Sunday, March 24, 2013

Linoprint Class

I've been wanting to take a printing class, specifically one where I could learn how to make my own linocuts, for several years. I know these classes are available on line, and I often teach myself techniques through books or magazine articles, but for this, I wanted hands-on instruction in a classroom with other students. There's an arts organization in town whose emphasis is workshops for all ages and levels, but printing classes don't come up on the roster often. Two years ago I signed up for one that didn't fill so was canceled. The next year the timing of the class didn't fit my schedule. But this year, to my delight, both schedule and content matched up plus enough students enrolled for it to be a go. I was particularly excited that the teacher planned to include printing on fabric, not just on paper. We had our first class last Monday.

Granted, the 5 session class isn't costing me much, with all materials supplied, except for fabric for one of the last sessions. Still, my usual high standards left me a bit frustrated and disappointed with the instructor, whose teaching style is much different from my own. Whether sharing techniques for free with my guild members, or formally teaching for pay at a quilt shop or guild, I always provided handouts, an overview of what I'd be covering and talk about tools and other supplies. I'd demonstrate steps with students gathered around if appropriate. Then as students dived in on their own, I would circulate the room, giving encouragement, one-on-one assistance and tips for greater success. And I would check periodically to see if I had been clear or if there were additional questions. I modeled my teaching style after those I'd studied under, both well-known instructors and those plying their skills out of the spotlight, those who ran a classroom best suited to my needs as a student.

This teacher, however, seems to be of the "just dive in and do whatever" approach. She did give a very quick explanation of the different types of lino materials and spent a little more time going over the cutting tool and blades. But there was no handout upon which we could jot notes and reference later, and she moved things along too fast for me to be taking notes. I was hoping she'd spend some time talking about actual designs and repeat patterns and have some examples we could copy, but again, she very quickly skimmed over the basics while she drew her own design and told us to just draw whatever we wanted. There are only 4 of us in this class; two of us are obvious novices (although the teacher seemed surprised we'd never created a linocut before), two appeared to have at least some experience in doing this. Thank goodness for the student sitting next to me who recognized that we two novices needed more than verbal instruction and pulled from her bag a book with lots of design motifs to get us jump started.

My irritation peaked, I suppose, when it came to the actual transfer of design and cutting, the main reason I wanted a hands-on class. I asked for clarification about which part of the design to black out before cutting and got the response that whichever I wanted, it didn't matter. Ok, yes, I suppose in the big picture that is true, but I'd already voiced that I really struggle with visualizing what to leave uncut. Just give me some guidelines and once I get some experience, then I can tweak them to my needs. I got my design transferred and realized I didn't have the first idea where to start cutting or with which blade. I finally got her to come over and show me how she usually approaches it, which blade to start with and  how to hold the handle and tile while she did the first cuts on my design. It would have been nice to have watched her demo first and not had to call her over for help.

And this kind of continued for the entire class - her going off to do the next step without calling all of us over to watch, not explaining why she was doing what she was doing (the best way to remember something is to know the why behind doing it that way), and then leaving us wondering just what we were supposed to be doing next while she sat looking on. I truly felt like I was floundering, unclear as to what exactly she wanted us to accomplish, frustrated that I could not figure out how to get even coverage of ink on the block for a clear print and unable to draw from her any tips when I pointed that out. Again, it seemed she subscribed to the "learn by doing" school as all she would say was that I'd eventually figure it out. Again, it was another student who came to the rescue, suggesting that the ink might be drying out on my palette and I could rinse it off and start with fresh. This seemed to jog something in the teacher's mind as she went and got some spray bottles and suggested we could mist the ink on the palettes. This was about the time she brought out the babywipes too, as several of us had left the room to grab paper towels from the bathroom for our inky fingers.

I know this is getting to be a lengthy rant so I should say the class wasn't all bad. As it went on, the teacher started giving more direction in terms of the process of tweaking the design with test prints and playing with our linocut by making multiple prints per page in varying configerations. And then within the last half hour, as we hung up our still wet experiments, she pointed out strengths and interesting configurations and why they were working as well as how they might be used. She started to divulge what would happen in future classes and the project that would be the culmination of our experiments. I wish she'd done more of this at the outset. Perhaps her approach to teaching comes from years teaching art to really young kids, a fact gleaned from casual conversation. Yes, they would not be looking for handouts and lengthy explanations and demos. And it is true that most artistic people are not as left brain and direction driven as I am.

Which is why I spent some time viewing videos and reading instructions on line last week. I learned that I needed to keep brayering the print ink until it made a velcro sound (yes, I heard that happening when my teacher set up her ink palette but she never said that was the goal) as that was a signal that the ink has reached the proper tackiness to adhere to the paper. I learned that it is a good idea to "sacrifice" a block to cutting with each of the blades to get a feel for how each works (that would have been really helpful in this first class, answering a lot of my questions). I learned that generally speaking, you do black out the part of the block that will not be cut away, which instantly cleared up my mental visualization problem. I learned that at least one instructor suggests carving away the larger portions first, then working into the smaller, more detailed areas, which made lots of sense. Overall, reading and watching a dozen demos cemented in my brain the process, and left me much more comfortable about continuing this exploration.

Because in fact, once I fiddled with my first block (the diamond one) and started on a second, I could feel how fun and addictive linocuts could be. Initially I was a little uptight and blanking on ideas. Towards the end, the ideas were starting to flow and I'd run out of time to try the variations popping into my head. Not unlike a typical day in the studio.

Tomorrow's class we will be cutting stamps from erasers - something I've played around a bit with already. I'll be bringing my sketchbook that has some ideas from that play that I didn't follow up with. Hopefully, that bit of preparation will make the class go better for me.


Wil said...

That is a terrible teacher. As you said, she should have explained much more. Especially as you opted to have a hands on class instead of an online one. Glad that you had a fellow student who explained stuff to you.

M Horton said...

Ouch... as a teacher, I too tend to expect a reasonable standard. It's really frustrating to look forward to a 'great' class and then a teacher who isn't up to parr.

M Horton said...

I really enjoy cutting patterns but I don't have any problem 'seeing' patterns, negative space, ect. I think I developed this skill over the years of intense study of Welsh quilt patterns. The one thing I started doing in the beginning was keeping a sketchbook with an imprint of each stamp in black. It's so much easier to appreaciate and use them when I can see them as they stamp.

Michele Matucheski said...

I'm sorry this long-awaited class turned out to be such a frustrating experience for you. When I saw the pictures at the top of the post, my immediate thought was "Cool! She's getting into block printing now. And she's already figured out how to design the patterns for a pleasing repeat!" It sounds like this teacher needs some practice as a teacher. We're not all born with it. Some people do learn by doing--that's true, but those are usually the ones who can't stand to be around people. I know what you mean, though. I had a class this past year with the most hands-off teacher I've ever had for an online class. Kind of wondering if I might have been better off with a book instead. Stick with it, though. I found that acrylic paint applied with a brush works just fine on the blocks--and you can print to paper or fabric. Not just the ink (which is really heavy and sticky). Hopefully now you know enough to branch out and go your own way with it. I can't wait to see what else you do with it.