Linoprint 3 is an exhibition showcasing 30 leading linocut printmakers at Centrespace Gallery in Bristol in February 2023. To celebrate this event, the exhibitors shared their top linocut printmaking tips with the Jackson’s Art Blog, covering all aspects of the linocut process, from design to cutting to inking and printing. The exhibition runs from the 10th – 21st February 2023.
Above image: Hannah Forward inking up Tea
Contributing Artists (A-Z by Surname):
Linocut Design Tips
“As my prints are usually tonal exercises playing with light, I find it really helpful to make an ink wash drawing defining how the lighting works on paper first. When I transfer on to the block, to make sure I get the same effect I re-create the initial drawing using acrylic ink washes to stain the block. That makes seeing where you have cut easier too.”
“When designing for lino, a number of elements combine to make a piece visually interesting: the balance of light vs dark, variations in texture and cutting tool marks, the contrast of bold shapes vs fiddly details, the flow and thickness of lines and the overall shape of the composition from a distance… Play with these! Sketch quickly. Iterate freely. Refine and refine again. Also, if you’re not confident carving, draw your designs on to the block in a chunky pen – calligraphy brush pens with permanent ink are good. They naturally limit the level of detail in your design to something achievable while giving a nice variety to the line.”
“Plan out your composition on paper first. Think about the counterpoint created by white line and texture cut out of black contrasting with black line and shapes printed on white paper. Draw onto the lino with waterproof ink so that, if you proof part way through, you won’t lose your drawing – or make an error with your cutting!”
“Designing for lino is all about balance. Creating harmony between the solid areas and the areas where you’ve taken away. I like to think of it as creating weight in my image and play a lot with paintbrushes and inks to get the balance right in my sketchbook before I transfer to lino.”
“When you are drawing a design for a print, remember that the drawing is just a step in the process. It’s there to help you make a print, not to be the measure of the print’s success or an end in itself. If you struggle with simplifying drawings down for print, start by drawing the negative space around objects and work inwards: often very little information is needed for the image to work well in print. Don’t be afraid of empty space in your drawing – prints often benefit from a balance between busy and quiet areas.”
“The process of how you transfer your design to the block can have a characteristic mark of its own. It doesn’t just have to be a faithful reproduction. Things can be lost or found in this step. Experiment with different methods and take note of how the design differs each time you transfer it.
“I work directly from my observational drawings and when designing my prints I often take photocopies of my sketchbook pages, enlarging or reducing the size as required, and use a very primitive cut and stick method to work out the composition. I like the playfulness and physical nature of this basic technique which allows me to test out ideas before committing to the lino.”
“I have discovered late in my life the pleasure of cutting lino with super sharp tools, but not only that discovering that once you have learned how to get your cutters very sharp, thereafter all that is necessary is to strop regularly to keep them honed. Just like my grandad did back in the day, stropping his razor on the leather hanging from the door so to shave.
With guidance from a wood carver I used 3 stones from rough to ultra smooth to get my tools sharp, I chucked out the tools with replaceable nibs as they can’t be sharpened.
I purchased a slipstrop inexpensively, which enable the stropping of v and round cutters with the compound provided. A piece of old leather belt glued to a piece of wood is fine for flat edges.
The best bit is the woodcarvers tip ‘work 30 minutes strop 30 times’ I expect there are many different viewpoints, but so far, so good for me!”
Linocut Cutting Tips
“Rule number one of course is never to cut towards your non-cutting hand. Get in the habit of rotating the lino block as you cut curves to always keep yourself safe.”
“I find my best ideas come to me when I’m fully engrossed in the initial drawing for a new linocut, or during the cutting – or even while proofing. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve completely forgotten some brilliant idea until it’s too late! So now I write down all my thoughts as I go along – just in case.”
“Invest in good quality linocutting tools and get them resharpened when they need it. Good quality inks, linoleum and paper will also make a big difference to your final result.”
“Save ALL your lino scraps for testing an idea, practicing or warming up before you carve, or for tiny carvings (quick and always addictive). Similarly carve away large areas in your block last – they will be valuable areas to test carve on. Blocks of rubbery soft carve lino can be turned over and the other side repurposed.”
“When you start by one medium sized quality v shaped tool and keep it sharp. Learn the joy of carving first. Keep it simple.”
“Cover your block in an ink wash (or do as I do and simply use the fattest permanent marker you can get your hands on) before beginning to carve. This helps you to monitor your progress across the block by making your cuts really stand out. I generally transfer the image after covering the block in ink (although I have seen it done the other way around…)”
“Automatically, with practice, your mind sees that block as a field of solid black…. when you start cutting you start letting the light into the block and revealing the world which ultimately you are going to present to the public. Because you are letting light in all the time, every cut you make lets another streak of light in.”
“Invest in good quality tools. Keep your chisels sharp and choose the correct chisel to achieve your desired mark. Experimenting with mark making is essential in linocuts.”
I design my rubber stamps using graphite pencils before transferring them onto either erasers or Speedball Speedy Carve blocks. After I’ve finished carving my designs I’ve found it’s a very good idea to clean the transferred graphite off the stamp. This way the stamp pad pigment or ink won’t be polluted by the graphite dust, and you’ll see the pure colour impression on the surface you’ve stamped. I’ve found any cheap cooking oil (such as vegetable or sunflower) is by far the best way to remove the graphite. Use a firm small brush dipped in the oil to gently move around the eraser/speedball stamp surface. Its wise to degrease the carved stamp in warm soapy water, before stamping/inking the carved rubber stamp.
Linocut Inking And Printing Tips
“Coming from the painter / printmaker point of view is to keep it simple. This is the joy of linocutting for me.”
“You can mix virtually every colour with the process colours: magenta, cyan, yellow and black plus white. Adding extender to the ink and then layering the pure primary colours ‘diluted’ on top of each other will result in pleasing secondary colours.”
“To achieve tonal effects on your prints you can vary how you press the lino onto paper. If printing without a press you can rub lightly in some areas and heavier in others using either the back of a spoon or just your palm. You can also place small pieces of newsprint over areas of your lino to take off a thin layer of ink before you print the block on a sheet of paper. Experiment yourself seeing how different areas of tone can be achieved. Once you’ve found the desired effect you can still produce a edition of your print or perhaps a variable edition where each print has a slight variation of print tone.”
“Hold your inked block towards a good light source to check for under/over inking and any stray bits of lino or fluff.”
“Proof, proof, proof (even if it’s one colour) to check cutting, colour and registration as you progress. Don’t assume you know how it will all end, things can change.”
“When mixing two colours together, start with the lighter or weaker colour and add a small amount of the darker or stronger colour. Repeat until you have the right colour. For example, when mixing green, start with yellow and add a little bit of blue at a time. Test your mixed colour by scraping a thin layer onto paper with a spatula or ink knife.”
“My big tip would be about getting rid of fingerprints. Because I’m quite messy I get rid of fingerprints on my prints with an ordinary rubber but in this cold weather the rubber can easily tear the paper so I always keep it in my pocket to allow my body temperature to keep it from getting too cold.”