Sunday, February 4, 2018

Coral Tree Linocut

In 2016 my husband George and I took a trip to Costa Rica.  George takes Xavier students every year to Costa Rica and as part of the trip we visit Bijagual Ecological Reserve.  In an previous blog post I wrote about how I spied some brightly colored seed pods down by the Bijagual river.   Little did I know how fateful that day would be.  At the time I photographed the pod and did a sketch and didn't think about it again until I was choosing the subject for my next linocut last year.   

Even if you had told me that it would be the most difficult linocut I have done to date, I don't think it would have stopped me.  I was so taken by the beautiful shape of the fruiting body...not to mention the colors.  And so last June I began sketching and planning the print.  Below you can see part of the sketch and the tracing to plan the layers.  (You can see the full pencil sketch and process video here).

Somehow between sketching, gardening, travel and visitors I didn't end up printing until the end of September.  I remember printing the first layer right before I went on a trip.  When I returned a week later I went down to look at the prints.  I pulled one out of the drying rack to inspect it and my heart sank when I noticed there was an error.  And it was not a small one.  I had forgotten to carve away a section of the plate that I wanted to be white.  At first I tried to play it off like it was no big deal and that I could live with it.  I mocked it up on my pencil sketch.  Then I mocked it up in color in Photoshop.  Finally after resisting for at least a week I realized the ugly truth...I had to re-print.  Below you can see my  mistake.

If you want to see all of my desperate mock-ups I posted them on my Nessy Press Facebook page here.
After making the decision to re-print I forged ahead.  Below you can see photos of the plate and the print at each stage.  This print was a mixture of reduction cuts and multiple plates.  I made separate plates for the red berries and the brown twig and pod centers.  The base cream color and final magenta color shared the same plate...meaning after I printed the cream color I carved the plate away.

Below you can see a video of me pulling the final color.  (Turn your volume up... I added music!)

(Music by the Polish Ambassador)

Here are a few carving shots along the way.  I posted more process shots on my Instagram account @nessydesigns

One super exciting thing that greatly helped me on this print was the purchase of an amazing, old drying rack at the Springfield antique show last September.  I don't think I would have had room to dry these giant prints without it.  Below you can see the drying rack and the final plate before and after inking.

One of my favorite things to do after I finish a print is to photograph the print close-up from a million angles .  Here are a few of those detail shots.

I have to admit this print pushed me to my limits and has been a great teacher.  The work forces me to accept accept mistakes that are made... to learn discernment...and to learn to enjoy both the highs and lows with as much equanimity as I can muster.  I have loved this print and hated it and then loved it again.  People often question me as to why I would want to spend eight months working on this print when I could have painted a hundred paintings.  And I am not sure why.  But I do know there is something to this struggle.  There is something achingly beautiful about giving it your all and not being a hundred percent sure it will turn out.   It is a delicate balance of fear and love this bringing something from the whisper of an idea to a finished piece of art.  Those coral red seeds planted themselves in the depths of my being and something grew...something grew. 

The Coral Tree print is now available at

"Do what you love.
Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still."

—Henry David Thoreau


Jodi C said...

Great description of your journey! And again, I really love this print!

Bix said...

What a wonderful post. Truly descriptive journey and how satisfied you must have been when pulling the final layer. The print is beautiful as was the process..Bx

Amy said...

Absolutely stunning work Vanessa! As always. Truly a marvel!!

Nessy said...

Thank you Jodi, Bix and Amy for taking the time to read this post and for your lovely comments!

Glitter and earth said...

Awesome work! What a fabulous print!

Christina Wald said...

The time was well invested and that was one cool seed pod (and trip).