Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Blackbird Woodcut

I may have mentioned in passing that aside from oil painting I'm crazy about printmaking, specifically woodblock printing. I've tried linocut printing (carving an image out of a block of linoleum) but there's something about working with wood that I really love. I usually work with white pine, since it is a soft wood and easy to carve. Over the last couple of months I've been working on a woodcut of a blackbird in reeds.

The inspiration

During spring migration, male yellow-headed blackbirds congregate in huge numbers at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. On our annual trip to the Refuge, we see hundreds of them at a time and this year the image of them in the reeds really struck me and ideas for a painting began to form.

While I was sketching studies and thumbnails for a painting it occurred to me that the scene would also make a great woodcut image, so I changed gears and began working on a print.

The bird's face reminded me too much of the bald eagle in The Muppets.

At first my plan was to use just one block of wood and black ink, however I was not happy with the bird's face after seeing the first proof. The only way to change the face was to completely carve it away and create a second block with a new face carved into it which would print over the first block. Since I was going to the trouble of carving a second block, I decided to change a few other things, too. Can you spot what I changed?

The new face

I printed the original block of wood with gray ink and printed the second block with black ink on top of the gray layer and got some interesting results. This got me thinking about printing with multiple colors. I think this might be part of the reason I love working with woodblock - it seems that every step leads to a new idea.

The brown layer.
When I inked the block, I wiped the brown ink off the area of the bird
before printing so that the bird's black ink layer would print clean and sharp over top.

So I printed the original wood block with brown ink, then inked the second block of wood with blue in the water areas and black on the bird and printed that over top the brown layer.

The completed image

The random black marks in this print are happy accidents. The unexpected things that happen with printmaking is one of the things I love about working in this medium.

For now I'm pretty pleased with this print, but I may make more changes as they occur to me.

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