Thursday, December 20, 2018

Walnut Linocut Print


Every year I tell myself I am not going to print Christmas cards and yet here we are again.  Some years I have lots of different ideas about what I should do for the card, but this year I only had one idea...a walnut.  The idea to do a walnut came to me in early November but I still hadn't really committed myself.  Then, strangely, I was in the basement one day and found a walnut sitting among all the clutter of the gardening shelf.  I picked it up and put it near the window so I could find it in case I ended up using it as my subject later.  I liked how it looked in the sunlight on my green painted shelf so I took its picture.   

I think it was that day that I became enamored with this walnut.  And when the day came to decide if I was going to actually print Christmas cards, I felt I couldn't ignore my smiling, wrinkled friend in the basement.


Usually I begin a print by taking photos of my subject.  As you can see I had a helper that day. 

I ended up really liking the photo below.  It wasn't perfect because I hadn't completely taken the shell down to the midline, but there was something quiet and beautiful about it.  It also reminded me of a perfectly roasted turkey (or maybe I was just hungry).


Below you can see the photo, my sketch, and the drawing transferred to the plate. 

This carving didn't take me long compared to my usual big prints.  I always love how the plate looks before it has ink on it...subtle, yet the design is there in shadows.


When I first had the idea of choosing the walnut as my subject I had one major objection... my idea involved two colors.  I wanted the background and shell to be a dark brown and the meat of the nut to be golden.  And once I get an idea in my head I don't really want it any other way.  For those non-printmakers out there, the idea of doing a two-color print for a Christmas card is absurd because it doubles the time involved.  And when one is printing 130 prints that is no small consideration!

For days my mind fretted over this problem and in the end I came up with three ideas.

  1. The first idea was almost unbearable.  I could treat it properly as a two-color print.  This would have involved cutting the gold nut out, printing the gold, waiting for it to dry and then printing the background color and waiting for it to dry.  This option would have required more time than I had.  In addition it would have involved meticulous alignment and I would have had to tape Ternes-Burton clips to all 130 prints (and I didn't have enough clips).
  2. The second option was to cut the plate into three pieces.  This way I could pull the pieces apart, ink the pieces separately, and then push them back together for printing.  The main advantage being that I could print everything the same day.  The only thing I didn't like about this method was that it would have created a harsh line in the shadow between the nut and the shell.
  3. The third option was to try and carefully ink the gold directly onto the plate without cutting the background away.  This would keep the plate intact, but would be difficult inking.  I ended up buying a 2'' brayer with the thought that I would try this method and it would probably fail.  And then I would move on to Option 2 (cutting the plate).

Below you can see the third option.  I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that hard to brayer the gold on where I wanted it.  I also used a couple of sponges to help.  The only problem was that each print required about 10 minutes to print.  When one is printing 10-20 prints that is not a big deal...but when one is printing 130 prints that is a LOT of time! (about 22 hours)   

I am not opposed to doing something difficult if I love the result.  After printing 30 prints this way I took a good look at the prints.  In my mind I had wanted the gold to pop the nut off the page.  But as it turned out the gold ink soaked into the page and I felt like the nut was competing with the dark background for attention.  At that point I decided to finish the rest using only the dark brown.  I had the thought that I could go back in with gold watercolor if I wanted to give it some bling.  In the photo below you can see the gold prints are on the left.

“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one:
the step you are taking right now.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now


The flat file is one of my favorite places to dry prints.  I like seeing the fruits of my labor all spread out in lovely, repetitious form.  To give you an idea of the scale of the project, the flat file holds about 50 prints.

Eventually I had to move to the drying rack.

One of the problems with using oil-based ink is the drying time.  I even added a cobalt siccative to help in the process (so don't lick these prints!).  In the end I resorted to bringing all the prints upstairs and placing them on the radiators.  This is no small feat with two curious cats wandering the house. 


When I made the decision to print one color I felt assured that I could use my gold watercolor ink to quickly add a touch of gold to each card. However, reality soon taught me otherwise.  When I pulled out my gold watercolor I was disappointed with how it barely had any metallic effect and just looked ochre-colored.  This started me on a VERY long quest to find the perfect gold.

It started when my dear neighbor and friend (and amazing artist) Roy loaned me his gold Winsor and Newton ink to try.  I loved the gold effect, but it was only visible if you turned the card just so in the perfect light.  If you looked at it straight on, you could barely even tell I had added color.  I then stopped by Michael's and bought every gold pen they had.  When I got home I tried some of them with varying success.  I then did some online research and found a website that had compared many gold pens and they recommended the Sakura Pen Touch.  I tried to resist it but couldn't help myself when I called Plaza Art Supply and they said they carried the much coveted Sakura pen.  Of course I ended up coming home with even more options!

Below you can see the different pens and inks and how they turned out.  There may have even been more options but I started to get overwhelmed trying to document it all. 

In the end my favorite was the Uniball Signo gold.  And my ultimate favorite was adding the Kaiser Glitter gold on top of that.  But the process of inking in the gold one time was about 25-30 minutes per card!  So only a handful of people got gold-drawn prints and only my Mom got a gold and glitter card.  In the end I wasn't so sure that the one-color dark brown card wasn't the most elegant of all.


I was feeling a bit antsy waiting for the prints to dry and had the bright idea to stamp the back of the cards with a Nessy Press stamp.  It didn't take me long to carve the stamp, but it is always a challenge to carve letters less than a quarter inch tall.  I am always worried until I stamp it for the first time and it is legible. 

Below you can see about a third of the cards with their stamps drying on the radiator.

I should mention that I failed to document the next step...mailing the prints!  Before I mail the prints I number, title, and sign all the prints on the back.  I try and expedite the mailing process by printing the return and recipient addresses.  I also feel funny that my card has no written message so I print a peppermint "JOY to YOU" sticker for the back.  The whole mailing process can take days.


The VERY final step for me is to photograph the print and add type.  I LOVE playing around with various scenes and decorations.  When I saw the photo below on the screen for the first time I had the thought that all the nuts were crowing around to see the print.

I also played around with adding greenery and having more of a "wreath" feel.

Below you can see the plate cleaned and dried after printing.  I liked the burnt orange color that remained on the plate.


The photo below is the same photo as the first photo in this blog without the crop.  I really loved the crescent of nuts to the right but felt like the focus was on the nuts rather than the print.  I guess it depends what subject you want to focus on ...the print or the holiday scene.  Either way I liked it.  I also have to give a shout out to this awesome video which showed me how to make glitter type. 

As you can see, printing Christmas cards is a long process.  There were times in the process where I would get overwhelmed as I started to think how much further I had to go.  I would be on print number 2 of 130 and think, OMG I can't do this!  But every time I felt that way I had to pull myself  back to the present moment and concentrate on the task at hand.  Somehow, focusing on rolling ink onto the plate, placing the paper down and burnishing was doable.  That lassoing my mind back to the present had to happen over and over again.  By doing the simple task before me I was able to conquer a task that seemed insurmountable.

“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love
- even the most simple action.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

I would like to wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season and a New Year filled with peace, love and joy! 

“Staying present, living in Presence is the best gift anyone can give to those they love.”
— Guy Finley


Isabel said...

Dear Vanessa,
You are so amazing and inspiring! I loved reading the whole journey of your card making. They are beautiful! and you're such an amazing artist, always realizing your vision so perfectly!
Happy Holidays to you and George, Love,

Nessy said...

Isabel, Right back at you girl! You have always been an inspiration to me! You know how to make ANYTHING!!! I wish we lived closer so we could collaborate. So much love to you and Elliot and Leah. Merry Christmas!