Friday, January 16, 2015

Why, you ask?

Valentines by Andrew Grant Stone

Each year I make linoleum block print Valentines.

This tradition began over a decade ago when I was surrounded with so many wonderful opportunities and commitments that I feared that I would become too busy to be an Artist.

I decided that Valentine's Day would be a good time to begin, since the commercial trend of celebrating that "Hallmark holiday" was spiraling with guilt, obligation, diabetes, and disappointment. In protest enthusiastic creation, each year my valentines have contained some message, imagery, or context to elevate them to a contemplative work of Art that warms longer than a sugar buzz or a hug.

Instead of focusing on trivial gifts, I decided to give these Valentines out to my loved ones, people in my proximity, and even strangers--especially strangers.

This blog began by documenting that process, and may grow into documenting more of my processes.

Block Carving Process

2015 Valentines

The photos in this post span from November, 2014 to January 14, 2015.
This post primarily regards the design and carving of the blocks. I took the photos to document my process and explain the points that I have learned to be better practices. 

Please enjoy!

small sketch

Original design ready for scaling
I started with a design that was influenced by a stochastic result from another art project that I was for my (now deceased) grandmother, Colleen McLean. 
Colleen had always been a great inspiration and encouragement to me, particularly as an Artist. The catalytic design is a circuit around 8 points of a mandala, which in turn, inspired the ribbon motif of this year's design.

Working through the design elements
I used a grid pattern to convert my drawing to the 4"x6" linoleum block, and wrestled where to manage the three common elements to each of my valentines: A heart shape, the year, and my initials.

5th revision, maybe?
.07 mm pencil, metal Ruler, and 4"x6" lino block
I've learned over the years that keeping a good border around the artwork is good news for everybody. I usually start with a 1/4" border around all pieces this size. The border helps keep the image relevant when it gets framed later, and also helps during the printing process by having clear edges for alignment when doing multiple prints for a single image.

1/4" borders all around, marked as a "v" for accuracy--a carpenters' trick for precise measurements.

I had played around with my scanned design in Adobe Illustrator to practice using curves to recreate my particular hearts' shape using the pen tool.
I created a sketch on the graph paper, and scanned it in to try and find a suitable digital recreation of the design I wanted. I had some successes, 
and am MUCH better with that tool now, but I was about ready to make a very minor mistake, one that I make almost every year. 

I did some work and re-working on the design through Illustrator, and eventually printed the digital markup as layers that I would later use to divide the design into two blocks (spoiler alert!). Anyway, I used a graphite pencil to cover the paper with the pink heart that you see below that was the result of my work with the pen tool.

Every, single, time (almost)
OK, make sure that you are going to transfer the image accurately.
I use a ballpoint pen with a medium point that I know flows well, by the way, you can find a Bic almost anywhere.

Wrap the design you're going to trace (backed by graphite) around the block to prevent sliding
I will say that I think I did a great job of tracing, but the problem 
that I made for myself (that you've already figured out) is that I need to translate the NEGATIVE of this image to make the linoleum block print properly. derp.

yeah, backwards
Malkovich, Malkovich... Malkovich?
When I realised my mistake, I repeated my process on another block. 
The next step was to trace my trace of my digital trace of my expanded sketch to a new block, to finally set myself in the right direction. 

Tracing and graphite matchup to a new block, and for the fine tuning I decided to rely on the tools with which I have the most experience and control--my eyes and arm. 

ok, is this the really thing?
lining up the letters and numbers, easy (but still painstaking) with a ruler
outlines are ok for now
detail stops somewhere short of fractal resolution
balancing the text
Woah, let's step back for a just a second...

ok, this is coming together

ok, I'm not done making mistakes. be careful.
the fine tip sharpie is great and the other block supports my wrist
the other block supports the wrist for freer range of motion
marking the areas with highlighter, once the outline has been completed.
purple = don't cut
I wondered how I would create a strong difference between 
the foreground of the positive space and the background of the 
positive space (inside of the ribbon) in the printing process.
I played with the idea of a starburst pattern from the oriented nadir and zenith of the heart, but neither of those seemed to do what I wanted for the shading.

Malkovich, Malkovich?
Using the tracing paper and graphite again, I copied the background positive space on to the second block. I could have (in retrospect) cut a silhouette of the heart on the first block and printed them all, using a reductive process of the background to make the top layer pop, using only a single block.
I am trying something new with multiple blocks. 
C'est la vie.

blocks almost ready for carving

purple areas will live on until the next round! viva purple
use a layer of natural fiber (or two, as above) to protect the block
even though the heat is ON ITS LOWEST SETTING
my linoleum carving tools
this is a bench hook, there are many that are like it, but this one is mine.
it has a notch in the center (made of masking tape) which helps smooth arc cuts and
particular angles and a hole  at the base where I attach it to my worktable with an eyelet screw
the carving begins, but leave everything with ink on it
cutting vertically makes removing negative space easier
leave a little margin for trimming late
cut while the lino is warm in a consistent direction
if the linoleum gets overheated by the iron and cut while hot, the inside will crumble, like this
Also new this year, I'm smearing glue into sides to protect the block from
swelling, when I wash the block between colors
when finished with the verticals, go horizontal
clean up the jagged edges, and trim CLOSE to the line, but not at or over the line
you can be close, but be careful
I follow the flow of the line as i cut, even nearby
cutting from the center pieces to the 'distal' pieces
it's very hard to put linoleum back, so every cut counts
I'll take a break before I make another mistake
second block
flip it and reverse it
use a medium bristle 1" round brush and a soft toothbrush to scrape away
loose linoleum when making detail cuts
I did a rubbing to check the progress of the carving
first test-proof on paper with both blocks
fine tuning for the date and letters
severe angle of carving the v's
 using the #6 blade tool for the straight lines
look at that detail!

look at those e's!
now the initials
doing rubbings to check the impression and macke minor adjustments
rubbings and progress
one last good scrub, and it's ready to go!

These are the very first prints, test-proofs, and final-proofs. 

My test-proofs were done with red and fluorescent green 

and the final-proofs and first prints are fluorescents of orange and green.

Stay tuned!
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