Portrait of a young raven

Ravens are plentiful where I live. I’d like to say I seek them out in the back country wilderness, but it’s not true. In this mountain town, they are rather like the squirrels in a city: often found near parks where people drop food, or even garbage bins.

LINDA COTE-Ravens in CanmoreStill, I have to admire their tenacity and survival skills. They are such smart birds! (Here is a link to another blog where I talk about some of their antics.)

So, it’s not surprising that I find myself drawn to creating “raven portraits”. My first raven print “Laughing Raven” was popular — it is now sold out — but even before that print was almost gone, I knew I would do more portraits of these wonderful birds.

LINDA COTE-Young Raven detailMy latest handmade print is called “Young Raven”. It’s a two-color print utilzing a strong under color of blue. The blue peeks through the black just enough to capture the lovely luminosity of the raven’s feathers caught in the sun. To create this portrait of a young raven, I started with a sketch from a photograph of a raven I took some years ago in a parking lot in Jasper National Park (they knew there would be food around!). I loved this raven’s tentative look: he seemed to know  the other birds were experienced in getting food from humans, but he was still looking over his shoulder to be on guard.

Here is how I captured this lovely fellow through printmaking.

Starting with a sketch on tracing paper, I create the raven. Although the drawing is quite detailed, the first “underlayer” of blue will eventually be covered almost entirely with black ink, but this planning stage is incredibly important to work out where the white highlights on the print will be since this needs to be created from the very beginning.

LINDA COTE-Carve Black

Next, I carve away the background around the raven. I decide to leave a few carving marks that will appear blue in the background of the final print. Aside from the background, very little carving is done: I only need the highlights of the eye, around the beak and in a few spots in the feathers. Since this is mostly a black bird, less is more.

LINDA COTE-Young Raven Block Carving

Here is the detailed look of the block right before inking it with the first layer of blue ink.

LINDA COTE-Young Raven Block

Next, the ink is custom-made from oil paints mixed with a printmaking medium that changes the quality of the oil paint to make it suitable for printing. I blend the exact color of blue using several colors of paint. It looks very bright, but not much blue will appear in the final print — it will only be hinted at. Once I get the color right, I add the medium to the oil paint mixture and work the ink — almost like kneading dough — with a palette knife until it is tacky enough to roll out into the perfect consistency for printmaking ink. By adding this medium to the oil paints, I can custom-create any color for printmaking.

LINDA COTE-Mixing InkNext, the ink is applied to the block in a very thin layer…

LINDA COTE-Ink Block… to completely cover the surface of the bird, and to touch a few highlights of blue for the background.

LINDA COTE-Ink Block BlueThen, the block is slipped into a jig that I make from foam core on three sides and two pegs at the top. The foam core holds the block stable, and the paper is hole-punched so the pegs hold the paper in the same position every time I hand-pull a print. This jig is an important part of ensuring both color layers align.

LINDA COTE-Ink Block & Jig

Here, I pull the first test print to check the artwork and decide whether any changes are needed.

LINDA COTE-Pull Blue PrintBelow is the inked block and the resulting test print. Note that the artwork is always created backwards. The graphite still shows on the block, and a small amount transfers to the test print, so once I am happy with this first layer, I wipe the block clean (with a small amount of canola oil) and begin the rest of the edition. (The test print is never sold, but stays in my archive.)

LINDA COTE-Pull Blue Print2For this piece of artwork, I  plan to end up with about 30 prints, so that means I have to print about 40 of them to allow for spoilage during the handmade process — some may not be aligned or may have imperfections. I will also pull several prints out of the edition for my archives (these are marked as “artist proofs” and are not numbered as part of the edition) so that I still have a copy for my records once the edition sells out.

LINDA COTE-Blue Prints hangingThe print will hang to dry in my studio for about a week before I can print the other layer of black ink on top.

LINDA COTE-Blue Prints hanging2Below is the block after the blue layer is printed. Here, it is easy to see the minimal markings on the raven.


To create the black layer, I once again transfer a drawing back onto the block and decide how much more I am going to remove off the block. What gets taken away at this stage will reveal the blue layer underneath, so I have to be careful not to overdo it. I want to only add a little more detailing in the beak and the feathers.

LINDA COTE-Black Block detailOnce the blue layer print is dry, I roll my black ink on the glass and apply it to the block.

LINDA COTE-Young Raven printingThe block is placed once again in the jig. You can see how many more marks I have made in this layer of the block.

LINDA COTE-Black Block inkedAnd the first two-color print is pulled. When the final edition is dry, I trim off the holes on the side of the print.

LINDA COTE-Black Block printingI’m happy with the result — making only a few changes to the base art — then carry on with hand printing the rest of the edition. The lights are on in the studio photo below because I created this print late one night before heading out for our family holiday. I wanted to finish it so it could dry while we were away and be ready for packaging once I was home.

LINDA COTE-Black prints hangingA video of the making of this print can be found on my YouTube channel.

Here is the final print “Young Raven”. In the end, I got an edition of 31 prints for this piece of artwork. A happy result for a few week’s work!

LINDA COTE-Young Raven

“Young Raven” Two-color limited edition art print, 6″ x 8″, $75 unframed.


8 responses to “Portrait of a young raven

    • Thanks, Terri! Now that it’s fall, I am going to have to start turning my attention to Christmas artworks! Planning several shows and open stdio tours. I hope I get to see you soon!

  1. Pingback: Young Raven: a video for visual learners | Musings From The Studio·

  2. I must be attracted to this bird..here I am again!! Loved watching the video which I do not recall from previously. Cool to see you working live and that smile as you walk away at the end!! Such interesting work!!

    • Thanks Judy! Ravens are that kind of bird: they draw a person in! And, one of my friends said I need to smile more in my videos, but then she saw my little one at the end and laughed at that. I must be concentrating too hard…I feel like I am smiling the whole time I am working! 🙂

      • In truth, you are one of the happiest, most content people I know!! Your work reflects your joy in life!! Its ok to be concentrating at times though…just means you are 100% invested in creating your vision!!

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