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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In the Canyon

In honor of the National Park Services” 100th Birthday, I celebrate one of the jewels in the crown.

Read this and then like Page Through the Parks on Facebook to be entered in the Rafflecopter giveaway.

Welcome to Grand Canyon, Arizona

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It is one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World”

It’s about 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep, Its walls contain rock layers that reveal a timeline of Earth’s history.

To make the illustrations for  In The Canyon as good they could be, I had to explore the Grand Canyon. I took my  intrepid sister, a wildlife veterinarian, for company and and in we went!

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Dr. Peregrine Wolff  and a friendly  Big Horn Sheep-commonly found In the Grand Canyon.

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Approaching Castle Crag on the South Kaibab Trail.

from RIM to RIVER…

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Joking around at Ooh Ah Point on the South Kaibab Trail.

and back!

The main character of In the Canyon, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, speaks in the 1st person voice. She begins her narration like this:

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“Here’s a map, some boots, a pack, a walking stick, a sandy track.”

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I always enjoy working with a model and I found a lovely girl in San Francisco named Willa.

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I spent a few hours with Willa taking pictures, and then used those to draw from while illustrating the book.

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She gazes at the reader from the jacket, inviting you to join her In the Canyon.

As soon as you dip below the rim of the canyon you enter a vast, deep bowl that has no direct route to the bottom. The trails are constantly zig zagging down the steep walls. Occasionally you can spy the river, way down deep.

My sister Peri, seen from a few switchbacks above, with many more to go. The Colorado river, bright green, is crossed by 2 bridges. One is visible here.

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If it is a cool spring morning on the rim, it is full, hot summer at river level. Along the way are blooming cacti and yucca, birds, lizards and curious squirrels.

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I can’t get enough shots of the blossoming Beavertails.

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a finished linoleum block and gouache illustration.

“Here’s a footstep, dusty red, another one and more ahead.”

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To do this rim to river to rim hike one must be very fit and prepared for a lot of heat and exertion.

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Some people choose to travel by mule. Mules are chosen from Tennessee and Missouri. They are used for pack supplies to Phantom Ranch and pack mail out of the canyon and later promoted to trail mules.

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I used a photo of a family, gathered under an overhang, as inspiration for this illustration.sliceofshadeGCweb
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“Now here’s a tiny slice of shade, a yummy lunch, some lemonade. And a lizard, still as sand, his head all speckled, body tan.”

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Finally, we’re at river level, where the deep shade around Phantom Ranch is most welcoming. Time to recharge and load up on water and salty snacks for the hike back out. Peri and I made it back to the rim by nightfall, a 16 mile roundtrip.

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But the child in In the Canyon is luckier. She gets to spend the night, camping by the river.

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“Here’s the dark and here’s the shine, and here’s the moon—it’s like it’s mine. To tuck inside me way down deep, Grand and wild, mine to keep.”

I’ll come back to the Canyon someday, no doubt with enough overconfidence to descend to the bottom and back in one day as I did with Peri.

After all, I have what it takes: “a map, some boots, a pack, a walking stick, a sandy track.”

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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. 

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.

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. 

Sleep

It’s late November here in Vermont ~ the time of year for hibernation.

Who hibernates? Bats, Bears,skunks, bees, snakes, and groundhogs to name a few.

Since moving from a mild California climate to the stricter seasonal progression of northern New England, I’ve become much more sympathetic to the concept of hibernation!

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On the last day of Baby Bear Counts One, Mama and Baby Bear are ready to curl up and sleep the winter away.

Showing the process of sleeping is relatively easy, but showing dreaming was a challenge in Only The Cat Saw.  When I was a child I often dreamed of being near the ocean or swimming when I really needed to get up to urinate!

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Enter a caption

Holly Taylor modeled as the sleeping Amy, way back in 1984

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Amy, dreaming in Only The Cat Saw. Acrylic on paper

Of course, we sleep all year long, and humans enjoy it as much as animals. Mostly sleep happens when it is too dark to draw, but sometimes a nap overtakes us, and when it does I seize that moment of daylight stillness to draw.

Since the late 70s I’ve drawn people and creatures I love while they were sleeping.

Here is a selection.

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watercolor sketch of my sister Peregrine, asleep on the couch after wisdom tooth removal..

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watercolor sketch of my sister Peregrine.

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this drawing of Rowan reminds me of Amy’s pose. Colored pencil on brown paper

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Brennan, asleep. Colored pencil on brown paper

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Rowan, asleep. Colored pencil on brown paper.

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Sabin, asleep. Marker on brown paper.

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Tula napping. Watercolor on brown paper

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Nutkin, sleeping. Acrylic on paper.

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Wildridge kitten, sleeping. Gouache on brown paper.

Making a Homemade Advent Calendar ~ Part 1

A couple of years ago I wrote about creating this advent calendar.

In my recent move I unearthed the original sketches so I thought I’d update with a process post.

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The full size sketch of the front, done in colored pencil.

My first Advent Calendars were completely handmade: cover image printed and hand-colored, window openings cut with a knife, window images printed and colored–all somehow fastened together to make a functioning calendar.

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the original 1983 calendar, given to Charlene Smith, and kept framed and displayed all year round. This one is less colorful a bit more austere.

I made fewer than 10 to give to friends, and I sent one to my editor at E P Dutton Children’s Books. She loved it, and suggested producing it to sell.

She asked me to show her sketches for the window images that had a more holiday feel than the original. Some of her suggestions were “Knitting Christmas Stocking?” and “kitten playing with ornament or pine spring?”
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Following her suggestions, I revised the sketches.

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Finally I carved each tiny scene, colored it and glued it into place

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Once the 2 layers are aligned, the scenes show up in the doors and windows.

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The finished calendar.

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Although this is out of print and no longer sold in stores. I have a stash to sell.

Brennan, Block City, and Three Little Boys in a Greenhouse

27 years ago I was pregnant with my 1st child.

Back then a lovely woman named Jeannie in Mill Valley, CA hired me to paint a mural in her entry way. The space was a little dark, a little awkward and it really needed a mural.

She wanted to include her three, beautiful sons in the mural, so I took lots of photos of the boys.

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coleboys_5web The mural came out well.

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The boys are either in, or looking into, a painted greenhouse.

Jeannie was solicitous of very pregnant me. She fed me a wholesome lunch everyday. Whole wheat bread sandwiches, carrots and a whole lot of milk!

When I got home I’d go back to work on my other project: illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Block City.

“What are you able to build with your blocks?

Castles and palaces, temples and docks.

Rain may keep raining, and others may roam,

But I can be happy and building at home.”

I imagined Block City as a Wizard of Oz-type story where the “I” character is a little boy. He builds his city out of blocks.

Jeannie’s middle son became the perfect model for my little builder.

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then falls asleep and visits it in his dream.

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Characters from his life show up in different forms in his dream.

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Finally, when his mother returns from shopping, he wakes and the city is toppled.

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At the end, the city is destroyed with glee and remains only as a memory.

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This book is long out of print but still dear to my heart.

Not least because not long after I finished the mural, I gave birth to my own beautiful boy.

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Happy 27th Birthday, Brennan! I love you.

Making my own Advent Calendar~Part 2

I grew up with “Sweet” paper Advent Calendars like this one

Advent Calendars 1The numbered openings are scattered all over, and the pictures outside bore no relation to what was underneath the perforated squares.

You got a lot of glitter outside, and dopey illustrations of stars, bells and candles inside the windows.

This annoyed me as a child. I already craved storytelling and wanted the outside and the inside to add up to something greater.

Nowadays, cool DIY Advent Calendars are all the rage. Many have candy and/or REAL gifts in them.

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But that is now. Back in 1986 I was thinking strictly 2-D, so I decided to make my own paper calendar. It was going to be fun to look at AND tell a story.

icicles_webI grew up in a cozy neighborhood in town, in a modern-looking, chalet style house designed by my parents. But my child alter-ego lived in a pale yellow farm house somewhere out in the country.

I needed at least 24 windows and doors on my imaginary house and barn in order to create the world within the calendar.

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I included characters from my three, published picture books:

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Nutkin, the marmalade cat from Only The Cat Saw

snowmanEllie, the little girl from A Year of Birds and A Year of Beasts, and her Border Collie Pumpkin

And later, I copied parts of my old calendar into books created far into the future like When Lucy Goes Out Walking!

JanuarytreeI wanted the picture you saw when you opened the door or window to make sense and tell a little bit more about this home and family.

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So when you open doors 1, 10 and 18, you see into the front hall, the kitchen and the back hall.

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The only window that did not fall within a real opening is in the woodpile.

adventcalendar_4but when you open it, the scene inside is still real to the location, even if the mice are enormous next to the cat!

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Though this calendar is out of print, I still have a stash and am selling them here.

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