Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My print has Chickenpox...

So I had a very... interesting* last few days.
I came up with my new image for my next linocut in the series and the first few colors went down without a hitch. My third color I started noticing little shiny spots that appeared that I couldn't explain. Attributing it to not mixing in my modifiers well enough I pressed on. With disastrous results.

The next color I noticed large shiny spots appearing after a few minutes. Puzzled as anything, I took it to my professor who was equally as perplexed. I printed it as I have been for months- adding cobalt drier, dullit, magnesium carbonate, and a little gelled medium (we're out of miracle gel reducer. Weep). I mulled over the problem for a day or so, trying to figure out what had gone so horribly wrong. My initial idea was there was a problem with the dullit, since only spots were shiny, and others dull. I had also mixed in some of the old ink from the previous color as a base and maybe the modifiers that were in -that- screwed it up. I was confused until I took a close look at the full edition.

I remembered my first print on newsprint I had forgotten to add cobalt drier, and printed the rest of the edition with it. Out of the 17 prints on good paper, and 3 on newsprint there was one lone newsprint pull that looked just fine. I realized my problem... What exactly went wrong with the cobalt drier I can really only guess at, but the can we have at the studio has a lid that doesn't shut all the way, so my guess is whatever liquid is in there as a base has been slowly evaporating, making the drier more and more concentrated, so adding a good deal of drier like I normally would was actually like adding quadruple the amount, because I also noticed that as the spots appeared they, along with the rest of the print, was already dry after only 10-20 minutes.

Anyway, lesson learned. I printed the yellow of the duck next, added some linseed oil to sit over the spotty brown, and left out the drier completely. It seemed to work alright, and now I just hope the rest of the colors behave themselves.

Has something like this happened to anyone else?

*Note: I'm a Midwestern girl, and "interesting" is often our way of saying "awful." As in "Wow. That bologna and popcorn casserole you made sure is.... interesting."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reduction Multi-Color Linocut Tips and Tricks

This post compiles several months worth of learning while doing multiple color linocuts.
These are the things I've screwed up and learned from.

Before I begin I'll start with a few points on how I work-

1. I work very opaquely. I can try and answer questions about transparency, but they'd be just educated guesses, not tips from real life experience.

2. I only print with oil based litho color inks. This means modifiers are in order. Modifiers and I have become close friends.


  • Print with a hard or semi-hard roller. Soft rollers tend to fill in delicate lines. In reduction linocuts you want the ink to sit on top of the block and hard rollers do the trick nicely.
  • Rolling quickly picks up ink. Rolling slowly deposits it. On your ink slab you want to roll fast to lift the ink, and on the block you want to roll slow to lay it down. 
  • It's sometimes helpful to mix ink the day before you print just to get a feel for its consistency. Mixing an ink loosens it a great deal, and by the time you're ready to print you may find it's hardened or changed quite a bit. 
  • Add modifiers just before you print. Modifiers and time generally don't mix well. Especially cobalt drier...It's fine to mix up your color earlier, but save the additives for later. 
  • When mixing ink and testing the consistency, test with a small 1/2 inch or 1 inch roller. This way you'll be able to see how the ink rolls out without having a big mess to clean up, and you can save your larger roller for good prints. 
  • Blocks can be cleaned with just mineral spirits or vegetable oil and a clean rag. Remember to degrease the block before you print again though, either with denatured alcohol or a household cleaner like Simple Green, especially if using vegetable oil, which tends to be very greasy.
  • Give yourself plenty of time! The one time you find you need to print an edition in an hour is the one time -everything- will go wrong.


  • Printing on a paper with texture is, in most cases, not the best idea. In fact, I generally stretch my paper on a litho press before I begin (placing the paper on a large block and running it through the litho press, which stretches and smooths the paper). This way if there's a great deal of pressure when printing the block the paper doesn't stretch in the process and cause the registration to be off. Stretching ensures for spot-on registration.
  • When cutting and registering paper include about 3-4 newsprint pieces that are also registered. This way before printing the edition on good paper, the newsprint paper can act as a test to see how the colors interact with one another, and how the ink sits on top of the previous layer. This way too, there isn't risk of ruining a good pull from the edition.


  • To ensure a nice even coat, roll slowly over the block until it looks as though there is a great deal of ink on the block. Roll out the excess ink on the roller on a clean part of your slab and roll quickly a few times over the block (from different directions) to lift off a little of the excess and unify the coat. Modifiers will come into play with this too, see below (Miracle Gel Reducer in particular) for more...
  • FAT OVER LEAN....or...GREASY OVER NOT SO GREASY...or...INK WITH STUFF IN IT ON TOP OF INK WITHOUT AS MUCH STUFF IN IT. This is the, the, -the- main thing to know when printing a multi-color linocut. If you find your ink is not sitting over your last layer of ink this is probably the problem. You never want to start out with a really greasy first layer because subsequent layers are going to need even more grease to sit on top. When beginning a reduction linocut I generally don't modify the ink very much- a little magnesium carbonate and cobalt drier are enough. The next layer I'll add a little bit of grease, and a little more to the next, and so on and so forth, but this will be covered more in the modifiers. If you find your ink isn't sitting on top of your previous layer try adding a little grease to it (such as linseed oil).

THE MODIFIERS (not all of them, but the most important for this process)

  • Linseed Oil- The main component in oil based ink. Ink is generally just linseed oil and pigment (with a few little things added in). That's it. If you want to loosen up an ink, add some more linseed oil. Add in small doses.
  • Magnesium Carbonate- A white powdery substance that can be added up to 100%. Doesn't alter the color of the ink. Stiffens (or "shortens") ink, adds body, and decreases greasiness. Reduces tack.
  • Setswell- Loosens oil based ink, creates transparency and reduces shine. Thins and softens ink that are too stiff and seem "dry" when printed.
  • Cobalt Drier- The best friend of anyone who needs to print a color a day. Although it's recommended to only add a tiny drop of this powerful drying agent, you can sometimes get away with adding more. I've been known to add a great deal (20-30% in a bind) BUT you need to be ready to print -FAST- because the ink will literally dry on the slab. If adding a great deal only roll out enough ink to cover your roller. In a pile, the ink seems to dry slower, so just take it as you need it. Also, if you add cobalt drier and keep the ink to print again later it -will- work, it just needs to be used within a day or two, and generally loosened up a bit because it will probably have begun to harden somewhat. 
  • Dullit- Print too shiny? Hate shiny? Want to murder shiny as it blinds you in the face as you try to photograph your print after it's finished? It's all just personal preference of course, but personally I'm not a fan of shiny prints, give me matte any day. So the solution? Why, Dullit! Add about 10-15% to ink to decrease shininess. Just make sure not to add too much or it'll mix up like concrete. 
  • Miracle Gel Reducer- I've saved the best for last. This little gem is basically the answer to everything. I'm voting for MGR next presidential campaign... Almost any relief printing problem can be cured with a small dose of miracle gel reducer. It reduces body and tack of oil based inks, without increasing greasiness. It makes relief inks release onto paper easier and reduces roller and lap marks on large flat areas of color. Its ability to cure cancer has not yet been proven, but I'm pretty sure it could probably do that too. Side note- there is a counterpart to MGR called "Gelled Medium" but for me it...just isn't the same.
  • Miracle Gel Reducer and Magnesium Carbonate- The dream team. The right amount of the two of these almost always ensures for near perfect consistency. Generally I add magnesium carbonate to give a little more body to the ink (the amount depending on the consistency of the ink to begin with- stiff inks get just a dash, and loose inks get quite a bit), then a bit of miracle gel reducer to decrease the tack. When mixing the ink I generally look to see if the palette knife picks up all the ink on the slab, without leaving a residue. With any of these modifiers it's going to take some practice to know what the "right" consistency looks and feels like, but starting with these two little gems is probably a good place to learn. 
Both the school and the museum I work at order most of its modifiers from either Daniel Smith or Graphic Chemical. In fact, everything except the MGR can be found at Graphic Chemical. They're particular amazing for their discussion board. Because it's a small company they are -extremely- helpful and personable. -ANY- question you have about -ANY- of their products is generally answered within a day or two, usually by the owner of the company. Overall just an amazing company.


  • Rainbow Roll (or Gradients)- Rainbow rolls are a way of putting multiple colors down in a single pass. Lighter or darker variants of a single color can also be used to make a gradient. The ink it mixed up and put down on the slab one right next to another so that all the colors form a single (or near single, little gaps are okay) line of ink. The roller is then passed over this line of ink, and mixes on the roller. For example, if white is laid down next to a dark blue, the roller passes over the two and a line forms between the two of a new color- a light blue. The roller then passes over the block to create a gradient when printed.

If the task of printing look overwhelming, just remember- you've only got three things that can really be screwed up: the paper, the press, or the ink. It's got to be one of the three, so don't get discouraged!

Thanks for reading this far! I hope some of these were helpful and not a complete waste of time. If you have any other questions about the process or problems with printing feel free to comment and I'll try and help if I can. Check back soon for progress on my next multi-color linocut.

Galleries, Lectures, and Internships. Oh my!

These last few weeks have been crazy!
I mentioned a few post back that I had some exciting news to share, and here it is!

Every semester the Hannaher Studio at the Plains Art Museum (one of, if not THE sole working print studio inside a museum) chooses an intern to work with the resident printmaker to help maintain the studio, order supplies, talk to visitors, and make sure the place doesn't burn down. You know, the usual. The position is competitive, and applicants submit a letter of intent and a collection of their images that then get judged by the resident printmaker, (my professor, John Volk) the head of education at the Plains (Andy Maus) and a third party member. I think you probably know where this is going.... they chose me! So a few days out of the week I head over to the Plains and work in the studio, interacting with the public should they wander in, and explaining the mystery that is printmaking. It's pretty exciting, and a lot of fun so far. Problem is it usually closes around 5, and I'm a terrible night owl, so that's taking some adjusting.

The other exciting news is this past week I helped install a show in the library at my college and gave a lecture with the other Excellence Scholarship recipients. Our lecture focused on the progression of our work over the years, and the concepts behind it. Usually these colloquium lectures are full of Freshman students, but there was a great mix of faculty, Freshman, and friends. All in all probably around 100 to 150 people showed up, and the whole thing went over as smoothly as we could have asked for. It was a bit nerve wracking, but a great learning experience overall.

I haven't forgotten about my last post either, regarding linocut tricks. I'm compiling ideas as I start my third in the series (printed the first color tonight- yay!) BUT I want to hear from you linocut artists out there! What are some problems you run into when you print? What makes you want to stab your paper and throw your can of ink across the studio? Let me know and it might help me compile a more complete list. :)