Saturday, November 2, 2019

first cut

I've probably mentioned the incomprehensible barrier that immobilizes me
every time I think about trying linocut printmaking.

Yes, that thing that almost everyone I know had a chance to try in grammar school. "Linocut? Oh yes," they say when I ask. "We did that in art class when I was 12!" I don't know if it was the limited arts program in my school or what, but it was never an option. And for at least 30 years I've wanted to try it, because I love woodcuts and wood engravings, and linocut seems like the easiest way to experiment. I mean, kids do it in art class, for goodness sake! How hard can it be?

Over several years I've acquired bits of gear: an ink roller from the cat shelter tag sale, a few pieces of lino added to my semi-annual watercolor order (amazingly, ordering watercolors has become a routine!), a starter set of printing inks, and the same Speedball carving tool with multiple blades that I imagine schoolkids use for their carefree adventures in linocut. Everything but a bench hook - to hold the lino steady on a table while cutting - which could be easily built with scrap wood.

This past month, which is "#PrintOctober" on twitter, I decided to either do it or stop thinking about doing it. The adventure began quite merrily on the 1st. I sat down to sketch a design and...immediately got bogged down. What to draw? What to DRAW? Settling that question took a couple of days and even a little poll amongst the twitter art folk, who kindly gave me a nudge. Okay, onward!

Next, I watched some videos about how printmakers transfer a design to the lino. I had to wait til I could go to the library on the next Saturday to print my drawing at the correct scale for my 4x6 inch block. But when I got to the library, their computer was inexplicably Not Working. It would be three days before I could get to another library.

It went on like that all month - every little step forward turned into a delay. Meanwhile, of course, I kept doing the Daily Markmaking, and this might have made it easy to forget about the printmaking altogether.

Well on October 30th I looked at the calendar and thought, "Wholly guacamole, the month is almost over!" I did what I could have done a month ago or a year ago or ten years ago: I drew the design directly on the block, consciously eliminated all expectations, and began to get a feel for using the cutting tool. I still had no bench hook, but it didn't matter because my spine has been so troubled for the past few weeks I couldn't have sat at a table to work anyway. Nope. I got in my "zero gravity" position, wedged the block between my knees and my worktable, and making very very sure my left hand was never within a 180 degree arc of the blade, I began to cut.

Dear Readers, I can report that there is a lot more work to do,
and a lot to learn along the way,
but my first linocut, an ellipse framing Japanese anemones,
is now a Work In Progress.