Teaching Linoleum Block Printing in Vermont

This winter Middlebury Studio School invited me to teach a linoleum block printing class.

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One block, carved and cut apart into 4 pieces. The artist separated the pieces, inked each piece in a different color, reassembled them, and printed them as one piece.

I chose Blick Readycut blocks for our projects because it is easy to carve. I wanted to the students to try making a multiple color print, like the one above, using just one block cut into pieces in order to prevent registration problems.

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I prepared for the class by doing another two color print of one of my favorite subjects: Dogs.

Even though I planned this to be a two color print,  I carved it all as one piece. It is much easier to cut it apart later.  Carving the words became very tricky- probably because my design didn’t leave them enough room.

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I often trim off any excess block beyond the design if I don’t want to bother carving it all out.

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Once the block was completely carved I used an exacto knife to cut it apart into two pieces.

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After my students created a design, reversed it and transferred it to their blocks, they began carving away any part of the block that they DIDN’T want to show in their print.

Once the block is carved and cut apart, each piece is inked using a brayer. The paper is laid gently on top of the inked block and the back of the paper is rubbed with a hard smooth object-such as a spoon or baren.

Finally comes the Ah Ha moment when the paper is pulled and the finished print revealed.

In the end my dog print was only a partial success. The carved quote part was a mess so I discarded it and added some hand lettering instead. Hand adorned giclee prints available here.

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For our last meeting I brought in large, cotton tea towels that could be printed using the blocks carved during the class. There were no rules but this was one beautiful and orderly result.

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Making my ‘Rufus in the Tall Grass’ print, with the help of three experts.

I’ve been admiring the work of printmakers since I was a small girl and this summer’s project emulates three people whose work has influenced me. I’ve been collecting samples of the work of Andrea Lauren lately. She does small, two color prints using two separate blocks.

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Andrea uses two separate blocks and prints one over the other.

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You could cut a block into more pieces as well and ink each piece separately. That’s what Woody Jackson did early in his career when he started cutting up zinc etching plates, inking each piece, and putting them back together like puzzles before printing.

I’ve loved Mary Azarian’s work since I was a teenager. Her hand-colored woodcuts of Vermont scenes and her illustrated books influenced my illustration work enormously.

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I am teaching at Hollins University again this summer-this time I designed a course called Printmaking for Illustration. To make a sample for my students I used all three of my printmaking idols as inspiration.

My new puppy Rufus has a foxy look similar to Andrea’s print, so I chose one of the dozens of reference photos I have and started designing my own two color linocut.

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I decided to use one block and cut it apart into two pieces-Woody Jackson style-right around Rufus. That made getting perfect registration a breeze.

 

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I start by coating the “inside” cut-out of Rufus in black ink with a rubber brayer.

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Then I mixed a yellow and a dark green and used them both to ink the grasses on the “outside” block. Sometimes the two colors mixed on the brayer, but I didn’t care-I wanted each print to be one of a kind.

I placed both parts of the inked up block into a custom cut cardboard jig, or frame, to hold them steady, then laid my paper on top.

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To make a print I’m merely rubbing the back of the paper firmly with an ordinary wooden spoon. I keep it fairly parallel to the paper so that it presses evenly and doesn’t rip this delicate sheet.

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I made a small edition of 20 prints using 2 colors of oil based ink.

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When these are dry I’ll hand color each one with watercolors, making them truly one of a kind, just like Mary Azarian does.

Three printmakers-four counting me-all different but with so much in common!

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Scratchboard 101

Speaking of taking light out of dark, I’ll continue this summer’s lessons with scratchboard. Using sharp tools we scrape off the top layer of black ink, revealing the white clay layer underneath.

In addition to straight and curved scrapers there are stiff wire brushes, forks with multiple prongs, sandpaper, and steel wool.

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The 1st activity is to create a sampler to test how the different tools work.

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I always start a piece with a drawing on tracing paper and then apply graphite dust to the back. When this is transferred to the matt black scratchboard it shows up as an easy to see silver line.

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Working on a piece of 6″x 6″ Ampersand scratchboard I complete this talkative pig.

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Gouache over Black Gesso 101

 

I love ‘carving’ light out of dark.

It started with scratchboard, then wood cuts and linoleum, and now gouache over black gesso.

There is a different quality to the line when you are taking it away instead of adding it.

I’m certain I didn’t invent this technique, but this is the version I teach at Hollins as the technique I used to illustrate several books.

Home Sweet Home and Each Living Thing were both done this way.

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This lush style is great for lots of detail, but I’d like to simplify, so I’m working on a less realistic, more graphic look.

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I start with a simple line drawing and rub graphite on the back to transfer it to a paper prepared with black gesso.

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The traced line shows up as silver and is easy to see. If it lingers when I’m done painting I can erase it or paint over it with more black gesso.

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The 1st layer of paint looks pretty weak and grayed out, but keep adding layers. If you need to, spray lightly with workable fixative in between layers.

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When I saw the results of my initial drawing I added more flowers and grasses in the foreground by painting 1st with black gesso and then ‘carving’ away with the colored gouache.

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another cat, less stylized, with pimento stuffed martini olive flowers!

Try it–it is fun and meditative and your color scheme can be as wild as you want.

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B&W Gouache Resist 101

Gouache resist is kind of magic.

To make a black and white image you need to block out everything BUT the areas you want to remain black using solid white gouache.

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I begin with a pencil drawing on trace. Then transfer it to sturdy, smooth,

watercolor paper. You need something that can stand up to being wet and rubbed a little.

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close up of the thickish white gouache on paper. The lighter areas are unpainted paper.

Once the gouache is “dead” dry, use a wide foam brush to apply undiluted India Ink to the whole piece. The ink fills in every area of unpainted paper, dying it an indelible black.

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The white gouache design is still visible under all the ink

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washing the white gouache off  a different piece.

Once the paint is removed the design, originally painted in white gouache,

is revealed…

Magic!

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A few other  examples of B&W gouache resist images.

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If you enjoyed this post, please  follow me here: Ashley Wolff Art on Facebook, my webpage , my Etsy shop, or Instagram. You can follow the blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top of the sidebar.