20 May 2012

The Vanishing Bestiary 1: Dodo

Friday afternoon I started on the test illustration I mentioned last post that I wanted to do, to see if I could get enough detail in linocut for the illustrations for The Vanishing Bestiary. By the time I went to bed, I had a good start on the drawing, and by Saturday afternoon I had something I was happy with (if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen this first image already):

Next, I needed to transfer it to the linoleum, which I did with good old-fashioned carbon paper (I believe it's still possible to buy it at Staples, but I have an ancient box that somebody gave me many, many years ago). I actually began by scanning the drawing, flipping it in Photoshop (since I wanted the final image to be facing left, like the original drawing), and printing it full-size on my laser printer. Then I used the printout and the carbon paper for the transfer. Finally, I went over it again on the linoleum with a hard pencil. The lines from the carbon paper are pretty stable, but I wanted to make sure I had all the details and smoothed all the lines, as it's very easy to get confused when cutting lino.

Above is the traced-over scan, the carbon paper (look closely and you can see where the transfer process left the image of the dodo in the carbon), and the lino. At this point, I had only gone over the head with pencil; the rest is still just the carbon transfer.

Cutting this image was easier than usual in a way. I didn't have to think too hard about what to cut and what to leave, because skeletons are white, so I could just sort of draw the skeleton with my cuts, if that makes any sense. Of course, I did have to remember to leave lines between elements, and there was a lot of small detail, so it was not at all easy in other ways. The final task was to cut out the silhouette of the animal, since I don't want any lino residue printing around it. I may or may not cut a second plate to make some sort of background in another colour, but for now it'll just be simple.

For the first proof, I used some water-based block printing ink I had kicking around, and immediately regretted it. I remember now why I hate the stuff. It was pretty much drying as I rolled it on, and it refused to go on at all evenly. And to top it all off, it pulled some of the newsprint off the proof (you can see it stuck to the tail in the image above). So then I used some rather aged rubber-based ink, and had problems with that as well, for reasons I haven't determined--possibly it was just too close to being dry, with too much oil leached out. Finally I pulled out a tin of truly ancient, but still very good, proofing ink I inherited when I was helping clean out the Dawson Printshop. It may be older than I am, but it still spreads like warm buttercream icing. The proofs I made weren't perfect (for one, I didn't clean up the rubber-based ink thoroughly enough, and for two, flat areas are hard to print well on my little tabletop proof press).

All in all, I'm very pleased. I hope to get some time before teaching on Wednesday to print a small edition (as prints, not for the final book, which I'll do once I have all the images cut and figure out what size to make the pages). I'll pop them in my Etsy shop for sale, too. Oh, and I think I'm going to make myself a t-shirt with this one.

18 May 2012

Pondering The Vanishing Bestiary

I love bestiaries, and I've been wanting to make one for ages. So slowly this idea has been taking shape in my brain, for a bestiary of vanished species. It will be letterpress printed, with minimal text (but what text there is hand-set in metal type), and illustrated either from polymer plates or linocuts. I'll probably go with lino, but I'll have to do a test illustration to make sure it'll work.

As I said, the pictures will be of vanished species--I'm thinking beasts that went extinct directly, or at least largely, due to human interference. And the images will be skeletons, because I like bones. I may do just the skeleton, or I may include the body of the animal (perhaps just as an outline). That's one of the things that hasn't quite formed in my head yet, but which test illustrations will help with. (Apologies for the mangled sentence structure there.)

So my next step is to decide on a possible list of species to include--dodo, thylacine, quagga . . . if anyone has suggestions, feel free to post them. And I need to decide on a size, so I can start on a test image. After that, I have to figure out paper, typeface, binding style . . .

Way back at the beginning of the year (which looks so far past on the calendar, which feels like such a brief time), I said I wasn't going to start any major new projects until I'd crossed a bunch of half-done things off my list. And while I haven't really finished as many things as I'd like, this isn't really a new project. It's been percolating in my brain for over a year now.

I also had thought of doing a similar project that would be a suite of intaglio prints rather than a book. And it would be just skulls, each one life-size on the copper plate. That's something I may revisit at some point, when I actually have some way to make and print intaglio again.

Anyway, no pictures yet, alas. But I may start on that sample image this weekend.

15 May 2012

Calligrapha multipunctata

Calligrapha multipunctata. If that's not one of the coolest Latin binomials there is, then I'm no judge of cool. (Okay, probably I'm not much of a judge of cool, anyway, but never mind.)

Anyway. I came across this little fellow (or lass) on the way back from the mailbox. I might never have spotted him if he hand't been on his back, flashing his quite reddish wings in order to right himself. Against the beige and grey of the gravel road, he stood out quite a lot. He's just under a centimetre long--maybe 7 or 8mm.

I'm not absolutely certain of the species identification, since I didn't find him on his host plant. It could also be C. philadelphica, which is very similar. Most of this genera is very closely associated with a plant species--willow in the case of C. multipunctata, dogwood for C. philadelphica. Of course, I could go back down the road and do a survey of trees. I'm pretty sure there are willows nearby, and not so sure about dogwood.

At first I thought I was looking at a non-red species of ladybird, but the fabulous online Bug Guide set me straight. Still, identifying insects is hard, even when it seems to be something pretty different, though I guess you get better once you know what to look for.

04 May 2012

A Couple More Frogs

This will probably be the last frog-related post for a while (though I can't promise anything), but I wanted to post pictures of the finished card and print, as well as an in-progress shot of the cut on my little proof press.

Spring Peepers Card

Here's the finished card, printed in green ink on handmade recycled cotton rag printmaking paper. I plan to do some on cattail paper later on, assuming I can salvage the half-made pulp that's fermenting on my picnic table.

I like the green, but the next ones will probably be brown or black. And spring peepers aren't really green, anyway.

Spring Peepers Print

I also did these little frogs as a print, on the same paper, in the same ink. Because the cuts are actually two separate pieces, I could move them around.

As you can see, though, I really liked the configuration I put them in on the card, because even though I wasn't looking at that when I set up the print, they ended up in almost the same places, just farther apart. Ah, well.


Here are the plates on my little table-top proof press, inked up and ready for the paper.

My press is type-high, so to print unmounted lino, I have a piece of 3/4 inch plywood on the bed, then newsprint and mylar to keep things clean (unmounted cuts tend to pick up ink on the back, and mylar is easy to wipe clean). Then the lino goes down, then the paper. On top of that I put another sheet of newsprint, then a press blanket cut from an old wool blanket (like an army blanket, but it's pinkish instead of grey), then two sheets of eska board (bookbinder's board). That gives a nice deep impression on the handmade paper, and if I need to, I can adjust it by changing the amount of board and paper.

02 May 2012

Spring Brings Out the Peepers

Here's something I'm working on:

Two little wee linocuts that I'll print on handmade paper tomorrow. I originally planned to print them on cattail paper, but I'm pretty sure I won't have time to make any more paper by the weekend, so I'll print them on some odds and ends of recycled and the last of the last batch of goldenrod paper. I'm thinking of printing them in bright green ink, even though Spring Peepers are usually more brown. Green just seems more springy.

And I finished printing the goldenrod lino today, so tomorrow I'll fold and package the cards. It's on goldenrod paper, of course.

And here's a terrible photo of one of the latest batch of blank books. I'll take better photos of whichever ones are left after the craft fair and get them up on Etsy. I made ten in various colours and configurations, and have one left from the last batch.