Sunday, September 27, 2009

Learning Linocut

For the last month and a half, I've been eagerly anticipating this weekend. See, an awesome friend signed me up for a linocut class as a birthday present. I've wanted to learn linocut (pronounced "lyne-o-cut" and not "lin-o-cut", as I discovered) for a long time. And, as much as you can do most of it at home if properly instructed, it's not like you can just pick up a quality press from the local store for a couple bucks.

For those of you who aren't familiar, linocut is like woodblock printing, but it's easier to carve out linoleum than wood. It's also known as relief printing. You carve out your image from sheets of linoleum (which I learned is pressed cork and linseed oil) to create the plate, which you then ink, place moistened paper over, and press (preferably using a printing press designed for that purpose) to transfer the image to the paper.

For weeks I was feeling the pressure of picking the "perfect" image. Should it be a drawing? Or a photo? Should I sketch a photo? The studio suggested something more simple for beginners - but what constituted simple? Oh yes, I totally over-thought that part. I ended up printing out a few options, favoring a gesture drawing I did in Life Drawing class Spring semester.

My friend who had set the whole thing up got called to work the weekend at the last minute on Friday, so I convinced my sister Mindy that her plans for Saturday were not nearly as exciting as the class would be. She was an easy sell, as the plans weren't that solid and she had always wanted to learn linocut as well.

We met Saturday morning outside 3 Fish Studios where the class was being held, a stack of images in-hand and very excited for our creative adventure. It was a gorgeous day, especially rare in San Francisco when it had been exceptionally foggy the past couple of weeks, and the studio made the most of all that fantastic light. Roomy, high ceiling, great big window looking out onto the Bay with a comfy couch in front of it, lots of room to work and tons of art supplies strewn about and hidden away in gorgeous wooden drawers and cubbies, not to mention all the art covering the walls - definitely erased the memory of the hobo vomit on the stairs coming in and set my artist side aflutter.

Mindy and I were the first to arrive of our group of seven. Eric, the instructor and resident artist along with his wife, likes to keep the classes small so that he can make sure everyone gets the attention and time they need to make a piece they're happy with, as well as everyone getting enough time on the press to make their allotted 10 prints. The classes are sold out through November (all that's currently offered on the website), and he said they have an 80-person waiting list. That's going to take a while to get through at 8 people per class and two classes per month. And this is why I'm extra grateful I was able to go this weekend!! Apparently, since Daily Candy did a piece on their class, they've been very popular, and with good reason!

The rest of the members of our class trickled in, and we ended up with a very fun group: all women, from a variety of areas around SF and even one from Sonoma County!, and of varying jobs. It was a very relaxed environment, and once we got past the initial nervousness and began tracing our images and getting into the creative part, we had a lot of fun chatting and sharing our stories, while still concentrating on our work. When you get to the carving the linoleum part, it can be a little tedious if you have to carve a lot away, so chatting definitely helps the time go by. You do have to keep your brain in check, though, as you're working the inverse of the image you want to end up with, which can really mess you up if you're not paying attention.

I won't walk you through all the steps of linocut, but suffice it to say, Mindy and I are completely hooked. We asked a very-patient Eric a bevvy of questions about how we could do it at home, and although nothing beats a real press, we discovered that it is possible by running a spoon over the back of the paper placed on the inked plate. Not as uniform and saturated in color, but it might do in a pinch. Otherwise, Eric said he does periodically rent out his studio for a very reasonable $15 an hour, as well as reselling the linoleum he has specially imported from the German manufacturer because it carves so smoothly.

So perhaps that's an option - have a crafting party where we carve the plates together, and then make a special trip to print them. The only trouble with that is that it's very hard to know exactly what you've carved until you print a proof and then go back and make the desired adjustments. But perhaps that's where the spoon technique would come in. Like I said, rather addicted. So many possibilities, and that's just with the single color printing we did - I haven't even gotten into the multi-tone printing!

I bet you're curious how our prints came out. Well, Mindy did one of her sweetheart pitt bull, Gertie, from a photo, and I'm so impressed with how well it came out. And if you're curious about adjustments, she took her time and had it just about perfect the first time around. The only thing she changed was taking off a sliver of the background frame so that the tongue stuck out of the frame.

Mine had two iterations. The first was the solid background, which I liked initially (and still do; I wish I had pulled more than 2 prints off of it), but I wanted to play more with the texturing and carving techniques, and figured this was the opportunity to do it. So I added some Japanese-flag-style rays to the background, adding to the graphic look of the initial gesture drawing.

What really got some of us in the class excited was when Eric started sharing his new love of the French technique of chine collé and we got some bonus instruction on how to add it to our prints. Chine collé is where you add pieces of paper between the inked plate and the regular printing paper to add pattern and/or color to desired areas in your print. He had used pages from a vintage French book for one of his pieces, which was very cool. I used oragami paper he had to add to the asian feel of my piece. Here's what it ended up looking like.

I'd apologize for the length of this post, but I could have gushed on more, the class was that fun and eye-opening. I feel like it's another way to express that creative, artistic side with some extremely satisfying results. The time spent on carving the plate is obviously more worth it if you have reason to make multiple prints, but then being able to add things to those prints to make them individual is a completely separate creative journey in and of itself. I didn't even get into adding watercolors to the prints!

If you have opportunity to sign up for the class at 3 Fish Studios (if you can get past the waiting list, or they also say they can take a group on a weekday if you can't wait that long and have some friends who can take the day off), I highly recommend it. Eric is a great teacher and all-around fun, good guy who feeds off the energy and creativity of the class. Even though it sounds like a long day, 10:30am till 4 or 5pm flies by, and at the end you've got 10 great prints (well, 9, after you leave one for the house for their album as they kindly ask), and a huge feeling of accomplishment. You don't even have to be able to draw - it's tracing and carving what you feel like, - and although it's fun with a friend, our group was small enough that we were all comfortable with each other.

And if you just want to add some great linocut prints to dress up your walls, Eric and his wife sell their pieces on their website. They're very reasonably priced, and it's supporting some great people!


Clau said...

Wow, I love this! I have now added it to the list of things I need to try.

I've been feeling a void lately that I think can only be filled by doing something creative again. I don't know what it's going to be (writing, painting, photo, drawing), but it needs to happen soon before I implode. Your stuff had definitely given me inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Should we plan on renting Eric's studio for the next PRN west coast reunion?


The Lonely Robot said...

What a great post, Chelsea. It really is a pleasure to meet and work with people who are as talented as you and your sister. You can come back anytime.


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