayer I use is only 8", and that poses some challenges for the rainbow roll. I did have a 12" roller I bought several years ago, and I tried it out on this print, only to find the roller was uneven, and useless to me. There's $25 I won't see again.

I could have just done the rainbow roll on the top half of the block. I've done that before, but it has always caused problems with the successive colors, as they don't lay down properly. My solution was to print cleanly over the top, then print the bottom just to even out the ink. It worked very well, though right now the print looks scary. After the next color, a dark red, things should be back to normal.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let's All Go to the Lobby

I have attempted this print before. If practice makes perfect, we should be seeing a real treat emerge here. The ink is laying down very well, and I'm not seeing any of the issues I had with the duck print.

This state defines what I love most about reduction woodcut printing: at a certain pint, you begin to see the bones of what will become the finished print. You can start to see where the cars will be, where the features of the cars will be.

The toughest part of this print is next, a two color sky. There are a few names for this in printing. In commercial printing and in screen printing, it's called a "split" or a "split fountain"; in relief printing, it's a "rainbow roll." In any case, when it's done well, it adds dimension and complexity to a print. At right
is a blurry photo of a split I did on a screen as I was figuring out colors.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie Time

With a show coming up, I can't take a break between projects. I launched right into my drive-in movie print Monday night. I believe I have planned out 11 colors for this one. The second color is down, and it is going very, very well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It's Super, Natural

Say you like cheese. Maybe a little wine. Let's go so far as to say you even like art, too. And let's say you have nothing much going on on Saturday, November 1, from 5pm to 8pm. And let's further suppose that you have an extra $20 you'd like to donate for the upkeep of Reinstein Woods, one of the most beautiful nature preserves in Western New York.

If this all describes you, well boy-howdy, are you in luck. The annual Nature's Gathering fundraiser will be held Saturday, November 1 from 5pm to 8pm and will feature food, wine and art for $20 (less if you buy ahead. Follow the link and learn more.

(I hope this doesn't change your mind, but I'll be there as well, as an art vendor.)

If you have never been to Reistein Woods, it's a great place to kill an hour or two. You may even see a birdhouse sticking out of one of the ponds, somewhat similar to a woodcut print you may have seen recently.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Look Out! Duck!

A nice busy weekend in the studio, and we have the finished mallard print.  The next-to-last color, a dark brown, higlighted the pattern of plumage and also brought out a lot of the vegetation reflections in the upper half. Clearly now you can see where it's going.

I really liked the print at this point, and to have left it here wouldn't have been much of a loss. However, I really like the finished look a small amount of black gives a print

Here now is the print with the block next to it.
I think the black gives the subject a lot more depth, pushing the background into a softer focus and bringing the ducks up off the page.

As this thread was about explaining the reduction process, here again is the block I started with. There's not much left of it now. This, of course, makes a reduction print edition truly LIMITED, as no more prints can be made with the block.

I began with 12, lost 3 outright, and after ispection I believe the final edition will probably be five.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Duck, Be A Lady Tonight

This is where a print all starts to come together. I've written before about how a reduction print goes through a phase where it just really doesn't look like anything. I call it the awkward phase. But there's always a moment when you can really see what the final print will look like. For the duck print, that moment is now.

Carving away the brown of the sky reflection helped the shapes come out, and the light brown really gives you an idea of what the final composition is. I like the brown in the water forming the ripples and rings, but I need to be careful not to let them get too dark with the dark brown and black to come. If I can, I am going to shave those high spots down to minimize them becoming darker. I really want the ducks and the birdhouse to pop out when the final darker layers go down.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Floating in the Sky

Here now we have a sense of place for the ducks as the body of water, reflecting the sky, becomes evident. It will be tricky cutting for the next color, as I will need to maintain the shapes of the ducks and the birdhouse. Printing also becomes trickier, as the roller will inevitably catch a few ridges of the cutaways. A few will be okay, but I want to avoid it as much as possible. I have used a mask at times for very small areas (I did so for the barn on "Sunflower Farm"). We'll see.

Three more colors should bring us to the end.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nothing But Blue Sky

Quite a weekend down in the studio. I printed the second green, which came out great. But the wood grain really looked like a problem. I really thought my goose was cooked on this one, and I was fretting about the blue. Finally, reluctantly, I went ahead and mixed up the sky -- a dark blue which will be for water rings -- and went at it. Wincing, I pulled the print off the block and was really surprised that the missing areas didn't detract from the print at all. A couple of the prints had heavy grain on the duck's head, and they may have to be scrapped, but the majority turned out very well.

A lighter blue will print tonight and tomorrow, and then it's time to get that lady duck to show up!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I'm a Gamblin Man

Just a note about the type of ink I use. When I started on this journey back in January 2002, I had a potato and an endless supply of my wife's craft paint (we used to work together at Pleasures & Pastimes here in Hamburg back in The Day). Yes, a potato. I carved a potato into a stamp, dipped it in paint, and printed. I've since discovered that this is actually something people learn to do in, say, kindergarten. I was 33.

I made a goldfish, a guitar, and my first reduction print, a bunch of grapes.

I soon moved on to Speedball waterbased ink, which was just awful (for me; they're a lovely company, and I wish them well). Then I moved up to their oil-based inks, which were awful (again, for me). I then found some relief printing ink from Grapgic Chemical, which was awesome; unfortunately I had yet to learn about driers, and I was very sad to discover that the print I was working on was going to take weeks or months to dry before the next color.

In time, I gave Gamblin relief inks a shot. They were good, but still not what I wanted. On a whim, I tried their etching inks. Bingo.

Today I went to Hyatt's downtown. As you may have already read, I have a love-hate thing going on with them. They're well stocked, the people are friendly, their customer service is top notch, and they almost always have what I need on the shelf. On the down side, their prices are high, and they didn't hire me once when I really, really needed the break. Well, maybe that wasn't their fault. And frankly, I'm happy to pay a few bucks more to support the local economy. I mean, really happy. Like, they could hand me my receipt and say, "You could have saved $12.37 shopping!" To which I would respond, breathless and giddy, "I KNOW!" and skipped out clicking my heels. Yes, I support the local economy.

So, I went in (um, mostly because I had a 30% coupon), and picked up three cans of ink (two blues and a green) and was carrying them around like a precious newborn. The guy -- and if you've ever shopped Hyatt's, you know The Guy (he's sort of like Chippewa, fun if you're in the mood, annoying if you're trying to get somewhere, dependably there, probably really scary in the 60s and 70s -- comes up and asks if I needed help finding anything. See, when I go in the store, I always go grab the thing I need, so as to avoid being asked if I need anything. Because I'm a buyer, but I'm also a browser, and I like to be left to my lonesome. And today, I had an armful of ink. I was immune.

No immunity from The Guy. "What are we doing?" he asked, eyeing the cans. "Oooh, etching?" Ha, I thought, and smiled, "Woodcuts!" I proclaimed proudly. Then he gave me stinkeye.

Okay, maybe it's not stinkeye. Wait, let's check....

Yep, that's stinkeye. I googled it. This is what I got, and it's what I got from The Guy.

Anyway, I knew what he was thinking. You silly tool. You ├ętudiant enfantine! You naive dunce! We have RELIEF inks for woodcuts! 

"It works," I said. "Trust me." 

So, why do I prefer the etching inks? The relief inks come already thinned out, and while they do flow easily, I prefer using burnt plate oil to make the ink run at the consistency I want. You also get a wider range of colors, and they seem to mix better. 

And so far, they are working very well. I'd like to get to the point of mixing my own inks, but that's down the road. When the time comes, though, I know The Guy will be there to help me find my way.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Go Bills!

Duck bills, that is.

Color number 3. How green is my ducky?
If you still have a hard time grasping what is meant by "Reduction Print," this should nudge you toward some clarity. If you recall, the last color was a bright yellow, and that was for the duck's bills. So, I carved out the area on the block where the bills are. The next area I will be carving is the drake's head, so the color I want to put down is green.

My favorite color is green, and my favorite green is the green of the male duck. In the sunlight, it's actually a rainbow of greens. I'll be using two greens to give the head some depth, and the first green I wanted is a very yellow green. I chose the green to go over the yellow so that the transparent green ink would be enhanced by the yellow. Very happy with the color.

Ducks in a row.
And, of course, you see the islands of yellow now. And the next state will show an area of bright green. This is reduction woodcut printing.

You probably can see that I'm still having a coverage issue, an issue I'd hoped to get rid of through the use of shellac. Well, I'm a learner, and I've been taken to school. Two things have come to light. First, I should have put multiple layers of shellac over the block, letting them completely dry in between. Second, I sanded the block with 220 grit paper. Might as well have used steel wool. I thought I was using 600 grit.

Funny thing, though, is that most of the problem are is in the water, and will probably enhance the look.

But I'm taking no chances with my next print, which I'm already setting up. Sufficiently shellacked, and I have five grits of paper waiting. Here's a sneak peak of "Drive In," which has quite a story to it. But you'll have to wait

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ruffling Feathers

Last night I printed the yellow. You can see in this picture that some select areas are now showing -- feathers, specifically. The yellow will be for the bills, and will also support the next color, a bright green for the drake's head.

I am trying to get the brightest colors I can to really demonstrate the vision of a sunny day. I'm hoping the yellow won't be too garish, but choosing a very bright yellow will keep me focussed on keeping the other colors bright.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


You have to start somewhere, and the journey of a 9-color reduction woodcut begins with a single state. It's a rectangle. I apologize for the photo-I used my phone for this one, and the camera isn't very good. But as I like to say, "I have a camera. In my telephone. Which I carry around in my pocket and which uses insane technology and satellites and, hell, magic for all I know." So, in perspective, it's actually a good photograph.

Anyway, the color is a yellowish gray I'll call "Graeige." I did notice that, while the laydown of the ink was smoother, the shellac did not fill the grain as I'd suspected. In fact, the grain is pretty pronounced. Time will tell if it enhances or detracts from the final print.

I've worked out the order of colors, and the next color down will be yellow. The order of colors is very important in reduction woodcut, as each color is affected by the previous color. For example, if I printed the blue as the next color, I would have to add a little red to neutralize the greening effect of putting a blue over a yellow. That would also make the blue a lot darker than I want. So I have worked out a way for the blue to play off of the greens down the road.

I originally thought this print would be a quick six-color job, but after a rework I find that nine will be necessary. Check back to see more!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Getting My Ducks In A Row

I thought this might be a great opportunity to take you through a tour of what I do and how I do it. I have explained reduction printmaking so many times I just assume people understand. But it can be confusing if you don't really grasp the process. So I'm inviting you to watch as this print goes from the drawing table to the wall.

The first step is sketching out ideas for color, contrast and, most importantly, composition. This print is inspired by the main pond at Reinstein Woods. I will be participating at an art sale at a fundraiser for Reinstein Woods in November, and as we are avid park-goers, this seemed like an apropriate print to have ready for the show.

After a few sketches, I draw out the final drawing and rough out some colors. The print will be quite different than this painting.

I am doing something different with this print. I usually use a bare-wood block; I have been having some issues with ink not transfering evenly to the paper, and some other printmakers have suggested shellacking and sealing the block to help.

So, after finishing the painting, which I call a cartoon, I use tracing paper and trace the whole image. I then put the trace on the block and, using carbon paper, I transfer the image to the block.

I then started to shellac the wood, only to find that shellac is great for wiping carbon off of wood -- whoops! I retraced my tracing with pen, then shellacked the block.

This morning I sanded the block down to a glassy finish, and I hope to put the first color down tonight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Behind the Print: Trailer Treasure

Though "Autumn Camper" is already more than a year old, and I've written about it before on this blog, I thought I would revisit it as it is now on the Etsy site for the first time.

This print was a turning point for me as an artist and printmaker. Up until this print, I was more concerned with graphic sensibilities and how to get colors to overlay without too much problem (a constant struggle with reduction woodcut prints). In this case I began working out the importance of perspective to add depth. I also began a scientific study of how to really get bursting, vibrant color.
I love the depth. The colors are rich and set a high bar that I was able to meet with "Sunflower Farm." The first "Little Camper" print from about 2009 (somewhere deep in this blog) was noted by many for its "mood." I find this print much moodier, and it really speaks to memories for me.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Behind The Print: Sunflower Farm

Again, just a quick overview of the reduction woodcut process: a single block of wood is cut, then printed, cut again, then printed, and so on in successive steps which slowly reveal the final image. For example, in the photo at left, you will see that there is a bright yellow and a dark yellow. The bright yellow was printed, then the wood was cut away where I wanted that bright yellow to be. Then when the dark yellow was printed, the bright yellow remained.

Of course, you will note that this print looks nothing like the final print you all now know as "Sunflower Far." Sometimes an artist gets so far before realizing they've made a mistake and need to start over. This is an especially frustrating moment for reduction printmakers, as it means going back to step one. The main thing with this print was the color. I didn't like the sky color, and wasn't happy with the contrast in the yellows. It took eight months before I went back and tried it again, with pretty good results, I think.

The place that the print is modeled after is real, save for some artistic licence. It exists somewhere in Western New York, on a little back road. It had a little sign written by the farmer's kids asking to please don't pick -- the sunflowers, so everyone could enjoy them. Nearby was a large block-lettered sign warning trespassers in no uncertain terms. Talk about contrast.

There is a barn, on a hill, but the vista isn't quite as dramatic. I wish I knew where it was, but we were so excited to see it, we paid no attention to where we were. That's the fate of us roadtrippers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Behind The Print: Desoto Motel

In May of 2013, my wife and I were driving in the Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border. We hadn't planned on going to Olean. If you know us, or you're AAA, you well know that we usually don't plan on anything. Soon we found ourselves touring the city and finding the aged neon signs and midcentury architecture engaging. It appears that sometime around the middle of the last century, Olean was flush with cash, saw a building boom, and then the boom went buss. As the floods of fortune ebbed, gems like the DeSoto Motel were left to bear witness to a better time.

Aficianados of mid century design, we were immediately struck by the DeSoto, which sits down the street from St. Bonaventure University. Not quite in a state of disrepair, as it has only been vacant a few years, it is definitely showing the wear and tear of a life unloved. The postcard photo to the right shows the motel in happier times.

There is hope for the DeSoto. It was bought by a Buffalo firm known for turning around neglected architectural gems.

The photo at left is my first attempt at the print. The print suffered from a number of problems, not least of all was poor registration. I also wasn't happy with the neon red color or the solid yellow. I think I was being over-influenced by Ed Ruscha's screenprints at the time. A drawing class and a rededication to the art of woodcut printmaking put me back on track for what eventually became "DeSoto Motel."