Fragility (in art and life)

New Artwork

“the quality of being delicate or vulnerable.”

IMG_6447Inspired by my mentor teacher, Stacy, and the advanced art classes I co-taught with her last semester at Leland HS in San José, I decided to follow along with their course and create my own lino print. This process is not for the faint of heart and requires patience, planning, and precision for best results. The students learned about reduction printing this semester: a form of relief or block print in which the artist creates a multicolor image with different layers carved into a linoleum block. I used some of Stacy’s video resources and her knowledge to figure this out since I was not familiar with using this medium with more than one layer (examples at end of post).  

Reduction printing on a lino block taught me a great deal about the fragility of this medium and how to embrace the embedded challenges. Below I document the process, however, I wish I could have captured the struggle on video. Carving into a lino block can be difficult and eventually altered my original design a bit because of the limitations of the lino cutters and my lack of precision. I only cut myself one time, surprisingly, but came close to a few more (thank you to Stacy for the safety tips and wood base that held my lino block).

In the end, I’m happy with how the 16 prints turned out, the intention is apparent even if they are not exactly what I planned for. Each is uniquely itself and captures the fragility of this entire process (carving, inking, aligning, printing). Christian saw the saga unfold; he initially pointed out how he could visually sense the fragility of both the printing process and the subject (hummingbird feasting on a flower). Reduction printing is metaphorical to how nature or life, in general, is fragile, vulnerable, delicate. We can plan or design our path forward, but there is a greater force that might align or alter it differently than what was hoped for; this can be tragic at times or just slight enough that a different, not so bad opportunity arises. Whatever the case, it is humbling to remember how fragile my life is, my art is, and the lives around me (adults, babies, animals, birds, fishes, plants, etc.).

Here’s my process unfolded if you’re interested in how I created these prints.

Step 1: Design Sketch/Plan; think of composition choices, decide how many colors/layers, plan for applying lighter colors first.


Hummingbird feasting on sage plant, design for my reduction print

Step 1: Carve first layer after transferring sketch to block (reverse design so relief print will transfer in the correct orientation); print green layer.

I decided to create 20 prints, each varied. Some were more lime green. The image above got a little blue smudge but was my only example left of the layer on its own.

Step 2: Carve second layer (take away areas where I want the green to remain on the print); print pink layer.

The challenge really begins here when I have to align my pink layer to my green layer. A few were little off and look kind of trippy now after the other layers are on.

IMG_6438 copy

Second layer (pink) printed on first layer (green)

Step 3: Carve third layer (cutaway areas where I want pink to remain); print turquoise layer.

Here’s a view of my work station after I printed a bunch of the third layer onto the first and second colors. I mixed my own colors with block ink (using a palette knife); they are applied with a brayer (the roller tool seen below).


Step 4: Carve fourth layer; print dark purple layer. (Also, make ongoing design decisions, to keep certain areas one color or the other; and try not to break the skinny block pieces off so much…)

At this point (or maybe last step) I realize that I did not carve away the tiny white areas I intended to in my original design (the eye, lower belly, wing highlights, etc.). I slept on it and after a few days decided to go for a fifth layer and use white paint to hopefully create those finishing touches.

Step 5: Finicky and dreadful; carve away entire design except for the white parts; try to print white parts (image on right was my test, I ended up carving away more after prints 1-3).

In the end, it worked out okay. However, rolling on the white ink was difficult because there was barely any of the block raised to ensure a smooth application. I discovered that it came out best when I didn’t put as much pressure on it; I tried to quickly stamp this fifth layer on. 20 prints later, 16 with all layers (other four acted as the demo quadrant seen above). Apologies for the photos, they are not the best due to the lighting and my lack of caring to edit them :/ – enjoy!!

To compare a single layer block print, here are some prints I did of some CA poppies. I made them into cards earlier this year (with the help of Christian 🙂 ). This design was carved into a pink, rubbery-like block; it was way easier to carve into than the lino. I added colored pencil to a few of them.

And here’s another example of one layer block printing I did for a group of friends. We have been going to this house in Mendocino County for the past few years for our “Jughandle Retreat” (named after the nature reserve that is in walking distance from the house). I taught them how to make prints one of the nights there and they took the good ones home ;)…I kept the leftovers for fun.

The single layer prints can now be made over again, while the reduction print of the hummingbird is no longer duplicatable. If you read through this and want one, let me know, I’m thinking about selling them soon.

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