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