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.

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