I've had some requests recently to show my linocut process, so I've been documenting what I do as I've been producing a new series of prints.
I've started with this photograph, taken on my iphone. As I may have previously mentioned (!!) I really love Instagram. If you've never heard of it, its a mobile phone app that combines photo editing with a social media side - a kind of photo sharing community. Its fascinating seeing the world through other peoples eyes, and I also find it a great discipline to find something "photo worthy" every day. This picture is one of my Instagram photos and I was inspired to use it as the basis of a lino print.
Once I'm happy with the image, I transfer the design onto the lino block using old fashioned carbon paper. Then the carving process begins. I use cheap and cheerful lino carving tools. I have had this set for around 5 years and rarely have to sharpen them. I mainly use the "v" shaped tools, a large and a small one.
Linoblock printing is a relief printing process, meaning that you are printing the areas of the block that are in relief, or raised up. This means that you remove or carve away the areas you don't want to print. Another consideration is that when you print, you actually create a mirror image of the block. This is important to remember if you want the image you are printing to be the same way round as the original. You'll notice that the photo I used as the basis for this print has the tree on the left, and the raw printing block has the tree on the right. Before I transferred the image, I flipped in horizontally so that it will print the right way.
Setting up for printing involves having everything at hand. It can sometimes get a little messy, and you want to keep your prints perfectly clean, so setting up well is essential. I print on my kitchen bench. I know this sounds strange (!!) but it is perfectly designed for lino printing! My kitchen bench has a built in block of granite which I use to roll out the ink on. If you don't have a granite block, you will need to use a slab of glass or something really smooth without grain or indentations. Rolling out the ink well is essential to getting a crisp print.
I use oil based printing ink ... actually I use oil paint mixed with block printing medium. The medium I buy is Daler-Rowney Georgian brand. It is great, because it allows you to use any oil paint in any colour, and transform it into block printing ink. I love the texture and finish of the oil based ink, but it does take a long time to dry - up to a week during winter. I use a small rubber block printing roller and roll out the ink until it is tacky and evenly coated.
My lino block is placed onto a "dirty" backing sheet of paper. I use a small stack of paper so that if the top one gets too messy, I can simply remove it and continue working with the one underneath. Coating the block evenly right to the edges can make a mess! It takes experience to get just the right amount of ink - too little and the print will be blotchy; too much and the finer details of the block will fill up with ink and the print will be dark and ugly.
Once the block is well inked, I place it onto my "clean" area backing sheet. I use the same sized paper as what I am printing on, to help get the print centred on the page. The clean backing sheet must be clean .. otherwise ink can transfer onto the fresh paper and make the print dirty. Again, I use a small stack of paper so if I get the backing sheet dirty, I can simply remove it and keep printing with the one underneath.
I carefully place the paper to be printed onto the well inked block and use a traditional printers baren to rub the back of the paper firmly. The baren is a simple disk wrapped in a type of leaf that is incredibly tough and covered in ridges. This action, usually in a circular motion, transfers the ink from the block to the paper.
When I'm satisfied that the entire surface has been transferred, I peel back the paper to get my first look at the new lino print!
At this stage, I would make any alterations necessary to the block - removing bits that don't work or enlarging important details so they print better. When "editioning" a print, this first print is called the AP or Artist's Proof. Editioning is a way of cataloging the prints and limiting their number. It can make prints worth more, if there are only a certain number available. I have decided not to edition this print as I'd like to try a number of different ways of colouring it. I also decided to use different paper stock for this series.
I hang my prints to dry. I find its the best solution in a domestic environment! Its space saving and the rack I use has wheels so I can move it around if it gets in the way. The drying time can vary greatly, and I can get impatient to try colour on the prints, so I sometimes hang a rack up over my wood-fired stove to help them along a little!
In the end, I decided the brown paper stock was the way to go - I love the richness it adds to the colours. I use watercolour to colour my prints. I like the combination of oil and water ... oil based ink and waterbased paint. It's a satisfying process. I used some white gouache too, to bring out the highlights on this darker paper.
So from idea to completion, that's pretty much the process of my little home-made prints. No printing press, no printmaking studio ... not that I wouldn't love one!! It's a very simple form of printing that has a long history. It's also very "low tech" and I guess that's one of the reasons I like it.