Out of Your Gourd

Gourds to me are the quintessential autumnal objects. For me, they represent the comfort and familiarity of home. Their spectrum of yellows, greens, and oranges evoke warmth, while their varying textured surface, from round and smooth to bumpy, invites the human touch. In short, I love gourds, and I usually have a few of them hanging around my house each fall, even at the peril of Gustave knocking them all over.

My sketchbooks are replete with gourds, but these have primarily been exercises in observation. This year, however, I decided to use my gourds as the subject of a reduction color linocut. The last time I'd done this was back in 2012 with my skull series, so it felt like it was time to do another one. For those works I had used four different colors, but this time I decided to push the limit of the medium and try eight.

The challenge with relief carving is that you not only have to think in reverse, but also in negative spaces. Essentially, what you're carving is what you don't want printed, so your carving is always one step ahead of the actual image. This is especially tricky with a reduction piece, where each layer is built on top of one another. If you mess up at all during the process, the entire edition is ruined, because every layer is built on that one block. In short, relief printing requires a lot of advance planning, which is great for someone like me, but it's probably not ideal for artist who prefer more spontaneous forms of expression.

Anyway, it was time to begin. Before I even thought about the linoleum, I made a full-color study, and assigned each color a number with the order of carving. #1, for instance, stands for all the white highlights, #2 is for light yellow, and so forth. Here are all the colors I decided to use:

1. white (the paper itself, no ink)
2. pale yellow
3. yellow
4. light green
5. orange
6. dark green
7. gray
8. brown
9. black

Once I had decided on my colors and composition, it was time to figure out how to print them. Usually I use a press to make linocuts, but this time I tried a new method where I stood on the work and then swiveled my feet around to transfer the ink. I was initially concerned that I would tear the paper, but it was strong enough to handle the process.

Anyway, let's watch this print develop:

Overall I was really pleased with the results. The main thing I noticed was that the ink had a harder time adhering as I kept adding layers, because near the end there was so much of it that the ink wasn't really sticking to the paper at all. In the future then, I may reserve this number of colors for multiple blocks, but then again, I doubt I'd ever want to invest in that many linoleum pieces for just one work.

The main thing I got out of this is that I can print at home without the press. I've printed by hand before, but it's a tiring process that always leaves my hands and wrists aching afterwards. Standing on the print enabled me to push my entire body weight into the work, which made the process more efficient. Printing at home also allowed me to finish the work at lot more quickly, because I could print in the evening after work. If I had relied on the press, I would have only been able to print on the weekends, so it would have taken two months. Knowing me, I probably would have lost interest in the project and abandoned it before then, so having the ability to print at home was important.

I'd say this was a productive venture. Huzzah!