Art project steeps me in chicken lore

I have always loved chickens. And, not just because they are delicious. They have such a quirky gait, they sometimes give you the evil stare, they can have absolutely gorgeous coloring, and their feathers and combs are expressed in infinite patterns. All of this adds up to making them a good art subject.

I have been exploring a series of prints about domesticated animals with human names (the first is “Dave” the sheep, the second is “Sarah” the cow). I chose a rooster for the next print in this series because they have a lot of personality, and because I wanted to create something quite colorful.

LINDA COTE-Creston chicks I remember visiting an acreage in Creston (British Columbia) about 20 years ago. We visited a friend who raised “roasters” (yes it’s as you think) plus a handful of hens for laying fresh eggs. My son, then about 3 years old, was given the important task of collecting eggs each morning.

Although he was puffed up with importance over the task, he also found entering the chicken pen was scary. The rooster was especially daunting and aggressive, and seemed to take offense that any other male would enter his domain.

LINDA COTE-Chicken eggsBut the eggs were successfully retrieved (and made a lovely breakfast) and my son was so proud of taking the coveted eggs out of the pen and back to our table for breakfast. I loved that he had that first-hand experience of seeing where his food came from.

I recall the owner of the acreage being detached about the process of raising chickens for food. While researching this block print about whether the piece of art would ultimately be a portrait of a chicken or rooster, I came across an interesting blog that was all about naming your farm animals.

Having difficulty naming your farm animals is something that those who run a farm business must struggle with. Many say that giving your animals a name somehow makes you more emotionally invested in that animal. I was not raised on a farm, so I can only imagine how hard it must be to draw that fine line between pet and business-animal.

On her blog, Kristin Nicholas was looking for help naming a rooster that had gotten out of the pen and refused to go back in. With such a show of defiance, and because this rooster seemed to choose “life outside the coop”, she wanted to name him. Many people posted comments – some were hilarious rooster names (Napoleon, KFC, Colonel, Theodore Roosevelt, Gregory Peck) while others were like you’d expect (Ricky, Foghorn Leghorn, Rusty, Red). Among the postings I found the perfect name for my rooster portrait: Russell. It was someone’s brilliant idea to name a rooster after Russell Crowe the actor (roosters crow LOL) and somehow it made me chuckle, and fit this lovely gentleman bird.

LINDA COTE-Rooster finalAlthough it seems obvious now, I started out making a chicken, and by the time the print was done he became a rooster. My Facebook fans had lots to say about what they saw the final print to be, and hands down, he is a rooster.

I also learned a lot from my fans’ comments about what makes a rooster noteworthy (size and color of comb, egg-laying ability LOL, and fluffiness of feathers). And, probably the most important thing I hadn’t really thought of before: a rooster is always a chicken, but a chicken isn’t always a rooster.

I chose to portray Russell the Rooster in a reduction lino print, where the entire block print is created out of one piece of base art. Here is the process I used to create this fun and colorful print.

LINDA COTE-ready to startHere I am ready to start the project in my studio. The jig next to me is built to hold the block for registration between color layers.

LINDA COTE-Rooster TracingThis is my initial drawing on tissue paper. It has just enough detail for me to transfer the image to the block I will carve. Note the drawing on the tissue paper is the reverse of what the print will be in the end.

LINDA COTE-DrawingsThis shows the color reference drawing in my sketch book, the tracing paper drawing for transfer to the block and the start of carving on the block. The colors on the reference drawing need to be planned out in the beginning since the entire print will be created using only one block. Using the “reduction” method, a little more of the block is removed for each color printed.

LINDA COTE-Chicken BlockThe block for color layer one: yellow, ready to be inked.

LINDA COTE-First layerThe first layer of color is applied to the block.

LINDA COTE-Yellow hangingClose to 30 prints are printed with the yellow, and hung to dry for several days.

LINDA COTE-Carving 2 layerI get to work on the next colour layer, which means removing the background around the rooster and leaving only what I want to print next in red and brown.

LINDA COTE-Carving 2 layer2The second layer progress: the block is partially carved; a little more detailing to be removed in the feathers.

LINDA COTE-printing layer 2Here I ink the second color layer: the red and brown together.  Because these colors are similar and can blend in around the feathers and head, I print these together in one pass. I roll the ink on, though, using two different rollers so that I can control what color goes where.

LINDA COTE-pulling layer 2Peeling back the print on the second color imprint reveals how it’s gone.

LINDA COTE-2 layer hangingThe second color layer is applied, and the print will hang to dry again for up to a week.

LINDA COTE-3 layer traceI plan the final color (black) on tracing paper to see where I want the black outlines and details to go.

LINDA COTE-prep 3 layerThe second print color (left), the tracing paper (black) and the block still to be carved.

LINDA COTE-black plateThe block is carved away to leave only the black I want to overprint the first three colors.

LINDA COTE-carve blackClose up: the details where the black ink will be.

LINDA COTE-black printThe block rolled with black ink — I can now see the final print coming together.

LINDA COTE-3 layersThree stages: yellow only, brown/red combo, and black-only. This shows all three stages separate from one another.

LINDA COTE-1 LayerFirst stage: yellow background.

LINDA COTE-Rooster Layer 2Next stage: the red and brown are printed over top of the yellow.

LINDA COTE-Rooster finalThe final print “Russell” is complete with all three layers on one print. The final print size is 7″ high x 5.25″ wide. It’s available framed (directly from me) or unframed on my Etsy shop.

LINDA COTE-Final BlockWhat is left of the block — only the black remains, and this print can never be created again because the yellow and brown/red layers have been carved away. The magic of printmaking!

April update: I’ve just finished posting a video showing this process in my studio on my Linda Cote Studio YouTube channel!


16 responses to “Art project steeps me in chicken lore

  1. I Love it! Growing up my family had chickens named Sigmund & Freud, that was a long time ago.

  2. Great post. You definately have me thinking about block printing and how it could be tweaked for silk or cotton. Working “backwards” could be a great exercise. Your post has me thinking.

    I also checked out your etsy store. Great work. You really capture the vibe of the Rockies.

    • Hi Deb, thanks for this. Yes, block printing on silk or cotton would be so fun! It’s on my list, too, for sure. Check out this website for lots of inspiration:

      And, thanks for checking out my Etsy store! I just got it up and running recently. Fun to be part of that community now.

      • Thanks for the colouricious link, it looks great.

        I’d be interested to hear how etsy works out for you.

      • Sure – I love the colouriscious site. They’ve got lots of great videos, too. I will keep you posted on the Etsy thing. 🙂

  3. Lovely work Linda, and thank you for sharing the process. I’ve heard this called ‘suicide’ printmaking, as there is no going back 😉

    • Thanks, Sue! Haha, I’ve never heard that term but can certainly understand where it comes from! It takes days for my stomach to unclench sometimes. You never know how it will turn out until that very last color…

  4. Great post! Thanks for the very through illustration of how a reduction print is done. I’m too much of a coward to try one. Somehow reducing the colors strikes me as somewhat math like or something, and I freeze up just thinking about it!

    • That is so true Terri! Ask me how many years (2) it took me to screw up the courage to do it LOL. It takes a fair bit of left-brain puzzling to get your head around it for sure, but it’s kind of like anything difficult: once you do it, you think, “Oh, that wasn’t so hard after all!”

  5. Love this! Brilliant to see the process from start to finish, Linda! Man, I’d love to do a ‘mini-residency’ with you … I think I”d learn SO much!

  6. Pingback: Block Printing, A First Attempt | h..... the blog·

  7. Pingback: Which came first: the chicken or the egg? | Musings From The Studio·

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