Wednesday, January 29, 2014

That Magic/Tragic Moment in Printmaking

Northern Mockingbird and Carolina Chickadee. Working Proof Linocut by Ken Januski.

It's been awhile since I've done a print that is strictly black and white, the 'black' of the ink and the 'white' of the paper. It's refreshing to do one because I have to stay simple. There is none of the complexity of color.

Most of my black and white prints have had what seemed to be a greater amount of black than white, so that the print never seemed too light. But every once in a while in a print there comes a moment when I cut away just enough to turn the print from a darkish print to a lightish print. As I thought this over after initially posting it I realize that the real problem is not just that it becomes a light print but that it becomes a print so overwhelmed by the white of the paper that there is no longer any tonal variety. Worse, there is little likelihood of getting it back because too much of the wood or lino has been cut away, much like cutting too much away from a sculpture or coering up too much white paper in a watercolor.

If the cutting that turns it into a largely light print works, i.e. doesn't lose all tonal richness it's magic.If not, it's tragic, in which case I might need to try all sorts of things to try to regain more tonal richness. Because too much of the wood or lino is gone and the print is dominated by the white background it's very difficult to fix. Often the only solution is to take the print off in a slightly different direction.

I foresee this moment and try not to reach it, unless I know from the start that I want a light print. In this case I didn't. But I also knew that I had to keep cutting away in order to keep the focus on the birds and not  on the background. Then poof! , the print went from darkish to lightish. In the end I decided that this was fine.

The scene really was the birds among many small limbs and twigs on a overcast day. So this is pretty true to what I'd orignally seen. The print is nearly done. I just need to clean up a few background marks, but not too many. Past experience has taught me that it's easy to remove too much. If I do the print will go dead  as a doornail. That tragic moment will arrive.

I'm sure some printmakers will be puzzled by this. You shouldn't have such a problem if you  plan out where the lights and darks will go before you start carving. I'm sure this is true, if that's the way you work. But for me much of the appeal of printmaking is its improvisatory aspect. I don't like things all planned out beforehad. If that was my goal I could just as well work in many other media. The nice thing to me about printmaking is that it lends itself to improvisation. As I've mentioned before I was greatly comforted reading Wildlife in Printmaking by Carry Akroyd to see how many of the printmakers featured there loved the improvisatory aspect of printmaking. It is a dialog, not a monolog.

I've now made the minor cleanup I've mentioned and the painting has not taken a tragic turn. So now it's on to a small edition on good paper.

No comments: